Posts Tagged #weneediversebooks

Spread the Word!

There’s an old adage in two of my favorite endeavors, science & baseball, that states, “The numbers don’t lie.” 

Data is collected, analyzed, and then used to draw conclusions that can be accepted or challenged. For example, if the baseball data shows 85% of the times I strike out it’s on low, inside curveballs, then I better learn to make contact on low, inside curveballs or my baseball-playing days will soon involve a whole lot of time riding the pine. 

The numbers don’t lie.

Of course, I can always ignore or skew the numbers to deflect the spotlight from the true conclusions. Sure, I might strike out on low, inside curveballs 85% of the time BUT 15% of the time I’m sure I strike out on TERRIBLE CALLS BY THE UMPIRE!!! The numbers are the same. The numbers themselves don’t lie. I just twisted them.

Last month, Sarah Park Dahlen, Associate Professor, MLIS Program at St. Catherine University, and illustrator David Huyck released the second version of their Diversity in Children’s Books infographic of children’s publishing data, the 2018 version. Their 2015 version was a game-changer in the diverse books movement. 

As far as what happened in children’s literature during 2018, the numbers don’t lie. Please take a few moments to study the infographic with an analytical eye to these important numbers.

Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. sarahpark.com blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/.

It is also said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s true, then the Diversity in Children’s Books 2015 and 2018 infographics are worth millions and millions of words. The millions and millions of words of untold and underrepresented stories. As much as the infographic shows what’s there in children’s publishing, the weight of what’s missing permeates the image. 

Huyck, David, Sarah Park Dahlen, Molly Beth Griffin. (2016 September 14). Diversity in Children’s Books 2015 infographic. sarahpark.com blog. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/picture-this-reflecting-diversity-in-childrens-book-publishing/ Statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp Released for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

Compare 2015 to 2018

2015 2018
White 73.3% 50%
Animals/Other 12.5% 27%
African/African American 7.6% 10%
Asian Pacific Islander/Asian Pacific American 3.3% 7%
Latinx 2.4% 5%
American Indians/First Nations 0.9% 1%

Small steps in the right direction? Perhaps (with emphasis on “small”). 

Are these small steps good enough? No. 

Meaningful change would have shown the 2018 books not being published in the “White” (-23.3%) category split into any or all of the other categories listed beside the “Animal/Other” (+14.5%) category. It doesn’t. To my thinking, the 2018 data represent manuscripts likely submitted after the 2015 infographic was published. A period of acquisitions far after the beginnings of the We Need Diverse Books Movement. There should have been a greater general awareness of acquiring diverse titles in this time period leading up to the 2018 publication window.

We can do better. 

But how? We don’t publish books. Most of us aren’t in the acquisition process or in any position to make these direct decisions. What we can do, especially as readers, writers, librarians, and scholars, is this:

Be a fan. 

Read, purchase, gift, discuss, and celebrate quality and representative diverse books. Ask your library and/or bookseller to order specific diverse titles you enjoy or want to enjoy. Find a way to put quality diverse kids’ books into the hands and minds of kid readers. Spread the word of your fandom with others and help diverse books find their landing space. Cultivate your own literary table where all are not only welcome but can share in the meal as well.

Here’s another way to spread the word. Infographic cards! Thanks to the fine folks at Teaching for Change for making these cards available so it will be easier to share the Diversity in Children’s Books 2018 infographic to classrooms, libraries, conferences, workshops, and anywhere children’s literature is consumed, discussed, or produced with. Below is the link to request cards from Teaching for Change.

Diversity in Children’s Books Graphic Distribution

Also, if you wish to help defray the costs of printing The Diversity in Children’s Books 2018 infographic cards, there’s the opportunity to help them out through a donation.

Personally, I plan to dig deeper into the numbers as I study the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s data for 2018 and pay attention to the conversation taking place discussing the data behind the 2018 infographic. I encourage and challenge you to join me in this endeavor. My goal is to understand the numbers to a higher degree in hopes to be a better global citizen, especially in one of my favorite neighborhoods on the planet, the kid lit community. 

Thank you for considering your support of these important and worthy causes aimed to make our world a better place, one book at a time. 

Reading is a superpower! 

The numbers don’t lie…

THE LOST GIRL by Anne Ursu & New Information

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.”

(Mom) “Shoot.”

(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
  • Brontosaurus
  • Pterodactyls
  • 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.

 

 

Experiencing the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Last year, my multi-racial extended family and I spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Washington, D.C. We planned our trip around a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This experience was profound.

Visitors enter on the ground floor and descend three levels. The bottom level, which covers the forcible removal of Africans and transport on slave ships to the colonies, has low ceilings and tight corridors and dim lighting to simulate the passage. The next level documents what life was like for enslaved people in the Americas. It’s less physically confined than the lower level but equally intense with many artifacts including a cabin from the years of slavery. The next level begins with the Civil War and ends with the Civil Rights movement. It includes a devastating and gutting memorial to fourteen-year-old Emmett Till.

At this point in the experience, you are back on the main entrance level, and you proceed up through three more above ground levels. How different these are than the lower levels! Light enters through the scrollwork covered windows. Everywhere is sound and color and exuberance. These three levels are a joyous celebration of the contributions African Americans have made in technology, sports, science, music, art, dance, literature, politics, and culture. It makes you want to sing and dance and cheer. It makes you grateful for the richness African Americans bring to our cultural experience.

All of us were deeply affected by the museum, and I was reminded that both kinds of African American stories—those of tragedy and those of celebration—are equally important. Not just for black and brown kids, for ALL kids. We often talk about books being mirrors of and windows to a wider world… Well, let’s do it!

Build empathy with Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate with Young, Gifted and Black by Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins and Black History Flashcards by Urban Intellectuals

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRAVEL TIP: I recommend the museum to everyone visiting D.C. If you can, I suggest dedicating two days to the museum, one for the lower three levels and another for the upper three. Tickets are hard to get so check the website for details.