Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February Notes

Books for Black History Month, love stories for Valentine's Day, baby animals, presidents hither and yon and a chat with Betty Carter--it's all in the February issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


Library Mermaid said...

Roger, would like your thoughts on this - a patron, young, hip, black, came into my library with her young nephew - the assignment - to get Black History month books...and she just went off on a rant (I approve of rants, not a criticism) about how all the books she finds for him are either slaves, poor, Southern, tortured, hated, suffering, or girl power (Amazing Grace). She was "aren't there books, multiple books, where the kid is black and just has a life in suburbia and is happy and has pets and parents with jobs and geez, we have a black President, where are the books?" Which led into a great discussion about how this could now be her grad school thesis...I recently was asked by another family for books that just showed a black and white family without any references - no issues, no nothing, the mom was adamant that it was just every day stuff (thank you, the late and great Mr. Updike and Trina Schart Hyman for A Child's Calendar... and Spike Lee's Please books, and for older - but I am inspired to seek out A LOT more than my meager lists (more than above, I'm not that awful a librarian!)...thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Oh, I know that rant! It's 1352a. 1352b is "Why aren't there any books with Jewish characters that Aren't About the Holocaust?"

I think a great calalamity provides a ready-made plot for the uninventive, so there will always be an oversupply of "ripped from the headlines" books.

A more awkward problem is that writers can't produce the story you demand, they can only produce the story that they have to tell. I would so love to read an inner-city teen vampire story with an all black cast, but I can't write it.

And anybody who says they can "write to order" is someone I probably don't want to read ever.

Roger Sutton said...

There, of course ARE books about kids whose blackness is incidental to the story. (One of my favorite's is Pat McKissack's Tippy Lemmey But there aren't as many as they should be, and I'm guessing it's because the mostly-white world of publishing defaults to books with mostly-white characters for their bread-and-butter "everyday life" kind of books. (More often then not, the white protagonist of such a book will have friends who are black or otherwise ethnically different, but the assumption of these books is that most potential readers of it are white and want to see a white kid in the starring role.)

I can think of more books where the characters just-happen-to-be-Jewish (in fact, where cultural/religious markers are present at all, Jewish kids are more likely to be identified as such than Christian kids are as Christians) but these books as well suffer from the lack of subject-tags that would i.d. them to potential readers--what we need are subject headings like "African Americans" ("Jewish Americans")--Everyday Life Stories. Or do we have those now?

Anonymous said...

and then there is the question of whether all those books should be in a section of their own-- the way some bookstores seem to think. it means that people who are looking for them can find them easily. but it means that people who might really enjoy that mystery, or fantasy, or SF book never see it, because it is shelved in its own separate. . . place.

Polly and Meek said...

Oh what a rant! I too agree, which is why my sister and I were so happy to create our children's picture book to allow children of color to see themselves in positive, reinforcing situations, to help parents diversify their book collections and most importantly inspire and uplift the whole world.


Anonymous said...

Shouldn't books for Black History Month be about history? If there was an Irish American History month, I would imagine books involving the stuggle of Irish emigrants would be highlighted. I always enjoyed reading Too Many Tamales to my class. Here was a family that lived in a home similar to my students but they ate tamales instead of lasagna at Christmas.