Friday, September 2, 2011

Diversify Your Reading - My Summer Foray

 At the beginning of the summer I made this huge promise that I would not just include multicutural books in my reading mix, but specifically books by African American writers that focused on what it's like to be an African American.  Also known as books that would qualify for the Coretta Scott King Award administered through ALA (American Libary Association).

That promise fell through. For the summer.

I did read some multicultural titles though.  Note: I made up these labels (it's caled list-group-label and it's a great pre-reading activity).  I could also be mistaken.

One thing I noticed was when choosing a book for this particular challenge, cover played a larger role than normal in my reading.  I'll talk more about that under the categories

Books with Diverse Authors (other than African American)
Fury of the Phoenix by Cindy Pon
Odd Girl In by Jo Whittemore
Karma by Cathy Ostlere
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami
Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez

These are the books where cover played a huge role.  While Karma and Return to Sender each have generic covers, the other three have faces. And while Fury of the Phoenix and The Grand Plan to Fix Everything feature characters on the cover that look Asian, Odd Girl In is the odd book out.  Picking up this book in the library would not give you any hints that there is diversity involved.  I picked this one because it's a "Mix" imprint and the girls seem to like them.  They are fast and fun.

These are also books with authors of color.  I feel Pon uses Fury to share a portion of  Asian culture and history with us as does Krishnaswami and Ostlere.  These are stories that would be totally diffferent if the main characters were re-written as white.  The characters cultural heritage as well as their countries as setting are significant.  The stories are enhanced by the background knowledge the authors bring into play.

Return to Sender is one story that seems to suffer from the author's experience.  The story was bogged down in the details of the migrant workers and you never connected with them nor their plight.  Although told in alternating voices, the Hispanic migrant worker's daughter's voice was heavy-handed and "preachy" while the white co-protagonist's voice was childish and whiny. You could easily exchange these characters with other dichotomous factions without any significant loss or gain.

Odd Girl In has me confused.  The author is Asian but the characters read as "everyone".  It's just a simple story about a family, school and friendships. Nothing more or less.  And I think that's ok.  Isn't it?

Books with Diverse Characters (other than African American)
Shine by Lauren Miracle
Addie On The Inside by James Howe
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Sass & Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler
The Challenger by Greg Fishbone
Black Elk's Vision by SD Nelson

Shine and Addie on the Inside could use a separate category.  I included these because they both feature gay characters.  In the case of Shine, it's a major part of the story but we don't get into the relationship while in Addie it's not the top storyline. LGBT stories are ones that I need to read more.  I did read The Misfits but I haven't read Totally Joe by James Howe.  I do love that Joe is fashioned after Mr Howe which I think lends some authenticity to his story.  I think Addie would work whether or not Joe was in her story since we only get a glimpse of him and his boyfriend.  The think about Shine is it's more about prejudice than about being gay.  You could substitute religion, socioeconomic status, or race and get a similar story which made it easy to relate to.  Prejudice is prevalent and we will go to extremes not to be made fun of, even to the point of making fun of the very thing we secretly embrace so as not to be laughed it.

Sass & Serendipity (Hispanic) and The Challenger (Japanese) both had poc characters but I felt it wasn't an integral part of the story.  Although Challenger did include more background from the author's time spent in Japan, we could lose that and still have the same story.  These books had me thinking, what am I missing?  Why is it significant to point out that the Riveras are Hispanic if nothing they did in the book was any different.  Is that the point, that we are all just the same? If a Hispanic student saw the cover, would she pick it up thinking, hey, they look like me? Or if she didn't see the cover but read the summary?  Why were the main characters in The Challenger Japanese? Was it just because we are desperately searching for "mulitcultural" titles and this was a way to get published? 

Books with African American characters (but not authors)

Sources of Light by Margaret McMullan
Tankborn by Karen Sandler

Sources of Light didn't have any actual African American main characters even though it was about Mississippi in the 60s and race relations. Tankborn also didn't have any African American characters (which makes my label misleading) but the main character Kayla's description, "wild and kinked" hair and the "pale mud color of" leads you to that assumption. Although "pale mud" seems rather grayish to me and I don't know any POC with gray skin! Devak, the other main character is described as high status because Kayla recognized his "straight and glossy" hair and his "rich medium-brown" skin.  Is this a subtle case of  "good hair vs. kinky hair"?  Kayla's immediate recognition of Devka's status based on looks was kind of off-putting to me. The notion of "grades" of hair is something I've grown up with and took a long time to come to terms with. It was a major decision to stop "relaxing" or straightening my hair.  I see enough African American students who damage their hair to make it more like their white counterparts than to give them a book where not only is kinky hair secondary but so is the red hair on Kayla's best friend, Mishalla.  There is a twist in the story that changes the status' but I think damage could be done.  I do like that this book is science fiction, where we see lots of different types of people and animals but I wish the highborn could have had Kayla's description instead of the GEN. 

Books with African American Authors
A Game of Character by Craig Robinson (adult)
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones (adult)

Remember Me by Cheryl Robinson (adult)
Flygirl by Sherri L. SmithSilhouetted by the Blue by Traci L. Jones
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Even though they don't count, I wanted to put these adult titles out there.  Of the three, Remember Me features race heavily.  It's the story of an African American woman who had a best friend who was white.  We travel back to high school and trace their story to present day, alternating voices.  We deal a bit with the prejudice some African Americans encounter at all- or mostly- white schools, whether blatant or subtle or sometimes due to ignorance, unintentional.  I went to a mostly-white grade school and high school.  I was lucky that these schools were progressive enough to have a multicultural staff.  Kindergarten through fifth I was at a mostly black school with mostly white teachers. Many were either inexperienced or near retired, most did not want to be there, and it showed.   Jacqueline Woodson's book also deals with prejudice but stemming from interracial dating.  We could include Addie on the Inside here too because Addie's boyfriend is black.  In both books the characters struggle with their own feelings as to whether we should stick with our own race.  My ex-husband is white and I think I struggled with it more than he did.  I felt inadequate due to growing up poor, which I think complicated issues further.  I don't remember us facing any severe prejudice though and we have a truly beautiful daughter!

Flygirl brings the issue of "passing" to children's books.  It reminded me of Imitation of Life in parts.  It was a good way to learn not only about passing but able women pilots and gender prejudices.

Overall, I'm still left with questions.  Is it ok to have poc characters in books, just for the sake of having them?  Does that really fill the need that people have to see themselves reflected in books?  When we talk about "seeing ourselves" what are we looking for? What are students looking for?  We are more than just the color of our skin or the kink in our hair.  But isn't that something worth reading about too? I would love to read a book about an educated black librarian (Beautiful Creatures) that has kinky hair and a snarky sense of humor.  I would also like her to be a snazzy dresser (unlike me) and a lot of fun.  She should also read lots of books and have lots of friends.  Not only would it fill my need to see "me" in a book but I it would show others the possibilities of the future. It's the one thing I loved about Silhoutted by the Blue. The father was an artist.  The uncle was a financier.  They were black and they weren't out selling drugs or even playing basketball.  They were "normal" and that's worth something too.

1 comment:

  1. One of my library helpers was SO excited about Silhouetted by the Blue exactly because it was about a suburban black girl and was NOT about her being black! She wanted more books just like it, about girls like her with every day problems. And for what it's worth, I want a book about a middle aged librarian who is also an international spy. Oh, well!


Thanks for chatting! I love comments and look forward to reading yours! I may not reply right away, but I am listening! Keep reading and don't forget to be awesome!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the Saturday Stories kit by Lien