Friday, October 07, 2016

News: We Need Diverse Books will launch an app called "OurStory"

Yesterday, Publisher's Weekly ran an article about the OurStory app, due out in January of 2017 from We Need Diverse Books.

As readers of AICL know, I am a strong advocate for WNDB. But, readers also (likely) know that, at my core, I'm an advocate for education and what children learn in the books they read.

My first response to the news about the OurStory app was "Cool!" I looked at the graphic at the top of the article and was thrilled to see Tim Tingle's How I Became A Ghost there. But I also saw Tim Federle's Better Nate Than Ever. So, I felt a bit less enthused...

Federle's book is praised because of Federle's treatment of Nate's sexuality. I welcome that, too, because Native boys need books that normalize homosexuality, but how, I wonder, do those Native boys feel when they read that part where Nate sits "Indian style"? And, how do they feel when they get to the part where Nate's aunt sees cowboys (in costume at Halloween) approaching and says "look out for Indians." She's corrected right away, but the correction doesn't work. She's told to say "Native Americans" instead of "Indians." So, a Native kid is supposed to be ok with her saying "Look out for Native Americans"? (See my review of Federle's book.)

I completely understand that we need books for middle grade kids with characters like Nate--but not ones that fail with respect to the Native content.

Seeing Better Nate Than Ever, then, makes me wonder about the books in the app. Did the people who selected the books decide that the needs of LGBTQ kids is so important that they can look the other way regarding the Native content?

That happens a lot. People who care about misrepresentation of groups that have a history of being omitted or stereotyped come across a book that gets things right about one group, but, that has same-old problems with Native content. They choose to look away from the Native content. I hear that all the time about Touching Spirit Bear. And I heard it when I raised concerns about The True Meaning of Smekday. I heard it last year, too, in my critique of Rae Carson's Walk On Earth A Stranger. People say that this or that author tried and deserve credit for trying. I understand that thought, but again, my commitment is to the children and teens who will read and learn from their books. I will not throw children under the "they tried" bus.

Last year when WNDB worked with Scholastic on diversity fliers that included books with problematic Native content, I was disappointed. I'm disappointed again. I want to wholeheartedly say "Get the app!" but I can't. When it is available, I'll be back with a review.


Deborah Menkart said...

Thank you Debbie for posting this. Who is determining what constitutes "our story"?

J.L. Powers said...

Ah, Debbie, thank you for always being you and always being your honest, true, critical self.

Debraj said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Getting one underrepresented or stereotyped group right does not license the use of stereotypes for other marginalized groups. Writers are being asked to examine their biases, not to replicate problematic stereotypes or language, and publishers are being asked to consider all of the children who will read books from their lists.

mclicious said...

Deborah, there is an OurStory FAQ here:

The committee working on the app is large and quite diverse. They are all highly trained readers with expertise in assessing books for problematic content.

Anonymous said...

A lot of people think Indian-style refers to the lotus position as is used in India. So I wonder who determines what constitutes the use and transformation of language? Cross-legged is certainly a clearer term, practically speaking. But is "cross" too tied to religion? It's truly a minefield (no offense meant to those affected by landmines) out there.

Anonymous said...

that's disappointing to read. people can keep saying that nothing is 100% unproblematic, but it really bothers me when stories written by authors who haven't bothered to take out the most obviously problematic bits of their books get so much praise, particularly in circles that celebrate diversity in books. i had that with a book called Almost Perfect, where an otherwise valuable book about a cis boy falling for a trans girl was completely wiped from my recommendations list when i got to the part where the main character goes to a frat party, described like this: "Approaching Greek Town was like riding up to an encampment of angry Indians. I could hear their war cries long before I saw them." and this book won the Stonewall Award! i hope the folks at wndb take a more intersectional approach, or at least include warnings on some of the books.