Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"The literature of America should reflect the children of America"

I heard poet Lucille Clifton say this at a children's book conference in the 1980's. There was a growing interest in multicultural literature at the time, and a growing body of books by and about people of color.

Recently, it seems as if we've lost some ground. Though the makeup of our national community is more diverse than ever, the books being published for our children aren't. Conversations are raging in the blogosphere about recent examples of "whitewashing" jackets of books with protagonists of color; about popular series like Harry Potter and Twilight having all-white casts of main characters; about children of color too often appearing only in books about race or painful periods of history; about authors being urged to drop a character's ethnic or other difference in order to "appeal to a wider audience."

As I wrote in December 2008 in launching this column, it's high time we became a consciously multiracial nation. Conversations like this are part of it. One essential topic to examine is white socialization, how it creates unconscious bias, and what we can do about it. It's one thing that writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, marketing staff, parents, teachers and readers can explore, toward the goal of having our outcome match our intention: that the body of literature for children should include all of our children.

Last May I presented a workshop at the New England regional conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, entitled, "Being White in a World of Color." That's the topic I'll be exploring on this blog this winter and spring.

(The images accompanying these posts will be taken from my sketches, roughs and published illustrations.)

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