I want to call attention to a series of discussions about microaggression and diversity in children’s books. First, in case you are unaware of the term, the definition of microaggression:
Buzzfeed has collected some examples of microaggression, though these don’t seem very subtle to me. But perhaps this is due to the fact that I am aware of microaggression and think about it almost daily.
Anyway, the discussions I want to direct to are as follows:
I was first made aware of Meg Rosoff’s comments by Jeff and Rebecca on the BookRiot podcast (huge fan, by the way!). A woman shared a link to a Huffington Post article about a children’s book called Large Fears by Myles E. Johnson and illustrated by Kendrick Daye which is about a queer black boy. The woman who shared the article said that her children made her aware of the book and that she was glad it existed as there are “too few books for all our marginalized young people.” Rosoff disagrees in the comments.
Next, Debbie Reese, author of the American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) blog, made me aware of another Facebook post made by Roger Sutton in which he shared a link to his Horn Book post Editorial: We’re Not Rainbow Sprinkles. Sutton recalls a middle-grade panel discussion at the Cambridge Public Library at which a question came from a middle grade boy to R. J. Palacio about why there weren’t any gay characters in her book Wonder. Sutton goes on to question whether sprinkling diversity throughout stories is worthwhile. In the comments Rosoff heartily agrees with Sutton and there is an exchange between Rosoff and Reese. The comments on both the Sutton Facebook post and the actual Horn Book post are worth reading.
Then I read Reese’s review of A Fine Dessert which I also reviewed earlier this year and learned a few things. Apparently so did Megan Schliesman on Reading While White. I appreciated her post and commented:
I have also been poring over the discussions on A Fine Dessert today. I reviewed it favorably earlier this year, too. I like to think of myself as being progressive and looking critically at diversity when evaluating books. What I appreciate about the book was that it presented the situation in such a way that led my 3 year old to ask why they had to hide to eat the treat unlike the other characters who made it to enjoy themselves. It gave an opportunity for a discussion on a horrible part of our history. After listening to my colleagues, I see and understand the concerns.
A big part of critical thinking is the ability to change your mind when presented with new evidence. We listened and reconsidered our position based on what we heard. Have we learned something? Yes. Will it make us see more in the future? Absolutely. So… is having the discussion worthwhile? You bet! Thank you for sharing your thought process on this. We are all learning together.
This is not the first time I have been schooled in microagression and it probably won’t be the last (though I am really working hard on that)…
UPDATE: After writing this post, I saw this comment from author of A Fine Dessert herself, Emily Jenkins, on Reading While White:
This is Emily Jenkins. I like the Reading While White blog and have been reading it since inception. As the author of A Fine Dessert, I have read this discussion and the others with care and attention. I have come to understand that my book, while intended to be inclusive and truthful and hopeful, is racially insensitive. I own that and am very sorry. For lack of a better way to make reparations, I donated the fee I earned for writing the book to We Need Diverse Books.
What a gracious way to show that SHE is watching and listening.
I have two children and I frequently wonder how to speak to them about race. Initially, I had planned not to discuss it and make sure our children see us treating everyone kindly and how we would like to be treated. Then I was directed to a post titled The Opposite of Colorblind: Why It’s Essential To Talk To Children About Race by Stacy Whitman, Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low. Whitman suggests that not speaking to your children about racial issues can do more harm than good because they will just absorb the daily microaggressions to which they are exposed. I am unsure of how best to tackle this problem as a parent. Whitman suggests resources and I know that when the time comes I will be able to find information. But I am also interested in this question as a librarian who recommends books to children and parents which is why I was so drawn to these discussions and why I wanted to chew on them here.
Draw your own conclusions about those involved in the discussions linked to above. I am always amazed when people can come down so squarely on something. I, myself, never feel like I can easily do that because there are so many things that I know I don’t know and so many perspectives that I can never fully understand simply because of who I am and the experiences that I have had. But I can say this: Books are hugely influential to children as they are learning about the world around them. Seeing themselves in stories is important. Seeing others not like them is equally important. If there are subtle harmful messages about gender (there are) and race (there are and I am slowly getting better about seeing them), it can only help us to be aware of them and discuss them. “The more you know”…