Saturday, August 9, 2008

I declare an end to categorical euphemisery

Ok, I've had it. Today I helped a teacher who was looking for picture books about dinosaurs and about weather. I found her plenty of nice books: Trouble at the Dinosaur Cafe, When Dinosaurs Came with Everything, Dino Pets... Ohio Thunder, Rain Play, Yellow Umbrella, Heat Wave...

She was happy with these books, but especially with Rain Play. She took one look at the cover and said, "I can tell I like this one already." She told me that her class is primarily African American. It's not exactly a huge news flash that kids gravitate toward books that feature characters that look like them, so she knew this one would capture her kids' interest right away. But as we flipped through the dinosaur books, she asked, "Don't you have any dinosaur books with black children in them?"

And I wracked my brain. There's the Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs series, but that's for older kids. Has Jerdine Nolen written a dinosaur book? Aw, heck. I couldn't come up with anything.

Later, I read and reviewed The Secret Olivia Told Me. The kids in that book are primarily African American. I'm going to need to remember this book when I'm purchasing books for the school library this fall. So when I was applying relevant labels (problem solving, picture book, etc.) to the review, I hunted through my list of categories. What euphemism am I using these days: Multicultural? Diverse cultures? African American interest? "Urban," god help us?

And I decided, to hell with it. When parents and teachers come in looking for books that feature black kids, they ask for books about black kids. This is Baltimore. So I scrapped the euphemistic language and my new category over there to the right is "black kids". I chose "black" over "African American" because I have a ton of kids whose parents came here from Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon.

I've retained my "diverse cultures" label. I use it for books about non-Western and aboriginal cultures. I've also retained the "diversity" label. Click that category and you'll find books featuring people with physical, mental, or social differences.

It bugs the crap out of me that American kids of color are STILL underrepresented in children's fiction. I implore anyone writing a children's book: take a look at your cast of characters and see if there's any reason why they all have to be white. And I'm not talking some sassy sidekick, either. See Tip in The True Meaning of Smekday or the little girl in Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm if you are confused.


(nb: I am not picking on the authors whose work I reference above. Lynn Plourde is especially ecumenical in presenting all kinds of kids.)


Anonymous said...

Jerdine Nolan wrote the v. sweet RAISING DRAGONS, which ain't dinos but comes close.

YNL said...

Don't you love that book? I had the opportunity to meet Jerdine Nolen once and I just thanked her and thanked her.