In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ripped from the headlines

Dear Aunt Debbie,

My wonderful friend and poet Emily alerted me this evening to an article in today's New York Times about the dearth of Latino representation in children's books, especially those taught in schools.  We've written recently about looking for books which reflect different kinds of families (gay parents, adopted kids, families with three children), so that kids can have some experience of seeing themselves reflected in the books they read.

Because we've been talking about this so much lately, I almost hesitated to post about it tonight -- I don't want to fall into the same discussion of under-representation.  But then I was reminded of a tremendous TED talk I watched earlier this year, titled "The danger of a single story."  The speaker is Nigerian-born novelist Chimamanda Adichie, and if you have 20 minutes to spare, it's a thought-provoking listen.

Adichie talks about growing up in Nigeria reading British novels, never seeing people like herself and her family reflected in the pages of stories.  When she wrote stories as a child, they were filled with the same white characters and references to British experiences that she's read about, because that's what she believed stories were.  

I think of my own students -- the great majority of whom are Asian, either immigrants themselves or first-generation -- and how many of them, when given the chance to write fiction, populate their stories with blonde, blue-eyed heroines or characters with flat, white-sounding names rather than the constellation of names in a variety of languages which we hear every day in our classroom.  

The Times article says that the people creating the new Common Core curriculum are working to address this disparity, to increase diversity in the books they recommend, hopefully without making it feel like tokenism.  I wish them luck.

Love, Annie

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