Monday, February 1, 2010

Jacqui Reads Herself & Her Children Books By & About People Different From Her

This is a long post. If you have a short attention span, skip to the big letters in the middle of the page that are the same as the title.

There's been a lot of kerfluffle this month about race and children's book covers and how some people think other people don't buy books whose covers have people of color on them.

This is interesting to me for many reasons, not the least of which is that my first book's cover features a giant brown face smiling out at you.

Which is how I wanted it. Richard Jackson and I openly discussed it in the editorial process. I was a public school teacher in New Haven and Chicago and Philadelphia. I never had a class of white students in my life. And I wanted the book to be for and about my students. He totally agreed. When Two of a Kind came around, I reminded S&S of that and they said, "Of course." It never occurred to me that I was driving customers away.

Now, I know it's different for picture books. And I don't mean to be flip. But I'm fascinated by this. White people won't buy a book because it has a person of color on the cover. Because it's not someone like them. When half the fun of reading is diving into someone else's life and either learning something or finding out it has a lot of the same struggles as your own. This makes no sense.

But yet. I look at the list of my top ten chapter books and am blinded and shamed by the whiteness. And I do think that it takes a little more effort to find great books that aren't in your normal book comfort zone, that publishers think are for a "limited market" or that get less buzz.

So. Here it is Black History Month. Let's celebrate. Let's everybody -- no matter how you self-classify -- pick up a book by or about someone different from you. You can define "different" however you want. We'll call it:

Jacqui Reads Her Children & Herself Books By & About People Different From Her*

Every day this month** I will EITHER read my children or myself a great book by someone different from me and tell you about it (or have Tink and Destructo review it), OR I will point you towards a great resource for finding such books for your own enjoyment. Sound like fun? I am very excited.

Who's in??? All you have to do is say, "I'm in!" and report back on anything you find that you like. And who has suggestions for me?

* I gotta get me an intern in charge of naming my features. This is getting ridiculous.
** And by every day, I mean every day that I can, with the caveat that I am trying to write two books at once as well. Which is probably why I took on this suddenly huge-seeming project.


Unknown said...

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Not sure Tink is ready for it (and are we still calling her Tink?) but it was and is one of my all-time favorite chapter books. I got it for Channukah when I was in the 4th grade. (Oh, and I have read Tuck Everlasting many times as a grownup, and it holds up. I've always pictured the characters as white, but now that I think about it, I'm not sure anything in the book says they have to be. Which raises another interesting point.)

Diane T said...

YA book that anyone who loves history should enjoy: Mare's War, by Tanita S. Davis. (She just picked up a C.S.King Honor citation for it.) It's a wonderful book about two African American girls on a trip with their grandmother, who tells them about her experiences in the Women's Army Corps during World War II. The era is fascinating, made more so by the fact that stories like Mare's haven't been told. (Did you know there was an African American division of the WAC? I didn't.) I love when historicals do that, and the fact that Mare is "other" from me just makes it more interesting. Like you say, isn't that why we read fiction, to experience something different?

joanne said...

For MG--we love Christopher Paul Curtis--Bud, not Buddy, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, Elijah of Buxton. Funny, boy-friendly, character-driven, historical.

Younger MG--I haven't read, but my son's teacher read aloud Ruby and the Booker Boys by Derrick Barnes. My son (8) gave it a big thumbs up.
Another book recently recommended to me, but that I've not yet read is Sunny Holiday by Coleen Paratore.

Boni Ashburn said...

The Chicken-Chasing Queen Of Lamar County by Janice Harrington.

Anne M Leone said...

Yay! Thanks, Jacqui! I'm WITH YOU!

Course, I just started a big book and have several others in my TBR pile. But like you, I've been thinking a lot about my reading list lately, and while I definitely read books about those who are different from me, I don't read nearly enough. So my next book this month will be about a person of color.

Also, I find it interesting that all the suggestions you've received so far are for African American characters. In going through my reading through the past year, all of the books I've read with PoC have been about African Americans or Asians. I think my next read needs to be from a different perspective.

Anne M Leone said...

Course, perhaps the prevalence of black suggestions are because it's BLACK HISTORY MONTH! 'Scuse me. =)

Jacqui said...

Beth, your point about assuming the characters are white interests me too. I think my perceptions change depending on what race the author seems to be. But there are some books where I "got it wrong" and no matter what it says in the book, I picture the character how she seems to me.

Diane, Mare's War is definitely on the list.

Joanne, I love CPC too -- wept like a baby at the end of Elijah of Buxton. Younger MGs are hard to find, so I will definitely check out your rec. Thanks!

Boni, that's Tink's favorite PB!

Anne, your point is why I left it open to people to decide who qualifies as "different from them." Glad you're in!

Amber Lough said...

I'm in! Suggestions for great pbs for 3 y.o.?

I think Elizabeth is finally ready for Two of a Kind, now, that she's dealing with friendships in school. They get a new kid every few months as someone rolls up from the toddler room.