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Race in kid's books

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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.

I'm not saying the reviewer is wrong, nor am I dismissing ALL concerns about the portrayal of PoC in books as being too sensitive. Only this one. Opinions can't be wrong. I'm just not sure that a trade review is the place to skewer someone for what is, essentially, a perception. Maybe the reviewer should have asked a few more people - hey, what do you think? Am I being too sensitive here? Am I being fair? Everyone has sensibilities that slant them in a certain direction - so maybe this reviewer was not the best for for this type of book. Unbiased is more fair. And I realize you are at a disadvantage because you don't know the book or the review.

Heck, maybe I'M being too sensitive because I just don't see stereotypes all that well. I see people as people in stories. But the point I was trying to make - and the point Stacey was trying to make - isn't so much about the unfair review (the unfairness is, after all, our perception). It's the consequences of this type of review. How it might make authors (like me) nervous in the portrayal of our black characters. That because my beloved black character is a caretaker of sorts - that it could be perceived as stereotypical. And because I can't write this character out of the story, what are my options? I don't want to have to think like that. I just want my characters to be who they are.
#31 - June 24, 2012, 12:06 PM

HD, Troy Cle's Marvelous World is a sci-fi adventure series young boys might like. I don't know about its appeal to girls, and sadly, I can't think of a 'fun' adventure story with a PoC girl lead.
#32 - June 24, 2012, 01:07 PM
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It's the consequences of this type of review. How it might make authors (like me) nervous in the portrayal of our black characters. That because my beloved black character is a caretaker of sorts - that it could be perceived as stereotypical. And because I can't write this character out of the story, what are my options? I don't want to have to think like that. I just want my characters to be who they are.
I think a bit of nervousness can be good. It helps us step back and make sure we're doing the best job we can with every part of our stories. And it can be scary to step into a place where you feel your work will receive additional scrutiny. But I think we need to be aware of the stereotypes/tropes about race and the wider issues.

You can write your story the way you want, the way you feel it needs to be told. But I think all writers need to be aware of these issues even if they ultimately decide that decision X is what's right and best for their story. I think you (general you) just have to move forward and believe in your work and its quality and do the best you can -- but be open to listening if someone does come forward to say something was problematic.

It's possible that some writers will be discouraged from writing books that depict the diverse world we live in because of reviews that criticize the portrayal. And I totally get that you just want to write your characters and not think like that. But until black writers' books aren't shelved with AA fiction while white writers' books about PoC are mainstream, until we have just as many options for PoC characters in all kinds of roles as we do for white characters, there will be that extra scrutiny. There is a tendency for a book about, say, a black lesbian teen to be looked at as portraying the experience of all black lesbian teens, of representing a group of people as a whole, in a way that doesn't really happen with white characters.

I get the concern that this extra criticism might scare off or discourage writers. But I think it's part of a larger issue -- the fact that if a a writer is submitting books about PoC, the reality is that these books are still facing issues of whitewashing covers, of non-white casts of characters not being seen as marketable the way a white boy MG hero is -- all of that means that we have to be willing to stand behind the work and keep moving forward. And we have to call out great books when we see them, but it also means people will point out things they feel are questionable. And when those issues are brought up, we need to listen.

Even if you do end up disagreeing with what may be a biased view, it can help to engage with that view and where it's coming from, which might open up new thoughts that will influence your writing.  :)
#33 - June 24, 2012, 01:16 PM
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Thank you, Shellie. I'll look for that when I'm in the store tomorrow. :)
#34 - June 24, 2012, 01:21 PM

(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.)
I was going to list some here but it might be easier to just direct you to Stacy Whitman's Pinterest where she keeps lists of diverse MG and YA, broken down by genre for easy browsing: http://pinterest.com/stacylwhitman/

Hope that helps!

#35 - June 24, 2012, 01:34 PM
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CLAWS, Chicken House 2012
JALA'S MASK, Pyr, November 4, 2014

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Thanks, Rachel, for all your thoughtful discussion. I love that we can come here and share our views openly, even if we disagree  :)

#36 - June 24, 2012, 02:24 PM

Edited to add--This is meant for HDWestlund:

You might take a look at Phillip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe. It was a favorite of mine as a kid, and it is basically fun adventures of a girl protagonist in a rural setting. There's a sequel, too, I think.  I don't think it was written as "historical," though I guess its then-contemporary setting would be pretty out-of-date now.
#37 - June 24, 2012, 02:29 PM
« Last Edit: June 24, 2012, 02:48 PM by Jaina »

On a side note, it's worth noting that Bette Greene is not African-American. I believe the character of Beth was partially inspired by her close relationship with the family's housekeeper. Before you start cringing, think of how being raised by this wonderfully strong and proud woman inspired Ms. Greene to create Beth, a spunky and lovable kick-butt girl who just happens to be African-American. Is she totally true to her culture? I haven't the slightest, really, but she felt like a friend. I just looked on Amazon and saw this review from a contemporary child of unknown gender/race.  Who could ask for more?

Beth Lambert is a lot like me, and I wish that she was here so that she could be my best friend. I mean she's so much fun to be with, and sometimes I don't like Philip Hall at all. This book was the most fun book I have ever read. I wrote Bette Greene a letter on her website bettegreene.com and she wrote me back. I showed the letter to my classs.
#38 - June 24, 2012, 02:46 PM
« Last Edit: June 24, 2012, 02:50 PM by Jaina »

Thanks, Rachel, for all your thoughtful discussion. I love that we can come here and share our views openly, even if we disagree  :)
Thanks, Tracy, I hope I didn't wall-of-text things too much! :typing
#39 - June 24, 2012, 03:06 PM
http://twitter.com/rachelgrinti
CLAWS, Chicken House 2012
JALA'S MASK, Pyr, November 4, 2014

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I was told by my publsher that they were instructed by the sales and book sellers that  a book about aboriginal Canadians depicted the child too dark. So they instructed the illustrator to lighten the child up.
So far no one has come up with a "black" fancy Nancy type book title and I really don't think we will. If we remember the Bloomsbury scandal, using an almost white girl on the cover of a  book about a "nappy haired" protagonest, it says volumes about how publishers wish to promote YA, let alone PB's.
#40 - June 24, 2012, 03:27 PM
"Penelope and the Humongous Burp"
"Penelope and the Monsters"
"Penelope and the Preposterous Birthday Party"

Thank you, Rachel and Jaina. I should have known that Stacey would have a list. Now I can't wait to get to work tomorrow and put some books on the shelves.

And, thank you everyone else for all this good discussion. I've enjoyed this thread immensely, and it finally lured me out of lurking status.

 :thankyou

Holly
#41 - June 24, 2012, 06:10 PM

For a duo of books that are younger MG with an African American female MC--Sunny Holiday and Sweet and Sunny by Coleen Paratore. They were also available during last years' Scholastic Fair at our school. More like Clementine than Fancy Nancy but a fairly easy read and there's more than one!

#42 - June 24, 2012, 07:32 PM

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For people looking for books with Asian MCs, Pooja Makhijani keeps an annotated list on her blog: http://www.poojamakhijani.com/sakidlit.html 

Vijaya
#43 - June 25, 2012, 09:32 AM
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Veronica

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I don't know how to do the cool quote thing that everyone else can do... but in response to the question about whether I have trouble mentioning the blonde hair of my white characters: no, of course not. I also don't have a problem with mentioning the black or brown hair of my non-white characters. I often mention eye color and hair color, habits and mannerisms (blushing, shuffling feet, etc.) My question: You asked if I hesitate to mention when my white characters blush. Is that supposed to imply that only people with white skin blush? Because I've had lots of friends over the years with darker skin who do, in fact, blush when they're embarrassed. And I've known people with darker skin who pale slightly when nervous... but I've also known people with very fair skin who do that, so making my white characters blush while my darker-skinned characters flush wouldn't work. Or is that an accepted stereotype that I didn't know about?

Sorry, I'm really not trying to hijack this thread or anything with my own questions... I'm just trying to figure out how to address the issue in my stories without resorting to pointing out differences where I don't think they exist.
#44 - June 25, 2012, 01:40 PM

Should we start a thread of resources like the above noted links, blogs and books that people have read and loved or have great covers that feature people of color? It might help people to compare and contrast the different methods writers use to describe people of different ethnicities and racial backgrounds.

@ Veronica--please don't be offended. I didn't mean to imply anything. I was making a point that we often use techniques to describe people that give us an idea of what they look like by discussing such things as blushing, hair color etc. But I think often as a white writer, I may be hesitant to include details I wouldn't think twice about if I were referring to a white character. Yes, some people of color blush but I can assure you that my husband does not, so if I were describing someone of his complexion, I'd have to think of some other way to indicate his embarassment since that technique wouldn't work if he were a character in a book. Likewise, I couldn't count on that as a means for someone to understand his dark complexion. I struggle with the words all the time because I know what I mean when my husband goes pale, but it might confuse a reader if I used that term. Of course, not all of the my characters look like him, I'm just using him as an example.  :)

And to do the quote thing, you highlight what you want to include from the post you are quoting, then hit "insert quote." I often end up with more of the quote than I wanted, so I delete what I'm not referring to, just making sure to leave the little tag at the end that matches the one at the beginning of the inserted quote. Other people might know how to avoid the excess but that's what has worked for me for now.
#45 - June 25, 2012, 02:15 PM

Here are some ideas for indicating your character is African-American without referring to skin color. Have them attend an African Methodist Zion church. 99.9% of their members are black. Have them be a member of the step team at school, because where I'm from, the team is nearly always composed of black kids. Have them refer to their parents heading out the door to an NAACP meeting, you can even have them think how old school NAACP is. How about having someone say they look like a celebrity who's black. There must be dozens of ways to indicate culture in books if you think about it.

BTW, my mother did blush. I've even seem people with coal-color skin do it when they have red undertones. My undertone is yellow, and I never blush. Until recently, I never even bruised.
#46 - June 25, 2012, 03:35 PM
http://www.samposey.com/
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jojohn - I think that's a great idea! Feel free to start the post if you'd like. I think loads of people would appreciate it :)
#47 - June 25, 2012, 06:19 PM

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I see you started it ... it will be a great help. Thank you.
Vijaya
#48 - June 25, 2012, 08:33 PM
BOUND (Bodach Books, 2018)
TEN EASTER EGGS (Scholastic, 2015)
www.vijayabodach.blogspot.com
Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces

Please add to it as you come across things. The more resources and examples, the better. This has been a great conversation.
#49 - June 26, 2012, 04:47 AM

Here's the link Jojohn is referring to: http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php?topic=63414.0
#50 - June 26, 2012, 05:36 AM
http://www.samposey.com/
The Last Station Master, Feb. 2013

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That is a wonderfully comprehensive post, jojohn. Thanks for putting it together.  :thankyou2:
#51 - June 26, 2012, 09:08 AM

Veronica

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Thanks, everyone :)
#52 - June 27, 2012, 11:51 AM

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:nothing
#53 - August 04, 2012, 10:04 AM

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