Friday, January 04, 2013

Thumbs down to some titles on CBC Diversity's Goodreads Bookshelf

The Children's Book Council's Diversity Committee is, perhaps, the most recent effort within the children's publishing arena to push for diversity in children's and young adult literature. The 'about' page on their website says they are "dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and experiences contributing to children's and young adult literature."

Among their activities towards that diversity of voice and experience is their Diversity Bookshelf at Goodreads that "curates front and backlist books by CBC members in order to raise awareness of the diversity-friendly content already in existence."

I'm glad they're taking this on. We most definitely need organized efforts at diversifying voice and experience.

In December, CBC member Cheryl Klein announced their Diversity 101 series and asked readers to look over Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children's Books for Racism and Sexism (available at Sarah Park's blog), published in the 1970s by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. She pointed to her own growth over the last twelve years. I've written about my own growth in the last 20 years. This growth is a process, not an endpoint, and I hope that the journey of CBC members leads them to reconsider what they've pointed to on their Diversity Bookshelf.

I've not read all the 58 books on the CBC's Native American-Inuit list. Remember---their list is provided "to raise awareness of the diversity friendly content already in existence." I'm hoping that CBC members study Ten Quick Ways and then remove the following books from the list. They are not diversity-friendly. Instead, they affirm stereotypes and bias. Until we recognize and acknowledge the problems in these books and then quit using them, we're not going to make much progress in diversifying voice and experience. I believe these authors had good intentions, but good intentions are never enough, right?

Here's critiques of some of the books on the CBC Native American list. When you click on a title, you'll go to a page with several posts about that particular book, or, to a single post about it.

CBC has Ann Rinaldi's A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials on its list, too. Though she is quite popular, she's among the worst offenders in terms of misrepresenting and stereotyping Native people. I haven't read A Break with Charity, but you might be interested in these critiques of two of her books.

I'll close today's post by saying that I'm concerned that the use of "diversity" and "diversity books" seems to be a new strategy within the industry itself to argue that stories can be written by anyone, and that insider perspective is not important. More thoughts on this later...

Updates, January 7, 2013
There's some books on the list that seem to be mis-labeled. Two of them are African or African American stories:

  • Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky by Elphinstone Dayrell
  • Feast for Ten by Cathryn Falwell

1 comment:

Heather Munn said...

Hi, Debbie. I discovered your website (and also Oyate) through a link on TVTropes about "My Heart is on the Ground," and I just wanted to thank you for your work. I was exposed to a lot of these stereotypical materials as a kid, and I'm grateful to have them debunked here. Without you I don't know how I could have found out that what I read in Sign of the Beaver wasn't true! Or "The Education of Little Tree", goodness, I'm going to have to re-read that and see what I missed when I was young and uncritical. I'd like to give my own kids more truth on American history and Native American nations than I got as a kid, and I want to thank you for offering resources toward this.

If you happen to have time to respond, I have one question. Have you read "Echohawk" by Lynda Durrant? What do you think of that one? Since I think it likely that my kids (like me when I was young) will read every accessible book on my shelf with a less-critical mind because it was on my shelf, I don't want to buy a copy if there's something wrong with it.