Ellen Oh on Diversity in KidLit: Try Even Harder

Several months ago, I was at a school event where a very young black girl was standing shyly off to the side as I was chatting with some 6th grade students after my presentation. She gave me her notebook and asked me to sign it, which I was glad to do. It was a book of her own poetry and short stories. I smiled and said “I’m so glad to meet a young writer!” She beamed at me and said “I love writing and I want to be a writer but I didn’t think I could because I’m not white.” I was surprised and asked her if she’d read any books by Walter Dean Myers, Angela Johnson, or Linda Sue Park. She nodded and shrugged her shoulder and said, “But I’ve never seen them in person.” To this young teen, an author of color was a mythical creature, not to be believed, until she’d seen one in person. She couldn’t believe in her dream to become a writer until she saw for herself that a real life POC had done it. This is why we must continue to fight for diversity in children’s literature. For all of our children, so that they can see that we exist and that they can believe that their dreams of becoming whatever they want, can come true.

–Ellen Oh

via We Are Still Not Doing Enough for Diversity in Kid lit.

Ellen Oh talks about how enough isn’t being done to promote diversity in children’s literature. Yes, there are great publishers whose missions are diversity and yes some major publishers have diversity imprints, and yes it’s been in the new recently (the Myers’ Times articles and a recent CNN article) and yes there are PoC authors being published, but it’s still not enough.

We can’t settle. Less than 10% of children’s literature is by People of Color. We shouldn’t aim for 10% and consider it done when we reach it. Recently, admissions statistics for my alma mater were told to me and the percentages for admission for African-American students was 6%, but the school was proud of their 6%. For it to be better than last year is great, but an air of “let’s continue to do even better” was missing. Maybe it’s the idea of celebrating too early. I’m glad representation is increasing, but let’s do more work before popping the champagne at every turn.

The passage above is so real to me, because I fell off of writing for a long time because I wasn’t feeling it, and I think that reason was because I was writing characters who were white, while I was surrounded by people of color. My characters had been white washed and it took me until recently to consciously acknowledge this fact and it’s still taking me effort to stop defaulting my characters to white. But because most of the characters I read are white, my brain has taken to imagining all characters as white. I need to force my own imagination to populate itself with people of color and I’ve been reading instances where others had to do the same. A terrible thing for self-esteem and representation. More authors of color, especially in the children’s book industry would be so beneficial to children seeing themselves positively both in the world and their own imagination.

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Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors

When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities, because together they are what make us all human.

Rudine Sims Bishop

via Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors

The Studio Museum in Harlem

Yesterday, I got to hang out at the Studio Museum in Harlem for a bit. I didn’t get to look at the new exhibit (I had to rush out to head to work), but I did get a peek at the books in their Museum Store, and I totally need to read them!

 

wpid-20140410_155939.jpgI love fairy tales, so I need to read Rapunzel, with that long beautiful braided hair of hers. Neighborhood Mother Goose looks interesting for similar fairy tale-esque reasons. Anansi the Spider is probably the most well known African myth (for as little as Americans, myself included, know about different African folklore and myth tales). But really, I just want to read them all and I want to see more books like this in mainstream bookstores. Where’s the shelf for these books, Barnes and Noble (outside of Black History Month)?

I just started volunteering at the Studio Museum, hopefully I get to do more things there. The employees seem really fun and cool, and most of the people who walked in the building yesterday were ridiculously stylish. I can’t stop thinking about this woman’s flowered skirt with pockets (!!) and contrasted teal tulle underneath that you can’t buy anywhere because she had her friend make it for her. But that’s off the point of the post and the blog in general. I can’t wait to go back and I hope I can read (and afford to buy) some of those books.

Here are some pictures from their quarterly magazine:

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Books for Kids

Activity examples for educators and parents

Activity examples for educators and parents

Reading is, of course, very important to nurture as a child, but so is art. They often go hand in hand. Kids will often want to create art based on books they’ve read and characters they love. More diverse children’s books creates more diverse art. We need more of that in the world.

Visit the Studio Museum in Harlem, on 125th Street between Lenox and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Ave (7th Avenue for any locals). $7 Suggested Admission for Adults, $3 for Students and Seniors, Free for children under 12. http://www.studiomuseum.org/ 

 

Link: Clarissa Explains It All, The Legend of Korra, and Doc McStuffins show that boys will watch girl shows.

Instead, we need to start looking for guidelines: What makes boys watch girls’ shows? I asked several children’s TV executives what their own research has shown, and they pointed to a few common themes:

Find the themes here: Clarissa Explains It All, The Legend of Korra, and Doc McStuffins show that boys will watch girl shows.

This can be applied to Children’s Lit as well. We all remember JK Rowling telling us that she was told not to go by Jo or Joanne but her initials (of which she made up the middle one after grandmother), because publishers thought boys wouldn’t buy a book written by a woman. A lot of media aimed at young people feature a trio, two boys and one girl (usually with a triangle in there at some point).

It works for all media, even adult media: once we realize that, for the most part, men and women enjoy a lot of the same stories, we can get past gender bias in media, which cater to “male” dominated stories as universal, but “female” dominated stories as niche.

Cate Blanchett said it this weekend, women’s stories make money too. “The world is round people!” When we get rid of the deep trenches of the gender bias earlier on, people will make more money and, as the article says, those “kids might just be open to watching whatever happens to interest them.”

Related:

Study finds huge gender imbalance in children’s literature [The Guardian]

 

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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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