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  • fairrosa 8:36 am on April 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    What Do Covers Say? 

    Working on making a poster in anticipation of Jacqueline Woodson’s visit to my school next week — and finding images of the book covers of middle grade and YA titles by her.  The fact that quite a few of the covers feature brown people without their faces shown feel uncomfortable to me.   Don’t know how others might feel… Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 8.13.42 AM

    Of course, there are plenty of other books and different editions featuring prominently the characters’ faces.

    Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 8.18.49 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-15 at 8.18.32 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-15 at 8.18.59 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-15 at 8.18.40 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-15 at 8.18.11 AM
  • fairrosa 10:15 pm on April 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , race   

    I did not get to read this article until today even though it was published last year — but What White Children Need to Know About Race should be a Must Read for anyone involved in the lives of our children — teachers, school administrators, librarians, and parents. Especially parents. Because, when it is all said and done, “professional” educators (like me, a middle school librarian) only have your kids in our hands part of the day, part of the week, and part of the year, and part of their lives while you (parents) influence your children all the time.

    Actually, this article is also informative even for those who are NOT directly involved with educating children — it probably should just be called, What White PEOPLE Need to Know About Race (and how to engage in meaningful and courageous conversations!)

  • fairrosa 8:01 pm on April 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    Listening to the audio book version of The Windup Bird Chronicle — feeling slightly removed because it is a reading (not by a native Japanese speaker) of a translated work from Japan and I can tell that the names are not pronounced well. However, the reader is very skilled in changing his voices/tones for different characters and the actual content of the book is fantastic. Only wishing that I were able to read in its original language.

  • fairrosa 8:10 am on April 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: gender,   

    Children’s Book Publishing, Hot Men, and Sexism 

    After reading and posting comments on Roger Sutton’s blog post from yesterday presenting questions and a snapshot regarding gender representations in YA and children’s books, I recalled another similar post from a while back (8 years ago) The other g-word and all the impassioned, albeit a lot less heated, and eye opening comments following that post. 

    Many of the comments, including my own, allude to the Hot Men phenomenon of children’s publishing: both behind the scene in the publishing process and in the front line at promotional and other events.

    I was definitely trying to stir up the pot a bit but I still wonder if so many of the comments, especially from female children’s book creators, don’t tell quite a bit of the truth! 

    Such as this one: When I got my first book illustration job at a major publisher, I noticed something that made me feel instantly uneasy. It was a male illustrator’s headshot taped to the wall with hearts around it. I asked about it, and got giggles and swoons about his cuteness from the all female dept. My first thoughts when I saw this photo were: is this just a little office joke or is he actually be more likely to get offered a ms. then a similarly talented female or male? and: does he feel weird when he comes into the office and sees that?

    Or this one: When I was studying illustration, a teacher took me and some of the other female students aside for a talk at the end of the year. He said he had no idea what was going on, but he wanted to warn us of something. He said that in his experience, year after year, he not only had more female illustration majors then males numbers wise, but that in his opinion they were overall better illustrators, and that after graduation most of the women faded from the scene while more men made it. He was utterly perplexed, had no answers, but urged us to be aware of this and to please not quit and to press on despite the odds. He literally begged us not to get discouraged and quit the field.

  • fairrosa 1:56 pm on April 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: female representation,   

    Over at Read Roger (Horn Book,) a small word/ideology battle over female representation in children’s and young adult books. Gender by The Numbers. Take a look!

    I posted a couple of responses — here’s the most recent one, in response to two other commenters:

    Maia said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if having female authors or protags guaranteed that what was being written reflected a feminist worldview?”

    Yes, wouldn’t it? From earlier March to now, one of my thoughts was: how many women writers who write stories with female protagonists have pretty much “subjected” their main characters to fit the negatively stereotypical young women mold? Vapid, romance-crazed, hyper-appearance-conscious (toward themselves, their peers, or their love-interests), etc.? I’d rather take Avi’s Charlotte Doyle or M.T. Anderson’s Violet (from Feed) over Stephanie Meyer’s Bella (Twilight Saga) or Cecily von Ziegesar’s Blair or Serena (Gossip Girl) any day.

    So, the bottom line: numbers definitely do not always tell the whole story. If any of us wishes to engage in truly fruitful discussions on these issues, we all have to first do our homework and read A LOT of the books under examination and THINK carefully about our initial, intuitive responses and then THINK again and again about whether these responses have solid basis in reality — and then LISTEN to each other and CONSIDER the many other sides of the same issue.

    And, by the way, as a middle aged woman who has lived in the States for the last 25 years, I must agree with Maia that, to me, rage, pent-up or otherwise, is never a good starting point to initiate a conversation and is definitely not a valid excuse to ignore facts or to lash out at random strangers. I am almost offended by Mike Jung’s sentiment that these women are somewhat excused for their bad behaviors because of their rage — would you excuse men the same way? Can they lash out at women? If not, then perhaps you are still thinking that women are not sensible creatures who should have the ability to engage in logical and reasoned discourses even when they feel wronged? Are we so unreasonably emotional that we cannot be held accountable for our actions?

  • fairrosa 4:56 pm on March 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    Life As We Knew It 

    lifeasweknewit by Susan Beth Pfeffer

    I went into this book with a lot of trepidation — believe it or not, drastic gravitational changes to Earth by the altered distance between Moon and Earth was one of my all time environmental fears, probably from when I used to watch Twilight Zone as a kid. Pfeffer managed to tell the story with a pretty tame disaster setting: the town our heroine lived in has faced much milder impacts and although you hear about quite a bit of “the rest of world is disappearing and people have died everywhere,” you only experience her personal (and none of the immediate family members) losses a few times and the heroine’s reactions do not make the readers feel completely devastated. I thoroughly appreciated the author’s ability to show the shifting in priorities, attitudes, and family relationships as the story progresses.

    This is a survival story that I can feel quite comfortable giving to 5th or 6th grade students, especially those who enjoy Hatchet.

  • fairrosa 3:28 pm on March 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , weneeddiversebooks,   

    But I NEVER imagined him as being like me. In my head, he’s white. 

    With the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, many gatekeepers and practitioners of children’s literature have been publishing thoughtful articles and having deep conversations on the urgent need to publish and promote books featuring diverse characters.  To highlight how important this movement is and how decades of mostly “white” books have “trained” our young readers what to expect from books, I’d like to swing the spotlight directly on some young readers themselves:

    The Setting

    Time: A sunny Monday morning in winter.  3rd period.  Individual choice time.

    Place: A comfortable School Library Reading Room, Upper East Side of Manhattan.  This is an independent school where 60% of students are white and the rest are made up of darker skinned students (if we also consider East Asian as “darker” skinned.)

    Character List

    F – The Librarian, Female, Asian American, 50-something

    A – Student, 7th Grade.  Male. Half Black, Half Jewish
    R – Student, 7th Grade.  Male. Twin of A.
    W – Student, 7th Grade.  Male. African American.
    J – Student, 7th Grade.  Male. Caribbean Black.
    N – Student, 7th Grade.  Female. Jewish/White.

    A, R, W, J, N are all devourers of books, especially action packed Science Fiction or Fantasy novels.

    The Scene

    The students sprawled on the comfy chairs and benches with their laptops, half participating in a discussion on books featuring African American characters and history as they had just finished a unit on African American Authors and Stories (Day of Tears, Carver, We Are the Ship, The Other Wes Moore, Brown Girl Dreaming, among others.)

    Suddenly, A exclaimed, “Oh my god.  The main guy in the book I just finished is black! He’s super cool! But I NEVER imagined him as being like me.  In my head, he’s white.”

    R, J, and W immediately jumped into the conversation and were all in agreement how they also never imagined a superhero with their own faces.  N, usually talkative, remained silent.  The kids and the librarian then started talking about how there are also so few black action heroes in movies except for perhaps Will Smith and Samuel L. Jackson.

    The period ended.  Everyone picked up their new reads and left the Reading Room.

    End Scene

    The previous was based on a recent informal conversation I had with those five kids.  I didn’t detect any sense of outrage or dismay.  The boys simply accepted the lack of dark skinned heroes as the norm.  I, on the other hand, could not stop wondering about that one statement, “I NEVER imagined him as being like me.  In my head, he’s white.”

    Is this a shared sentiment across the country by non-white young readers who seldom see themselves on book covers or between the covers?  When they do encounter people of color in books, most of these characters seem to always need some form of “saving” — from poverty, from political or racial injustice, or from other dire situations (human trafficking, child soldier, etc.)

    Isn’t it high time for us all to change that default and reshape the landscape of American children’s books?

    Let’s have non-white heroes and let their faces show on the covers.

    interrogation ofmetalandwishes tankborn
    2014, Candlewick Press
    Australian Import
    Vol. 1 in Tseries
    Margaret K. McElderry
    Vol. 1 in series
    2011, Tu Books
    Vol. 1 in trilogy


    • Ariella 7:03 pm on March 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      You know, I think that part of the problem is when the books are adapted into movies as well. Just as an example, Katniss had ‘olive skin’ and ‘dark eyes’ in the book, but in the movie she was white. I always read her as Native American in the books, but diversity is such a needless problem in YA literature and movies.

  • fairrosa 12:19 pm on March 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    The Magicians of Caprona 

    magiciansofcapronaby Diana Wynne Jones

    I haven’t read a Diana Wynne Jones for a while and am so glad that I picked this one up. So enjoyed her storytelling tones: very traditionally British, witty, childlike but with age-old wisdom. The storyline plays off of the “family feud/Romeo & Juliet” trope, set in Italy, nonetheless. Of course, the magic and scenes are all so cool, too. One can really see how other writers like JK Rowling, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, etc., all came from this same magical storytelling tradition. With this one done, I have finished the first four books in the Chrestomanci series. There are two more novels and a collection of short stories to be done — looking forward to those treats!


  • fairrosa 9:46 am on March 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    Not quite in the mood for Independent Study, sequel to Testing. Switched to Magicians of Caprona – the one Christomanci books that I never got around to read. Ah… Diana Wynn Jones — you were such a witty and talented fantasy writer for young people. I can see why Neil Gaiman reveres you and your work. I’m always in awe. So, two fantastic fantasies this weekend: Shadow Scale + Magicians of Caprona!

  • fairrosa 4:38 pm on March 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , dystopia,   

    The Testing 

    thetesting by Joelle Charbonneau

    I like this book partly because some of my students really took to the series and I can see why they love it. The different stages of the testing, the unflinching gruesomeness of certain deaths/acts, and the still unclear intentions of the Officials (and of some other characters’) at the end of the book (with a cliffhanger that makes you really want to read the next book) all make this a compelling and fast read. However, much of the book also feels quite derivative and pieced together from many other, better penned stories: Ender’s Game, Fahrenheit 451, The Enemy, or Battle Royale, that it probably will not be my top recommendation to some other students.

  • fairrosa 10:43 am on March 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    Haven’t had a chance to read all the abusive words thrown at Andrew Smith that caused him to shut down both his twitter and facebook accounts. I did have the chance to read the VICE interview and saw what he had said (as published by VICE) and simply couldn’t fathom how an honest, although tongue-in-cheek, and quite humble remark such as, “I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though” would have been the cause of so much personal attack and pain. I read couple of responses that more or less match what I think: Andrew Smith is a brilliant author who deals with issues in his books mostly through male perspectives: raw, honest, frequently biased or myopic (because it IS raw and honest) — and is obviously aware of the criticism that he’s not fleshing out his female characters as much as his readers would have liked. I’m trying to make sense of all this… I have not read Alex Crow — but I did read 100 Sideway Miles and found Julia to be independent, mature, and an incredibly strong and positive influence over Finn — an entirely different female character from Shann in Grasshopper Jungle. I need to do a lot more digging to figure out why the outcry and also whether I find it justifiable to condemn a human being and his character simply by the characters they put in books and also by some sentences in an interview that, to me, seem to be interpreted to carry very different meanings than intended.

    Here are links to the original interview and some responses:

    The original interview:

    An interpretation that states Andrew Smith, by saying (tongue-in-cheekly) that he’s ignorant of how women function, Andrew Smith is admitting that he considers women “LESS THAN HUMAN.” I can easily, by the same ignoring-all-logic-or-facts method used by Tessa Gratton here, claim that he is considering women “MORE THAN HUMAN” and thus harder to grasp and he’s trying to do a better job at learning how to WRITE THEM as characters. Sorry. Grrr…. :

    A well-argued essay in response to the twitter witch hunt and Gratton’s attack

    A long list of thoughts that present many ideas that I think about what Andrew Smith had said:

    • Beth Turnage 11:19 am on March 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I agree with you. The words were taken out of context and blown up into something they weren’t. But I wouldn’t have closed down my social media accounts. I’d have ridden the wave until the shouting stopped.

      • fairrosa 11:29 am on March 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        But we are not Andrew. We don’t know how he might react to this kind of personal attacks. I know that he cares about his craft, and I imagine that he didn’t publish books to be demonized by fellow authors. By now I have read more “follow-up” comments or blog posts that start with, “I have never read a book by Andrew Smith…” And we need to respect that he needs to not see the negative comments.

    • medinger 7:20 am on March 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Just came across this. http://bookriot.com/2015/03/12/women-arent-aliens-thoughts-andrew-smith-controversy/ The vitriol in the comments (esp from the moderators) is mindboggling. (You will see Walter Mayes trying and failing as well as Sarah from the readingzone)

      • fairrosa 10:25 am on March 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        I don’t want to register there to comment, so putting mine here: I want to clarify that the interviewer of that article starts with an inaccurate assessment that Andrew Smith does not write good female characters. Whether Andrew defended himself during the interview, we cannot know because he did not write the transcript — the interviewer had the power and discretion to include or exclude whatever was exchanged. However, based on THIS assessment, people who have not read most of Andrew Smith’s books must be under the impression that this author really doesn’t know anything about women. Thus, the tongue-in-cheek statement is taken as having a demeaning undertone, when all he wanted to say is that he’s a man, he has not lived in a woman’s shoes, and he is trying to learn how to create better female characters. I am not sure what else we should ask of him. What if Andrew Smith answered, “I already created really good female characters. I understand them because they are just like men, and I don’t have to try to understand them further”? I imagine that the outcry would have been the same or even more severe — because, the truth is: Tessa Gratton was not interested in what Andrew actually said or meant, but to seize an opportunity and twist his words to make a point. I do not think her point is all wrong — actually it is important to understand that micro aggression against women needs to be pointed out. However, as I said, we could also have easily interpreted his answer in a very positive way.

    • Brandy 9:45 pm on March 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I am one who found his tone to be rather too dismissive. Having reread the interview since, I can see that he probably didn’t mean to come across as dismissive as I interpreted, but at the time, bringing my own experiences to what I was reading, I was very irritated. (And to be clear, I agree they could be interpreted more positively, but I still find them problematic.) I bounced pretty hard off the one novel of his I attempted to read because of the female characterization. His books just don’t appeal to me so I read other things. No harm, no foul. (And I can’t use them with the kids I work with anyway.) But I have seen numerous people who have tried to critique his female characterization repeatedly shot down by people telling them either they don’t know what they’re talking about or that it doesn’t matter because he gets the boys so well and he’s creative. One man should not be made the target for a systemic problem and discussion that needs to be had, but his words can certainly be used in that discussion. I also think we have a real problem with the cult of celebrity that needs to be addressed. There are some authors we seem to be unable to touch with much criticism without getting our heads chopped off. He’s one of them. And frankly that’s a big reason why I don’t want to read any more of his books even to see. I’m afraid to admit that I don’t like them.

      I will also say that I did not see any abusive words thrown at him. I saw a lot of discussion about the differences in how male and female writers are treated as regards to flaws in their work. I saw a lot of talk about how frustrating it is to have women othered like that. (Even if that wasn’t his intent, that’s how a lot of women interpreted it, and, again, can be discussed rationally.) Now I did see a lot of passive aggressive snark. Some of that made me laugh, but no, it is not highly conducive to further discussion. But if we’re going to start calling passive aggressive snark “attacking” and “bullying”, then we all need to just evacuate social media immediately. Honestly, I was confused that he shut down his social media because I didn’t see anyone even engaging with him directly, just discussing. (I don’t use Facebook for book world stuff though so have no clue what happened there.) Obviously I don’t approve of personal attacks, threats, or abuse, People who engage in those things should be called out for them. But people using his words to discuss issues, is not that.

      I want to be able to have a discussion in the community about the different way people interpreted his words and why that happened. I want to discuss the underlying problems. I’m disheartened that this became something that will probably stop that from happening. Again. Because now we all have to choose sides and refuse to budge from our positions or attempt listen and understand.

      And hi! I came over here from Battle of the Books because I don’t want to discuss this there. Hope you don’t mind. :)

      • fairrosa 10:09 pm on March 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Love it that you come over here to discuss. And I am in agreement with much of what you said. I don’t believe that he is Untouchable: his female characters in Grasshopper Jungle should be discussed, especially with young people. And I can’t imagine him dismissing actual discussions over his literary creations based on textual evidences by people who have actually read the book. However I find it definitely problematic when people start taking things out of context and criticizing him as a person or a writer without ever reading his books: to me that is symptomatic of a world relying too heavily on sound bites and snappy knee jerk reactions. It is definitely fine to express one’s (often valuable and valid) opinions via social media, but once again it becomes problematic when there is little evidence or validity in the “source materials” some people base their responses upon. To those people, I still insist: Say what you want to say about female characters in books and how they should be improved but don’t accuse an author of doing a poor job at it because you (the royal you) have read about someone else’s complaints.

        • Brandy 2:58 pm on March 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply

          Oh, I agree with most of this. Personal attacks are never okay, and if you don’t know all the source material you should probably not make sweeping statements. Not being as familiar with his books, my irritated reaction was more due to the inherent system behind his word. His words weren’t overtly insulting to me, but the ideas behind them were. I don’t know if you saw Phoebe North’s response. It was basically my response too. Link if you haven’t seen it: http://phoebenorthauthor.tumblr.com/post/113371705400/on-the-flip-side-it-sometimes-seems-like-there

    • Ariella 7:06 pm on March 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Here’s the problem with this. If an author says that he doesn’t write through female perspectives because he doesn’t understand them enough to portray them realistically, people get offended. If he writes from female perspectives even though he doesn’t understand them enough to portray them realistically, people get offended. He can’t win

  • fairrosa 9:46 am on March 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    I am not happy with the WIWIK tag — I don’t think it expresses the correct sentiment. So bear with me as I change it to What I Wish We All Know. Either something that I know that I wish others do, too; or something that I have questions and wish to be informed: all of them should be something that is under each practitioner’s belt. So, perhaps, it should be WIWWAK: What I Wish We All Know! And it is still pronounceable.

  • fairrosa 9:12 am on March 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    Just started two books: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau, as highly recommended by some of my 7th graders; Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, the HIGHLY anticipated (by me) sequel to Seraphina. Also reading a book translated from Taiwan: The Man with the Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi (but really want to read the original text.)

  • fairrosa 9:06 am on March 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    candymakersby Wendy Mass
    A delightful concoction of implausible coincidences, innocent spying, interconnectivity, and childish pleasures. I can’t quite stomach the excessive amount of sweets being served as main meals but I imagine my younger self would have been quite fascinated. The candy making process and rules are highly entertaining, and perhaps even informative! As most Wendy Mass books, this one is all about how to appreciate one’s life and accept one’s lot while still strive to expand understanding of the world around. No wonder my students love it so much and it appeals to both genders and mystery and friendship book lovers.

  • fairrosa 10:57 am on March 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    WIWIK – What I Wish I Knew 

    I have been thinking how I may contribute to the #weneeddiversebooks movement. One strong belief of mine is that we not only need diverse books but amazing and accurate diverse books. Two more blog posts in the Doing The Diversity Thing Diversely are forthcoming. More thoughts have been brewing. In the meantime, is there something I can do on an ongoing basis? And how do I gather all of these under one thread?

    Last night, reading Wendy Mass’s The Candymaker and encountering this declaration: “alphabet is the foundation of every language” gave me an idea. This is an incredibly fun book, extremely popular with my students. I am thoroughly in love with the intriguing plot line and mesmerized by the candy factory! But reading that sentence, my instinctual reaction was, “um, no, the Chinese language is not built on a system of the alphabet. And there are more than a billion people who use this language daily!” I know that this is from Miles’ mind, a 12-year-old boy in a book. The author must have known that there are languages in the world that were not built on alphabets! She just made her character think this way. And yet, I wonder. Miles is a highly intelligent, book-loving, code-making, language-creating child. So it is also highly likely that he does know that “not every” language in the world is founded on a set of alphabets. A simple “almost” before “every” in this sentence would have been more accurate without sacrificing the authenticity of the character.

    But, could it be possible that the author and the editor really did not know that there are non-alphabet based languages? If so, then perhaps I can contribute by questioning and discussing such matters for practitioners — authors, editors, librarians, teachers, etc.!

    Thus a new TAG on Fairrosa Cyber Library was born. wiwik — What I Wish I Knew. With this tag, I can collect questions I have regarding cultural references in children’s books and give myself homework to research and find out accurate information. Others can join in to discuss and enlighten me, too! (I’m also adding this tag to some older posts and the link to the sidebar.

  • fairrosa 7:55 am on March 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    Doing the Diversity Thing Diversely, Part 3: How Can We Know When We Don't Know What We Don't Know? 

    One form or another “matrix of knowledge” is often presented at educators workshops, especially when the discussion is about diversity.  These are the four quadrants of such matrix: 


    When I read Malinda Lo’s blog post on YA novel reviewing, I realized that many of the problems cited in her article come from the lower-right quadrant.

    We can look at these quadrants in light of book reviewing:

    • KK: One has a firm grasp of a particular knowledge and can readily access and utilize such knowledge.  Most reviews are done by reviewers familiar with the content or genre in order to accurately assess the quality of the book.
    • DKK: One sometimes is not consciously aware of possessing particular knowledge since such knowledge has become second nature.  Most reviewers will not have to put in extra effort to notice typos in a finished book.
    • KDK: One is consciously aware that one lacks particular knowledge or set of knowledge. In this case, research and inquiries are made and new knowledge is gained. Faced with a book where the main character has an unfamiliar medical condition will prompt any reviewer to do some research in order to assess the accuracy of the tale.
    • DKDK: One is unaware of one’s lack of knowledge in a particular area. More often than not, one also believes that he/she actually has solid knowledge about the matters at hand. This often makes it difficult for anyone to obtain actual knowledge.  In Lo’s “Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews,” most if not all of the examples cited in part 1 “Scarcely Plausible” and part 4 “Readers May Be Surprised” fit squarely into this  DKDK box.

    I have no doubt that the reviewers in Lo’s examples believe that they KNOW about peer cultures or that they really KNOW how potential readers will react, and thus evaluate the books accordingly: all based on the self-trust in one’s knowledge and also on an urgent sense of mission to be the gatekeeper, warding off culturally insensitive materials.  But, as explained clearly by Malinda Lo, such heroic protection could result in damning certain books for committing crimes against cultural accuracy while in truth that the book might be indeed culturally accurate.  Such as the demand of having a glossary, since it has been standard practices and requirements on books with “exotic” and “unfamiliar” (read: non-white) words or expressions and that lack of such glossary signifies inferior quality. 

    I myself have engaged in several discussions over the years on the portrayal of Chinese culture and characters in children’s and YA books.  I always do this with much trepidation: since there is no way that I can truly be the spokesperson for an entire (and extremely complex) culture, even if it is considered MINE.  (I am now even more aware of the differences between Chinese and Chinese American Cultures.) Take my post on Five Chinese Brothers for example.  This old picture book is often criticized as racially insensitive (or downright racist.) I addressed this controversy back in 2008, in Examining The Five Chinese Brothers, mostly defending the illustrations by Kurt Wiese. I pointed out that if one examines the pictures carefully and accurately, without being influenced by an overblown sense of social justice, one can easily see how many of these cartoon faces have different features: nose shapes, eyebrow angles, even ear shapes and sizes.  The well-intentioned critics usually claim that Wiese was being racially insensitive because he perpetuated the “oh, they all look the same; I can’t tell them apart” concept. These critics didn’t seem to realize that perhaps they themselves Don’t Know how to read cartoon/stylized lines of Chinese features.  To me, all five viewable faces in the two pictures below are distinctly different — are they?



    However, since posting about it 7 years ago, I have also come to realize how much I also DKDKed!  My insistence to support the use of yellow for the faces is based on my personal experiences: as a Chinese girl growing up in a homogeneous environment, proud to be a member of the “yellow race,” and never having to contend with my ethnic identity.  It is a highly biased stance (and I wanted to break the connection of Yellow=Undesirable, what an naive idea!)  I disregarded the real experiences of Chinese and Asian American child readers.  Just because I don’t find being labeled “yellow skinned” hurtful does not mean that there are not many who are indeed hurt.  In this case, I believe that their views are more valid than mine.

    Yes, I have to update my own mindset, bringing myself from the DKDK quadrant to at least the KDK quadrant and striving to listen and learn from others. 

    Since my pervious post in this series was about Africa Is My Home, I decided to look at reviews from 2 years ago when the book was first published.  I found this review from Kirkus and decided that a discussion about parts of the review fits nicely here.  

    I have some disagreements with the review, but most can be chalked up to personal tastes and subjective views.  I would not have classified this book as a “text-heavy picture book” but a “heavily illustrated historical fiction.”  I don’t feel that Robert Byrd’s illustrations are “frequently cramped,” although there are definitely a few busy scenes: at the market place, in the court house, and on the Amistad.  I (and my students) also don’t find the text befuddling in any way.  

    What made me wonder the most is this claim of one of the book’s several “flaws:”

    “Its illustrations…offer minimal variety in the characters’ skin tones and facial features.”

    The reviewer seems to say that it is quite problematic in depicting the people (adults and children) from Mende Land (Sierra Leone) with very similar skin tones: perhaps to the point that implies Robert Byrd’s lack of respect for the people depicted.  Most racially sensitive folks believe that “not all Africans have the same skin tones” and that “no one should lump all all Africans as being the same.”   We should treat them as individuals and as humans equal to everyone else.  This is all I hold true as well. However, the reason we see distinctly different shades of skin tones in the States (or other non-African continents) is the result of the long and vast history of African diaspora and racial mingling.  And in Africa Is My Home, the illustrator Robert Byrd shows his awareness of this in his illustration of  the market place scene set in Cuba:



    (note the two women shopping for vegetables/fruits)

    Byrd, using water color and non-realism style,) depicted Mende Land children and adults with very similar skin tones.  The variation, if any, is extremely subtle.


    There are also some very similar facial features, for sure: The shape of the nose, the large round eyes with the whites showing, etc.

    Curious, I searched for recent photographs of Sierra Leone children and came across many group photos such like this one from the BBC News Magazine.


    And cannot quite bring myself to label Byrd’s choices as a flaw in the book.

    If Byrd had made the skin tones and facial features a lot more varied for the Mende Land people, just like what he did for the Cuban market place scene, would the Kirkus reviewer then praise him for his cultural sensitivity, even if that might have been an even more inaccurate depiction?  From where I stand, this well-intended criticism, aimed to point out “cultural insensitivity,” seems to lack cultural understanding itself.

    Like I said earlier, I’m always really fearful when I hold different opinions about books regarding cultural references: since perhaps I am so off base.  So, I’d love to hear from others who have better understanding of the topics addressed here and would love to be enlightened about anything that I Don’t Know that I Don’t Know!

    • moldydaisy 10:01 pm on March 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      This was a really great read. I appreciate how you are able to write from a reasoned, calm point of view on what can be an incredibly sensitive topic. And I also appreciate that you can admit that you don’t always get it right … none of us do, and this really opens the topic for discussion in a way I don’t see nearly enough elsewhere. Thank you for these thoughts!

      • fairrosa 11:24 pm on March 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Ah.. thank you so much for this comment. The more I think and consider these matters, the more I grow and realize that I simply can’t be the only expert in whatever. Sometimes.. I’m afraid that I’m not even an expert in my own reactions to things because emotions can be a very complex thing and hard to sort through. However, this does not mean that I don’t want to continue engaging people in discussions and seeing what everyone has to say or feel. It also does not mean that I don’t have very very very strong opinions on things. I just know that angry words flung around or at people do not always help changing minds or attitudes.

        • moldydaisy 6:56 pm on April 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply

          I wish that more people understood this … it would be a far more effective way of helping people understand a different perspective, but all too often I just see us humans yelling in each other’s faces with little understanding for each other … it by no means lessens the importance or earnestness with which one speaks, but so often people can’t hear our words past the tone with which we speak. I look forward to reading more of your and your collaborators work :D

    • fairrosa 7:53 pm on April 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Will keep the posts coming. Thinking very hard each and every day. Hoping for a world with more understanding and true knowledge.

  • fairrosa 12:28 pm on February 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    Doing the Diversity Thing Diversely, Part 2: The Importance of Fretting 

    africaismyhomecoverYesterday marked the paperback release of Africa Is My Home, by Monica Edinger, a dear friend and colleague.  I always think of Monica as a fellow journeyer in the fantastic and sometimes treacherous, but always rewarding, territory that is Children’s Literature.  Monica and I met online 20 years ago over the Child_lit listserv.  Our mutual admiration for Lewis Carroll and his creations (Wonderland, puzzles, games…) made us fast virtual friends.  Since 1997, I have worked with Monica on numerous projects both at Dalton where she teaches 4th grade and I am the middle school librarian and out of Dalton, co-teaching a Fairy Tales course online for Rutgers’ Youth Literature Certificate program and co-planning SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books for the past 7 years (with Jonathan Hunt and the good folks at SLJ,) among others.

    I did not write a blog post for the book’s hardcover release two years ago, feeling self-conscious about how I probably could not really be objective in “reviewing” this book, being the first person who read Monica’s very first draft more than a decade ago.  However, to celebrate the release of the paperback edition and to contemplate how this book fits within the recent discussion on the various ways Diversity in children’s books can be achieved, I am compelled to write about it even more — even if I cannot extract my knowledge of the creative process of the book from how I view the final product.

    I know intimately what Monica went through in writing and re-writing this book: switching narrative voices, changing from nonfiction to fiction to nonfiction to fiction several times, “shopping” it around to various publishers and working with various potential editors.  I also knew first hand how much she invested in making this (slim in size and yet hefty in subject matter) book: remembering what Sierra Leone was like when she spent two youthful years there, connecting and reconnecting with people from Sierra Leone to check and re-check facts, traveling to Connecticut (Amistad Museum) and Ohio (Oberlin) to immerse herself in primary materials about Sarah Margru, not to mention all the online researches she conducted through a decade.  I also listened to her fret, and fret, and fret.

    Ah, the fretting.

    Monica Edinger is a German Jew.  She is not of African descent.  She is white.  She lives in the 20th and 21st century.  Sierra Leone is not exactly the same as Mendeland those many years ago.  And this is NOT her own conjured-up story but the tale of a real person who lived and felt. It is also a story that has to work for a child reader when it’s told.  So many details to consider…and to fret over.

    How would the world receive this book when it finally got published?  Would the book receive positive or negative reviews?  Would the people whose story she chose to tell understand how much respect and care she had in the making of the book?  Would the book and the story be dismissed?  So many questions and potential pitfalls to imagine…and to fret over.

    All that fretting is what I think needs to go into writing any book, but perhaps especially into writing “diverse” books where cultural authenticity and respect are extremely important.

    I believe that Monica’s relentless drive of writing this book as authentic as she could manage came from several places: her sincere passion to tell this less-known story, her perfectionist’s need to be meticulous and accurate, her true fondness of researching and verifying facts, her strong dose of a healthy fear of not getting it right, and her tremendous respect and caring of the welfare of the people and culture of Sierra Leone.  She did not write a book in the vein of what I have started thinking as a “third world tragedy story” told by a well-intentioned white person from a completely outsider viewpoint, often tinged with a sense of superiority and savior mentality.  She wrote a story (with assistance from historical documents, her editor Sarah Ketchersid, and the talented illustrator Robert Byrd) that brings a historical tale to life with a high degree of authenticity and no outsider judgment.  It enriches and will continue to enrich the reading and cultural experiences of young readers.

    I’m so glad that Africa is My Home has received much praise and accolades: the result of the incessant fretting from all parties involved.

    In the next post, I will discuss a particular review of Africa is My Home and when it first hit the market and ponder over similar questions of what Malinda Lo wrote on her blog post about reviewers’ perceptions when it comes to diversity topics in children’s and YA books.

  • fairrosa 10:55 am on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    Doing the Diversity Thing Diversely, Part 1 

    The many discussions face to face and online about We Need Diverse Books in children’s and YA literature have informed me that there simply isn’t a cure-all solution when it comes to creating and promoting diverse books for young readers.

    So, I plan to share some thoughts on this Diversity Thing from my vantage point, which is many folds and diverse and also in flux as I learn more from others.  Before putting up these blog entries, I’d like to first describe who I am in relation to children’s literature and where that background fits into the Diversity conversation, so readers may have a firm grip on where I come from when expressing my ideas, which, I guess, is something we all need to start doing — sharing of where we come from and why we feel certain ways and understanding where others have come from and why they feel certain ways.

    I am a Taiwanese/Chinese American.  I was born in the 60s, attended a public elementary school, then went on to attend the Catholic Sacred Heart Girls’ middle and high school (boarding), and finally National Taiwan Normal University (teacher’s college.) My double degrees were BAs in Education and English Lit.  After graduating, I taught English (as required foreign language) in a public middle school from 1987 to 1989.

    My parents were from Mainland China, part of Chiang Kai Shek’s (Jiang Zhong Zheng) army retreat to Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War in the 1940s that resulted in the divide between the Communist China and the (more) Democratic Taiwan (Republic of China) regimes.  We still have a whole clan of the Xu family in Yunnan Province in China that I am attempting to re-establish relationship with.

    • Growing up in a largely homogeneous environment, being a member of the dominant class (my father was a member of the inner circle of both Chiang Kai Shek and his son, President Jiang Jing Guo,) and doing well in school in a climate that revered the intellect made it impossible for me to truly understand the feelings of being an underdog.  (Fortunately my near-sightedness, my short stature, and the fact I was not considered a beauty and was reminded of such fact by family and friends alike all through my youth balanced out that cockiness and allowed for some humility.) I also never had an ethnic identity crisis as many Asian Americans might have to struggle through since I was never a Minority!

    As a young person, I was addicted to books and reading: my favorite stories came from Taiwan, China, Germany, France, Japan, Sweden, India, Italy, the US, Colombia, Russia, Greece, and many other countries. Most were classics but also plenty of contemporary (60s to 80s) writings.  All of my closest friends loved books.  However, reading novels was not considered the best way to spend one’s time.  Philosophical and personal essays were all the rage when I was growing up — all about how to better oneself, morally and worldly.

    I came to the United States to study children’s literature in 1989 and received my MA from Simmons College in 1991.  In 1996, I received an MLS degree with a concentration on services to children.

    • One of my youthful aspirations was to win a Nobel Prize in literature.  I was a good writer, in those popular short essay forms.  I couldn’t and still can’t create fiction.  I revere the art form that is literature and since I’m so invested in literature for children, it is almost a sacred form to me.  This is why I am a very critical reader and get easily frustrated when I see something not done right that can be easily fixed.

    I have been working since 1991 in New York City alone and have not lived elsewhere but NYC since 1991.  My string of jobs were all related to children’s book:

    sales clerk for Eeyore’s bookstore for children (1991-1992)

    subsidiary rights assistant to the department head at Macmillan Children’s Publishing (1992-1994)

    children’s librarian at the New York Public Library (1994-1997)

    middle school librarian at The Dalton School (1997-)

    • There are, in my head, inherent biases about racial compositions of peer groups by living only in New York City for 20+ years and working in a school where at least 40% of the students are not white. Immersed in such a diverse environment, it is hard for me to visualize, although I am cognizant to the fact, that in many States/Cities/Towns, young people do not meet “others” on a regular basis.
    • My continuous interaction with high achieving students who read regularly, have a passion for books, and can dissect literature aptly for the past 18 years greatly colors my view of what books are best for which age range and the kinds of books I promote at my workplace and on my blog.

    I have been a member of the Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC) at ALA for almost 20 years and have served on two Newbery Committees, Notable Children’s Books Committee, and also recently Best Fiction for Young Adults for the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) — among other non-book related committees.  I have also been involved in co-planning and co-maintaining SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books site for the past 7 years.

    • This resulted in reading, thinking, and writing about children’s and YA literature on a regular basis and discussing books with thoughtful and experienced colleagues and practitioners such as Nina Lindsay, Monica Edinger, Vicky Smith, Kathy Odean, Phoebe Yeh, Junko Yokota, Jonathan Hunt, Adam Gidwitz, and many others.
    • Fairrosa Cyber Library (since 1994) is my site/blog devoted to children’s books that was one of the oldest online resources for children’s literature (and needs to be re-vamped, I know!)

    A note on my reading habit: I still read English painfully slowly — having to sound out pretty much every word.  This is both a curse (I cannot read as many books as I’d like to) and a blessing (I am told often that I am a “careful” reader and that my slow-reading habit allows me to cite specific examples about style, tone, authenticity, etc.) 

    A note on my reading preferences: I like unconventional and challenging literary forms and gravitate to fantasy and science fiction readily but can easily enjoy any genre, as long as I deem it “well written.”  Now, that’s another can of worms that I won’t open here.

    A note on my attitude about this whole Diversity thing: The cliche is true: It is a long, hard, and never ending journey, and one cannot get anywhere without throwing something out there that might upset some folks, stir up the pot, generate passionate dissents, etc.  I am always willing to be made to see a different side of each matter and understand where others have come from, even if I might still disagree with them.  It is also of utter importance to me that during the discourse, others understand my efforts in upholding a professional mindset and stance, even when I appear to be extremely passionate and emotional (which I can be, often) about the matters at hand.  

    • Rosanne Parry 11:26 pm on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for posting so clearly where you are coming from.

      I had a fascinating exchange at a 4th grade book club last week. I showed them a draft of the cover of my upcoming MG novel which has a biracial boy & his white cousin prominently featured. They were all very eager to tell me about their multi-racial & multi-ethnic families. None of these kids looked bi-racial to me & it would be easy, as an outsider to this classroom to assume I was addressing an all white audience. I’m learning to make no assumptions on appearance.

      As a part-time bookseller I’ve also learned than many of the white (or white-looking) adults are buying books for kids, grandkids, step kids, foster kids and extended family who are not white and they are very passionate about finding lit that is both high quality and about not white characters. So that’s interesting and worth keeping in mind.

      • fairrosa 12:07 am on February 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        And yet, we also cannot forget the fact that there ARE millions of white kids who also deserve stories about them and their families. Perhaps I should not worry about them because their stories will always be told? I don’t want white authors (or even non-white authors) to feel that they cannot tell stories of white families/kids/communities any more. We need ALL the voices — that’s the true spirit of diversity.

    • Carol 2:57 pm on February 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      In looking for diverse books, which I do and I think everyone dedicated to social justice does, I want books that tell the stories of interactions between many diverse youth. Not just LGBTQ or race or social class– but the mixture. In order to write effectively of those interactions you have have have to get inside the heads of folks of your own culture race gender preference and class and those who do not share those characteristics. I want more of those books, and I think– but I could be wrong– that members of one minority or less dominant culture ( I’m sure my terminology is going to get me in trouble here) are better at understanding the others. I do think women write better books about men than men write about women. This is a just a generality and a stereotype I know, but I then appreciate even more when a man gets woman right. Having said all that, I think we have to keep looking at what works and what doesn’t. I love that you are passionate about it and brave enough to post.

      • fairrosa 12:44 pm on February 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        I am learning a lot about identity intersectionality — since no one is ever one-dimensional. I personally do not believe that literature should (for children or adults) exist as a mere vehicle in promoting social justices. As I said, literature is sacred and I think it transcends, when its at its best form. That said, I also believe that no book (especially those we hand to children) should be so carelessly constructed as to perpetuate negative or obsolete social norms.

  • fairrosa 10:19 pm on February 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    We Need Diverse, AND Amazing, AND Well Informed, AND Creative, AND Mind Stretching, Books 

    Last night, I rushed home to watch the Oscars live broadcast.

    I was not following the news or discussion over the “All White Nominees” situation. So, it was a surprise to me that not a single person of color (brown, yellow, black, what have you) walked onto the stage to receive the golden statuette.

    This morning, I woke up still pondering: hmm… what happened?  Was there not a single worthwhile movie featuring or made by people of color during the year 2014 that warranted some recognition?  If not, what happened?  Were there no creative or talented POC in the entertainment industry or were they not given the opportunities by the studios and the gatekeepers to showcase their talents?  If they never got to be SEEN, how could they have been nominated, or have won?   Then there’s the question of what happened with Selma and its actors, director, and writer?

    The Youth Media awards press conference each year (where Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Printz, etc. awards are announced) has been dubbed, “The Academy Awards of Children’s Literature,” as if that’s high praise and what we children’s lit folks should strive to be.   At this point, I don’t want my beloved children’s literature field to be linked with the Academy Awards, especially after a strong showing of diverse topics, characters, and creators this year: a proud moment for many practitioners and champions of children’s lit.

    And yet, the heated debate sparked by Malinda Lo’s and Roger Sutton’s recent blog posts (Lo’s Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews and Sutton’s Are We Doing It White?) reveals that even in the wake of a year of diverse winners, the children’s literature industry still has a long way to go in diversifying on all fronts, especially the gatekeepers (editors, publishers, reviewers, librarians, etc.) and their views.

    I have been taking notes on others’ and my own thoughts and will post my reactions and observations in a few installments. Lots of soul searching and perspectives changing on-going in my head!


    • fairrosa 12:34 am on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Correction: not ALL white nominees & winners: Common and John Legend won for the song “Glory” from Selma, and Alejandro González Iñárritu won three Oscars for Birdman. (Also many non-white creators were nominated for documentary categories…

  • fairrosa 12:19 pm on February 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    West of the Moon 

    westofthemoon by Margi Preus

    One of my favorite folk tales is East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and many children’s books have been inspired by this tale, such as East by Edith Pattou, a beautiful fantasy reimagining. I enjoyed reading this book by Preus, but due to my own preferences for “real” magic and fantasy, I found myself unsatisfied by the dreams/magical realism/faux fantasy elements in what is really a tale of immigration. That said, I appreciated greatly Preus’ ability to give deep and complex emotions to Astri and her deft hand at portraying vivid landscapes and adventures.

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