Tagged: thoughts Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • fairrosa 7:55 am on March 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , thoughts   

    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: 

    KNOW
    KNOW
    DON’T KNOW
    KNOW
    KNOW
    DON’T KNOW
    DON’T KNOW
    DON’T KNOW

    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?

     Photo-38-751016

    Photo-43-785330

    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:

    IMG_20150227_092333

    IMG_20150227_092315

    (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.

    africaismyhomepageimage

    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.

    _69801704_children

    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!

     
  • fairrosa 12:28 pm on February 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , thoughts   

    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
    Tags: , thoughts   

    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
    Tags: , thoughts   

    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 1:45 pm on January 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: thoughts   

    Another almond post… but the blogger failed to mention that ALMOND EYES originated from traditional Chinese texts where women were frequently described as having “almond eyes“ meaning larger than usual eyes shaped like an almond — so, kind of what the generic “western eyes” might look like! Since it is rarer, it is more desirable (like the double eye-lids and really pale complexion.)

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/09/16/219402847/-almond-shaped-eyes-remarkably-exotic-yet-too-foreign

     
  • fairrosa 1:01 pm on January 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: thoughts   

    I'm Not Sure I'm So Fond of Almonds 

    I like many different kinds of nuts. I actually am QUITE fond of almonds and many things made from almonds, even Toasted Almonds.  However, in the past few days, reading different books, written both by non-Asian and Asian authors, I have found myself puzzled by the insistence of the shade of my kind of skin as “toasted almond.”  It feels like a lazy throw-away descriptor, much like that of “olive skin tone” (as referenced in my other post.)

    Here, depending on the lighting and different parts of my body being highlighted, are some sampling of my skin color from photos taken in 2014:

    Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.57.56 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.57.07 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.56.41 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.55.55 AM

    Here are pictures I took off the internet, showing what toasted almonds might look like in different settings, I guess, under different degrees of “toasting”?

    almond1almond2almond3

     

    I can definitely see Some resemblance between some of my photos and those of the almonds, after the toasting process. But for some reason, I feel heavily reduced since that seems to be the only way to describe my skin tones and those of millions of others who share my skin tones.

    A plea: can we possibly build up some newer vocabulary, phrases, and ways in describing physical attributes, especially varying skin tones?  Perhaps more precise, and not always resorting to food comparisons?  (Another recent weird encounter — some Chinese girl’s complexion is described as “white rice noodles,” as a way of non-offensive, or even complimentary description — I can’t imagine any Chinese girl being too excited being told that their skin reminds people of white rice noodles. Just imagine, if you are reading a book where a white girl’s complexion is described as reminding the boy next door of a plate of “steaming ziti.”)

    This site might not offer the ultimate answer to all questions about describing complexions and other physical attributes, but it serves as a starting point and a reminder of how not to resort to stock phrases and cliches. http://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/FAQ

     
    • DaNae 1:36 pm on January 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      You are hilarious. Maybe you are more of a sugar-crusted almond with a tinge of orange peel for zing and a shake of black pepper for zip. Those are my specialty.

      • fairrosa 1:46 pm on January 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Haha… but I get so annoyed and since it was like THREE books in a row where an Asian girl is described this way…. I guess I should actually be quite grateful that more Asian characters appear in books for kids. Baby steps… baby steps!

      • fairrosa 1:47 pm on January 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        And your toasted almond sounds absolutely delicious! I want some!!!

    • Stacy 3:18 pm on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      N.K. Jemisin has written a wonderful series of posts examining this, and giving writers tools for how to better describe POC characters without using commodities as comparisons. The series starts here: http://nkjemisin.com/2009/04/ways-to-describe-characters-of-color/

      Here are the other two posts:

      https://magicdistrict.wordpress.com/2009/07/30/describing-characters-of-color-pt-2/

      http://nkjemisin.com/2010/02/describing-characters-of-color-3-oppoc/

      • fairrosa 5:10 pm on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Thank you, Stacy, for bringing these articles to my and the readers’ attention. As I’m not a writer, I can’t offer my own examples of ideal ways in describing colors – skin, eyes, hair, mostly. As a reader, I like some of the descriptions in her examples more than others. However, at least this is someone who is being conscious of the many pitfalls that one might encounter when describing any person. There are many stock/cliche phrases when writing about white folks, too, which are easily ignored by readers as generic and we simply supplement with imageries in our own heads.

        • Stacy 6:44 pm on February 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply

          I should note, in case you don’t know, that N.K. Jemisin is a black woman. I think your reaction of liking some but not others is definitely a valid reaction–it’s a starting-off place to get writers to think about how to do this better. I refer writers to this who are looking for ways of getting beyond those stock cliches, because it’s a great jumping-off point for thinking about it more deeply and gaining new ideas.

    • fairrosa 9:52 pm on February 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Definitely. The whole idea is to brainstorm of creative and respectful ways in describing all people. Not just non-white. I am quite fatigued by the stock phrases of how white skins and blue eyes are described, too! Sometimes I almost wish that the aithors leave me to imagine at my free will, rather than boxing me in!

  • fairrosa 9:53 am on January 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: thoughts   

    When a reader completely missed the author’s intent or craft 

    First morning of 2015. 

    Just finished a very powerful book with a strong, convincing, well constructed multiple view points narrative structure and challenging ideas that demand the readers to live with the discomfort of not-knowing the whole truth, to understand that life is complex depending on the the angles of the viewers, and to mull over the potential futures of the varied characters.

    Headed over to goodreads and see other readers’ reactions.  Many positive ones and especially from those who have lived through similar circumstances as the characters did in the book.  But then, I found a review complaining that because “the reader” finds it confusing how the story is told with so many different POVs and that “the reader” cannot see the point of some side characters’ remarks even though they give a fuller picture of how complex such matters can be and “the reader” cannot accept a book with no clearcut facts presented even though that is the whole entire point of the narrative.

    I wanted to leave a comment and requested that “the reader” to admit her own shortcomings in her inability to appreciate challenging literary constructs and demanding ethical quandaries.  But then, I wonder: can we ever fault a reader for her inabilities to meet the author at the author’s level?  Is it the reader’s responsibility to challenge herself that way? 

    This comes down to how we view books:

    Is a book a sacred or demi-sacred object and deserves reverence and hard work to decipher by every reader?  Or is a book just another consumer product and the reader can register complaints and give poor ratings purely based on personal preferences without considering the crafts and intents of the author?

    I have been thinking about subjective and objective analyses of arts in all forms for a while and this goodreads review just brought it home for me that I cannot treat books as mere goods to be liked or disliked but artistic expressions that need critical examinations even if a reader’s emotional reaction can be a major component in evaluating a narrative’s success. 

     
  • fairrosa 5:21 pm on October 1, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , thoughts   

    Kirkus Prize Finalists — Very different from National Book Award Long List 

    Kirkus Book Reviews announced the finalists for the Kirkus Prize for several categories today. The finalists for the young readers are:

    EL DEAFO
    by Cece Bell, illustrated by Cece Bell

    THE RIGHT WORD: ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS
    by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

    THE KEY THAT SWALLOWED JOEY PIGZA
    by Jack Gantos

    THE STORY OF OWEN: DRAGON SLAYER OF TRONDHEIM
    by E.K. Johnston

    THE FREEDOM SUMMER MURDERS
    by Don Mitchell

    AVIARY WONDERS INC.: SPRING CATALOG AND INSTRUCTION MANUAL
    by Kate Samworth, illustrated by Kate Samworth

    Some observations:

    • Kirkus: 6 titles – NBA: 10 titles
    • Kirkus: 3 out of the 6 titles (50%) are NOT fiction and 1 more that is a mixture (lots of scientific information in an imagined environment) – NBA 2 out of 10 (20%) is NOT fiction with quite a few titles set against very realistic or historical backdrops.
    • Kirkus: All 6 titles are suitable for a sixth grader or younger – NBA, at least 3 titles pure YA and most are of interest to older readers.
    • Kirkus: 1 Graphic Novel – NBA no Graphic Novel

    The two lists definitely complement each other!

     
  • fairrosa 5:24 pm on September 27, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: thoughts   

    Maze Runner – Observing the Races (as in skin colors and not contests) 

    Went to see The Maze Runner with a group of high school students. We all agreed that the movie was quite satisfactory and more intense than we had anticipated. When watching big action films these days, we often discuss the racial components of what we saw, so here’s a collection of the immediate comments:

    • The first person who died was not black.
    • Two black people died — both are portrayed as heroic deaths.
    • The Asian dude (Korean) is portrayed as a cool guy. His name is Minho — like the pop singer in South Korea Choi Minho. Minho outran Thomas (the white hero) the whole time in the maze.
    • The main hero and heroine are white.
    • (and this is not about race, but gender) — Teresa kind of lost her intelligence in the movie while in the book she was a lot more involved in planning the escape and solving the problems along the way.

    No conclusions or judgments — just observations.

     
  • fairrosa 5:18 pm on September 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: thoughts   

    Because of the books I’ve been reading, I have been learning about Nigerian history and contemporary politics, the 60s America, especially in Mississippi but also overseas in Vietnam and the important people during that time, including LBJ, and about more fantastic creatures in Russian folklore.

     
  • fairrosa 9:44 am on September 14, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: thoughts   

    New trend? 

    Some of my high school students who witnessed the unpacking of publisher’s submissions this summer were slightly scandalized upon seeing this group of book covers.  Many of them are from the same imprint, but not all.  Is this a new trend in in YA cover design (gone with the partial faces and showing of only body parts?) Take a look through the Goodreads Popular 2014 YA list: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/ya-2014 and see what unfolds.

    IMG_20140903_101543

     
  • fairrosa 8:10 pm on September 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , thoughts   

    Do I have the right to be angry… 

    … at the really badly penned lyrics of a potentially interesting and weird Rock Musical? I sat through this off-Broadway production in painful silence, averting my eyes to the stage and the actors because I felt so sorry for them, having to deliver those lyrics! And anger simmered in my gut the whole time: how dare someone put on stage this production: in public, sell tickets, and demand all the production crew’s time and energy without at least putting SOME effort in coming up with more than 1 verse per song? Or at times, more than 10 words per song? The inane repetitive lyrics do not drive the points into the mind of this audience member but away from her thoughts – I tuned most of the words and ideas out when they were repeated 20 times over. I guess I just really dislike when I know that something could have been made better if only a little more effort was put into the process or perhaps the creators had bothered to seek some honest opinions to improve the results!

    Then some doubts set in. Do I have the right to be angry at something that is quite subjective. Apparently someone must have liked it enough, or is not bothered by the lack of writing talent to appreciate the production as a whole: weird but interesting world, most actors are capable or even quite talented, and a storyline that is simplistic and juvenile but at least has a convincing enough arc.

    All of these thoughts brought me back to the discussion of books and their flaws. I sometimes get really mad (or disappointed) when I find certain aspects or elements or devices in a book sub-par, and believe that these flaws could have been easily fixed. Sometimes, they become quite “fatal” and ruin my enjoyment of the whole. Over at Educating Alice, Monica Edinger wrote about her reaction to the Heavy Medal discussion on Fatal Flaws that might ruin the chances of a children’s book winning the Newbery. Fascinating discussion and valuable thoughts to digest. One person’s fatal flaw can be merely a blemish to another viewer or reader.

     
  • fairrosa 4:47 pm on August 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: thoughts   

    Sipping Rose Infused Tea 

    Drinking Pu-Er Tea infused with rose bought in a small tea shop on the northern path by the Greek Lake in Kunming, I sit in my living room and continue to remember and digest all this past summer contained — a summer unlike any other. I tried to summarize the experience of my 15-day trip and here’s the result (as posted on the Yak Yak board at WhereThereBeDragons.)

    More thoughts will come along and I decided to start using this blog to include more than just children’s and YA lit. book notes.

    Posted: August 20, 2014

    Practical, Cultural, Personal

    It has been almost 3 weeks since leaving Kunming and all the other cities/towns (Shaxi, Weishan, Weibaoshan, Shuanlang, Baoshan, Pupiao, etc.) I visited during the 15-day program with Dragons. On July 30th, I flew from Kunming to Shanghai and then to Vancouver to join my husband for a 2-week Alaskan cruise and did not get back to New York City until last Saturday. Much to sort through both in practical matters (laundry, pet care, grocery shopping) and internal matters — Dragons propelled me go through a most existentially challenging summer the intensity of which I cannot recall experiencing since in my 20s.

    Living a mere couple of blocks away from The 9/11 Memorial Ground which is now open to the public, I am used to threading my way through hundreds of tourists every time I need to get somewhere in the city (a ten-minute walk takes me to subway lines to the rest of the five boroughs.) This morning marked the first time I took that familiar walk since leaving for the China Educators program five weeks ago. And I was keenly aware of the reversal of roles – I, THE “local” and THEY, THE “tourists.” In my mind, I repeated the Dragons’ mantra: Tourist vs Traveler. Some of THEM surely are immersed travelers and aware of the culture and history of this place, but a whole lot of THEM surely are just tourists. By looking at me, a 4-foot-11, 51-year old Chinese woman, wearing sandals and a bamboo basket, who would know that I’m not a tourist/traveler? And how can I tell for sure that some of them are not 9/11 victims families coming from Brooklyn or New Jersey to pay tribute and respect to their loved ones?

    Thinking further: I’m not even sure that I can truly label myself as a “local” — being here for 23 years after growing up and educated in Taiwan kind of makes me only a semi-local, doesn’t it? Where could I truly call home? Taipei where I was raised? New York City where I reside now? Baoshan which was printed as my “origin city” on my Taiwan national ID?

    These kinds of multi-stepped thoughts manifested on an hourly-basis while I was with Dragons.

    They cropped up while the leaders, Max and Yingzhao, walked the five of us in the group through practical exercises for educators who might be leading a student group to a foreign country following Dragons’ experiential model. I took quite a bit of notes and asked a lot of questions about the stages of Group Dynamics, about the basics of Non Violent Communication (which I thought perhaps could be termed Non Aggressive Communication,) meditation techniques, and different icebreakers and check-in techniques. The hows, the whys, and the why-nots. The could it be…. and couldn’t it be… s as well. Whatever was given to us, I wanted to dig up more!

    Then there were the more complex issues of cultural adaptations, interpretations, mis-interpretations, encounters, understandings and misunderstandings. My life-long knowledge of Chinese history, geography, literature, and traditions both enriched my experiences during those 15 days and challenged my status as a “knowing” but “foreign” outsider. I don’t even know what an average monthly salary for a middle school teacher is and how is that compared to the living standard: what is the monthly rent for a 3-bedroom apartment and how much it will cost to buy such a unit? I don’t know who the most popular local singers are and where might I buy a reasonably priced rice cooker. I observed, I photographed, and I talked and talked and talked to any locals that would talk back to me. Making friends with Mr. Ma who had a sweet-soup stand in the courtyard shopping ground within the Green Lake Park gave me just a little window into the life of a local shop owner. He and his family are believers of the Islamic faith. They just finished observing Ramadan. The ingredients of their food come from rural Yunnan. His daughter is studying to go to college, and along with his wife and his nephew, who is 24, helps him with running the shop. Business is decent. We talked about my family root in Yunnan and the political relationships between Taiwan and China. His nephew firmly believes that Taiwan should just be absorbed as an official Province (or special political unit) of China. And I found out that the attitude toward Chiang Kai Shek and his military strategies during WWII, fighting against the Japanese invasion, has completely changed in China in the past few years. Now they recognize his and Kuomintang’s achievements. This altered view was confirmed time and time again by others whom I met during the time in Kunming. Much to my joy and relief, since being an army brat of the Kuomintang armed forces, I had always feared the animosity that could be hurled my way if my affiliation had been revealed.

    Meeting Lao Zhang, an artist and writer, who survived and thrived after The Cultural Revolution added even more cultural perspectives. I learned yet more from too many others to detail here…. Mr. Yu, a total stranger who gave me a ride and helped me find my ancestral home, my cousins, Ms. Ji, who runs a cafe in Shaxi, Shitou (Rock – a 25-year-old woman from Shandong province) who served as my impromptu tour guide in Shaxi, the Taoist priest who showed me the scripture he was reciting in the morning “lesson,” the girls who mind the shops in Baoshan, etc.

    Holding all of the information in my mind, feeling the powerful emotion of “going back to the motherland” for the first time in my heart, and trying to learn new techniques of group management while being part of a group that’s being managed, was truly too overwhelming for me to absorb at once in such a short time. (Not to mention miraculously finding my relatives separated since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, 65 years ago.)

    This finally led to the toughest, most complex, and mind-shattering aspect of the whole trip: my personal identity struggles. My many years of complacency of self-worth, self-awareness, and self-understanding were jolted by the thunder and lightning of an internal flash storm which questioned whether I actually knew myself — what was my own identity? Stripped off of the coziness constructed with long time friends, a loving family, fairly established professional standing, and the most satisfying dream-job, and many other aspects of my daily existence such as the art and music I love, I had an opportunity to examine me as ME, raw. It was a frightening experience, one that I am still trying to recover from, and yet it was also a truly incredible experience, leaving me hopeful that I might have learned a couple of new things, even though I did not go on this trip to re-establish my self-awareness or re-construct my ways of relating to others.
    It has been almost 3 weeks since leaving China… and I am still re-considering priorities, trying to decipher reasons behind my fears and reluctances, and figuring out how I can improve fluency in empathy.

     
  • fairrosa 12:20 pm on July 7, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: thoughts   

    ALSC and its newly revised policy on members who serve on the committee 

    Over at Horn Book, Roger Sutton, the editor in chief, recently published an editorial that sparked a bit of a discussion and controversy over the January 2014 revised Policy for Service on Award Committees. This is a publicly accessible document that governs various aspects of members of such committees such as Sibert (for nonficiton,) Newbery (for text) and Caldecot (for illustrations) awards for American Children’s Books published each year. I posted quite a few comments there but decided also to add some thoughts here. One of my biggest concern as a long-time ALSC member (and former Newbery member twice over and Notable Children’s Books selection committee, among other non-book related committees) is how the Division itself “regards” its member body. The preamble of this document states:

    “ALSC affirms its confidence in the integrity of members who are invited to be nominated or appointed to serve on award committees, and in the integrity of the officers or nominating committees responsible for selecting candidates. Because of the nature of the work of such committees, those who serve on them must be especially sensitive to conflict of interest situations and the appearance of impropriety. The purpose of this policy is to clarify the eligibility and responsibility of candidates asked to serve on such committees.”

    To me, the first two sentences are antithesis to each other — I mentally translated these two sentences to: Great, the Division states first and foremost that IT trusts implicitly the integrity of ITS members (librarians, classroom teachers, reviewers, professors, etc.) and that they will behave professionally and with civility while they serve on these highly sought after committee posts (paying their own way to attend conferences and donating at least a whole year of their time to read and think and discuss the eligible titles). Oh-but wait wait, the second sentence negate all that was implied in the first sentence. It seems to be saying that “since you, the DIVISION’S members who have the privilege (as pointed out later in the document) to serve on such committees really don’t know how to behave using print or online media, you must be told exactly what you can and cannot do because, um…. we actually don’t trust you at all without spelling everything out and without putting a muzzle on all your opinion outlets (in this newly revised guideline, the outlets include blogs, twitter, official and professional signed reviews, etc.)

    In the older version of the document, it was pointed out that one can always express one’s personal opinions over eligible titles even while serving on the committee as long as one makes it amply clear that it’s a personal expression and the process is to be trusted — 15 people with 15 different opinions and affiliations and experiences tend to cancel out all the “personal” stuff and come to a communal decision that serves the public well. The new policy revision seems to me to put huge stock on a few people’s personal’s opinions and place little or no trust in the time-honored, although often seemingly mysterious, process of how Newbery, Caldecott, and other children’s book award winning titles are chosen.

    Just want to clarify: you’re still allowed to verbally express your personal opinions with your colleagues or friends or patrons — just never to publish them anywhere.

     
  • fairrosa 10:15 am on May 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , thoughts   

    I should not have been surprised but nonetheless am stunned at how many characters (in the recent YA books I have read) who are portrayed as beautiful/good looking/gorgeous/handsome/pretty whose first and often most prominently described feature is “blue eyes” or “green eyes” or any variations of these two colors (emerald, icy blue, baby blue, deep blue, deep lake, etc.) Enough that when I read about the beauty of a pair of dark brown eyes I let out an audible hoot!

     
  • fairrosa 11:18 am on February 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: thoughts   

    Continue interesting discussion over on ccbc-net re character ethnicities in children’s / YA books. And here’s a little rant I just posted there:

    Also re Hunger Games — There’s always the discussion over Katniss’s ethnicity — she’s described as having “olive skin” and dark hair, eyes, etc. while her mother and Prim are fair haired and blue eyed. Does that indicate that she’s mix-raced? Does anyone know how Suzanne Collins envisioned her? What is Olive skin, anyway? Light or dark brown cured in a barrell? Green on the tree? Black in a can? Can we all just agree that this is a useless descriptor and toss it out of the window as of Feb. 2014?

     
  • fairrosa 12:32 pm on January 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , thoughts, YA Lit   

    Why I Serve on Selection/Award Lists Commmittees 

    The reasons are really quite simple: to force myself to read constantly, for a purpose, and reach beyond my own comfort zone.

    I’ve been quite lucky in the last 15 years or so, to have the opportunity to serve on various children’s and YA literature selection/award committees.

    Each experience pushed me to expose myself to genres or books that I would not have reached for naturally —

    For more than five years now, I work with Monica Edinger and Jonathan Hunt annually to prepare for SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. Both are dear friends who read quickly and have strong opinions — they keep me on my toes and encourage me to seek out worthy contenders and to discuss and argue about them!

    Notable Children’s Recordings committee (back in the late 90s’) taught me how to listen for technical excellence, for great voice acting talents, and for content respecting children’s intellect and sensibilities.

    Twice on the Newbery (2002 and 2013) propelled me to consider each author’s crafts critically: be they creators of nonfiction, poetry, historical fiction, or humorous realistic stories, etc.

    The two years serving on the Notable Children’s Books (2008 and 2009, with about 3000 books submitted each year) committee really impressed on me the breadth and depth of the children’s publishing field and even though I was not working with younger readers/listeners, I got to relive the beauty and joy of picture books that I almost had otherwise forgotten!

    Deciding to help with CYBILS first round of Graphic Novels selection panel (2013) was my way of urging myself to know more about this ever trending field for children and YA and it definitely served me well — and of course, I hope that it serves the world at large well, too! I also served as a final round judge for Cybils Fantasy panel in 2006, supporting passionately for our winner Jonathan Stroud, Ptolemy’s Gate.)

    Now, embarking on the 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults (even though my term of service does not start until February) adventure, I can’t even start fathoming the great benefit I’ll reap from this experience: becoming more familiar with the field: the top authors, new and talented creators, trending and/or tired themes, and perhaps even glimpses of future directions.

    And every committee also allowed me to admire and take from my fellow committee members the wealth of literary knowledge the enriched my own.

    Yes, I definitely feel quite selfish when it comes to “serving” on these committees — but, hopefully it also in turn serves my community: having a well stocked mental library to draw inspirations and information from, I have ready answers and recommendations whenever a child asks for the next book or series to fall in love with, whenever I need to compile a reading list or conduct a literary lesson, and whenever consulted by teachers, administrators, and parents.

    Serving on these committees is really the best (and possibly the ONLY) way for me, an extremely slow reader, to continue sharpening my tools of the trade! So, let me continue to be indulgent and selfish… and revel in the excitement and responsibilities of such committees!

     
  • fairrosa 9:58 am on December 4, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , thoughts   

    Thinking Graphics 

    I’ve been reading more graphic novels of late, due to my responsibility as the first round selection judge on the CYBILS Graphic Novels (both MG and YA) panel.  And my mind swirls — especially after reading many reviews of graphic novels: both from educators/librarians and from GN fan sites.  What glares back at me review after review is how most people spend at least 85%, if not more, of the review addressing plot, character, setting, writing style, etc. and only one or two sentences on the artwork.  Often these sentences are general, broad, and feel like an after-thought.

    Very few reviewers get into the actual artistic aspects of the books — how the artist uses lines (effectively or excessively?); how the facial expressions are captured (or not); do the background/foreground receive the same details (should they or should they not, depending on the style and the demand of the narrative); are there effectively varied perspectives; are depths of perception employed (in a good way or unnecessarily?); what TYPES of artistic styles or media are employed: cartoony? impressionistic? modern? realistic? pen-and-ink? watercolor?; how about tonal discussion: humorous? harsh? gentle? intense? and how did the artist achieve these tones?  And so so many more things that should be addressed in any review of a graphic novel — including the colorist’s achievement, the letterer’s choice and accomplishment (yes, many people use computer fonts instead of hand lettering now, but the CHOICE of font is still important), the panel layouts, the employment of comic books conventional elements such as gutters, speech bubble placements/usages, narrative boxes, etc.

    I am no art critic and have only a limited vocabulary when it comes to discussing artwork and layout designs but I intend to improve upon that and hopefully in the future, when I write about graphic novels, I will include a good balance between discussion of the text and examination of the artwork.

     

     
  • fairrosa 11:02 pm on November 4, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: thoughts   

    Defending Ender's Game, the Book 

    Recently on an online listserv, a member posted some objections re Ender’s Game and I responded with the following. (I will be paraphrasing and truncating the original objections):

    Since I have read (and listened to the audio book) multiple times, I hope that potentially I have done the “close reading” that [the listserv member] and her students have done with the book. I am going to address each of the four points:

    1. A question on how could Ender repent/whine/moan when he obviously knew he was enlisting in the military for a total war?

    We must consider the world that Ender is born into. He did not really have a choice to be on the training path to be chosen or not. His existence as a THIRD is quite literally unbearable, and his living in the house with a monster brother who at any moment might murder him definitely does not make staying home as a desirable option. He went up to Battle School at age 6 — even as brilliant a strategist as he was, he was naive in many many ways of the people — he was NOT given the opportunities to develop those. Just consider his first encounter on the launch shuttle, how he BELIEVES that Graff is his FRIEND and gets his wish shattered into pieces. So, to say that he “signed on to be the killer” because he joined the military and blame him later on for not being able to deal with not just WAR and KILLING but GENOCIDE — seems to me not fully understanding the book’s themes. Ask many service men, how many of them are shocked (in their late teens, early 20s or even later?) when they actually are put in combat? I’d say a LOT of them. So why can’t Ender be repentant? (He never moans or whines — his sorrow is SO much deeper than those emotions.)

    2. Orson Scott Card praises children’s intelligence in the foreword but then makes his child character so manipulatable — that’s self-contradicting.

    Not at all — In fact, in the end, Graff’s “intelligence” and “manipulation” – although ensured the winning of this ONE total war, makes him and the world leaders look like the worst people possible while Ender comes out as a lot more Humane and Saint-like. We must not forget that they live in a post-Alien attack world where everyone’s brainwashed to a certain extend, and there is a whole entire system of manipulation, lots of secret keeping, etc. For those of us who have read Ender’s Shadow, we would know how Card created another brilliant child who was NOT AT ALL manipulated by the System — and the reason why Ender was so manipulatable was the fact that he’s incredibly trusting and has “a flaw of wanting to form connections with others” — which is EXACTLY why he is a BELOVED leader and Bean is just his second in command whom everyone respects but cannot truly adore. So, no, the author (Orson Scott Card) knows exactly what he’s doing with his child characters.

    3. Orson Scott Card romanticized total warfare and the video-game-style warfare, making him socially irresponsible.

    I don’t really have much to say about this point except that I do not see how this book or the whole series is romanticizing total warfare where the ending was the strong sentiment AGAINST fighting against another group of people AT ALL — Ender finally understands The Other and spends the rest of his life to make peace and to make others see the peace that is necessary and achievable. And I am totally at a loss as to how “predicting the video-game-style warfare” that we are developing these days is “irresponsible.” Please elaborate.

    4. To favor elitism is offensive. The book dismisses anyone who is not a genius.

    I think this is definitely where people have to agree to disagree. For me, it is SO great that we have a book that celebrate intelligence and political savvy over brute forces or some sort of magical talents. I cannot understand how that is offensive. Are we saying that if we have characters who are geniuses, we should somehow portrait them as undesirable leaders of the society? We should make fun of them? We should “put them in their places”? and refuse to let them tell others what to do??? I also am not sure that there are ANY “not geniuses” characters in the book — and that’s kind of the point — Battle and Command Schools are for those who have the capacities to fight and to lead — we are not given the rest of the world and Card didn’t set out to write about the rest of the world. That’s the scope of the book’s setting — if Card included other aspects of the world (which he did in Ender’s Shadow and definitely in Speaker for the Dead and other sequels) and botched it, we should definitely discuss the flaws — but as an author, he made a choice: he CHOSE to set the tale within a confined environment. Surely we cannot fault him for that? (That would be like faulting Baum for not giving a good picture of Kansas at the turn of the 20th century when he wrote OZ stories!)

     
    • Robert 12:39 am on November 9, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Right on!! Each point well answered. One must read more than just ENDER’S GAME to get a good look at Ender Wiggins’ character and what Card was telling us. (Also note: Baum did give a good picture of Kansas … ” grey “)

  • fairrosa 9:03 pm on August 14, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: chidrens lit, , thoughts   

    A Girl or A Boy? Do you care? 

    (I posted this to the CCBC-Net discussion list as the current topic is on Gender Roles in Picture Books.  Slightly off topic there but I want to share it with others here, too):

    Recently, at a Simon and Schuster fall preview for librarians, we were introduced to a reading recommendation app on the Ready to Read site — that can be found here:

    http://www.readytoread.com/recommendation-app

    This is set up so that parents and teachers can find beginning readers that fit their specific, individual young readers’ needs — you can choose by interests, by reading levels, by age/grades, etc.  At the preview, several of the attending librarians (including me) were aghast to find that the first question of identifying a young “Reading Star” is:

    “Is your Reading Star a boy or a girl?” with the BINARY choices of BOY and GIRL.

    And if you followed through with one of the two choices, the books recommended tend to be stereotypically for a specific gender — even if the choices of interests might not be stereotypical.

    I did two quick searches:

    Girl + Age 6 + Grade 1 + Sports (skipped reading level) got me:

    Henry & Mudge and the Happy Cat, The Really Rotten Princess, and whole bunch of Annie and Snowball books, Katy Duck books, Eloise books, and also a few Childhood of Famous Americans (all males) books.

    Boy + Age 6 + Grade 1 + Sports (skipped reading level) got me:

    Henry and Mudge books, the same Childhood of Famous Americans, and Jon Sciezka’s Truck Town books, Robin Hill School books, Mike the Knight books, a book on Martin Luther King Jr. and another on Johnny Appleseed.

    (What I didn’t quite understand is how the Robin Hill School books are pegged as “BOY” books and not gender-neutral to be picked up by both choices.)

    After the first wave of shock subsided, I started considering: why did S&S think it so important to identify GENDER as the first and ultimately most defining question that split the recommendation path into two?  Because, I imagine, market research must have shown that even in 2013, a child’s gender and his/her traditionally and socially assigned gender role remain the most common and most unconscious “invisible stamps” that we adults affix on any child.

    One asks a new (or expectant) parent, always, if the baby is a girl or a boy.  Going into a children’s clothing store is stepping into a Binary World where you only visit ONE side of the store if you are looking to buy an outfit for a specific child.  One feels really bad and apologetic if one accidentally uses the wrong pronoun when addressing a child or if one mistakes a child’s gender due to presumptions based on outfits, hair styles, or mannerism. (Heck, we even do that with dogs and cats!)

    So, I guess what I am trying to say, in a very round about way, is this: there is a huge societal and economic factor in what kind of books published for children.  For each one of us who wishes to bust the traditional gender-role assignment, there are dozens (or hundreds?) of marketing and sales people who KNOW how traditionally gender-assigned merchandise (and yes, books ARE goods for sale) just do better on the mass market.

    I do not blame the publishers to not regard exacting social changes as their number one mission.  I just wish that there eventually will be enough demand from the parents, teachers, librarians, and the kids themselves to turn the tide.  We will then see plenty of non-traditional gender roles in books for children as a matter of fact, not a social changing agent — but a reflection of the world around us.

    However, I also don’t want to sit back and just take it passively.  Educators and parents CAN help by making some waves in small ways.  I wanted to do something about this Ready to Read App.

    So, I emailed the marketing director and found that more than one person had expressed our dismay at the Binary Options on the App. The Ready to Read team listened to us and added another option on that page: SKIP.  Which allows for parents and teachers to say, “I actually don’t care if the books are stereotypically assigned to girls or boys — just give me stuff at the right level and addressing the kid’s interests… ”  I applaud this clever solution!!!

    I did another search today:

    Skipping gender + Age 6 + Grade 1 + Sports got me:

    (curiously) not MORE books and not ALL the books that were assigned to BOTH girls and boys — there are Annie and Snowball and Henry and Mudge — but Robin Hill School and Truck Town are completely missing and no more Childhood of Famous Americans…)  I guess the team still needs to work on their algorithm but at least this is a start!

     
    • Linda Stanek 5:37 pm on August 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      When my 3-year-old niece was a baby, my sister wanted to buy a “busy box” and was appalled to find them all gendered–pink castles on one, blue sports stuff on the other. She ended buying a non-gendered from a resale shop–it was the only way to get an un-gendered one. Crazy!

      • fairrosa 9:08 pm on August 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply

        Apparently, the current market research still points at the Fluffy Pink Girl and Tough Truck Boy divide. According to the publisher, parents in general still want to find books (products) that “speak to a specific gender” first and foremost.

c
Compose new post
j
Next post/Next comment
k
Previous post/Previous comment
r
Reply
e
Edit
o
Show/Hide comments
t
Go to top
l
Go to login
h
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
Cancel
%d bloggers like this: