Friday, January 13, 2012

AICL in VOYA: Voices of Youth Advocates

Screenshot of VOYA website, 1/13/2012

In September 2011, Rebecca A. Hill interviewed me for an article she was writing for VOYA: Voices of Youth Advocates. The article, "The Color of Authenticity in Multicultural Children's Literature", is in the December 2011 issue of VOYA. Shown here is a screenshot of the VOYA website. I read Hills' article by clicking on the "Digital VOYA" frame shown on the right of the image.

Hill does an excellent job laying out issues that I write about here on AICL.

After posing some provocative questions, she moves into a discussion of the work of Rudine Sims Bishop in Shadow and Substance, and, key moments in the development of multicultural literature. These include Nancy Larrick's The All White World of Children's Books, published in the Saturday Review in 1965, and the vitally important work done by the Council on Interracial Books for Children (CIBC).

Then, Hill features K.T. Horning and the work done at the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin. CCBC has been charting the number of books by and about writers of color and, K.T. notes, they've seen little change from one year to the next. A quote from K.T.:
"Back in the 1980s and into the 1990s, we used to hear that publishers wanted to publish more multicultural books, but that they didn't have authors and artists of color submitting things," Horning said. "The last ten years we have been hearing that [it is] marketing that drives the decisions. The book buyers claim that books with kids of color on the cover don't sell or, in order for the buyers to purchase these books, a kid of nondescript color needs to be on the cover."
From there, Hill's article is about the "who can write" debate. That's where she turns to her interview with me where we talked about Little House on the Prairie and the need to do more than archival research when writing a book that has Native characters.

I downloaded a pdf copy of the article from VOYA's nifty "Digital VOYA". If you go to the VOYA site while the December issue is available, you can download it, too. And other articles, as well! The option to read VOYA in digital copy is terrific. (Note: When I talked with Rebecca, I told her about Onate, the Spanish explorer who invaded Pueblo lands and issued orders to have a foot cut off of men and boys who survived a fight between the Spanish and the people of Acoma Pueblo. Columbus may have done that, too. I don't know. )


Anonymous said...

This is indeed a great article, but I can't say I agree with the " has done the research part" stuff - It still looks like people using other's people expirience to profit. As if a reeinactment can help you to understand people what people went through. As if using interviewed girls helps you to forge a "reality" feeling about your fictional story.

Anonymous said...

What purpose does the comment about Columbus serve? I'm not defending what he did, but if you don't know for sure that he did what Onate did, why even mention it?

Debbie Reese said...

Good point, Anonymous.

It is a difficult question. I want Native authors to get published. I prefer books by Native authors.

But we can easily box ourselves into a corner. There's over 500 federally recognized tribes. We've got shared histories that allow us to have insights into tribes other than our own, but, I don't think that we know the details of another tribe well enough to assume that we can swap one for another in creating fiction. A Native author has to do research, too.

Where is the balance in terms of profit and providing children with books that accurately reflect Native people?

I get your point completely. One read of my words in the article is a 'how to' for anyone (Native or not) to write books about American Indians. It sounds like I'm telling authors to go make friends with Indians so that their story will be better. Making friends for that reason is gross. It is a lot like Deloria's critique of anthropologists. And if a non-Native friend of mine decided to write about Nambe, using some of the things I've shared with her, I'd be extremely uncomfortable with it.

MaryAnn F. Kohl, art book author said...

Of course these books were politically incorrect, it was the 50s! Everything in the 50s was politically incorrect! Women were portrayed as housewives only (which most were), boys as strong and girls as weak, and so on and on and on. Things have changed with Golden Books now, and more correctly so. But I just have to say, that as a child, I adored those books and never took what I read there to cause me to stereotype native Americans or to believe this was the truth. The books were fantasy, just like kittens didn't really spill paint all over the town and there was no puppy who was poky and the trains didn't talk. None the less, of course I understand that these books show Native Americans incorrectly. Point taken, but also, these books inspired me to be a voracious reader as I grew up, and to eventually become a writer and publisher.

Debbie Reese said...


They weren't "politically incorrect." These things were wrong then, too, but some people didn't see them as wrong.

You're a writer and publisher? Cool. Have you published any Native writers?