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03 November 2015 @ 09:35 am
keeping the channel open  
I have reared two sets of teens a generation apart. That is why I have crazy colors in my hair: it is the only thing that covers the gray hairs this has caused. I think I approached the second batch (the residents of the back bedroom as I call them) with a different perspective. I chose my battles more carefully. I also knew when to shut down the conversation. There is no use continuing a discussion or argument when one of the parties begins to be manipulative. What does this have to do with books and reading you might ask?

Well, unless you have taken a break from social media over the past couple of weeks, you are aware that a great deal of discussion has centered around a couple of titles which are appearing on best books lists. The discussion includes a charge of racism in each book. You can read more here (http://readingwhilewhite.blogspot.com/) and here (http://blogs.slj.com/heavymedal/2015/11/02/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-childrens-books/). Many are hesitating to become involved in the discussion because it is not always reasoned. Just this weekend, some folks were criticized for using their powerful voices to promote racist books. When this happens, the conversation ends. Reason is abandoned in favor of passion.

Before I lost heart, though, that this would descend into the maelstrom of past social media debacles, I returned to Roger Sutton's post here (http://www.hbook.com/2015/10/opinion/editorials/editorial-were-not-rainbow-sprinkles/#_). Read the comments section (it is quite lengthy) and see the thoughtful discussion that takes place there. Respectful, deliberate, responsive. THIS is much more helpful than some of the more pointed tweets and posts I saw flung back and forth.

Debbie Reese called for educators to remember that their responsibility is to the kids in the classroom and not to authors and illustrators whose works we like. I wonder, then, about taking A FINE DESSERT into the classroom and having the discussion with kids. I know some fine educators who are doing just that. I know others, like my colleagues, who are sitting and having a discussion about this as well. As I prepare a session on the need for diverse books for a conference, I am thinking about how to include this discussion as part of our time together.

What I hope happens here is that the discourse will mirror that of what is taking place here (http://www.hbook.com/2015/10/opinion/editorials/editorial-were-not-rainbow-sprinkles/#_). I want to know more. I want to learn more. I do that best when I am not placed in a defensive position. If we go back to my opening analogy here, I want to keep the channel open. I want to keep the discussion reasoned. I want to show and give respect.

BSP warning: I asked Debbie Reese and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas to write about some of the questions and issues we tackle for my column in THE ALAN REVIEW. You can access this column here: http://www.alan-ya.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/J68-72-ALAN-Sum15.pdf.
Current Location: office
Current Mood: puzzled
Debbie Reesedebreese on November 4th, 2015 05:57 pm (UTC)
Good morning, Teri,

When I first saw the book, it felt not-ok. As I began to see African American people talking about it, the not-ok feeling started to form into something more concrete.

In particular, a comment I read this morning crystalized it. The comment is at Reading While White. The woman--who is African American--wrote that when she looks at those pages, what she sees is a mother, preparing her daughter for her life of slavery. That, I think, is the painful context that is missing for most people who are not descendants of slaves.

Those memories: of ancestors living lives, as slaves, who had to behave in certain ways to avoid being beaten, separated, sold.

The other piece is that it is a book about dessert, and as I look around, I see a pretty huge gulf. There's lot of people talking about how they love the book and make the dessert and how yummy it is, and there's the people who are stunned with the depiction of slavery.

The people who are stunned are not the ones within kidlit that we are familiar with. Because of social media, African American moms and dads and brothers and sisters of little kids who may have this book put in front of them are saying, quite passionately, WTF. And DO NOT do this to my child. Now--within kidlit spaces, I see lot of people defending the book, but they aren't African Americans who carry the wounds of slavery and present-day brutality with them, every day, like African Americans do. Within kidlit, there's a lot of "ignore those angry people who didn't read the book" --- which is shortsighted, in my opinion.

In some ways this feels to me like a parallel to LITTLE HOUSE, with people arguing that I'm wrong to object to "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."

Books carry such powerful messages--and yes---agendas, and ignoring People of Color is wrong. It is just wrong.