Can Ms. Frizzle be black? Changing the race of beloved characters.
A former coworker of mine reacted negatively to my shared post on social media. She is Caucasian and young enough to have grown up reading The Magic School Bus books and watching the television series. She expressed her displeasure at this casting decision (failing to notice that it is not actually a casting decision, just hopeful people on the internet).
"Sorry, but why can't they just cast someone white with frizzy red hair?" She went on to say that race-changing isn't necessary, she doesn't "get it," and that it ruins iconic characters. Tell me how you *really* feel, sweetheart. I wasn't sure how to reply, so I just used the "wow" emoji. Her response was angry and defensive, saying that POC only get cast when a project is trying to be "edgy." She went on to name a movie that was "ruined" for her when a South Asian man was cast alongside all white actors. At a loss for words, I decided not to reply.
In recent years, white people have openly and bitterly complained when a POC was cast in a role that they felt belonged to a Caucasian actor. We have also seen in recent years roles that specifically call for a POC being awarded to a white actor. It feels like a throwback to the 1960s when Native Americans and Asians, in particular, were frequently portrayed by Caucasians in dark makeup and dramatic eyeliner. The incredibly popular Broadway musical Hamilton is the rare exception, ironically, because the characters in the play are based on actual Caucasian people, real people. Ms. Frizzle is not real, as much as I wish she was.
The anguished cries of white people who are somehow injured when fictional characters are portrayed by brown actors remind me of the publishing industry's call for diverse books and the criticism of these diverse books receive from some members of the white children's lit community when these books win major awards. The recent discussion in the comments section of the Horn Book Magazine's Read Roger blog after Javaka Steptoe's Caldecott acceptance speech (http://www.hbook.com/2017/06/blogs/read-roger/im-rubber-and-youre-glue/) reveals one woman's anger over the fact that Mr. Steptoe won the medal.
"So, Javaka won the award because he is John Steptoe's son. The Newbery, Caldecott, CSK and Belpre committees must share notes. No objectivism left - just brainwashed librarians." - Agnes Smythe
"Objectivism is a noun which also means "the tendency to lay stress on what is external to, or independent of, the mind." Thus I have used it correctly. The pattern of ALA award committees in the past several years is obvious in its selections of winners/honors: Promote diversity for diversity's sake. Today I received from final issue ever of the Horn Book - very bittersweet. I can no longer subscribe to a magazine that promotes a narrow-minded political philosophy. It was a real treat for me to purchase the HB on newsstands and later by mail. I own back issues dating to the forties. All good things must end someday😥" - Agnes Smythe
"NO! I am not suggesting they should consult! My whole point is, the Awards committees have lost their objectivity- they are choosing the same diversity-themed books for diversity's sake, and not based on technical merit or artistry. This is why I dropped my 25-year ALA membership and my Horn Book subscription (and because of the Trump bashing). The awards have lost meaning." - Agnes Smythe
"No worries, everyone. I have plenty of genuine Horn Book back issues to read and enjoy. So sad that books are no longer being judged on their technical merits alone - the awards have lost all meaning now." - Agnes Smythe
Oh, Agnes! You are in so much pain. I'm not sure who you are, or if Agnes is even your actual name, but the level of injury that you are claiming to feel is pretty heavy here. To walk away from the Horn Book and from ALA because you somehow feel slighted by the fact that a POC won the Caldecott Medal? For some people, allowing anyone who isn't white to take up space in what they perceive to be a world that they are entitled to is unthinkable. It just can't happen. And it doesn't matter if that person is a real and incredibly talented artist who created a brilliant book and is selected for recognition by a team of highly esteemed industry professionals or if that person is a an incredibly talented actor who was gleefully selected by anonymous people on the internet to replace a fictional white woman in a project that doesn't actually exist.
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, a Children's Book Academy graduate, and is represented by Linda Epstein at the Emerald City Literary Agency. She is pleased to announce that she has been elected to the 2019 Caldecott Committee.
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