With the presidential election just 13 days away, we’ve had to reclaim the TV from our kids to watch the debates. They’re well aware of the campaign battle as it has played out in the media and in casual conversation. Because this election year has been so dramatic, they’ve been interested in the candidates. My kids continue to have questions, concerns and strong opinions.
After witnessing the historical election and re-election of Barack Obama, my 11-year-old daughter is particularly eager to witness the election of the first American female president if Hillary Clinton wins. Although last week somewhat outraged my daughter said, “But, I wanted to be the first female president!”
My 8-year-old son has been going around for months telling family, friends, and on occasion, strangers, that if Donald Trump wins, “We’re moving to Canada to live with Grandma.” My mother told me that he already made arrangements with her.
Here are some of the questions and opinions my kids and maybe others have had during this campaign season:
“Did Hillary really do that?”
“Is she really a liar?”
“Why does Donald Trump hate Mexicans and Muslims?”
“Does Donald Trump hate women?”
“What’s going to happen if he wins?”
“I agree that we should make bridges and not walls.”
“Other countries will think that everyone in America is like that.”
These have been tough questions to answer and at times I’ve been stumped. Just like us grownups, kids are trying to process the endless sound bites and commentary - maybe even more so.
Nickelodeon offers an outlet for kids to learn more about the candidates ask questions about the electoral process http://www.kidspickthepresident.com/#candidates. They have even designated a day for kids to submit their vote for who they’d like to see as president – October 28th.
We all have to wait and see who will be the next president on November 8th. Nonetheless, this presidential race has provided endless conversation starters. This election has been hard fought. A lot is at stake and kids are watching, listening, and forming opinions. Hopefully it has ignited the younger generation to become leaders and to one day maybe become president.
Here are some more election related books for kids:
Carol Higgins-Lawrence wrote her first story at the age of five. Her father paid her a quarter for it and she's been writing ever since. She's taken a variety of courses in writing for children. Multicultural perspectives are of particular interest to her. Carol is of Jamaican descent and was born and raised in Canada. She has a BA in Communications and Sociology and she has completed coursework towards a MA in TESOL. She has worked as a literacy educator for the past 15 years. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two young children. You can visit her website at carolhl.weebly.com
Who Gets To Tell My Story? Images of Asians in Picture Books
There has been much discussion lately about diversity depicted in children's books and slightly less discussion about diversity in the creators of these books. While some publishers (Lee and Low and Little, Brown come to mind https://www.leeandlow.com/writers-illustrators/new-voices-award
are making gestures in the direction of diversity (http://www.salaamreads.com/), I see more of the same talent occupying these coveted creative roles with books that feature non-white characters. Although this does not invoke the same public outrage as Hollywood using Caucasian actors to play non-Caucasian roles, I do see parallel politics at play. If white people get to tell the white stories and also get to tell the brown stories, brown people have no voice.
In examining the representation of Asians in books created by Asians and books created by Caucasians, I came across images and descriptions that raise questions ---- is this offensive because it was created by someone outside of the culture being depicted?
In Claire Huchet Bishop's The Five Chinese Brothers (1938, Coward-McCann, illustrated by Kurt Wiese), we see all five brothers looking identical. In fact, every person in the book looks like every other person in the book. And they are YELLOW. Although three color separation had limitations, the decision to give yellow skin to everyone in the book was a deliberate design choice, and not a sensitive one.
The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Kurt Wiese (1933, Viking Press) also has the characters looking quite yellow, but tempered with red, which softens the effect somewhat. Ping has been criticized for depicting Ping as living with his extended family of ducks, saying that the implication is that Chinese families are enormous and live together and that it is a stereotype. The human family in the story consists of two parents and three children, with no mention of any other relatives. And they are on their houseboat, so presumably no extended family is living there with them. Ping may be inappropriate because of the spankings in the story, but I'm not sure that having a large family of ducks is offensive. Do we criticize elements in a book more eagerly when the creator is not from the racial group being depicted?
In Crow Boy, by Taro Yashima (1955, Viking), this image would be accepted as universally offensive. An image of a Japanese child teasing another Japanese child, drawn by a Japanese author/illustrator.
I see yellow skin. This book won a Caldecott Honor Medal for its distinguished illustrations. Both The Five Chinese Brothers and Ping have been heavily criticized, but I don't hear a lot of discussion around Crow Boy.
Umbrella, also by Taro Yashima and also a Caldecott Honor Book (1958, Viking), is to me a beautiful example of a book that acknowledges race, but is not about race. I was very attached to Umbrella around age 5, I felt that I could be Momo, that I also wanted an umbrella and boots and I was always being told to wait.
Moving into the modern era, I want to look at Yoko, by Rosemary Wells (1998, Hyperion). I love the use of origami paper on the spine of the book, and I love the sushi endpapers. I don't love Yoko's "otherness." Yoko is teased for bringing Japanese food for lunch; the teacher is passive. Instead of stopping the bullying, the teacher plans a party where each child must bring in "a dish from a foreign country." She also says on the invitation that everyone must try a bite of each food. But no one tries the sushi that Yoko brought. After the party, Timothy tries it and likes it and they become friends. The take away here is that if you are different, you will be bullied. No adult will help. If you are lucky, you will make a friend eventually.
My final book is a beautiful non-fiction-ish picture book that flawlessly takes us to eat a fabulous meal with a Chinese-American family, Dim Sum for Everyone! (2001, Alfred A. Knopf) by Grace Lin does not make fun of anyone and does not depict the featured family as "exotic" in any way. The front endpapers feature foods and utensils and tools used to make and eat dim sum. No explanation or definitions, just the item and its name, in English. Some things will be familiar to most readers (bell pepper) and some things may not (taro), but it is clear that they are all part of the delicious meal that we are about to see. The back endpapers show the delicious dishes that a person can choose from, with name in English and phonetic Chinese. Backmatter consists of a wonderful explanation of dim sum. Dim Sum for Everyone! is a perfect example of a window/mirror book that can be a peek into a new world for someone unfamiliar with dim sum and a glorious, affirming reflection for families that are closely acquainted with dim sum.
For next month's post and moving forward, please send me questions and topics that you would like to discuss that involve libraries, books, diversity, and the children's literature community. firstname.lastname@example.org
Fifi Abu spends her days surrounded by books that have already been created and the rest of her time writing and illustrating books yet to be born. She looks forward to a day when all children can see themselves reflected in the books they read. Ms. Abu holds a master's degree in children's literature and a master's degree in library science, is an active member of SCBWI and a Children's Book Academy graduate.
“Humans are amphibians - half spirit and half animal.
As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.”
- C. S. Lewis
So often in books for children, creatures stand in for human children to carry out the action of the narrative. Over the years, I have heard that there are distinctive age groups that favor creature characters and others that reject creature based stories. This discussion has gone on for a very long time and will continue in years to come.
I often think of this because the particular books that had the greatest influence on me as a child, as they do to my grown-up up author self, are the WINNIE THE POOH books by A. A. Milne. I was naturally drawn to the cast of enchanting characters, from bear, piglet, owl, rabbit, kangaroo and on and on. As a little child, I recall thinking it was quite incredible that animals had such a complex community and were dealing with such similar things to what I was experiencing.
When I got older and started to create my own books, I immediately filled my stories with creatures of all sorts and sizes. I had fun drawing them and giving them quasi-human body shapes and gestures. For some reason, I missed the BABAR books as a child and discovered them when I was a teen working in a library. A friend of mine was painting a mural in the children’s room and she featured the nifty little elephant among other characters from picture books. I was taken by the dandy-ish style that Babar displayed. It appealed to my older sophisticated self. Not only that but it was set in chic and urbane France, a place I would grow to feel is my home land.
But, I digress, back to the creatures that crowded my imagination as a child: the world of creatures was my new playground as an author/illustrator considering picture books as a way to express myself. When I finally got around to publishing books, I had to wait until my fourth book until I was free to create a creature other than human. The creature I chose was a giraffe named Rufus who was the littlest member of the theatrical Chandelier family.
By drawing all sorts of animals, birds, amphibians or insects, I noticed that some captured my personality better than others. I seemed to attach myself to the attitude and style that some of these critters exuded more than others.
I became fascinated with the Native American concept of animal totems. A totem is defined as any natural object, animal or being that a person feels closely associated with. These totems, including all non-human species, act as spirit guides and symbolize human feelings or aspirations. These totems are teachers, showing us the way through our human existences. I put two and two together and started to collect a library of books on symbolism and meaning of creatures and objects. Often when I find myself drawing and favoring one sort of creature, I reference these books to learn more about the creature and perhaps discover a spirit or quality that I might be trying to access or express.
My special shelf full of symbolism books is the busiest shelf in my library.
Here are a few of my favorite books, in case you were wondering:
There are many more on my shelf. I depend on them to explain and enlighten my creative path.
“What is your totem creature?” is one of my favorite questions to ask friends and people that I meet. Sometimes I rephrase it by asking “What creature do you most relate to?” It often informs a great deal about the person and usually poses a question that the person might never have been asked. [I would love to keep track over a person’s life to see how or if this changes.]
Here are some questions to ask yourself that may help formulate what your totem creature might be:
These are a few simple questions to start a spark inside for you to find what that creature is that has lessons and guidance for you. Once you answer these questions and have a chance to figure out what your totem might be, try some of these exercises:
I promise that you will enjoy thinking about these ideas. You will surprise yourself and find that you are connected to the natural world in a way that is both instructive and inspiring.
“You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you.
You have to go to them sometimes.”
- A. A. Milne
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