Brown Gold by Michelle Martin Martin argues that, just as the late 19 th Century was a golden age, we are currently in a Golden Age for multicultural children’s literature, especially picture books.
Brief History Nancy Larrick’s groundbreaking article: “The All-White World of Children’s Books” was a 1965 study of more than 5,000 picture books.
History Larrick found that out of the more than 5,000 picture books she studied, less than one percent reflected any contemporary images of African Americans. Literature (like much art) is connected to larger social/political movements. What is happening before, during, and after the 1960s in the U.S.?
History In 1998 (according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center), six percent of children’s books published that year were written or illustrated by a person of color and/or had themes representing minority cultures. At the time, 30 percent of the U.S. population was non-white.
History The Center did a follow-up study in 2004 and found that multicultural titles had increased to 11 percent of the books published for younger readers.
However, Some major publishers are still convinced that “diversity and brown-skinned faces are trendy” (Macbeth 50). Therefore, many books with minority characters or covering minority themes are published by small, independent presses who specialize in minority literature. Why do you think this is? Why don’t major presses publish more multicultural texts?
Best selling children’s books: 1.Charlotte's Web, E. B. White 2.The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton 3.Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Judy Blume 4.Love You Forever, Robert Munsch 5.Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls 6.Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scott O'Dell 7.Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 8.Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, Judy Blume 9.Shane, Jack Schaeffer 10.The Indian in the Cupboard, Lynne Reid Banks 11.A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle 12.Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder 13.Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder 14.The Incredible Journey, Sheila Burnford 15.The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exup 16.Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes 17.Just Me and My Dad, Mercer Mayer 18.Go Ask Alice, Anonymous 19.Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. J. K. Rowling 20.Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Judy Blume 21.Blubber, Judy Blume... From Publisher’s Weekly
Forces that shape literature Works of children’s literature are not only shaped by the imagination of the writer. They are also shaped by other forces: Business/profit Cultural expectations and norms School curricula
Some debates: One Definition of Multicultural Children’s Literature is: Literature written by and about under- represented minority cultures.
Pro: Because books by and about minority cultures are not published or taught enough, we need to rectify this situation and encourage the production of more books by minority writers. Con: This definition limits the number of books that “count” as multicultural literature and assumes that all books by writers outside of a culture will be negative or inauthentic.
Under this definition, for instance, this book does not count as genuine multicultural literature. Should it? Why or why not?
Exclusions and Distortions “Historically, children’s literature has reflected the ideology of the dominant culture in society. This ideology, indicative of a primarily white authorship, reinforces a selective tradition in which ‘certain meanings... are selected for emphasis and certain other meanings... are neglected or excluded’ (Williams). The exclusion and distortions of oppressed groups in children’s literature not only reflect but also perpetuate societal racism and inequitable social relations” (Noll).
Here’s an example to illustrate what they mean: The picture book, Little Black Sambo was a very popular book in the U.S. in the early- and mid-twentieth century. It was written in 1898 by a white British woman named Helen Bannerman. Several different illustrators have illustrated it over the years. What stereotypes do you notice in the following text and illustrations?
Little Black Sambo “Once upon a time, there was a little black boy, and his name was Little Black Sambo...”
Little Black Sambo “And his mother was called Black Mumbo”
Little Black Sambo “And his father was called Black Jumbo.”
Another example: I’m going to read part of Five Chinese Brothers to the class. Pay close attention to the illustrations.
One Asian child’s reaction to Five Chinese Brothers: “When I was a child, the teacher read, ‘Once upon a time, there were five Chinese brothers and they all looked exactly alike’ Cautiously the pairs of eyes stole a quick glance back. I, the child, looked down to the floor... The teacher turned the book our way: bilious yellow skin, slanted slit eyes. Not only were the brothers look-alikes, but so were all the other characters!... Quickly again all eyes flashed back at me... I sank into my seat” (Aoki 382).
Def: Literature written by and about under-represented minority cultures Pro: avoids both intentional and unintentional prejudice that oftentimes makes it’s way into texts written and/or illustrated by authors outside of a culture about minority characters, themes, cultures, and situations. Con: Defines authorship and authenticity in narrow ways. People who counter this argument argue that authors often do careful research in order to accurately portray cultures and characters unlike themselves.
Accuracy and Authenticity Are both terms used by many scholars who study multicultural children’s literature. What do they mean? What sorts of debates surround these terms?... Student Presentation No. 1...