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. =))