Thursday, February 12, 2015

Exploring Black Images in African-American Children's Literature


by Cheryl Willis Hudson

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
—words spoken in the Disney movie, “Snow White”

“Who can be born black and not exalt?”
—Mari Evans, author, I Am A Black Woman

“The seeds of an African American children’s literature were sown in the soil
of Black people’s struggles for liberation, literacy, and survival.”

—Rudine Sims Bishop, educator-author, Free Within Ourselves:
The Development of African American Children’s Literature

mages bombard children and adults on a daily basis via television, videos, advertisements, movies, textbooks, newspapers/magazines and social media. Although some of these images are positive, many are negative and simply perpetuate and reinforce age-old stereotypes of race, gender and social class without a balanced regard for the portrayal of true diversity within our country and our world.

When assessing the impact of imagery on the psyche of all children, but upon Black children in particular, it is important to know who is telling the story and who is painting the pictures. It is essential that we tell our own stories.

As an author and publisher of Just Us Books, I’m committed to helping present authentic and realistic stories, illustrated with images that reflect and reinforce positive and realistic aspects of being born Black and living on this planet. That means embracing authentic stories told by us, in our voices, from our perspectives, lenses and brushstrokes. It means rejecting messages of inferiority, mediocrity, marginality, assumed deviant behavior and demonstrating clearly through our books that “Black lives matter.”

he books and materials selected for this display are a small sampling of works from the canon of African-American literature for children. This literary canon includes a wide range of books, which mirror and reflect the diversity of our history, culture and experiences as members of the African diaspora. Included are alphabet books, counting books, baby board books, illustrated nursery rhymes, folktales, picture books, biographies, novelty books, fantasy, comic books, and covers of some books for middle grade and young adult readers.

These books are filled with skillful and thought-provoking illustrations in a variety of styles, whose imagery serves to teach, entertain and illuminate. Within them, Black culture is represented in all its variety and is not simply relegated to a narrow shelf of historical stories about slavery, civil rights and selected biographies of familiar Black personalities.

While many of the books displayed are published by major commercial houses, it should be noted that a very important component of presenting positive imagery of Black culture is the work done by independent Black presses and self-published authors. Literature from independent presses offers a wealth of creative works for young readers.

Many books displayed in these cases are available from your public library. Many are also available for purchase from booksellers and make valuable additions to your own home libraries.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, where are the fairest books of all?

The word “fair” has so many meanings: pretty, light complexioned, equal. However, in terms of the power of imagery and illustrations, when thinking about “fairness” in publishing books for children, the answer the mirror gives should not consistently be “Snow White,” which in essence reflects dominance of an all-white world of children’s book publishing.  (See Nancy Larrick’s article from September 11, 1965).

Children’s books should be inclusive and representative of diverse cultures. That means they should include the beauty and richness of the Black experience and the vision of Black illustrators as well as others who have traditionally illustrated children’s books. Black children should be able to see images of themselves in the literature that they read. Fairness then means equity and expansion of publishing boundaries so that children’s literature is inclusive of the multicultural diversity of our world.

This article was written as a contribution to the Newark Public Library's exhibit, My Soul Has Grown Deep, celebrating African-American literature. The exhibit runs through April 30, 2015.

Cheryl Willis Hudson is a children's book author, speaker and publisher of Just Us Books. Follow her on Twitter at @diversitymom_ch. Her books are available at Just Us Books and retailers across the nation.

Copyright 2015 by Cheryl Willis Hudson, Just Us Books, Inc.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

10 Steps to Promote Diversity in Children's Literature

by Wade Hudson

This article and the Diverse Books Pledge were developed by Wade Hudson following his participation in Day of Diversity, sponsored by the Association for Library Services to Children and the Children’s Book Council during American Library Association Mid-Winter 2015.

The lack of real diversity in children’s literature is a problem that has been difficult to conquer. Many have confronted it over the years, doing what they could to effect important change. In 1920, W.E.B. DuBois, Jessie Fausett and Augustus G. Dill established The Brownies Book, a monthly magazine that writer and university associate professor Katharine Capshaw Smith cites as “the beginning of Black children’s literature.”

During the decades that followed, Langston Hughes, Arna Bontemps, Effie Lee Newsome, playwright Willis Richardson, artist Lois Mailou Jones and others continued to produce works that helped to move Black children’s literature forward. In 1965, The Council on Interracial Books for Children was formed to “promote and develop children's literature that adequately reflects a multiracial society.” In 1969, Where Does the Day Go, written by Walter Dean Myers, won a Council contest and became the celebrated author’s first published book. In 1968, To Be a Slave, by Julius Lester, illustrated by Tom Feelings, was published (and earned a 1968 Newberry Honor). Virginia Hamilton’s first book, Zeely, was published in 1969. In 1970, the Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table of the American Library Association established the Coretta Scott King Award to recognize outstanding works for children written by African Americans.

Other awards recognizing the outstanding works of writers and illustrators of color followed, including the Pura Belpré Award. During the past several decades, independent presses such as JustUs Books, Lee & Low Books, Arte Publico Press, Cinco Puntos, and others, have led the charge – dedicating their catalogs to quality books for children and young adults that reflect our nation’s diversity. Major publishers have added to the number of diverse books as well. Yet, real diversity in children’s literature remains a goal rather than a reality. (see: “Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books” by the late Walter Dean Myers.)

The truth is, children’s book publishing faces the same challenges that society faces when it comes to ethnic, racial and gender fairness, equity and justice. But, just as in society, we all must play a role if we are to make change that is transformative.

The Diverse Books Pledge below offers steps anyone can take to help ensure that literature for our children and young people is truly representative of who we are as a diverse world.

Wade Hudson is president and CEO of Just Us Books, Inc., independent publisher of children’s books that celebrate the diversity of Black people, history and culture. You can follow him on Twitter at @hudsonwade and find his books at (Twitter: @JustUsBooks )

Diverse Books Pledge

To help increase the number of quality children’s books that celebrate diversity, and to support the diverse books already available,
I Pledge To:

1. Each year, introduce 10 different children’s books that reflect our nation’s diversity to educators, librarians, bookstore managers, and parents—anyone who has the influence and/or power to help increase the number of these books within our body of children’s literature.
2. Gift at least 5 of these books to children other than my own—whether they’re neighbors’, friends’ or co-workers’ children; children at my place of worship or local youth organizations; or as donations to other organizations in my community.
3. Try to give at least 2 or 3 of these books to children who might not normally have diverse books in their homes.
4. Make a special effort to buy some of these books from independent publishers, independent bookstores and vendors, including those operated by People of Color.
5. Lift up the importance of having books that reflect our nation’s diversity at every opportunity—not just within my circle of friends, but among others with whom I don’t normally interact.
6. When visiting a bookstore or library, encourage the manager to include a more diverse offering of children’s books. Take the initiative to purchase at least one multicultural title to show my commitment to supporting these books.
7. Encourage educators and administrators to include multicultural books among their classroom resources.
8. Encourage book reviewers and bloggers to include more multicultural books among the books they review.
9. Publicly celebrate positive multicultural children’s literature, including sharing it on social media, book review sites and through personal recommendations.
10. Encourage others to take this pledge

Wade Hudson is president and CEO of Just Us Books, Inc., independent publisher of children’s books that celebrate the diversity of Black people, history and culture. You can follow him on Twitter at @hudsonwade and find his books at (FB, IG and Twitter: @JustUsBooks )