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Race in kid's books

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My editor wrote a wonderfully honest and thought provoking post about race in kids books and how a bad trade review might have unintended consequences: http://www.cbcdiversity.com/2012/06/what-to-do-with-bad-review.html#more

Two of the main characters in my story are black. I never gave it any thought - they just are. And race doesn't come up as an issue in the story at all. I hate the idea that I may have to think about how these characters are portrayed rather than just let them be organic.

So I was wondering a couple of things - does the issue of race come up for you consciously when you're writing? Do you try to populate your stories with different races, or do they just come out that way? Have you never given it any thought?

(should she have sent the letter?) :ha

#1 - June 22, 2012, 09:27 PM

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I try to include characters of different ethnicities in my stories. Unless the circumstances of the story dictate that every character be of the same ethnic descent, it's just not realistic for everyone to be the same. Admittedly, my MC's tend to be Caucasian (especially of English or German descent), but I guess that's because it's easier to "write what you know." Maybe one day I'll be brave enough to try writing from the POV of person of another ethnicity (I'm always afraid of getting the details wrong and being accused of stereotyping!). But I certainly try to populate my stories with people of all ethnicities.

Rue
#2 - June 22, 2012, 11:02 PM
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I write books with black characters because I'm black. I consciously go back and add characters of other colors because I want to be inclusive, and I wouldn't read a book where my race didn't exist at all. Even if it's "A black man on the corner was stringing a guitar." I mean, give me something. I don't ask for much, just don't write me out of the world. I should point out that service people of color doesn't cut it for me. Rue is right, diversity is a reality. I don't know what to think of writers who only have one race of people in their stories.
#3 - June 23, 2012, 05:59 AM
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The editor addressed it beautifully in the blog. I'm sure she feels personally insulted because of how carefully she edited the book to ensure accuracy and because of her unique position in publishing.

There are so many times my husband and I talk about the nuances of race and racism. He is in a white-male dominated field. There are so many factors that influence people's attitudes and decision-making that are subconscious. Sometimes people try so hard and in the process do the very thing they are trying to avoid. I doubt that the reviewer thought beyond his/her immediate reaction to the character in question. That is so often the case. The editor's honest response is the kind of measured conversations that we need to have as a society.

I specifically include characters of all backgrounds and also write from a male POV because that reflects my life and experience. My husband is black and from Jamaica. My four boys are biracial and categorized by other people in many ways. They talk a lot about their varying perspectives on race. I work in an urban school district and most of my students are black males. Historically I've worked with many more boys than girls. I live in a neighorhood that is probably about 60% black 30% white and 10% other groups. I want my students and children to have characters they can relate to. The stories I'm telling are enhanced by a diverse cast of characters.

I will continue to include people of all backgrounds because that is my life but I don't write specifically about that. I have family and friends who can ensure that I'm not creating sterotypes. But I always wonder about being white and female writing about diverse characters without that being the primary theme of the books. Will that be one more stumbling block on the path to being published? Maybe. And even if I do get published, there will be people who think I shouldn't be the one writing these stories or who don't like something about how I portray different characters. But the reality is that within demographic groups there is both similiarity and differences as well as wide variations in personalities, perspectives, strengths and weakness. Authors should feel free to responsibly explore the nuances of well-rounded characters of all backgrounds.
#4 - June 23, 2012, 06:27 AM

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Hmm, interesting. In my books, I write people of different ethnicities, but sometimes it's obvious and sometimes not. One of my main characters in my upcoming book is Puerto Rican and one is white, and that's clear, but the race of the other characters isn't specified, although some are partly described. That doesn't mean they are all white.
#5 - June 23, 2012, 06:33 AM
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"And even if I do get published, there will be people who think I shouldn't be the one writing these stories or who don't like something about how I portray different characters."

I understand that sentiment, Jojohn.  Writing characters with a culture you're not a member of (but wouldn’t you say you earned an honorary membership in it) is a bit dicey. But who has a right to say who can write what? This is America after all. As a black person, it doesn't upset me that a white writer is telling a black story. What upsets me is that there aren't more black writers telling stories. I don't begrudge you the publication of your story. I'm sure it'll be the result of many hours of writing and editing and will deserve to be told. As a fellow mother of a black son, I can understand the pull of writing from that POV. With such a shortage of black children writer, I'm personally grateful that some very fine white authors have included children of color in their work. Thank goodness for Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants when my son was growing up. But perhaps feeling self-conscious about cultural differences is just a natural doubt we writers have. I know that as a privileged American woman, I hesitate to write a story idea about honor killings because I'm not from that culture and I can't help feeling it's not my place to write it. It would take a lot of research and would be a huge emotional drain before I could reach the level of comfort it would take for me to write it as a non-Muslim because I wouldn’t want to offend. Still, I think this boils down to being a human issue, not a Muslim issue, so maybe I will write it someday.

#6 - June 23, 2012, 08:10 AM
« Last Edit: June 23, 2012, 08:17 AM by Shelliep »
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People are often criticized if they write outside their culture. Even within, sometimes, because there is a great deal of diversity within the white community, or black, or Asian. I read and write about other cultures because I find them fascinating. The important thing is research. I hate it when the minor Mexican character is portrayed as a gardener who cannot speak proper English. A character like that is interesting when there is a story about him tying to make a better life for himself. I would like for ethnic characters there not just for the color, but also a plot! Holly Cupala wrote a book with the love interest who is Indian (or Pakistani -- now I don't remember) but it was authentic. I think it helps that her husband is Indian, and she is familiar with the culture. So the key thing is research. The more you know, the more you can include the subtle nuances of that culture. I look to someone like Geraldine Brooks (white, Australian) who is doing it right -- she has written extensively about Islamic cultures and Jewish people. She was the mid-east correspondent for many years. Her books are chockful of interesting and provocative thoughts. Donna Jo Napoli is another one -- she's written the Chinese Cinderella story. The reason it's so good is because she took the time to study.

Write what you want, but study what you don't know. And I liked your editor's post too.
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#7 - June 23, 2012, 08:26 AM
« Last Edit: June 23, 2012, 10:30 AM by Vijaya »
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I liked your editor's post. I've had many readers tell me that "Big" in The End of the Line is one of their favorite characters. I agree with your editor --it also breaks my heart when a review might keep readers from a great book!!!!

Her post was amazing; I could feel her passion for her work, her authors, their books and all of the characters.
#8 - June 23, 2012, 08:55 AM
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So I was wondering a couple of things - does the issue of race come up for you consciously when you're writing? Do you try to populate your stories with different races, or do they just come out that way? Have you never given it any thought?

Mine just come out that way. But I think if I ever had a story where I realized there was no diversity, I'd think about it more consciously. But I do struggle with wanting to write the characters authentically, whether they are male or of another ethnicity. In the MG I'm working on, my MC has two friends that are as important to the story as he is, so it's sort of an ensemble cast, I guess, and the girl is African American. I love her, she's my favorite character in the book, but being white myself, and Canadian, (our history is somewhat different, tho definitely not innocent) I really agonize over whether I'm getting her character right. I've written her as an individual, her character defined by her own experiences, but my biggest fear is someone saying "you got it wrong" and that I've unintentionally offended.

#9 - June 23, 2012, 11:01 AM
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I have characters of all races and backgrounds in my stories, but I never really think about it when I write. One of my biggest personal "flaws" is that I usually forget about skin color when I think about people. It's just not something I really notice, and so it's not something I think to mention when I write. (My close friends and family members always tease me when I'm trying to describe somebody and leave out details like that. "Um, you could have mentioned that he was a 6' tall black man." Well... I said he was tall and had dark hair. Wasn't that enough?)

The question I struggle with: I really don't see why the color of someone's skin makes any difference as to what kind of person they are. So what purpose does it serve for me to assign skin colors to my characters? If I don't specify that the boy on page 9 and the main character are black, but the girl on pages 13 and 62  is white and the best friend is Indian, will everyone just assume that all of my characters are identical? Do I need to find a way to squeeze the "Oh, and by the way, his skin is brown, but hers is white" into the narrative? To me, that just sounds like a way of creating divisions and classifications where they don't belong...
#10 - June 23, 2012, 11:34 AM

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Well, I would think you shouldn't actually need to refer to skin colour. If you've nailed the culture, I think it'll be pretty obvious what your character's ethnicity is. I think this would apply even within the "white" ethnicities. How do you show someone is say English, German, Greek, Jewish, Swedish? They way they talk, their mannerisms, the foods they eat, the music they listen to, the holidays they observe, their religious beliefs, etc. etc.

Of course, that's where things can get dicey. What may seem authentic to one person can seem stereotypical to another. So that's where it's SO important to get your details right! (And why I'm so chicken to try writing an MC from a different ethnicity! :embarrassed2 )

Hope that helps!

Rue

(Edited for clarification.)
#11 - June 23, 2012, 11:54 AM
« Last Edit: June 23, 2012, 02:42 PM by ruecole »
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The question I struggle with: I really don't see why the color of someone's skin makes any difference as to what kind of person they are. So what purpose does it serve for me to assign skin colors to my characters?

I'm probably not the best person to respond, but I believe that though skin color doesn't matter at all in terms of what kind of person our characters are in general, when we are writing we are creating complete people. In reality, it matters in terms of experience. For those of us who are white or who live in a homogeneous situation, our skin color often doesn't affect our daily lives or how we describe ourselves. That is, unless we have the opportunity to be around a lot of people who may label us by our skin color. For example, I'm "the white woman across the street" to my older black neighbors who don't know me very well but I'm becoming Ms. Johnson to one neighbor as the comfort level increases. In other neighborhoods and with other people's experience, I might be "the mom with the four boys," etc. As an adult, it took me awhile to get used to being described by my race as it had never happened growing up. I was in the majority. Only those who were "different" would have been described by race or ethnicity.

If I ride down a country road in rural Jamaica with my husband's family (MY family!!), people stare at me--who is she? why is she here? who does she belong to? Though we all speak English, they sometimes talk past me to my husband. We have that in restaurants here in the US all of the time--except the person seating refers to me and talks past him. These are life experiences that are effected by race. People gravitate to their comfort zone.

In general, being white in America is often the default expectation. It statistically shouldn't be, but it is. If you don't delineate, many will assume the default--though not everyone. The plus is that the reader is free to make his or her own assumption. But if you don't give any reason to assume anything other than white, many will assume white. Heck, sometimes even when you spell it out, they will still assume white (as in the Hunger Games!!)

So if I write about people of color, or immigrants, or males, or whatever I am not, I have to make the character a complete person with a story that might include a few times they experienced racism, had a hard time adjusting to new foods or language, asked a girl out on a date or other things I have not experienced. Likewise, my white characters can't be carbon copies of my life experience. That would be very boring. I need to have them act a way that I would not. In my head, all of my characters have experiences that make them who they are. This isn't all part of the written story, but it is part of creating character. By the end of the book, I want people to believe that all of my characters are people they have actually met--not actors in a play. So I cannot ignore their race but I have lot of options as to how I put it on paper. IMHO.



#12 - June 23, 2012, 12:42 PM

Ditto what Jojohn said. If you are a white writer and you don't indicate that your character is of another race, I'm just going to assume your character is white. But I don't think writers do that typically. It's our job to round-out a character and ethnicity matters in rounding them out. I love your outlook on race, Veronica, and I hope we're moving in that direction, world citizenship and one race. Bu until than, I'm afraid we still need to acknowledge skin color in books that embrace diversity to move toward that.
#13 - June 23, 2012, 01:49 PM
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"One of my biggest personal "flaws" is that I usually forget about skin color when I think about people. It's just not something I really notice, and so it's not something I think to mention when I write."

I ran into this in my current wip. MC is Indian, and in my first draft I don't think I mentioned her race until Chap. 2 or so, so my readers didn't know. The book begins and I could've been describing any American family and most people read that as white. She interacts with mostly whites given the demographics of the small rural town in WA state. However, there is a minor character who is black and although I mention it, my readers forget! So I've had to draw attention to his ethnic background so that later they don't say, whoa! I didn't know he was black. And he has to be black for the purposes of the subplot.

So, yeah, what Shelliep and Jojohn say is absolutely true. You want to be able to picture the characters as they are, and although the color of your skin does not matter, sometimes it does and you have to make that obvious.

Vijaya
#14 - June 23, 2012, 02:23 PM
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Okay, so then here's my dilemma: I have never yet found any kind of personality characteristic that can define a race of people. So obviously, I can't indicate the color of a character's skin with a description of his or her actions, beliefs or personality. How do you subtly define race to indicate a diverse population in your story? Or do I have to make sure I have at least one character in every story who will react to everyone differently based on skin color? (And wouldn't this approach make people think that I'm racist or something?) Am I really the only person in the world who assumes that societies in books are racially diverse? I've never, ever lived in a town or city that wasn't racially diverse, so I always assume that the towns in the books I read are too...

So what do you do? How do you make sure to define skin color without throwing in an awkward "his dark skin glistened" or sprinkling lots of inaccurate and racist stereotypes?

I guess I need to figure this out soon, because the main character in the next book I want to write is a 13-year-old black girl, based in part on a girl I know. I hadn't planned to have her say "oh, and by the way I'm black," because I didn't think it mattered...
#15 - June 23, 2012, 02:47 PM

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But I think to your readers, it might matter. Kids want to see themselves represented in the books they read, so it's up to us as writers to make sure they see themselves represented. And I think it also helps for any kid to see diversity in a book, I truly believe racism/intolerance is learned, and maybe we can help unlearn it. And I think Shellie is right, people will assume a character is white if you don't say differently. Did you all hear about the awfulness on twitter when the Hunger Games movie came out?

And I agree 100% with Jojohn that a person's experiences have a big impact on how they see the world and react to it.
#16 - June 23, 2012, 03:26 PM
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I just started reading Monument 14. It's in the second chapter that the main character describes how blood gushing from a girl's head looks like on her brown skin. See, that flows naturally and it immediately let's me know the girl isn't white because the author didn't write 'tan skin'. I have a story where, in a particular stressful situation, I write something like, "He was lucky his dark skin didn't flush." It's not that hard indicating skin color, I don't think.

Artemesia, I was really surprised by those reactions. I thought Ms. Collins black characters were describes so eloquently. I got it right away.
#17 - June 23, 2012, 03:40 PM
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Shellie, I got it right away, too. Those reactions were appalling, tho.

#18 - June 23, 2012, 04:00 PM
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I have never yet found any kind of personality characteristic that can define a race of people.

I don't think you could! The same personality traits are seen in people of all different ethnic background. It's what makes us all human.

Quote
So what do you do? How do you make sure to define skin color without throwing in an awkward "his dark skin glistened" or sprinkling lots of inaccurate and racist stereotypes?

I think you show their ethnic diversity in what your characters say, what they eat, what they wear, what they believe, etc. Even if your character is a fourth or fifth generation American, they're still going to have that cultural history and heritage somewhere in their life.

Oh, and I also thought that hoopla about the Hunger Games movie was pretty disgusting.

Hope that helps!

Rue
#19 - June 23, 2012, 04:22 PM
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Okay, so then here's my dilemma: I have never yet found any kind of personality characteristic that can define a race of people. So obviously, I can't indicate the color of a character's skin with a description of his or her actions, beliefs or personality.

Do you feel hesitant to mention a white character's blonde hair, the fact that she blushes when a boy talks to her or other features? You're right that it's not personality that determines their race, but there can be food, dialogue patterns, reactions of other people, names, analogies and other means to give the reader a clue. It's not necessarily a stereotype if it rings true to the character. Even if you have one minority character in an all white environment and that character was born and raised alongside of the other characters, I'd think there would be some time that the character or someone else comments on that. Or maybe it is just part of the character's inner dialogue. Maybe she worries about who to date or if the real world is as colorblind as her experience has been.

Or if you are creating a world where race isn't an issue, then you can include that as part of your world building. Do something to let the reader in on the fact that the people are all different but it doesn't matter in this world.

In one book, I compare white tissue paper that a character's using to wrap up an object to the skin of the old woman who gave the object to her. It was relevant that the old woman was white and the passing of the object created an image of the old white hand handing something to the young dark hand without slamming the reader over the head. Other times, the character's own perception of him/herself can help. Most people (especially young ones) obsess over their looks. Depending on your point of view, you can sneak things in while helping the reader understand the character's self-perception.

Or do I have to  I've never, ever lived in a town or city that wasn't racially diverse, so I always assume that the towns in the books I read are too...

That's great that you've had that experience. If you ever doubt that race still matters to a lot of people, just scroll down the comment section in any story about a person of color on the Yahoo news feed and regardless of whether it is about race or the race of the person is even relevant, check out the comments. Also, realize there are parts of the country that are extremely segregated. Not necessarily because of beliefs, but jobs, opportunities, the size of the town, the part of the country--many other factors can influence whether an area is diverse or not. We are obligated to explain our setting, situation and assumptions to our readers without them realizing that's what we are doing.

On a side note: I thought my parents were completely not racist until I brought home a black boyfriend. They came to love him (getting to know people tends to do that) and he was completely wonderful about it. I was shocked, hurt, horrified. My boyfriend (now husband) was not. He expected it. I did not. Sometimes, it is more about whether we are paying attention than it is about whether it exists. My parents didn't expect that reaction in themselves either. Keep feeling the way you do because the more people who feel that way, the better things will get-- and it's a lot better. But when you write, take off all blinders and be harshly honest with yourself and your characters and see if it helps. Make some mistakes and fix them. You'll figure it out.
#20 - June 23, 2012, 04:31 PM

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To chime in about how to point out the race of characters without being awkward - I think it has to be organic. There is a moment in my story when one character pats the other character's leg in comfort. I saw the dark hand on the skinny white leg, and so that seemed like the right time to mention it. There are a gazillion other ways.

I think you're right Jojohn, in that it depends on your life experience, and this reviewer was drawing from her own. I just think sometimes people are too sensitive and perceive injustice when there isn't any, or they overthink things to death, or worse, they want people to see where they stand on things. And when it's between you, me and the lamppost, oh well. Everyone's entitled to their opinion. But when it's a trade reviewer, I think it's important they temper things. Her perception of this character wasn't based on the character work done by the writer, it came through her own distorted lens.

I suppose we all have a distorted lens to one degree or another - but hopefully we see that and refrain from making comments that might effect someone else's livelihood.

#21 - June 23, 2012, 10:52 PM

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This is really interesting. I write and illustrate for picture books where showing diversity is extremely important. Or so I thought. The most important thing here (for some publishers) is being able to sell the rights so a character who is white with blonde hair or black with afro hair isn't really wanted. I have been asked specifically to depict certain cultures but more often than not I'm asked for generic characteristics.

I just felt the need to add that - I don't know if it adds anything to the conversation but there you go :)



 
#22 - June 24, 2012, 02:08 AM
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I believe my earliest Illustration jobs (government funded pamphlets etc) set the stage for me to, years later, unconiously draw inclusively. The governement would be so worried about PC and inclusive Illustration that every culture, every race, most handicaps, both sexes (non sterotypical) would have to be portrayed. Occassionally they would be SO concerned about this that the direction bordered on the ridiculous, and worse, insulting. For instance, I was once told, for a b/w cartoonish style illustration of a father and child, to make him look MORE African American(Canadian). I was very happy with his cropped, black hair and an ever so slightly broader nose. They suggested I add an AFRO and cross hatch his skin. (cross hatch, for those that may not know, is a black line shading effect that can often just look "dirty" in reproduction) Are you kidding me, an Afro in the 90's????? I refused, they gave in.
Still, this concious awareness while working did result in my now Unconcious adding main or supporting characters of colour to all my Illustration. For that, I must be grateful (even if, at times, the over thinking of the directors could drive one to drink:)
I'm wondering, can anyone name a PB that features a child of colour as the main character? This can't be a PB about a cultural aspect of the child's race, just a general topic PB. I honestly can't think of a single one but even if there are a few, the fact I can't name them off hand is a sad state of affairs.
#23 - June 24, 2012, 03:13 AM
« Last Edit: June 24, 2012, 03:16 AM by christripp »
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I write PBs as well as MG, and some of my characters have names that indicate ethnicity, but I don't describe them because I know how they look is up to the illustrator. And the illustrator might as easily make them bears or rabbits as human children. In PBs, that's one way the issue of ethnicity or inclusivity is sidestepped. Like in Rosemary Wells' YOKO and related books -- YOKO is Japanese and some of the other kids have clear ethnicities, but they are drawn as cats, dogs, and other animals.
#24 - June 24, 2012, 05:25 AM
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Eve Bunting's Flower Garden comes to mind. Also, Leola and the Honeybears by Melodye Benson Rosales.

Edited to say I was responding to Christripp, not Kell. Also, Lee and Low books, dedicate themselves to diversity, so there would be a good place to get more current titles. Years ago I found a lovely picture book with an Asian main character, but I no longer have it and can't remember the name.
#25 - June 24, 2012, 05:27 AM
« Last Edit: June 24, 2012, 05:35 AM by Shelliep »
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I'm wondering, can anyone name a PB that features a child of colour as the main character? This can't be a PB about a cultural aspect of the child's race, just a general topic PB. I honestly can't think of a single one but even if there are a few, the fact I can't name them off hand is a sad state of affairs.
One of my recent favorites is Oh No! Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World by Marc Barnett and illustrated by Dan Santat.

I think you're right Jojohn, in that it depends on your life experience, and this reviewer was drawing from her own. I just think sometimes people are too sensitive and perceive injustice when there isn't any, or they overthink things to death, or worse, they want people to see where they stand on things. And when it's between you, me and the lamppost, oh well. Everyone's entitled to their opinion. But when it's a trade reviewer, I think it's important they temper things. Her perception of this character wasn't based on the character work done by the writer, it came through her own distorted lens.

I suppose we all have a distorted lens to one degree or another - but hopefully we see that and refrain from making comments that might effect someone else's livelihood.
The thing is, books aren't created in a vacuum. From my view (having not read the review or the book and having no idea of the content of either beyond what was in the blog post), I don't think the reviewer meant a book where a black character helps the well-off white main character achieve their goal at risk to his/her own safety and goals is bad and shouldn't be done. But in the overall context of kid's books today, PoC kids are often side characters who focus on helping the white protagonist. (The "magical negro" trope is one example of the way this plays out in books and tv: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro)

My guess is that the reviewer felt the position of the character in the story was stereotypical rather than the character. I don't feel it is reckless or irresponsible to comment on this. My position on the overall topic of race in kids' books is as a white writer with a debut MG novel starring a Vietnamese-American girl. If I mess up, I expect to be called out on it in reviews. I also expect that not everyone will like or agree with the way my characters are handled. Will it hurt to be called out? Yes, probably, but I think it's more important to fight for this. We've been told the book would be more marketable if the character wasn't Vietnamese-American, and we've had to defend that decision in ways we wouldn't with a white character. No one asks why you made a character white, but many people ask once a character is anything else.

It's just so important for kids to see themselves in books, and in all roles. Every kid needs to see kids like them as the hero of many, many stories. I'm not saying the reviewed book did a bad job, or handled things poorly, or played on stereotypes. I have no idea about any of that. I'm just saying that it's not being too sensitive to comment on how a book fits into the body of kidlit as a whole.
#26 - June 24, 2012, 08:36 AM
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That Magical Negro is something you're going to run into when you have a person of a certain culture in a story whose only purpose is to help the mc of a different culture. I doubt if anyone notices it so much when the Magical Negro is white and the mc is non-white. It's just so overused in mainstream writing that it does become a stereotype. Writers can counter this by given that supporting character their own reasons for wanting to help the mc. Give them a stake in the story.
#27 - June 24, 2012, 09:21 AM
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I'm wondering, can anyone name a PB that features a child of colour as the main character?

The only ones I can think of are by Jacqueline Woodson. I just picked up a new one from her at ALA yesterday called Each Kindness.

The thing is, books aren't created in a vacuum. From my view (having not read the review or the book and having no idea of the content of either beyond what was in the blog post), I don't think the reviewer meant a book where a black character helps the well-off white main character achieve their goal at risk to his/her own safety and goals is bad and shouldn't be done. But in the overall context of kid's books today, PoC kids are often side characters who focus on helping the white protagonist. (The "magical negro" trope is one example of the way this plays out in books and tv: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro)

My guess is that the reviewer felt the position of the character in the story was stereotypical rather than the character. I don't feel it is reckless or irresponsible to comment on this.

So the writer should have written this character white just to avoid the stereotype? Also, the circumstances of the story would have made this character's being white rediculous (and unbelievable - and I'm sure if the author had gone this route, would have been accused of having a too all-white cast). Also, there was another trade review that felt this character was the best in the book. I think WE have to let go of stereotypes - ones that are a stretch anyway. And I think this reviewer didn't know Stacey was black - so if anyone wasn't going to let a stereotype go out the door, it would be her - and made accusations toward the writer and editor that shouldn't have been made. I hope the reviewer finds her way to Stacey's article and feels bad - of course, that won't help the book. But she might learn something about herself.
#28 - June 24, 2012, 09:56 AM

So the writer should have written this character white just to avoid the stereotype?
That is not at all what I said. I thought it was pretty clear from my post that I am all for writers including diverse casts and am willing to fight for this in my own work.

I don't agree with dismissing concerns or commentary about the portayal of PoC in books as being too sensitive or having a distorted view of things. You don't have to agree with everything a reviewer says. The character might indeed be done very well and be an amazing character. That doesn't mean the reviewer shouldn't point out the situation of the character if they feel it is problematic. I just think it's more complex than the reviewer just being wrong.

ETA: To clarify what I'm saying, maybe. (Possible slight SPOILERS for BRAVE ahead):

So BRAVE is a pretty cool movie! It does some awesome things, and has a kick-butt female lead. At the same time, it uses stereotypical situations that many people are tired of seeing in princess movies, ie. the rebellious princess who doesn't want to get married so she runs away. That doesn't mean the movie is bad, it means that someone can love the movie and still criticize that aspect or the handling of that aspect. And someone else might not care, but there is still a wider context outside of the film itself.
#29 - June 24, 2012, 10:07 AM
« Last Edit: June 24, 2012, 10:10 AM by Rachel »
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This is a topic I have been thinking a lot about for several reasons. The first being that I have written a fantasy world in which the skin colors and features cover a broad spectrum. It's difficult to describe in a way that allows readers to store away the necessary details about a character without hitting the reader over the head, repeatedly, with the way the character looks. This is difficult, in part, because I do not have a language group I am borrowing from or any other "real world" markers of race in the book. (For example, I can't say that a character is "Asian" because Asia does not exist in my world, and "almond-shaped eyes" does not seem to trigger a recognizable response.) I have debated whether I need to change my setting so that it is easier for readers to recognize that they are "seeing" non-white characters, or if I should keep things relatively simple and subtle. Though I know I have also been too subtle in the past, as a friend of mine requested that I include characters who looked like her, and I was confused as to how she had missed the characters who did.

And now the other issue I have been thinking about: Finding books with non-white protagonists that are not historical fiction. I just started working in a children's bookstore where a woman came in seeking books with a "strong, black female main character where the story is fun and adventurous". Most of the books with strong, African American MCs were historical fiction and dealt with very tough issues. (I won't say that these books shouldn't exist. I strongly believe that they should, but that is another topic.) I will admit that if a book doesn't directly deal with an issue related to the character's race, I may not recall what race the character is, because I remember the personality more than the way the character looks. So there may be more books that fit the request than I think there are. But I suspect that there are very few "fun" books with non-white MCs. I'd love to see children's books become diverse enough that people don't even have to ask for books with a particular race in them, they'll know that a selection of good books will reflect the diversity they see around them. But it's going to take a while for that to happen.

(And if you can think of any "fun" books with non-white MCs, please feel free to list them for me. I have a feeling this request is going to be semi-common in this store.)
#30 - June 24, 2012, 11:47 AM
« Last Edit: June 24, 2012, 11:49 AM by HDWestlund »

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