Category: Racial Diversity

In English, of Course

In English, Of Course book cover art

The book In English, of Course follows a young girl’s journey in adjusting to life in a new country as she balances her pride with her desire to connect and adapt to the new heritages that are present. Josephine, an immigrant from Italy, struggles to communicate and connect with her American peers.  Demonstrating how a child can find their voice in another language, and by extension, their agency, In English, of Course is as meaningful as it is thought-provoking.

In English, of Course depicts students from a wide array of backgrounds. These students share their heritage with each other and come together in their pursuit of learning English and maintaining their roots. Ling-Li, a student from China, talks about her culture while Juan, an immigrant from Puerto Rico describes his home country. Finally, its Josephine’s turn to share; she describes her old life and learns new English words simultaneously.  She describes a story about a cow, a river, and a pig and making new friends. When her teacher asks her, “Did you live in a farm?”, Josephine struggles to find the words to explain the magnificence of Naples and the prestige of her parents’ professional background.

In her struggle to communicate, Josephine learns patience and learns new words such as “falling down,” “dragging,” and “push.” By the end of the book, she can communicate more effectively, and she is inspired to learn more English words. In English, of Course portrays an immigrant’s journey from uncertainty to empowerment.

-Halla


Want to read the analysis for In English, of Course? Click here to check it out.

Intersectional YA

collage - Intersectional YA book covers

In 2014, I attended a bookstore event for Shannon Hale—a children’s and young adult author—where she was promoting her newest book, Dangerous. Dangerous tells the story of Maisie Danger Brown, a biracial teenager born with a congenital limb difference who gains superpowers at an ultra-secretive, highly-exclusive space camp. At the event, Shannon Hale described a criticism she’d received from an early reader: “A homeschooled, biracial Paraguayan American girl with one hand who wants to be an astronaut? That’s too specific. Teens won’t be able to relate to her.” As if teenagers who are both biracial and disabled don’t exist in the real world. As if white, able-bodied teens could wrap their minds around superpowers bestowed by alien technology, but not a character whose identity deviated too far from their own experience.

Intersectionality is a term coined by activist and legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, while discussing issues of feminism and race. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.” Young adult books featuring characters who live in the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and disability have become more common in the five years since Dangerous was published, but as with most issues related to diversity in young adult and children’s literature, there is still plenty of room for improvement and growth.

The following books feature teenage characters who belong to more than one marginalized group:

-Emma

Interracial Families in Illustrations

Book cover art collage

Growing up, I can remember standing on my mom’s purse (it was a wooden box) to reach the top shelf in the children’s area of Benson Public Library in Omaha, Nebraska. I would sit on her purse and lose all sense of where I was as I became engrossed in a book. My favorite books back then that I can easily recall are Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, just to name a few. What I picked up were books that represented my family: mainly a white mom and/or dad, and kids or animals.   

As a white parent of a child of color, I have an opportunity to incorporate my favorite picture books growing up alongside picture books that represent our interracial family. Children read with both their eyes and ears, and the illustrations within the pages of books can explain more than words can.  

The following are picture books that show what we can only assume are interracial families:   

-Kristine

Finlater

Finlater book cover art

Finlater is a book about a boy on the wrong side of the tracks. Reading this book, I found many similarities between Cliffy, the main character, and I. He is a sweet, smart, sensitive, and wonderfully honest boy who, despite his circumstances and his lack of a father figure growing up, still sees the bright side of life while using his gifts to advance himself (he skips a grade in school and is the spelling bee champion). He is himself despite his environment and he manages to find humor in most, if not all, his misfortunes. Cliffy is intelligent, thoughtful, well-spoken, and open to trying new things. In racially tense Cincinnati in 1969, he finds himself becoming close to this Jewish boy at school and they affectionately refer to each other as “soul brothers.” As they learn more about each other, Cliffy falls for Noah and vice versa. Through the troubled times at home—Noah’s dad struggling with mental illness and Cliffy’s dad reappearing in his life many years too late without anything to show for it—the two boys still found a way to blossom into their sexuality. Not once did either think less of himself for how they were feeling for each other and Noah, being a little more experienced, eases Cliffy into this new world and watching them fall deeper and deeper for each other is the most beautiful thing. Cliffy’s love for Noah is innocent, full, and honest and Noah loves him back just the same. This book is written by someone who obviously understands his characters well. Each one is well written and perfectly put in perspective. At first, I was wary of the tone and some of the language used in the book, but then I found out that the author himself was black and gay. The author did an awesome job depicting the realness and grittiness of Cliffy’s environment while also sugarcoating it in just the right amount of comedy and lightheartedness. I cried and laughed with Cliffy all the way up until the end.

-Sybile


Want to see the analysis for Finlater? Click here to check it out.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” but this time necessity is my daughter

Where do you locate picture books that showcase interracial families? 

After being the recipient of a book baby shower (for which I am grateful for the outpouring of love and support), I realized that 97% of all the books focused on white families with white kids or books that had animals as the main character.  The majority of the books did not show interracial families, such as my very own.   

This led me to question and seek out my local bookstores in trying to identify picture books that showed interracial parents or interracial families.  The local bookstores did not seem to have many books that either had non-white main characters or interracial families, even when I stopped and asked for assistance.    

As a librarian, I began researching the various library catalogs, children literature databases, and websites for books, trying to identify books that I could bring home to my daughter, who is of Ethiopian descent.  The search results brought back a few hits, but not a lot with which I wanted to start to build my home library with. 

If I, as a librarian, were having trouble with my local bookstores in trying to locate books, and the library catalog was not descriptive enough to identify the race or ethnicity of the characters in the book, how could families, who did not have the library databases at their fingertips, find and build a collection of books that represented their family? 

This project was initially started with the idea of locating books that showed interracial families.  As other members began to be interested in the project, the topic expanded to include LGBTQ+ families, as a parent from the daycare in which my daughter attended, asked me about books that represented her family. 

As I looked around my world of friends, colleagues, and neighbors, I soon learned that families needed books as tools to help explain different family dynamics.  Be the change that you want to see.  As a librarian, I felt charged with creating a database that could benefit more than just my daughter and me.

-Kristine