What's new and what's brown?
Several picture books with beautiful brown characters have caught my eye recently; they are cute and appealing and the books are populated with POC. Sadly, they are not written or illustrated by POC. While I am pleased to see brown faces in the books, it is disappointing to see that white people continue to be the voice for all people.
Green Pants by Kenneth Kraegel (Candlewick Press, 2017) is the story of a young boy with a penchant for green pants. When he is asked to be in a wedding and wear a tuxedo, he needs to do some serious soul-searching. I found the illustrations to be sweet and charming, and I especially enjoyed the natural hair on the bride.
I Got a New Friend by Karl Newsom Edwards uses minimal text to tell the story of a girl and her dog. Similarly to Green Pants, race is not mentioned in the text. A brown girl and her dog enjoy their lives together, making messes and cleaning up, doing the things that kids and dogs do. No crisis, no racism, no history.
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall is a beautifully designed picture book about overcoming fear and getting out of one's comfort zone. Jabari jumps off the diving board at the swimming pool with support and encouragement from his father. Jabari is African American and the crowd at the pool is racially diverse. Cornwall uses collage and texture skillfully in this gorgeous book.
I love that brown faces are shown in books that are not about suffering and being victims and struggling. I love that these books are set in our contemporary world, not in a historical setting. I am curious about how these Caucasian author/illustrators chose to depict POC in these books; were the manuscripts written with this detail in mind, or is this something that occurred at the urging of an art director or editor? Are brown authors and illustrators so difficult to find that publishers must rely on white people to make these books or is this simply a workaround that is more palatable to the heavily Caucasian publishing world?
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 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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