J.K. Rowling’s missteps with Native Americans and my We Need Diverse Books resolution for 2016

J.K. Rowling came under fire earlier this month for her portrayal of Native people and cultures in a series of online stories related to Harry Potter.

The collection focuses on the fictional history of North American magic as part of a larger project to expand the Harry Potter universe and its back stories. But the recent installment received fast criticism from Native Americans, who said Rowling treated them as magical creatures and a monolithic group.

The backlash speaks to the much bigger conversations to be had on how much and in what ways American Indians are represented in children’s literature. I touched on this subject briefly in my conversation with Pam Margolis, but I am by no means an expert. (But you know who is? Debbie Reese. Check out her blog.)

That’s why part of my 2016 We Need Diverse Books resolution is focused on books by or about Native people.

As I thought about my resolution back in January, I didn’t think upping the raw number of diverse books I read made that much sense, because I pretty much maxed out my reading time last year. But I did think about the breakdown of what I read last year and how I could mix it up. Continue reading

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Listen up! Here’s a new podcast about diverse children’s books

thecutheaderI listen to podcasts every day, but the past two weeks have brought an extra infusion of podcast-y goodness to my life.

First I met Alex Laughlin, host of The Ladycast, during a journalism training. A few days later I interviewed Caroline Ervin and Cristen Conger, hosts of Stuff Mom Never Told You, for a freelance article.

And finally, I am featured in a new episode of a podcast all about diversity in children’s books, The Cut with Pam Margolis. I met Pam, a librarian and book reviewer, at KidLitCon last fall, when she was still conceptualizing her show. It launched this month, and I can’t wait for more episodes.

For the episode that I’m on, I talked with Pam about the dearth of picture books featuring Muslims, getting beyond sexuality as the main conflict in books featuring LGBTQ characters, and whether to label diverse books as such.

I also shared some of my favorite diverse children’s books. Those titles are below, along with my GoodReads ratings and comments on them.

Listen, SlowlyListen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

totally enchanting

Continue reading

In Carole Boston Weatherford’s latest picture book, she shows slaves’ joy and hope without ignoring injustice

Freedom in Congo Square1

Here’s an antidote to recent months of outcry over pictures books featuring smiling slaves. In “Freedom in Congo Square,” author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator R. Gregory Christie show us the humanity of slaves in the American South without ignoring or accepting the inhumanity of how their white owners treated them.

This nonfiction book – written in verse – takes up the topic of Congo Square, an open field in New Orleans where slaves and free blacks gathered to play music, dance and share news on Sunday afternoons in the 1800s. A Louisiana law at the time set Sunday aside as a day of rest, even for slaves, Weatherford explains in her author’s note. By spotlighting this little-known piece of history, she and Christie present a picture of the joy and hope people can find amidst harrowing circumstances.

That’s something Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall said they were trying to do in “A Fine Dessert,” which drew controversy last fall. In one part of the book, an enslaved mother and daughter hide in a closet to lick the bowl after serving blackberry fool to their masters. The difference between that scene and “Freedom in Congo Square” is that the context and open acknowledgment of injustice is not absent in the latter. Continue reading