Saturday, November 14, 2015

Richard Van Camp's A BLANKET OF BUTTERFLIES

Check out the cover for Richard Van Camp's A Blanket of Butterflies:



Gorgeous, isn't it? A Blanket of Butterflies, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, is new this year (2015) from Highwater Press, an imprint of Portage & Main Press in Canada. That sword? It is a key piece of this story.

When you open the cover, here's the first page:



As the story opens, Sonny is at the Northern Life Museum in Fort Smith, Northwest Territory. He's looking at a samurai suit of armor when he notices a man who is also looking at it. The man's name is Shinobu. See the paper he's pulling from his coat? He's at the museum with a specific purpose: to pick up that suit. It belongs to his family. The museum staff worked to identify who it belongs to, and then got in touch with Shinobu's family.

I gotta say--I love how Van Camp's story gets going--and here's why. So many things in museums are there due to theft and exploitation. Grave robbing of Native graves is rampant. Native protests led Congress to take action. In 1990, Congress wrote the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to help tribal peoples reclaim remains and artifacts (see the FAQ). That law, and A Blanket of Butterflies, is all about dignity and humanity, for all peoples.

Back to the story...

There's something missing from the display. A sword. Shinobu learns where it is and sets out to get it, but Sonny knows where it is, too, and he also knows that it is risky for Shinobu to go there alone. Sonny follows him, and strikes up a conversation, noting that Shinobu has a butterfly tattoo on his hand. Things don't go well. Shinobu gets hurt...

Yesterday (Friday, November 14) I listened to Acimowin on CJSR, an independent radio station in Edmondton, Canada. The guest? Richard Van Camp. I listened to him talk about A Blanket of Butterflies and wish you could have heard him, too. There's a grandma in this story. She's the hero. Hearing him talk about her... awesome.

Get a copy of A Blanket of Butterflies for your library or classroom, or for your own young readers. I really like it and highly recommend it.

And--check out that weekly radio show, Acimowin, too, on Friday mornings. You can listen online. One of the best things people who write, review, edit, or publish children's and young adult literature can do, is listen to Native voices. Learn who we are, and what we care about. It'll help you do a better job at writing, or reviewing, or editing, or selecting, or... deselecting! Acimowin is hosted by Jojo, who tweets from @acimowin. I laughed out loud more than once, listening to the banter between these First Nations people... (Note: the radio show is not for young kids.) Love the graphics for the show!




Friday, November 13, 2015

Revisions to THE CASE FOR LOVING

Earlier this year, The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, by Selina Alko, illustrated by Alko and Sean Qualls, was published by Arthur A. Levine Books. It got starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly. The reviewer at Horn Book gave it a (2), which means the review was printed in The Horn Book Magazine. 

The review from The New York Times and my review, were mixed, and as I'll describe later, may be the reasons revisions were made to the second printing of the book.

Let's start with the synopsis for The Case for Loving:
For most children these days it would come as a great shock to know that before 1967, they could not marry a person of a race different from their own. That was the year that the Supreme Court issued its decision in Loving v. Virginia.
This is the story of one brave family: Mildred Loving, Richard Perry Loving, and their three children. It is the story of how Mildred and Richard fell in love, and got married in Washington, D.C. But when they moved back to their hometown in Virginia, they were arrested (in dramatic fashion) for violating that state's laws against interracial marriage. The Lovings refused to allow their children to get the message that their parents' love was wrong and so they fought the unfair law, taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court - and won!

On Feb 6, 2015, The New York Times reviewer, Katheryn Russell-Brown, wrote:
Alko’s calm, fluid writing complements the simplicity of the Lovings’ wish — to be allowed to marry. Some of the wording, though, strikes a sour note. “Richard Loving was a good, caring man; he didn’t see differences,” she writes, suggesting, implausibly, that he did not notice Mildred’s race. After Mildred is identified as part black, part Cherokee, we are told that her race was less evident than her small size — that town folks mostly saw “how thin she was.” This language of colorblindness is at odds with a story about race. In fact, this story presents a wonderful chance to address the fact that noticing race is normal. It is treating people better or worse on the basis of that observation that is a problem.

And on March 18, 2015, I wrote a long review, focusing on Mildred Jeter's identity. I concluded with this:
In The Case for Loving, Alko uses "part African-American, part Cherokee" but I suspect Jeter's family would object to what Alko said. As the 2004 interview indicates, Mildred Jeter Loving considered herself to be Rappahannock. Her family identifies as Rappahannock and denies any Black heritage. This, Coleman writes, may be due to politics within the Rappahannock tribe. A 1995 amendment to its articles of incorporation states that stated (p. 166):
“Applicants possessing any Negro blood will not be admitted to membership. Any member marrying into the Negro race will automatically be admonished from membership in the Tribe.”
I'm not impugning Jeter or her family. It seems to me Mildred Jeter Loving was caught in some of the ugliest racial politics in the country. As I read Coleman's chapter and turn to the rest of her book, I am unsettled by that racial politics. In the final pages of the chapter, Coleman writes (p. 175):
"Of course, Mildred had a right to self-identify as she wished and to have that right respected by others. Nevertheless, viewed within the historical context of Virginia in general and Central Point in particular, ironically, “the couple that rocked courts” may have inadvertently had more in common with their opponents than they realized. Mildred’s Indian identity as inscribed on her marriage certificate and her marriage to Richard, a White man, appears to have been more of an endorsement of the tenets of racial purity rather than a validation of White/ Black intermarriage as many have supposed."

Turning back to The Case for Loving, I pick it up and read it again, mentally replacing Cherokee with Rappahannock and holding all this racial politics in my head. It makes a difference.
At this moment, I don't know what it means for this picture book. One could argue that it provides children with an important story about history, but I can also imagine children looking back on it as they grow up and thinking that they were misinformed--not deliberately--but by those twists and turns in racial politics in the United States of America.


Fast forward to last week (November 4, 2015), when I learned that changes were made to The Case for Loving in its second printing. Here's a photo of the copyright page for the two books. Look at the second line from the bottom in the top image. See the string of numbers that starts at 10 and goes on down to 1? That string is data. The lowest numeral in the string is 1, which tells us that the book with the 1 is the original. Now look at the second line from the bottom in the bottom image. See the string of numbers ends with numeral 2? That tells us that is the 2nd printing.



I learned about the second printing by watching Daniel Jose Older's video, Full Panel: Lens of Diversity: It is Not All in What You See. Sean Qualls, illustrator of The Case for Loving was also on that panel, which was slated as an opportunity to talk about Rudine Sims Bishop's idea of literature as windows, mirrors, and doors, framed around Sophie Blackall's art for the New York public transit system. The moderator and panel organizer, Susannah Richards, said that she saw people using social media to say that they thought they say themselves in Blackall's art. (To read more about the discussions of Blackall's picture book, A Fine Dessert, see Not recommended: A Fine Dessert.)


At approximately the 34:00 minute mark in Older's video, Richards began to speak about The Case for Loving and how Qualls and Alko addressed concerns about the book. Richards had a power point slide ready comparing a page in the original book with a page in the revised edition. It is similar to the one I have here (in her slide, she has the revised version at the top and the original on the bottom):

Qualls said "So, part of what happened is... There is a page with a description of Mildred and Richard." Qualls then read the revised page and the original one, too: "Richard was a tall quiet man with fair skin and broad shoulders. The person he loved most was Mildred Jeter. Mildred was part African-American, part Native American, and she was thin as a rail; that's how she got the nickname, String Bean. Richard Loving was a good, caring man; he didn't see differences. There was one person Richard loved more than the rest. Mildred Jeter was part African-American, part Cherokee, but what most folks in Central Point noticed was how thin she was; that's how she got the nickname, "String Bean."


Reese's photo of original (on top) and revised (on bottom) page in THE CASE FOR LOVING

For now, I'm going to step away from the video and Quall's remarks in order to compare the original lines on the page with the revised ones:

(1)
Original: Richard Loving was a good, caring man; he didn't see differences.
Revision: Richard Loving was a tall, quiet man with fair skin and broad shoulders.

See that change? "he didn't see differences" is gone. This, I think, is the result of Russell-Brown (of the Times) saying that him not seeing difference was implausible, especially since this book is about race.

(2)
Original: There was one person Richard loved more than the rest.
Revision: The person he loved most was Mildred Jeter.

I don't know what that sentence was changed, and welcome your thoughts on it.

(3)
Original: Mildred Jeter was part African-American, part Cherokee...
Revision: Mildred was part African-American, part Native American...

In my review back in March, I said it was wrong to describe her as being part Cherokee, because on the application for a marriage license (dated May 24, 1958), she stated she was Indian. I assume the change to "Native American" rather than "Indian" was done because the person(s) weighing in on the change thought that "Indian" was pejorative. It can be, depending on how it is used, but I use it in the name of my site and it is used by national associations, too, like the National Congress of American Indians or the National Indian Education Association or the American Indian Library Association.

I think it would have been better to use Indian--and nothing else--because that is what Jeter used. "Native American" didn't come into use until the 1970s, as indicated at the Bureau of Indian Affairs website and other sources I checked. In order to tell this story as determined by the Supreme Court case, Alko and Qualls had to include "part African American" because that is the basis on which the case went to the Supreme Court in the first place. I'll say more about all of this below.

(4)
Original: ...but what most folks in Central Point noticed was how thin she was;
Revision: ...and she was thin as a rail;

I think this change is similar to (1). People do notice race.

(5)
Original: ...that's how she got the nickname, "String Bean."
Revision: ...that's how she got the nickname, "String Bean."

No change there, which is fine.

~~~~~~~~~

Now I want to return to the video, and look more closely at (3) -- how Alko and Qualls describe Jeter.

After reading aloud the original and revised passage, Qualls paused. The moderator, Susannah Richards, stepped in. Here's a transcript:
Richards: "Research is complicated, and in researching this particular book, and looking... And even having some of my law friends look at it, they were like 'well some things say she was Cherokee and some things say she was wasn't, some things say her birth certificate said this,' and... There was just a lot of information out there."
Qualls: "Right. And I think that Deborah..."
Richards: "Debbie Reese."
Qualls: "Debbie Reese..."
Richards: "Who many of you may follow on her blog."
Qualls: "Really brought issue with the Cherokee description of Mildred, and, I have spoken to at least some family members and no one really seems to know whether she was Cherokee or Rappahannock. And I think there are some... Debbie Reese may have said, or somewhere I read, that Mildred claimed not to have any African American heritage. But then I've also read that the Rappahannock Nation is less likely to recognize someone as Rappahannock if they claim to have any African American heritage. We're also talking about the 1950s and 1960s where it may have been convenient for someone to claim that they had no African American heritage. James Brown, of all people, claimed he was part Japanese, part Native American, and had no African American heritage. So, it is extremely loaded, and yeah, you know, I really don't know what to say about it. And, it comes down to ones intention, and you know, in trying to represent diversity, and the fact is, no one really knows what her back ground was. I believe that she was part African American. My gut tells me that. She looks that way, she feels that way when I see her, when I see videos of her. So, yeah, that became a little bit of a controversy and was very disturbing to my wife, who is Canadian in origin, and the fact that you're Australian, you know, its very interesting. There are two people that I know that include and have always included African Americans in their art, and without question, that's really important, I think.    

Qualls is right, of course. I did raise a question about them identifying Jeter as Cherokee.

I'm curious about his next comment, that he has spoken to family members who say that no one really knows whether she was Cherokee or Rappahannock. In my review, I quoted Coleman's 2004 interview of Jeter, in which she said "I am not Black. I have no Black ancestry. I am Indian-Rappahannock." I didn't include this passage (below) but am including it now--not as a deliberate attempt to argue with Qualls--but because I am committed to helping people understand Native nationhood and how Native people speak of their identity. Coleman writes (p. 173):
The American Indian identity is strong within the Loving family as demonstrated by Mildred’s grandson, Marc Fortune, the son of her daughter Peggy Loving Fortune. When Mildred Loving’s son, Donald, died unexpectedly on August 31, 2000, Marc, according to one attendee, arrived at his uncle’s funeral dressed in native regalia and performed a “traditional Rappahannock” ritual in honor of his deceased uncle. In fact, all of the Loving children are identified as Indian on their marriage licenses. During an interview on April 10, 2011, Peggy Loving stated that she is “full Indian.” This was also the testimony of her uncle, Lewis Jeter, Mildred’s brother who stated during an interview on July, 20, 2011, that the family was Indian and not Black. Echoing his sister’s words he stated, “We have no Black ancestry that I know of.”
Based on all I've read and many conversations with people who do not understand the significance of saying you're a member or citizen of a specific tribe, here's what I think is going on.

In watching videos of Jeter, Qualls said that he believes Jeter was part African American. In the video, he said "She looks that way, she feels that way when I see her, when I see videos of her." He is basing that, I believe, on her physical appearance rather than on her own words about her citizenship in the Rappahannock Nation. Qualls is conflating a racial identity with a political one.

I'm not critical of Qualls for thinking that way. I think most Americans would think and say the same thing he did. That is because Native Nationhood is not taught in schools. It should be, and it should be part of children's books, too, because our membership or citizenship in our nations is a fact of who we are. Indeed, it is the most significant characteristic of who we are, collectively. It is why our ancestors made treaties with leaders of other nations. It is why we, today, have jurisdiction of our homelands.

All across the U.S., there are peoples of varying physical appearance who are citizens of a Native nation. My paternal grandfather is white. He was not a tribal member. My dad and my uncle are tribal members. Myself and my siblings, though we range in appearance (I have the darkest hair and skin tone amongst us), are all tribal members. On the federal census, we say we're tribal members and we specify our nation as Nambe Pueblo. Our political identity is a Native one. Because of our grandfather, some of us look like we're mixed bloods, because we are, but when asked, we say we are tribal members, and we say that, too, on the U.S. census documents. We were raised at Nambe and we participate in a range of tribally-specific activities, from ceremonies to civic functions such as community work days and elections. What we look like, physically, is not important.  

In short, the revision regarding Jeter's identity is based on a physical description rather than a political one. My speculation: the author, illustrator, and their editor do not know enough about Native nationhood to understand why that distinction matters.

Now let's take a look at the content of the reviews.

The reviewers at School Library Journal, Kirkus echoed the book, saying that Mildred was African American and Cherokee. The reviewer at Publisher's Weekly did not say anything about her identity. Horn Book's reviewer said "Richard Loving (white) and Mildred Jeter (black) fell in love and married..." Not surprisingly, then, that the Horn Book reviewer tagged it with "African Americans" as a subject, and not Native American, but I'm curious why they ignored her Native identity? Did they choose to view the Loving case as one about interracial marriage between a White man and Black woman--as the Loving's lawyers did? Perhaps.

In Older's video, he says that there are some stories that he wouldn't touch. I think the Loving case is one that is more complicated than a picture book for young children can do justice to. Here's key points, from my point of view:

In the 1950s, Mildred Jeter said she was Indian. We don't know if she said that out of a desire to avoid being discriminated against, or if she said that because she was already living her life as one in which she firmly identified as being Indian. Either way, it is what she said about who she was on the application for a marriage license.

In the 1960s, because Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving's marriage violated miscegenation laws, their case went before the Supreme Court of the United States. To most effectively present their case, the emphasis was on her being Black.

In the 2000s, Jeter and her children said they are Indian, and specified Rappahannock as their nation.

In the 2000s, Alko and Qualls met and fell in love.

In the 2010s, Alko and Qualls worked together on a picture book about the Lovings. In the author's note for The Case for Loving, Alko said that she's a white Jewish woman from Canada, and that Sean is an African American man from New Jersey. She said that much of her work is about inclusion and diversity and that it is difficult for her to imagine that just decades ago, couples like theirs were told by their governments, that their love was not lawful. For years, Alko writes, she and Qualls had thought about illustrating a book together. The Case for Loving is that book.

I think it is fair to say that the love they have for each other was a key factor in the work they did on The Case for Loving, but who they are is not who the Lovings were. That fact meant they could not--and can not--see Mildred for who she is.

My husband and I are also a couple in an interracial marriage. He's White; I'm Native. If we were an author/illustrator couple working in children's books and wanted to do a story about the Lovings, we'd enter it from a different place of knowing. We both know the importance of Native nationhood and the significance of Nambe's status as a sovereign nation. He didn't know much about Native people until he started teaching at Santa Fe Indian School, where we met in 1988 when I started teaching there. What we do not have is a lived experience or knowledge of the life of Mildred Jeter as she lived her life in the 1950s in Virginia. We'd be doing a lot of research in order to do justice to who she was.

At the end of his remarks (in the video) about The Case for Loving, Qualls said that it comes down to intentions, and that his wife and Sophie Blackall are very careful to include diversity in their work. He said he thinks it is important. I don't think anyone would disagree with that statement. Diversity is important. But, as his other remarks indicate, he's since learned how complicated the discussion of Jeter's identity were, then and now, too. They've revised that page in the book but as you may surmise, I think the revision is still a problem.

I like the art very much and think it is important for young children to know about the Lovings and families in which the parents are of two different demographics. I'll give some thought to how it could be revised so that it sets the record straight, and I welcome your thoughts (and do always let me know--as usual--about typos or parts of what I've said that lack clarity or are confusing).

Pick up a copy of That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia, published in 2013 by Indiana University Press. Read the chapter on the Lovings, and read Alko and Qualls and see what you think. Can it be revised again? How?


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ladybug Girl in Headdress? Gone!

Yesterday, Betsy Bird at School Library Journal wrote about a significant change to the picture book, Lady Bug Girl, written by David Soman and illustrated by Jacky Davis. First published in 2008, it came to my attention when a reader wrote to me about the endpapers, which showed Lady Bug Girl in a headdress. At the time, I wrote a Dear Parents of Ladybug Girl post (writing to the author and illustrator as her parents).

Looking at the image now, I'm drawn to what she's doing: she's got what looks like a lipstick in her hand and is, presumably putting "war paint" on her cheeks. See? David Arnold's character did that in Mosquitoland. Remember that? (My apologies for the poor quality of the images I'm using today.)



Well, a new edition of Lady Bug Girl is out, and, as Betsy noted, Lady Bug Girl in a headdress is gone from the endpapers. I was pleased as can be about that change! Below are the covers for the 2015 "Super Fan Edition" and beneath it is the original 2008 cover.



And here's the changed endpapers:



It is the second book I'm writing about this year, that has been changed--for the better--and as such, something all of us can celebrate! Thank you, Soman, Davis, and Dial (the publisher) for deciding to remove it. It is a step in the right direction. Betsy and I agree--if there was a note in the book about the change, it would help people take a step in the right direction with you, Soman and Davis. For now, though, thank you!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Photo: Debbie Reese and Eric Gansworth at AWP2015

Back in April, I was up in Minneapolis for AWP 2015. Heid Erdrich snapped this photo. I meant to share it here on AICL then, but time got away from me, as it is want to do! So, here it is, today!



AWP is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Here's the blurb about their conference (from their website):
The AWP Conference & Bookfair is an essential annual destination for writers, teachers, students, editors, and publishers. Each year more than 12,000 attendees join our community for four days of insightful dialogue, networking, and unrivaled access to the organizations and opinion-makers that matter most in contemporary literature. The 2015 conference featured over 2,000 presenters and 550 readings, panels, and craft lectures. The bookfair hosted over 800 presses, journals, and literary organizations from around the world. AWP’s is now the largest literary conference in North America.
AWP 2015 was the first time I went to that conference. I was there as a moderator for a panel that included Eric and Debby Dahl Edwardson, too. Good times there, and with Sarah Park Dahlen and her family, too!

Monday, November 09, 2015

Richard Van Camp's WHISTLE

The main character in Whistle is a familiar one. Readers met him before. When Richard Van Camp's The Lesser Blessed opens, it is the first day of school. Larry, the protagonist is cautious as he makes his way through the building, thinking "I'm Indian and I gotta watch it" (p. 2). One of the people he has to be cautious about is Darcy McMannus. Larry describes Darcy as the "most feared bully in town" (p. 19).

Van Camp's Whistle is about Darcy--but he's not at school anymore. He's in a detention facility and writing letters to Brody, a character he beat up. The letters to Brody are part of a restorative justice framework for working with youth. I found that I needed time as I read Whistle. Time to think about Darcy. He felt so real, and people with troubles like his require me to slow down and think about young people.

I highly recommend Whistle for young adults.  Published by Pearson as one of the titles in its Well Aware series, you can write to Van Camp and get it directly from him.

(My apologies! I'm behind on writing reviews of the depth that I prefer. Rather than wait, I'm uploading my recommendations and hope to come back later with a more in-depth look.) 

WHERE I BELONG, by Tara White

Due out from Tradewind Books in Canada in 2015 is Tara White's Where I Belong. The main character is Carrie, a teen with black hair and dark skin who was adopted by a white couple.

Here's the synopsis:
This moving novel of self-discovery and awareness takes place during the Oka crisis in the summer of 1990. Adopted as an infant, Carrie has always felt out of place somehow. Recurring dreams haunt her, warning that someone close to her will be badly hurt. When she finds out that her birth father is Mohawk, living in Kahnawake, Quebec, she makes the journey and finally achieves a sense of home and belonging.
One of the huge holes in children's and young adult literature are stories about Native activism. I had high hopes for this book, especially from a Mohawk writer, but the writing did not strike me as that of someone who is an insider. The dreams throughout the story put it in a space that felt exotic rather than organic, and later in the story, a Native elder is in crisis, and a white doctor (Carrie's mother is a doctor) saves her life. For me, that is the white savior trope. Not recommended.

THE APPLE TREE by Sandy Tharp-Thee and Marlena Campbell Hodson

I am happy to recommend The Apple Tree by Sandy Tharpe-Thee and Marlena Campbell Hodson. Published this year by Road Runner Press, the story is about Cherokee boy who plants an apple seed in his backyard. 

Here's the cover:



Here's the little boy:



And here's the facing page for the one of the little boy:



I like this anthropomorphized story very much and think it is an excellent book all on its own, and would also be terrific for read-aloud sessions when introducing kids to stories about planting, or patience, or... apples! 

When the apple tree sprouts and is a few inches high, the little boy puts a sign by it so that people will see it and not accidentally step on it. That reminds me of my grandmother. She did something similar. To protect a new cedar tree that sprouted near a roadside on the reservation, she make a ring of stones around it so people wouldn't run over it. The apple tree in Tharp-Thee's story grows, as does the boy, and eventually the tree produces apples. 

When you read it, make sure you show kids the Cherokee words, and show them the Cherokee Nation's website, too. Help your students know all they can about the Cherokee people. Published in 2015 by The Road Runner Press. The author, Sandy Tharpe-Thee, is a tribal librarian and received the White House Champion of Change award for her work. She is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation. 





Friday, November 06, 2015

The Power of Social Media to Change Children's Literature

This has been quite the year in children's literature--and I say that in a good way. Some people are decrying social media, but I celebrate it. It is making a difference.

Some say social media that questions books like A Fine Dessert is unfairly attacking the author and illustrator. Some say the creators of the book are being publicly shamed. Roger Sutton said that about the change made to Amazing Grace. 


But you know who has been publicly shamed 
for decades and decades? 
Children.
Children whose culture is misrepresented or poorly 
represented in popular, classic, and award-winning books. 


In his new book, Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, Don Tate's note in the back is important. He writes:
When I first began illustrating children's books, I decided that I would not work on stories about slavery. I had many reasons, one being that I wanted to focus on contemporary stories relevant to young readers today. In all honesty, though, what I wasn't admitting to myself was that I was ashamed of the topic.
I grew up in a small town in the Midwest in the 1970s and 1980s. At school, I was usually the only brown face in a sea of white. It seemed to me that whenever the topic of black history came up, it was always in relation to slavery, about how black people were once the property of white people--no more human than a horse or a wheelbarrow. Sometimes white kids snickered and made jokes about the topic. Sometimes, black kids did too.
A wash of emotion floods over me each time I read Don's words. I've heard similar things from Native kids and teens, too. Don takes up the topic of slavery in Poet. But he does it with a full understanding of what it feels like to be a black child reading a book that depicts slavery.

I have no doubt that Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall meant well when they created A Fine Dessert, but they and the community of people who worked with them on the book created it from within a space that doesn't have what Don has. The outcome, as most of us know, has caused an enormous discussion on social media.

I have empathy for Jenkins and Blackall, but as my larger text above makes clear, my empathy is with children. Because of social media, Jenkins, Blackall, and anyone who is following this discussion, have heard from people they don't normally hear from. People who aren't in their community. In this case, African American parents who are stunned with the depiction of slavery in A Fine Dessert. Some of the response has been blistering in its anger. Jenkins has heard them, and subsequently, apologized.

Thus far, Blackall has not. She says she's heard them, but what does it mean when you hear someone--with reason or with fury--tell you that you've hurt them, but all you do is rebut what they say? I don't know what to call that response.

She and people who are empathizing with her are decrying social media, but I celebrate what it is doing right now in children's literature. Because of it, I have a blog that people read. They link to it. They reference it. They assign it. They share it. The outcome? People write to tell me what they're learning.

Because of social media, we can all watch a video of a panel discussion that took place last weekend. A discussion--I think--that has never happened before at a conference. I'm asking my colleagues who research children's literature. Nobody recalls one like this before.

Sean Qualls, Sophie Blackall, and Daniel Jose Older spoke on a panel titled "Lens of Diversity: It is Not All in What You See" at the New York City School Library System's 26th annual conference. I'm studying the video and will have more to say about it later, but for now, watch it yourself.



I'll be back with a post about it later. For now I've got to finish preparing a talk I'll be giving for Chicago Public Library tomorrow. I was shaken to the core as I watched the video. Shaken by the denial of Qualls and Blackall, and shaken by the honesty of Older. He is using social media to effect change. Change is happening. I know that change is happening because of the email I get from gatekeepers.

I think we're in the crisis that Walter Dean Myers anticipated in 1986 in his New York Times article, I Thought We Would Actually Revolutionize the Industry. He wrote about how the 1970s looked like a turning point:
...the quality of the books written by blacks in the 70's was so outstanding that I actually thought we would revolutionize the industry, bringing to it a quality and dimension that would raise the standard for all children's books. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. No sooner had all the pieces conducive to the publishing of more books on the black experience come together than they started falling apart. 

This time round, I think things will not fall apart. Social media is driving change in children's literature. And so, I celebrate it.

Monday, November 02, 2015

On Ways Authors Respond: A Look at Meg Rosoff, Emily Jenkins, and Sarah McCarry

On October 31, 2015, at 12:06 PM, author Meg Rosoff posted a comment to Roger Sutton's Facebook wall (he is the editor at Horn Book) that said "Debbie Reese is at it again." I wondered what "at it" meant and asked her, there, what she meant. (She didn't reply.)

Roger's post at Facebook is, essentially, a link to his editorial at the Horn Book website. Because the editorial is about diversity and meaningful inclusion of characters who are from marginalized populations, I assumed Rosoff's "at it again" was a reference to my question about her use of the word "squaw" in her book Picture Me Gone, and a reference to more recent critiques I've done of The Hired Girl and A Fine Dessert. (She subsequently wrote about critiques of those two books.)

Rosoff did not reply to my question. She did continue to participate in the ensuing discussion, however. I don't know if she didn't see that I was in it, too, asking her a question, or if she was deliberately ignoring me. In her next comment she said, in part
Doesn't anyone find it odd that so many of the books Debby Reese and her followers attack for "micro and macro aggressions" are on the prize lists for best books of the year? [...] Funny how much time we YA writers spend in schools talking to kids about the corrosive effects of bullying, and then to discover the worst bullies of all in our own community. The strongest backlash, by the way, is coming from editors. Who tell me they are backing away from publishing books featuring diversity characters/stories in order to avoid attacks for "micro and macro aggression." That's a result, then.
A short while later, Roger wrote that he was not "joining in the debate" because he counts me and Rosoff as professional friends and valued colleagues. She replied to him:
Your professional friend and valued colleague has accused me repeatedly in public of being a racist and an enemy of diversity. I can wait very patiently for an apology on that score.
I was surprised by her comment. I have not accused her of being a racist. Nor have I called her an enemy of diversity. I was curious, however, to know why she thinks I did.

As that thread continued, I began to see her commenting elsewhere. I was surprised to see her referencing me so much saying things like "I know all about Debbie. She loves calling people racist" and "There are some very toxic so-called diversity advocates out there." I saw that she coined a phrase using my name: "The Debbie Reese Crimes Against Diversity stormtroopers." (Note: I was intrigued by what she was doing, and glad she was using my name, because it would lead people to my work. See, too, my post on her use of "stormtroopers.")

And then I saw this:
The extraordinary woman was the one who proved I was a racist by the use of the word 'squaw' in one of my books -- by an 11 year old English child. I had to look it up to realise it is sometimes (not always) considered insulting -- particularly if you're mainly reading to be insulted. I've written 600,000 or so words in my career and that's what she's taken out of it. Impressive.
Obviously, I am that extraordinary woman. Rosoff doesn't know, however, that when I picked up her book, Picture Me Gone, it was to read for pleasure. I primarily read books that are specific to my area of scholarship and expertise (depictions of Native people) but I read for pleasure, too, and usually seek out books that have done well. That's why I was reading Picture Me Gone. I was into it, too, but then, I got to this part:
A painting in a big gold frame of an Indian squaw kneeling by a fire needs dusting.
I stopped reading. The enjoyment, for me, was over. I set the book aside. I didn't blog or tweet about her use of "squaw." I just stopped reading it.

When she jumped onto Edi Campbell's Facebook page on October 10th, I remembered her book. What she said on Edi's page prompted a lot of people to write to her on Facebook and on Twitter. In response, she wrote:
God, twitter makes me laugh. Book I'm finishing now for Mal Peet is about a black kid in love w/a native American woman 15 years his senior.
I was angry at her for what she said on Edi's page, especially because Edi's post was about Large Fears by Myles E. Johnson and Kendrick Daye, a book that is about a queer black boy. Edi Campbell, Myles E. Johnson, and Kendrick Daye are three people trying to do some good in the world, shining bright lights on populations that are misrepresented and underrepresented in children's literature.

And there was Meg, like a ton of bricks, out of the blue. From that angry space, I replied to her tweet by asking her if she was going to use "squaw" to refer to that "native American woman." Here's a screen cap:



She didn't reply, but as her comment above indicates, she did not know the word is "sometimes (not always) considered insulting." As she said, she's written 600,000 words in her career, and she's impressed that out of all those words, I'm choosing to focus on one of those 600,000 words.

She is right. I am focusing on that one word as symbolic of the ongoing misrepresentation of Native peoples in children's and young adult literature. But I did not call her racist there, or anywhere.

My focus is on Meg Rosoff's response to being questioned. Her response about the word admits that she didn't know it is problematic. There is a way to respond to ones ignorance that can move children's literature forward in its depictions of those who have been omitted and misrepresented for hundreds of years, but Rosoff's dismissal and subsequent comments disparaging me are not the way to move forward.

Her response stands in sharp contrast to the response Emily Jenkins posted yesterday, in response to criticisms about the depictions of slavery in A Fine Dessert, and it stands in sharp contrast to Sarah McCarry's response to my question about her use of "totem pole" in All Our Pretty Songs. 

Some people are rising to defend Rosoff. Some are defending Jenkins and Blackall, too. Some of them know Rosoff, Jenkins, and Blackall personally, and feel--as they should--empathy for people who they feel fondly towards.

But!

Teachers and librarians are forgetting that their primary responsibility as educators is not to an author or illustrator they like, but to the children in their classrooms. As parents, we trust you to do right by our children and what they learn from you. What you give them is something they will carry with them as they grow up.

The larger point of what I'm saying is that people of marginalized populations are using social media to ask questions. We are using social media to shine lights on problems that our children grandchildren are confronted with everyday, in and out of the classroom.

The country is growing more diverse with each minute. What you do in the classroom matters to the future of our country. That cliched bumper sticker that teachers touch the future is more than a cliche. It is a fact. Expand how you think about that future. We're all here, talking to you, and hoping you'll pick up the lights we shine, too, and do right by the children you teach.

Words Matter: About Meg Rosoff's "Debbie Reese Crimes Against Diversity Stormtroopers" remark

On October 31st, Meg Rosoff posted this to her Facebook page:



Rosoff has said a good many disparaging things about me that I'm ignoring. This one, I will not ignore.

Like millions of people, I love Star Wars. But Rosoff is wrong in calling those of us who point out stereotyping, bias, and misrepresentations "stormtroopers." She's trying to cast us as evil for what we do. She is equating us with Nazi stormtroopers.

We're not bad guys. As Rene Saldana said, he thinks of me as a Jedi Knight. Lot of people said they want to make t-shirts with Rosoff's phrase on them, but we say who we are.

Let's do something like this instead:

Jedi Knights in Solidarity: 
Fighting Crimes Against Diversity



or how about this one:



Jedi Knights in Solidarity:
Fighting Ignorance, One Rosoff at a Time*


There's a lot of writers, librarians, critics, teachers, parents... working on diversity! I'd love to see what people come up with! Adding graphics (and adding a note about them. Elsewhere, Meg Rosoff indicated she didn't know "squaw" was a problematic word. Hence, I use "Ignorance" here. I'm ignorant of a lot of things, too. We all are. It isn't the Native American word for women. That is something that has to be unlearned.)










________________
*I said "fighting ignorance" because Rosoff said she looked it up and did not know the word "squaw" is, quoting her: "sometimes (not always) considered insulting."



Update: November 2, 1:38 PM
Cynthia Leitich Smith tweeted this... and I love that hashtag! #diversityjedi



Update: November 3, 5:05 AM
The #diversityjedi hashtag took off yesterday afternoon and evening! If you're in Twitter, take a look!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Debbie, Can you recommend any Native American folk songs?"

This post is long overdue. A few times since launching AICL, I've received a question similar to:
"Debbie, can you recommend any Native American folk songs" (or music or finger plays) "that I can use with young children?"
Each time, I write back to the person but each time, I've failed to fashion the reply into a blog post that I can point the next questioner to, so, today I'm trying to do that.

First thing to say is not a surprise: most of what is out there is stereotypical. I searched the Internet and found so very much---so very much---and it is so very, very bad. I found Hollywood's version of Native music (think about the music you hear in Westerns). I found songs about specific Native people---all of them with lyrics that slot Native people into the mythical story about the founding and history of the U.S.  And of course, I found the "Indian" counting song.

Given that many children walk into the school holding stereotypical ideas of Native peoples, chances are high that they'd be able to hear the Hollywood Indian music theme and say "that's Indian music" (or Native American, or American Indian).

The task, then, is to help them unlearn what they think they know about Native music by pointing out that the Hollywood Indian music was made up by someone who wasn't Native and that what they see in those Westerns is not accurate.

Move, then, to some music appreciation activities where kids listen to Native musicians. You could start with the familiar nursery rhymes---sung by Native singers.

Start by having your students sing Old McDonald Had a Farm. Then, show them this photograph of the Black Lodge Singers. Point out that they dress much like your students do, and that there are times when they wear traditional clothing, but that most of the time, they're dressed pretty much like everyone else.


On the right side of the drum are Kenny Scabby Robe, who is Blackfeet, and his wife, Louise, who is Yakima. The other people in the photograph are their children. They live on the Yakima Reservation in Washington. Pull out a map and show them where the Yakima Reservation is:



Tell students that the Black Lodge Singers are a well known drum group in the pow wow circuit. Read them Marcie Rendon's Powwow Summer so they learn what powwows are about:



And then, watch some of the videos of the Black Lodge Singers in action. Here they are singing Old McDonald Had a Farm:



And here they are singing "Kuna Matata." The footage includes Native children getting ready to enter a pow wow arena, and inside the arena, too.


There are other videos, too, but do make sure to buy their CDs. You can also talk with students about the Grammy Awards, and tell them that the Black Lodge Singers won a Grammy for their music.


From there, you can introduce them to Native musicians like Sharon Burch. She is Navajo, plays guitar, and her songs are a mix of Navajo and English. Though it isn't marketed for children, her CD, "Colors of My Heart," has many songs children can listen to, and can learn the lyrics, too.


At the Canyon Records site--an excellent resource, by the way--you can listen to portions of the songs on Colors of my Heart. 

Talk to them, too, about Robbie Robertson, by reading Rock & Roll Highway to them:



In a post I did last year, I pointed to work that Robertson did with The Band, and with Ulali, an acapella group. Check out this video:



Now--I realize that my suggestions don't fit within what you usually do in a music lesson or activity, but that's ok. You're a teacher, expanding what kids know. Give them something like I've suggested. Help them unlearn those dreadful stereotypes. And--for yourself and older children--spend time at the Canyon Records site. Get to know Native musicians.

I'll close this post with Buffy Sainte-Marie, singing Up Where We Belong. You may associate that song with Joe Cocker, but it is written by her, and performed by her here:




Note: If you have something you want me to consider adding to this post, do let me know! Especially if you use something developed by Native people in your area.

_____________________________
Update: 11:42 AM, Oct 30, 2015

In comments, Art Coulson, author of The Creator's Game: A Story of Baaga'adowe/Lacrosse, suggested Joanne Shenandoah's "All Spirits Sing" for children. She is Oneida. I don't see that CD at Canyon Records, but they do sell three of her CDs and you can hear segments of her songs at their site. Reading the material on the page, I had one of those "Doh!" moments. I failed to point to Floyd Crow Westerman earlier! His songs aren't for young children, but they're definitely among my favorites.

Art also recommended songs by the Mamas and the Papas, because Papa John Phillips was an enrolled Cherokee. I didn't know that! Thanks, Art!


Friday, October 30, 2015

They say "Debbie Reese hates white people."

A couple of years ago at a library conference, a friend (she is white) told me about conversations she's had with people who say "Debbie Reese hates white people." She tells them that isn't true, and I'm grateful to her for doing that. It seems silly to say it isn't true, but unfortunately, it needs saying!

They say that, I suspect, because I've been critical of a book they like, or because they're friends with an author whose book I've critiqued.  

There's a perception that I'll criticize books with Native characters if the author or illustrator isn't Native. That isn't true, either. 

For those who need proof, below is a list of books I like that are by writers who are not Native. Some are books categorized as being about Native people, while others are ones that include Native content but aren't categorized as being about Native people. Some of these are books on an extensive list I created with Jean Mendoza in 2006 and some are ones I've written about, or recommended, elsewhere.
  • Powwow by George Ancona, published in 1993 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
  • Earth Daughter: Alicia of Acoma Pueblo by George Ancona, published in 1995 by Macmillan.
  • The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, published in 2014 by Viking.
  • Very Last First Time by Jan Andrews, illustrated by Ian Wallace, published in 1998 by Aladdin.
  • Who Will Tell My Brother? by Marlene Carvell, published in 2004 by Hyperion.
  • Whale Snow by Debby Dahl Edwardson, illustrated by Annie Patterson, published in 2004 by Charlesbridge.
  • My Name Is Not Easy, by Debby Dahl Edwardson, published in 2013 by 
  • On the Move by K.V. Flynn, published in 2014 by Wynnpix Productions.
  • Daughter of Suqua by Diane Hamm Johnson, published in 1997 by Albert Whitman.
  • Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, published in 2015 by Arthur A. Levine.
  • A Children's Guide to Arctic Birds by Mia Pelletier, illustrated by Danny Christopher, published in 2014 by Inhabit Media.
  • Cradle Me by Debbie Slier, published in 2012 by Starbright Books.

I read a lot of other books, too, that aren't about Native people. A recent one that I read and love is Zetta Elliot's Dayshaun's Gift.

And, Matt de la Pena's The Living. And Fake ID by Lamar Giles. And Ash by Malinda Lo. When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez! And Benjamin Alire Saenz's Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and Aisha Saeed's Written in the Stars. Back when I was teaching first grade, Eric Carle's books were amongst my favorites to read aloud at storytime. And we have a dear video from 1992 when I was reading Galdone's Over in the Meadow to our then-baby, Liz. The dear part is her chiming in as I read.

Right now, I'm partway through All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

And I can't wait for my copy of Don Tate's Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton. Did you watch the video yet?



If you're one of the people who hears other people say "Debbie Reese hates white people," I hope you'll tell them to go to my site and look for a post titled "Debbie Reese hates white people."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Not recommended: A FINE DESSERT by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall

Scroll down to the bottom of this post to see links to discussions of A Fine Dessert, discussions I'm framing as what-to-do about books like it, and, 2016 discussions of A Birthday Cake for George Washington (another book that depicts smiling slaves) The list of books that have been revised is no longer on this page. It has its own page: "Stereotypical Words and Images: Gone!" 

Eds. Note, Nov 1, 2015: 
Emily Jenkins, the author of A FINE DESSERT issued an apology this morning, posting it at the Calling Caldecott page and at Reading While White. Here are her words, from Reading While White:
This is Emily Jenkins. I like the Reading While White blog and have been reading it since inception. As the author of A Fine Dessert, I have read this discussion and the others with care and attention. I have come to understand that my book, while intended to be inclusive and truthful and hopeful, is racially insensitive. I own that and am very sorry. For lack of a better way to make reparations, I donated the fee I earned for writing the book to We Need Diverse Books.

Eds. Note, Nov 2, 2015:
I'm seeing influential people in children's literature--from librarians to academics--decrying the discussion of A Fine Dessert as one in which people are "tearing each other apart" or "tearing this book to pieces." 

For literally hundreds of years, African American families have been torn apart. African Americans are objecting to the depiction of slavery in A Fine Dessert. 

Please have some empathy for African American parents whose lives and the lives of their children and ancestors is one that is characterized by police brutality, Jim Crow, and the brutal violence of being enslaved.

If you wish to use a picture book to teach young children about slavery, there are better choices. Among them is Don Tate's POET: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton. Watch the book trailer. Buy the book. Use it.

Eds. Note, Nov. 4, 2015:
Daniél Jose Older was on a panel this weekend at the 26th Annual Fall Conference of the New York City School Library System. The conference theme was Libraries for ALL Learners, and the panel he was on "The Lens of Diversity: It is Not All in What You See." The panel included Sophie Blackall. Last night, Daniel tweeted about it and later storified the tweets. He also uploaded a video of his remarks:



At Reading While White, an African American woman wrote:
What I see as a black woman is a skilled house slave training a slave girl how to be a proper house servant for the master's family. This skill actually would make her more valuable on the market, so it is important that she learns well. The master would usually have them doing small things like picking up garbage at 3 and fully laboring by 7 years old, so you have the age right. It's likely she would have never known her mother and was being trained to be a proper house slave by a woman she didn't know.The woman would likely be strict, maybe even beating the girl herself if a mistake was made on this dessert, for she too would suffer if it were not right. The girl would know she was property by then and the "beat" you mentioned would be the pace of her heart, for fear of the punishment, if she made a mistake.


~~~~~~~~~~

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Not recommended: A FINE DESSERT by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall


Some months ago, a reader asked me if I'd seen A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat written by Emily Jenkins, and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. The person who wrote to me knows of my interest in diversity and the ways that Native peoples are depicted---and omitted--in children's books. Here's the synopsis:

In this fascinating picture book, four families, in four different cities, over four centuries, make the same delicious dessert: blackberry fool. This richly detailed book ingeniously shows how food, technology, and even families have changed throughout American history. 
In 1710, a girl and her mother in Lyme, England, prepare a blackberry fool, picking wild blackberries and beating cream from their cow with a bundle of twigs. The same dessert is prepared by a slave girl and her mother in 1810 in Charleston, South Carolina; by a mother and daughter in 1910 in Boston; and finally by a boy and his father in present-day San Diego. 
Kids and parents alike will delight in discovering the differences in daily life over the course of four centuries. 
Includes a recipe for blackberry fool and notes from the author and illustrator about their research.

Published this year, A Fine Dessert arrives in the midst of national discussions of diversity. It is an excellent example of the status quo in children's literature, in which white privilege drives the creation, production, and review of children's and young adult literature.

A Fine Dessert is written and illustrated by white people.
A Fine Dessert  is published by a major publisher.

A Fine Dessert, however, isn't an "all white book."

As the synopsis indicates, the author and illustrator included people who are not white. How they did that is deeply problematic. In recent days, Jenkins and Blackall have not been able to ignore the words of those who find their book outrageous. Blackall's response on Oct 23rd is excerpted below; Jenkins responded on October 28th.

~~~~~

The Horn Book's "Calling Caldecott" blog launched a discussion of A Fine Dessert on September 23, 2015. Robin Smith opened the discussion with an overview of the book that includes this paragraph:
Blackall and Jenkins could have avoided the challenge of setting the 1810 scene on the plantation. They did not. They could have simply chosen a family without slaves or servants, but they did not. They clearly approached the situation thoughtfully. The enslaved daughter and mother’s humanity is secure as they work together and enjoy each other, despite their lack of freedom. In the 1810 table scene — the only time in the book when the cooks don’t eat the dessert at the dinner table — each of the African American characters depicted has a serious look on his or her face (i.e., there is no indication that anyone is enjoying their work or, by extension, their enslavement) while the children in the family attend to their parents and siblings or are distracted by a book or a kitty under the table. In its own way, the little nod to books and pets is also a nod to the privilege of the white children. They don’t have to serve. They don’t have to fan the family. They get to eat. Hidden in the closet, the African American mother and daughter have a rare relaxed moment away from the eyes of their enslavers.

Smith also wrote:
Since I have already read some online talk about the plantation section, I assume the committee will have, too. I know that we all bring our own perspectives to reading illustrations, and I trust that the committee will have a serious, open discussion about the whole book and see that the choice to include it was a deliberate one. Perhaps the committee will wish Blackall had set her second vignette in a different place, perhaps not. Will it work for the committee? I have no idea. But I do know that a large committee means there will be all sorts of readers and evaluators, with good discussions.

The "online talk" at that time was a blog post by Elisa Gall, a librarian who titled her blog post A Fine Dessert: Sweet Intentions, Sour Aftertaste. On August 4th, she wrote that:
It’s clear that the creators had noble goals, and a criticism of their work is just that—a criticism of the book (not them). But despite the best of intentions, the result is a narrative in which readers see slavery as unpleasant, but not horrendous. 
The Calling Caldecott discussed continued for some time. On October 4th,  Jennifer wrote:
Based on the illustrations, there are too many implications that should make us as adults squirm about what we might be telling children about slavery:1) That slave families were intact and allowed to stay together.2) Based on the smiling faces of the young girl…that being enslaved is fun and or pleasurable.3) That to disobey as a slave was fun (or to use the reviewers word “relaxed”) moment of whimsy rather than a dangerous act that could provoke severe and painful physical punishment.
On October 5th, Lolly Robinson wrote that:
... the text and art in the book need to be appropriate for the largest common denominator, namely that younger audience.  
Robinson's words about audience are the key to what is wrong with this book. I'll say more about that shortly.

On October 23rd, Sophie Blackall--the illustrator--joined the discussion at Calling Caldecott, saying she had decided to respond to the criticism of how she depicted slavery. She linked to her blog, where she wrote:
Reading the negative comments, I wonder whether the only way to avoid offense would have been to leave slavery out altogether, but sharing this book in school visits has been an extraordinary experience and the positive responses from teachers and librarians and parents have been overwhelming. I learn from every book I make, and from discussions like these. I hope A Fine Dessert continues to engage readers and encourage rewarding, thought provoking discussions between children and their grown ups.
In that comment, Blackall talks about school visits and positive responses from teachers, and librarians, and parents. My guess? Those are schools with primarily white students, white teachers, white librarians, and white parents. I bring that up because, while Blackall doesn't say so, my hunch is she's getting that response, in person, from white people. That positive response parallels what I see online. It is white women that are praising this book. In some instances, there's a nod to the concerns about the depiction of slavery, but the overwhelming love they express is centered on the dessert that is made by four families, in four centuries.

Praise is not the response from Black women and mothers.

On October 25 at 12:37, fangirlJeanne's, who identifies as a Polynesian woman of color, sent a tweet that got right to the heart of the matter. She wrote that "Authors who assume a young reader doesn't know about slavery or racism in America is writing for a white reader." In a series of tweets, she wrote about the life of children of color. With those tweets, she demonstrated that the notion of "age appropriate" content is specific to white children, who aren't amongst the demographics that experienced--and experience--bullying and bigoted attacks.

At 1:00, she shared an image of the four pages in the book that Sophie Blackall has in her blog post, saying that these illustrations make her sick and sad:





The conversation about the book grew larger. Some people went to Blackall's post and submitted comments that she subsequently deleted. The explanation for why she deleted them rang hollow. And then sometime in the last 24 hours, she added this to the original blog post:
This blog has been edited to add the following:
It seems that very few people commenting on the issue of slavery in A Fine Dessert have read the actual book. The section which takes place in 1810 is part of a whole, which explores the history of women in the kitchen and the development of food technology amongst other things. A Fine Dessert culminates in 2010 with the scene of a joyous, diverse, inclusive community feast. I urge you to read the whole book. Thank you.
Clearly, Blackall is taking solace in Betsy Bird's You Have to Read the Book. Aligning herself with that post is a mistake made in haste, or--if she read and thought about the thread--a decision to ignore the voices of people of color who are objecting to her depiction of slavery.

My hope is that the people on the Caldecott committee are reading the conversations about the book and that they will subsequently choose not to name A Fine Dessert as deserving of Caldecott recognition.

The book is going to do well, regardless of the committee decision. Yesterday, the New York Times named it as one of the best illustrated books of 2015. That, too, speaks to a whiteness that must be examined.

In this post, I've focused on the depictions of slavery. I've not said anything about Native people and our absence from Jenkins and Blackall's historical narrative. Honestly, given what they did with slavery, I'm glad of that omission. I'm reminded of Taylor, a fifth grader who was learning to think critically about Thanksgiving. She wrote "Do you mean all those Thanksgiving worksheets we had to color every year with all those smiling Indians were wrong?"  The American settings for A Fine Dessert, of course, are all on land that belonged to Native peoples who were forcibly removed and killed to make way for Americans to raise their families, to pursue their American dreams.

I imagine, as I point to that omission, that people will argue that it isn't fair to judge a book for what it leaves out, for what it didn't intend to do. That "not fair" response, however, is the problem. It tells people who object to being left out or misrepresented, to go away. This book is "not for you."

This particular book is symbolic of all that is wrong with children's literature right now. A Fine Dessert provides children with a glossy view of this country and its history that is, in short, a lie about that history.  We should hold those who create literature for children to a standard that doesn't lie to them.

What can we do about that lie? Use it, as Elisa Gall suggested in her blog post, when she wrote:

The only time I’d imagine selecting this book for classroom use would be to evaluate it collaboratively using an anti-bias lens (like the guide by Louise Derman-Sparks found here).

_______________________
Update: November 2, 2015

As I see blog posts and media coverage of this book, I'll add them here. If you know of others, let me know (update on Nov 14, I added additional links and sorted them into distinct categories). I'm adding them by the dates on which they went online, rather than the dates when I read them myself.

This set of blog posts and news articles are primarily about the book and controversy. A Fine Dessert is not unique. For hundreds of years, those who are misrepresented in children's or young adult literature have been objecting to those misrepresentations.

This set of links are primarily on what-to-do about the controversy over A Fine Dessert and, broadly speaking, diversity in children's/young adult literature. A lot of them echo previous writings. For decades, people have been writing about how writers and illustrators and editors can inform themselves so they don't stereotype or misrepresent those who are not like themselves, and people have been writing about what we, as readers (parents, teachers, and librarians) can do to encourage publishers to publish books that do not misrepresent our distinct cultures. 

This set of links is to items about a 2016 picture book, A Birthday Cake for George Washington, which also depicts enslaved people, smiling.