8 Racist Children’s Books via Atlantic BlackStar | The Place Children’s Lit Can Take in Shaping Young Opinions

8 Disturbingly Racist Children’s Books Designed to Devalue Black People – Atlanta Black Star.

Hmm, fitting that on the last day of Black History Month, I come across this post of old, racist children’s books that perpetuate hate and stereotypes. My jaw dropped as I looked at these books, but it’s really eye-opening in terms of really looking at our children’s books as media messages. I’m sure (I hope? Unfortunately I can’t say with any accuracy, with the way things have been going in recent media) that these books are, if not burned, tucked away in some vaults where no children can find them. Interestingly enough, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is on this list, a book fraught with controversy in terms of its language regarding black people during slavery–it’s been argued back and forth.

The existence of these books proves our need for the very opposite. These books were meant to teach and inform white children of the “traits” of black people. Now we need books that promote and edify the culture of black people and other cultures. Children reading more and more positive portrayals shows them new worlds, opinions, and points of view. But often in school, as I’ve written in another post, there’s only one book per year that focuses on black literature and culture. We’re lucky if we get other perspectives than that.

Children’s literature does even more of a job of shaping and forming opinions than adult literature does, so we need to be careful what’s being explicitly and implicitly brought forth in their books. If children’s lit showcased more cultures, they will experience more world’s different from their own and be able to connect to people who are different from them both as children and as they grow into adults.

Related:

Children’s Books That Nurture Healthy Self-Esteem in Black Toddlers

Black Children’s Books: Our Favorite Stories For African American Youngsters

Words Have Power {Book Display}

Positive Images of Black Children and Families in Children’s Lit

Children’s Mystery Stories

I LOVED Encyclopedia Brown as a kid. He, Sammy Keyes, and Poirot were my detectives growing up–I read a couple of Nancy Drew stories, but mostly played the computer games (some of which were actually scary/creepy to me, haunted mansions and museums! Yikes!). A book I’d love to reread is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

It makes me want to write a children’s mystery story. I did once, as a child. I don’t remember the contents, but I do remember it was called “The Case of the Jewel Thief,” written with my middle school friends and based on a mixture of Sammy Keyes and the latest Olsen Twins novel series where they were detectives. But those amateur detectives didn’t look like me. I related to Sammy Keyes because she lived with her grandmother and, while I was too shy to actually want adventures in real life, I loved living vicariously through a girl who lived like me.

But you don’t really see black kids starring in mystery novels. If you know of any, please name them, I’d love to check them out. But maybe in my own writing I should develop a young black detective character who solves mysteries in his/her neighborhood. I think it might be tougher though, Sammy Keyes was set in the modern era of the 90s, but in a sort of small city where it was more believable for a teen to get around like she does and get into things, even with Officer Borsch getting in her way. I know city life. And New York City isn’t the easiest place to set a teen detective, but I’m sure it could be done. A small outer borough suburb, a missing item… oh the possibilities!

Kids love mysteries because they’re relatable adventures. They’re something they could see themselves doing–it’s not out of the realm of their possibility. Unlike, say, a young Indiana Jones type story or something similar, where the kid would need special knowledge or money or skills. Even the first few Harry Potter novels had a kid mystery element in addition to the magic. Almost anyone can be a young detective–I owned a book that taught me how, with information on finger printing kits and revealing invisible ink. They also teach kids to be more observant of their environment and the be careful who they speak to. Anything could be a clue. I remember looking around rooms I’d walk into with new eyes after reading a mystery novel and seeing different objects catch my eye in a new way.  And everyone was a suspect–what mysteries lied behind the eyes of the mailman or the bus driver or the traffic lady? Mystery novels are a great way to secretly get kids to interact with the world in a different way without them even knowing it. And they’re just plain fun!

What were your favorite mystery novels as a kid growing up? Suggest some in the comments!

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“A False Conception of Growth” – CS Lewis

Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

[…] They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things? […] I call this growth or development because I have been enriched: where I formerly had only one pleasure, I now have two. […] I think my growth is just as apparent when I now read the fairy tales as when I read the novelists, for I now enjoy the fairy tales better than I did in childhood: being now able to put more in, of course I get more out. But I do not here stress that point. Even if it were merely a taste for grown-up literature added to an unchanged taste for children’s literature, addition would still be entitled to the name ‘growth’, and the process of merely dropping one parcel when you pick up another would not.

― C.S. Lewis

A lot of the above are some of the themes of this blog. We focus so very much on the very adult and important things in life that we forget that our inner child is important too. We need to frolic and have fun and enjoy life and one way to do that is to read. Children’s literature gives us a child’s perspective on life, which gives us a renewed sense of joy and wonder in the world. So let’s read more children’s books and feed our inner child.

via Goodreads | Quote by C. S. Lewis: Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval….

 

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Diversity in Children’s Education and Literature

The Intersection of Public Education and Blerd Culture – Blerd Media

Continuing the Conversation on Blerd Culture and Public Education

Blerd Media Group and Culture of Color began a sort of conversation on diversity and representation in children’s literature that made me think a lot, especially in terms of starting this blog. Jovan at Blerd Media points out that children’s education materials are a form of media; perhaps not traditionally considered so but they are objects of mass consumption with a message to a recipient. Children’s books and textbooks and information packets are all materials aimed at children with a specific message that informs or helps them grow and we need to be careful or at least cognizant of the messages (or lack of messages) that they are putting across. Culture of Color expanded on the dialogue by discussing Black History Month and both the aspects of 1. cramming all of black history into one month and 2. choosing the narratives given by the school board and not reaching out to alternatives that teach more varied versions of black history.

This made me think about my own experiences with literature in school. I went to a couple of public schools in Washington Heights, and one actually taught us “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” so we had a good beginners grasp on Black History, but I don’t really remember much of it and I’m sure a lot of it faded in the intervening years where it was less of a focus.

Thinking about the books we read in middle/high school, it feels like they squeezed in one book by an author of color per year. I can even list them. In middle school I remember reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (the latter, I belatedly realized, being one of the only science fiction books featuring black characters I encountered as a child–incidentally, it is written by a white woman).

In high school (in order from 7th through 12th), we read Things Fall Apart, Black Boy, The Invisible Man, Song of Solomon, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Color Purple. Other books by racial minorities included The House on Mango Street, The Joy Luck Club,and 100 Years of Solitude. Not to say I’m not forgetting any, and there’s certainly only so much time in the school year to fit in all the major works of literature, but it’s just interesting to think about our schools as a form of media and what messages they are bringing across.

Even tests are a form of media. I remember taking the SATs and one of the passages we had to write about was from Zora Neale Hurston‘s essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.” I’d remembered liking Hurston’s work from reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, but I also felt a connection to the piece, being a black student and all. I took the title and author down and looked it up later when I got home from the test. When we, as children, come across something we enjoy, we often want to know more about it. If we get to encounter more works by authors of color in school, or learn more black/African/Asian/Hispanic/Native history in school (outside of their Western/Colonial contexts), we might be more inspired to learn about those different cultures outside of school. School is certainly a form of media we need to pay attention to in order to assess what messages we are giving our children throughout their education.

Part of the point/theme of this blog is to read or revisit books from childhood that have authors/characters of color and maybe explore how accessible they are to children/YA audiences. (Remember, still a blog in progress. =))

100 Great Children’s Books | 100 Years | The New York Public Library

100 Great Children’s Books | 100 Years | The New York Public Library.

It seems I’ve only read 16 of the books on this list. Time to find another list with more stuff I recognize! No, but some of these do post-date my childhood and some maybe I’ve read and merely forgot about?

How many have you read?

 

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Let’s Start with Harry Potter

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I won’t get into too much detail on this one, because there is enough Harry Potter on the internet to last a million lifetimes. But I did want to put on paper just some of the reasons why Harry Potter became so close to my heart.

I was a shy, nerdy child. I didn’t spend a lot of time with others or make friends easily–these are stories you’ve heard by other loner children. We came to Harry because we liked reading and felt lonely and longed for a world more magical than our own. But me and Harry had something in common. When I was six months old, my mother died. In order to raise myself and my only slightly older brother, my dad and my grandmother each took one of us. I lived with my grandmother. We mostly kept to ourselves and I was the skinny kid with glasses who didn’t interact too much with the other kids. Sound familiar? And my whole life, everyone has told me I look just like my mother, so when Harry in equal parts revels and groans in the statement “You look just like James,” I commiserated. We all know the story of JK Rowling writing a lot of this series in reaction to her own mother passing away and what that did to the themes of the series, so Harry Potter hit a lot of personal nerves for me in terms of dealing with loss early on, feeling like you’re haunting your loved ones by looking like those who are gone, and feeling like you have to live up to the standards of a parent that everyone misses but you never got to meet. And that’s just how I felt about Harry.

What young, nerdy girl with curly hair didn’t feel like Hermione?! Girls all over the world identified with Hermione, that doesn’t really need documenting, but I must say that when I first read her character descriptions (and pronounced her name wrong), I thought she might have been black. As a young brown girl (in the tan range, but African-American nonetheless) with curly hair, freckles, and teeth problems, some of Hermione’s early descriptions felt like a girl who looked, if only a litle bit, like me (me and Emma Watson look nothing alike).

And then there’s Ron. Who suffers constantly with insecurities because he’s surrounded by people who he deems better and more talented than himself. Been there, done that. Again, it’s rare that no one has. But you can’t help but be struck by his loyalty and his commitment to being the friend of the hero. I was constantly seen as the tag-along, the friend of the social butterfly. So Ron’s role was one I knew well.

These are some deep connections to the characters, and that’s just the Trio! This doesn’t even delve into my enjoyment of magical worlds and mysteries and Jo’s twisty-turny storytelling, or that fact that I could hardly escape Pottermania even if I’d tried. So I delved right in and never looked back. Midnight releases and online forums. I’ve seen all the movies, despite being a staunch book purist– many of the book-to-movie changes still irk me to this day. But I’ve still seen them all, haven’t I? I’ve been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I bought a wand. I tried and gave up on Pottermore like most of you probably also did. And I stuck with my love of this one “children’s” book series, even when I shunned other children’s literature (at least in public).

Harry Potter proved it wasn’t just for kids and it made me realize that the best children’s literature isn’t just for kids. It should speak to adults as well, and the child that lives within adults. Children’s literature helps us recapture the wonder and joy and magic that we often lose in adulthood–and I think that’s a beautiful thing.

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Put Away the Fear of Childish Things

From whence the blog title came.

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A portion of my children’s books. They’re hidden away in the closet. Not for shame but for lack of room.

I enjoyed fantasy literature as a child: I put on the Sorting Hat and came out a Hufflepuff, I walked through the Wardrobe, I found the Six Signs with Will, and I fought the Doldrums with Milo. Then high school came along and demanded all my time and I fell out of reading like I once did. When I did pick up a non-school book, I soon discovered that I didn’t want to read the very grown up books that everyone else was reading, I wanted to read stories with magic and mystery and fairy tale creatures, but it didn’t seem like that was allowed. I had to “grow up.” I let my love for Harry Potter shine bright, but rather than read other “children’s” books, I hardly read outside of school at all. I’ve discovered that fantasy books indeed do exist in “adult” literature and enjoy reading those, but why did I have to stop reading children’s books? Because I was an “adult” now?

Then I discovered the essays of C. S. Lewis. Besides the world of Narnia, Lewis grabbed my interest in his discussion of fairy tales. I began to “allow” myself to (more publicly) enjoy fairy tales, with the visage of “studying” them for their interesting histories and the way they’ve transformed from dark and Grimm, to pure and Disney, back to gritty and modernized. So Lewis led me to a famous quote of his in which he explains that he himself went through a long period where he didn’t read fairy tales (in public) because others would have mocked him for it. Once he was older, however, he stopped caring.

 When I was ten I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. [x]

Though I’m only nearly half Lewis’ age when he said the quote, it still resonated. Why shouldn’t I read whatever I want to read? If I want to read “children’s” books, I should! (I’ll probably get into the age division of literature–a topic Lewis also discusses–later.) I want to be a writer, and I’m still figuring out exactly to what medium the stories within me belong. I have a love of television and have a blog about that, but I also like reading. I like reading fantasy and mystery and certain types of science fiction–and a lot of children’s literature exist in those genres. So why not also pursue that passion as well?

This blog will contain discussions on children’s/YA books (both new and older), articles, and issues of diversity in children’s literature in general, as well as children’s sci-fi-fantasy books specifically. I’ll post links and share pictures of Fairy Tales found on tumblr. It’ll grow and develop as I read more. And maybe I’ll work on some original fiction too!

Thanks for hanging out. Let’s talk about some books!

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