There’s much to love about Anne Ursu’s latest middle grade book, THE LOST GIRL. The shifting relationship of twin sisters, Lark and Iris, who are reluctantly being pushed toward independence. How the separation upsets the balance in both their lives. The odd new shop in town with its mysterious secrets. Lark and Iris finding new connections through activities and friends. All these things combine to make a beautiful and fantastical contemporary middle grade novel…with ravens!!! MG fans, read this book!
As a parent of fraternal twins, this book appeals to me on many levels. All that wonderful stuff pales in comparison, though, to what hit me on a two-and-a-half page stretch of THE LOST GIRL. The monumental turn which stuck in my craw and won’t go away starts on page 150. Iris asks her mother a question as her life spirals beyond her comfortable and normal level of control.
(Iris) “I have another question.”
(Iris) “Is there stuff you learned at school that you found out later wasn’t true? Like everybody believed one thing and they were wrong?”
There it is. The monumental question in this wonderful book I can’t get out of my head. How do we react when the knowledge previously learned and the things considered truths are no longer true? When new information upsets our apple cart of truths, what’s the next step?
The question made me think of the shifting truths in nutrition, the environment, climate change, food security, health, education, and politics, to name a few. In science, we deal with changing information daily. New discovery and fresh inquiry push science forward. New knowledge replaces old knowledge. But this is not always universally accepted. As in other walks of life, the birth of new knowledge and its acceptance is not a smooth process. It’s sometimes hard for the “old guard” to accept the new knowledge and move forward. They often don’t have the desire, the energy, or the resources to shift thinking and move from the mapped and paved superhighway of their past knowledge base onto the bumpy and shifting ground of new discovery.
The mother in THE LOST GIRL answers that there were things she learned which are now considered wrong.
- Pluto as a planet
- How margarine was so much better than butter but one day became “…basically death on a stick.”
Iris is confused by this revelation as her whole world seems to be knocked off balance and laments to herself, “It would just be nice to be able to believe in the things she did know.”
The new information problem in my head drifted to art, reading, and writing, especially the endeavors aimed at children. New information about past and present children’s literature may lie at the core of the biggest kidlit issues of our generation. Representation. Diversity. Criticism/Backlash. Misinformation.
Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop proposed the idea of “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Doors” in her classic 1990 paper. Dr.Bishop presented the need to increase diverse choices and voices in our children’s literature universe to give children from diverse and marginalized backgrounds a mirror to see themselves represented and provide a window for others to see into their existence.
How many times in the past several years have we heard about problematic children’s literature and/or problematic creators? At least a few times, right? Hopefully, we are paying attention to these conversations and criticisms happening all around us. The struggle with new information is real and presents challenges almost daily in this information age. We must learn to analyze, accept, and adapt to new and different information.
With apologies to Dr. Bishop, I would like to add another function to the mirror. A mirror for us to analyze ourselves as adult creators and gatekeepers. We need to study our own beliefs toward new children’s literature information. Do we hold onto problematic children’s literature with clenched fists because it is dear to our heart? Do we study the facts and make informed decisions about problematic books and/or problematic creators? Do we ignore the issues because a book or a creator holds such a revered place in our own formation?
Honestly, I do not know the answers. These are individual questions we must ask ourselves. We have to decide whether to accept the new information or turn a blind eye. We have to decide how new knowledge affects our view of the problematic content as we move forward. We need to do the best we can and when new information arises, be willing to adjust.
The goal is to try and get things right in a constantly changing world by making informed decisions via a willingness to keep learning and relearning. Nothing is ever truly written in stone. Knowledge changes. Process information with an open mind.
As I’ve soapboxed before, the single greatest skill our young people will need in the digital age is the ability to sift through the mountains of data and the wave of available information to determine the truths. (Or the truths at that particular time?)
Perhaps Iris’ mom has the best advice about dealing with an ever-evolving knowledge base:
(Iris) So what do you do?”
(Mom) I guess… we just do the best we can with the information we have, you know? And stay open to the idea that there’s a lot we don’t know.”
Do the best with the information we have. I like that.
Wield knowledge wisely and to great benefit. It’s okay to be wrong IF you learn to be right.
Knowledge is powerful, not power.
Thank you, Anne Ursu, for THE LOST GIRL. It is a very good book. Also, a debt of gratitude for those two-and-a-half pages. They raised a deep question that wormed its way into my brain and won’t let go. THE LOST GIRL made me think and that’s one of the greatest gifts a story can give.
Note: Below is a link to the replay of the 2019 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture presented on April 13, 2019 by Dr. Debbie Reese, host of the American Indians in Children’s Literature web site and blog. It was an exceptional presentation about diversity, representation, and the #DiversityJedi in children’s literature.
An Indigenous Critique of Whiteness in Children’s Literature replay from Wisconsin Public Television.