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>Who Can Win What?

>Esme Codell takes Marc Aronson‘s part in this perpetual debate. One historical point–Esme cites Ouida Sebestyen’s Words By Heart as one book that “makes an outstandingly inspirational and educational contribution to an African-American audience and to everyone else as well,” thus making the Coretta Scott King Awards suffer for its ineligibility. But I remember the intensity with which the Council on Interracial Books for Children tore into that book for what they saw as its obliviously blinkered whiteness, which is just what the CSK Awards are trying to avoid. But the main argument, as made by Andrea Davis Pinkney and others in our pages, is that the point of those awards is to bring black writers and illustrators into the field and reward them for uplifting books. Ten years on from that debate, I have more problems with the second half of that equation than the first. Good messages do not always a good book make and frequently are the cause of its shortcomings.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. marc aronson says:

    >I agree with CSK advocates that more awards give more kinds of writers a chance to win (the argument for the Sibert, for example). But in the Obama land of mixed, multi-, and “check all that apply” definitions of race, the categories themselves are in such flux that future CSK juries are likely to run into real difficulties. Who gets to decide who is black, or Hispanic (Pelpre)? The artist? The jury? After all there were those who argued Obama was not truly African-American, since he had no family history of American enslavement. I would love to see our awards embrace mixture, even as they support and encourage every variety of artist.

  2. >I’ve been thinking about this issue since I first came across Marc’s piece just a few days ago, and I go back and forth on the race issue. I agree with Marc about the perils of having a committee decide who is black enough, who is Latino enough (someday, will they be deciding who’s gay enough? is there already an award like that?); I also agree with Stickney’s point that it’s good to be able to see a CSK sticker and know “this is a great book by a black author”.

    But, Roger, I read the pieces you link to above, and I didn’t find what I think you’re saying, that people say these are supposed to be “uplifting” books. Stickney does mention that “these awards are meant to lift up, to inspire”. I don’t think she necessarily means that the stories themselves are meant to be “inspiring”; just that seeing books by black authors and illustrators is inspiring and uplifting–to children, to parents, to other authors.

    I have a further question, though–what about the requirement that the book present some aspect of the African American experience? Is it the best thing to leave out books by African American authors that may be unrelated to that experience–books about science, for instance, or even books about Africa?

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >Wendy, I was working from the criteria, which include this directive: “The award (or awards) is given to an African American author and an African American illustrator for an outstandingly inspirational and educational contribution. The books promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream.”

  4. Andy Laties says:

    >This is such a heart-rending and complex subject. In the anthology “Keats’s Neighborhood,” Anita Silvey’s marvelous introduction tells of the pain Keats experienced in the 1960s when he was challenged about being a White person writing the Black experience. This pain came in part because he experienced Anti-Semitism in the 1930s to such a degree that in order to advance his career as an artist he felt compelled to hide his Jewish roots by changing his name from Jacob Katz to the non-ethnic sounding “Ezra Jack Keats.” That is: his work in the 60s depicting the lives of Black children was socially conscious: an effort to battle unfair treatment of Black people…and yet he was challenged by the very adults he thought would appreciate his efforts.

    I would say that the situation for people like Esme Codell is absolutely unchanged. I think she’s doing the right thing to speak up about the unfairness of the exact situation she and many other White children’s book writers and artists are in.

    The question is simply whether the unfairness Esme confronts is equal to or greater than the unfairness Andrea Pinkney talks about in her essay. And Marc’s point that it’s a moving target, that society is shifting, is correct. Things are, thank goodness, shifting.

    But the fact that Barack Obama has been elected president does not instantaneously undo all the centuries of oppression of Black people in this country.

    So I don’t know what action ALA should or shouldn’t take, but my instinct is that it’s not time to change the CSK Award criteria yet.

    Maybe ten years from now?

  5. fibercontent says:

    Where is that quotation from? I don’t see it at the CSK website.

  6. fibercontent says:

    >Forget it. I see it. I was looking at the actual criteria.

  7. >Roger/Marc, are Marc’s original columns on the topic still available on line? Thanks!

  8. >Ignore me, I’m an idiot. Found the link in the actual post. D’oh!

  9. Jacqueline Woodson says:

    >Wow — I feel like I went to sleep and woke up in a room with two elderly people saying the same things over and over. Feels like Groundhog Day around here. I mean — didn’t we have this discussion already. Hadn’t we already ascertained the importance of an award that validates the work of a group of people whose work has historically been under-recognized — and yes, even with a Black president — continues to be so. We can count the Newbery gold medalists who are Black on one hand. Yes, many honors, few golds. Have we not already said that this is about young people being able to read a book by a Black person and say (as I did as a child) maybe I too can grow up and be a writer? I’m sorry, but it feels a little like hateration to me, like a huge pout because “I want one and can’t have it.” Yeah — come to think of it, this dialogue does echo my six year old. I say, leave it alone. It’s valid. It’s necessary. It’s important for the world to know Black writers — how else will they come to know us? I am one of very few Black writers who has gotten Newbery Honor Awards and while I am very grateful each time, I know that there are MANY Black voices out there that are deserving. And if not for the CSK, they wouldn’t be heard. I don’t know what to say to Esme and Marc — are you writing because you want these awards (then you’re writing for the wrong reason) or are you writing to tell good stories that will make each reader sit up a little straighter and feel that much prouder. Don’t hate on the CSK — work to change the world by adding to it, not dissing it and trying to take away. C’mon! We’ve been here before. It’s ridiculous. How about a celebration that something for people of color could survive for forty years! I don’t get it. I really don’t. It truly, truly saddens me.

  10. Mitali Perkins says:

    >It’s infuriating that we’re weighing injustices against each other, as Andy describes above.

    Malcolm Gladwell in BLINK described how auditioning behind a screen made the selection process for symphonies and orchestras more diverse AND more just.

    The screen prevented a bias that favored men from operating consciously and/or subconsciously, but it also helped promote the real goal of the audition: to pick the best performers so that an audience can delight in music.

    I’m wracking my brain, but I can’t come up with an equivalent correction in the children’s book awards selection process that would correlate to a screen.

  11. Anonymous says:

    >Warning: Bitchy rant post coming!
    From Esme Codell’s blog:
    “As an author of several books that feature African American characters . . . I have to confess that I am deeply pained by the fact that my work would never be considered by a Coretta Scott King Award Committee.”
    My (snarky) response:
    Oh, Esme, thank you so much for exercising your white privilege to speak for (read: appropriate the voices of) Black folks. I guess that the minority authors whose works have historically been overlooked by publishers have you to thank for making sure that children’s literature is as multicultural as you want it to be. Who needs the CSK? As long as white folks can keep writing good stories about black folks and other historically disenfranchised people, why bother listening for any more voices?

  12. Roger Sutton says:

    >Mitali, I wouldn’t want to go too far with the orchestra-audition comparison. The point of these auditions is to find out how well you can follow directions (from the composer and conductor) and how well you will blend in with the people already playing. A great recipe for music-making but not for writers!

  13. marc aronson says:

    >I am bugged by Jackie’s post and that of anonymous. My goal in expressing views is to be fair — fair when I point out that Israel is actually a multi-ethnic state that needs to focus on the needs of its Arab citizens (which inspired similar attacks on my motivations during a week of debate on the Jerusalem Post website), fair when I raise the question of how we can meaningfully define race. I don’t raise questions so I can win a particular award myself — I find that imputation offensive. Nor do I see why it is tired or old to ask how the mobility and flux in definitions of race which is beginning to take place nationally and internationaly affects how we think about and define race in books for younger readers. I would think that is a discussion those who value CSK would embrace, not treat as some expression of personal greed or malice.

  14. Andy Laties says:

    >Hey snarky anonymous person, you don’t actually know who Esme is, so you shouldn’t personalize your comments so much. But I know her personally, since she worked for me for two years at The Children’s Bookstore in Chicago. She has lived her whole life in mixed (and substantially Black) neighborhoods in Chicago, and a number of times was the only White child in otherwise all-Black public school classrooms. And as a grown-up she taught in mostly-Black schools. She’s actually a very unusual White voice as a channeller of Black childhood and her wish to be considered for the CSK Award is valid if the criterion is that the writer must have been immersed in Black culture.

    HOWEVER the key point is that there does need to be an award specifically for Black authors and illustrators, even today, very much today, because of the historical injustice in American society.

    So, Esme’s problem is insoluble. As I was suggesting, it is definitely unfair that Ezra Jack Keats would have been ineligible for the CSK Award, but that unfairness is good policy, unfortunately.

  15. Mitali Perkins says:

    >Roger, for women in children’s books the use-of-initials strategy has worked as a bit of a screen. Someone blogged about this recently but I can’t remember where I saw it. For Asian American writers who don’t want a “multicultural” label, an authorial name change is a tempting option. Keep your eye out for THE CALORMENE CHRONICLES by M.B. Perkins.

  16. Andy Laties says:

    >I am reminded of the dilemma of the White Jazz Musician, some of whom attained status of Honorary Black. (I think the premier example may be Charlie Hayden, the bassist for Ornette Coleman. No one even brings him up in such discussions, which reveals the completeness of his presence in Black music.) Consider, in reference to Marc Aronson's questioning of verifiability of ethnic bona fides, the case of brilliant and popular pianist Keith Jarrett. Here is the excerpt from his interview with Terri Gross, from NPR's radio show Fresh Air. (I don't know if Roger will let me put the whole excerpt up but it is simply wonderfully poignant when you consider the amazing public success Jarrett was attaining at the time he is speaking of in his career.)

    GROSS: In the '70s, I think a lot of your fans debated with each other whether you were black or white.

    MR. JARRETT: Yeah. Well, you know, at the same Heidelberg festival, there were some black musicians, or black audience members, trying to disrupt my performance because they claimed it wasn't black music. And, of course, it wasn't. One reason was that I wasn't black. But this was a jazz festival. They were claiming not only was it not black music, but it wasn't jazz and it shouldn't be at this festival. And this was, I guess, during the time when, you know, the Black Muslim thing was pretty big.

    And I went backstage afterwards, and I was rather heartbroken because I thought, `Gee, these are fellow musicians or, like, people who like music, and why are they doing this?' And I was just sitting alone in my dressing room probably very upset, and a man and his daughter knocked on–a man knocked on the door, blacker than any of the guys who were trying to disrupt the stuff on stage, who was actually from central Africa. And he and his daughter came back and said, `Mr. Jarrett, we just want to say that that was so beautiful.' And I thought, `OK. Well, this is going to be just a political problem for me. It isn't the music, it's just the politics.'

    GROSS: Did you think that a lot of people assumed you were African-American because your hair was really curly and looks like an Afro?

    MR. JARRETT: Yeah. And a friend of my ex-wife's was arguing with me and her that I had to be black, no matter what I said. And once Ornette, backstage, said something…

    GROSS: This is Ornette Coleman?

    MR. JARRETT: Yeah, Ornette Coleman. One of the earliest times I was in the same room with him, he said something like, `Man, you've got to be black. You just have to be black.' I said, `I know. I know. I'm working on it. I'm…'

  17. Deborah Taylor says:

    >Well, I have to agree with Jackie’s comments here. Given what I know about history,I would prefer to be beyond the “beginning” of an national and international change in understanding about race before removing the institutions that seek to support and strengthen the opportunities for African American writers. I must admit the idea of “fairness” gives me pause. Who gets to decide when underrepresented stories no longer need a place for recognition? Shouldn’t the folks who were left out be the ones to decide? I’m just asking.

  18. Deborah Taylor says:

    >Instead of the weeping and wailing about why do we need the Coretta Scott King Awards, could some of the people who care so much about all children, use their influence to get somebody of any color to write books about kids of color beyond “boys in the hood” or a variation of “Roll of Thunder”? I mean, where are the books about girls like the new kids in the White House? Or their father when he was a teen, for that matter. We are lucky to get one or two a year.

  19. Esme Raji Codell says:

    >I am sorry if some of my remarks were misconstrued. I am not at all against a Coretta Scott King Award. I am for clarifying the mission and criteria of the CSK so if it is an award that seeks to recognize authors and illustrators, it does that (as it does in the context of the John Steptoe Award), and if it is a book award, then the criteria is for the book, not the person. I’m only saying that I think it is odd to judge a _book_ on the race of the author or illustrator. The fact that other book awards that specifically celebrate race/creed/religious/ethnic backgrounds manage to meet their objectives without this contingency negates the argument of the necessity of a book creator’s race to be a criteria in forwarding the cause of the group, unless one is willing to say that these other awards are not meeting their objectives, in which case I would reiterate, don’t be hating.

    I also don’t like the business of assuming that when someone raises a question they are wholly “against” something, and assuming the questions won’t make things better or stronger in the end. It kind of reminds me of the occasions when I questioned other things in my country over the past eight years and I was told if I didn’t like it here, I could leave. I’d prefer to stay around and discuss things and I don’t imagine I’ll get tired of it, kind of like a six-year-old (or an American, depending). I think Andy Laties is right, maybe it’s not the time to make these changes, and it’s sure not my call. But I do think it’s always time to discuss where we are and where we might be heading.

    Yes, I have always supported and will continue to support excellent books by authors and illustrators of all races, backgrounds and ethnicities in my work as a reviewer and literacy advocate. They sure don’t have me to thank, I support their work because I have a debt of gratitude to them, because when I look on the shelves yes, I sure do see the world as multicultural as I want it to be, and as a lot of other people want it to be. Yes, I agree absolutely, all children deserve to recognize themselves in literature, and they deserve to recognize diversity, too. And yes, oh yes you’re right, I am sad because I want one and I can’t have one. I wouldn’t be making that point if it were the Jacqueline Woodson award. I am making the point because it is the Coretta Scott King award, and that name means something to all Americans, not just African Americans. I don’t expect the world to be (or know the world to be) a fully pluralistic place, and I don’t expect artists to be that way either, but I guess I do think of books that way.

    I was nearly swayed by Andrea Pinkney’s “Miss America” argument, except that we are talking about a children’s book award given in cooperation with the ALA, representing a wide cultural cross-section of professionals and greatly impacting what educators decide kids will read all over the country, and since I have written children’s books, yes, I’d like to be eligible. It’s not so much about winning it. Realistically, I know it’s not probable I’d beat the likes of Kadir Nelson or Karen English or Hope Anita Smith or Christopher Paul Curtis or many authors in such contests, not because they are African American, but because they are amazingly, bar-setting-ly talented. I was whipped by Kate DiCamillo for the Newbery the same darn way. But as a writer of books about urban situations and that feature African American characters (whether you like my books or not), and as a sporting soul, I’d welcome another opportunity to be beat out by the best.

  20. Anonymous says:

    >Not to sound too much like those Freakeconomics boys, but hasn’t there been enough time now to measure what effect CSK has had on children’s book publishing? Were more books about children of color published in 2008 than in 1968? Does the award actually sell books? Has it launched important careers? Perhaps publishers can weigh in.

  21. Mitali Perkins says:

    >For me, it’s more about the kids than about the stats.

    I’ll never forget the hordes of kids who browsed books at the Kennedy Center during a multicultural lit conference.

    For once, ALL the covers featured kids who looked like them. I watched them look up from the books to check out the faces of the authors — authors who mostly looked like them. Again, in the majority for once.

    The reality is that racial classification still exists in the minds of kids and teens. And North American kids who consider themselves Latino and/or black are still dealing with white majority default most of the time.

    That’s why the CSK and the PB are still wonderful places to find (1) great stories ALL featuring kids like them, and (2) awe-inspiring famous authors who once were ALL kids like them.

    That being said about WINNING, I’ll fight to the end for NO APARTHEID in WRITING. So let the stories come, Esme and Jacqueline, and if you both want to write about a Bengali-American immigrant girl, I’ll be the first one to celebrate it.

  22. Anonymous says:

    >There seems to be some armchair philosophizing going on here. Anyone who has actually been to a CSK Breakfast at ALA Annual knows what a wonderful spirit of celebration it is, for works that may not have been recognized elsewhere. And look at the remarkable range of beautiful books that are CSK winners this year–the range of poetic writing, gorgeous art, the support for new talents through the Steptoe Award. Most of these works did not garner other awards, but they are truly worthy of celebration. There SHOULD be lots of awards; there are lots of great books out there beyond the handful that Newbery and Caldecott medals recognize.

    Dean Schneider

  23. marc aronson says:

    >I read Jackie’s post to CCBC today about CSK and it had a beautiful sound of excitement to it. Just as, Deb knows, I am the biggest advocate of of more award winning books by artists of every color. Don Tate’s post at “Devas T Rants and Raves” did not agree with me, but nicely captured the conflicting thoughts and feelings of an artist of color. So I get it, the CSK matters. But how about this, Dr. Ann Morning — who is herself of mixed background — is a professor at NYU. She points out that in some countries your census form asks you “what do you consider yourself” not “what are you.” Could an award be for anyone who considers him or herself a member of an ethnic group? That way, no judge has to determine what you “are” only how you see yourself? I know of at least one author who, by family tree, could have qualifed for CSK but did not feel that was fair because that author does not, by sight, look African American and has never faced discrimination on that basis. The author felt it would be wrong to benefit from an award designed to help those who had faced discrimination, when the artist had never paid that price. I deeply admired that choice. So should we consider elective affinity as a standard, rather than being?

  24. Deborah Taylor says:

    >Forgive my fear of folks with “measuring sticks”.

  25. Roger Sutton says:

    >There have always been book awards that combine criteria for the book and the recipient, like the U.K.’s Orange Prize, for best novel by a woman, or the Newbery Medal, for best children’s book written by an author or–hi Neil–resident of the U.S.

    My thinking on the CSK used to be lot like Marc and Esme’s but now it is more aligned with Andrea Pinkney and Jackie’s. If you want to give an award for best book about African American life, or, social justice, go for it. There are already book awards out there that address those themes, and there’s always room for another. Why should the CSK have to change just so that white people can win more awards?

    I have enough trust in the people who administer and judge the CSK to let them decide, for these circumstances, who is black. The problem with self-definition is that it lets in the wannabes (Debbie Reese can give you an earful on this) but I don’t think blood-quantum is the actual problem here: it’s white people who want to win a prize given to black people.

  26. Roger Sutton says:

    >I meant the Newbery goes to the best children’s books by a CITIZEN or resident of the U.S., sorry.

  27. Zetta Elliott says:

    >I’m tempted to let Roger have the last word, b/c I think he’s absolutely right–this is about WHITE PRIVILEGE rearing its ugly head once more–and just for the record, living in a black neighborhood, having black friends, teaching black kids, or writing books about black children doesn’t make you IMMUNE to that overbearing sense of entitlement that tells you EVERYTHING within reach ought to be yours…according to the CCBC, less than 3% of children’s books in 2007 were authored by black people. There’s ONE major award out there to celebrate excellence in black-authored or illustrated kids books, and now white authors want a piece of that, too? Please…

  28. >NG just said (in the comments over on Fuse #8, on the 27th) he was NOT a citizen? So, ah, eh?

  29. Roger Sutton says:

    >No, Gaiman is a resident, so he’s fine, and we don’t even need ALSC to re-adminster the oath 😉

    Susan Cooper was also a resident back when she won.

  30. Esme Raji Codell says:

    >Hi, one last clarification: my blog post was not suggesting that White people wanted to take away the CSK award. I was saying that the literary criteria for the award was awesome and that *I* aspire to all of the the criteria that I can, within reason. I also named titles that I personally thought were excellent representations of other books that met the literary criteria, and that was also my opinion. I was confused by the use of the King name in an award that seemed segregated to me in comparison with other awards. I asked for clarification of the goal of the award, and I received it, and I thank you. Additionally, I have attended the CSK awards, and the spirit described by other posters is very true.

    If I am representative of all White people, I have not received the phone call informing me of such. Please feel free to direct any criticism of feelings of entitlement, misplaced or otherwise, on me and not all authors who are not African American, who certainly may not have been as bothered by the criteria.

    I am glad if this conversation has brought out some important points and information (Zetta’s stats alone, I think, have made it worthwhile), and hopefully as it continues it can remain constructive. I felt very enlightened, especially, by Richard Michelson’s comment on my blog. I can certainly appreciate if now is not the time, but I still (again, personally!) most closely embrace the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling and the bravery of those children directly involved as emblematic of Civil Rights, and as such, I will always hope and work for desegregation and opportunity in all directions.

    I am going to excuse myself entirely from this conversation here at Read Roger now, and get back to reviewing books on my own site. Thanks again.

  31. Debbie Reese says:

    >Off topic, I’m reading this while watching Rachel Maddow. On screen is “GOP IN EXILE” and the image is an igloo.

    Too tired…. can’t recall the point I meant to contribute to this thread.

    Oh yes, now I remember. Do go to the CCBC site and see the stats on identity of author and number of books published. Very sad. Numbers of Native authors decline, or are flat. But the pile of books filled with BS about American Indians grows and grows.

  32. Andy Laties says:

    >OK well can I just point out that we are in a period of mega-publishing corporations and mega-book-selling corporations and isn’t it exactly what you’d expect from this hyper-consolidation of the book industry that the vast majority of books published would be “safely mainstream” because that’s where the bulk of the spending is perceived by bean-counters at the top of the publishing-company food-chain to be likely to be found? (oooh very bad sentence, but it’s late)

    I am grateful also for the statistical corrective to this conversation, and am curious indeed to learn if the CSK Award contributes measurably to sales. As an indie bookseller I would certainly say that it does this very effectively in my own stores. What about nationally?

  33. Helen Frost says:

    >It’s in the Bible: “Thou shalt not covet.” Thy neighbor’s CSK award. That’s the easy part.

    As for who can write what–first, we can’t know each author’s or illustrator’s biography and heritage, so, as readers, we have to rely on the work itself. Is it well-informed, carefully researched, deeply imagined, written with care, and, I would add, with love?

    As writers, when we take risks, we have to rely on the generosity and graciousness of our readers to forgive our inevitable mis-steps.

    Is anyone, at least in America in this century, all one ethnic/religious/cultural heritage? Very few of our (at least my) social interactions are culturally one-dimensional. If we’re going to portray characters and situations that reflect that joyful messiness, we have to be able to write both within and outside of our “own” literal experience.

    Thanks to everyone for this conversation.

  34. Debbie Reese says:

    >I disagree, Helen. There’s a huge pile of books about American Indians that some would say are “well-informed, carefully researched, deeply imagined, written with care, and, I would add, with love.”

    My commitment is to the children who are misinformed by those books.

    Writers are well-intentioned, but the problem is, with American Indian content, it is difficult to gain the insight to be able to critically select primary/secondary sources that will help the writer produce a book that will be well-received by a Native reader/critic/parent/teacher/librarian. Or, by non-Native readers/critics/parents/teachers/librarians who are aware of the bias and romanticizing that STILL gets into these books.

    A lot of the material writers use comes from stories gathered by ethnographers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Thing is, by then, Native people were on to the game of exploitation and appropriation, and a lot of the “informants” told bogus stories to the ethnographers. Unless you (as a writer) or reviewer are reading journals in Native studies, or books in Native studies, you’re not up-to-date on this work, and you just reproduce the same old junk that has been written forever.

  35. Helen Frost says:

    >Hi Debbie,
    I didn’t say it wasn’t difficult.
    The “huge pile of books” brings an image to mind:
    1982, a small school in interior Alaska, I’d been to a workshop to help teachers in Native Alaskan schools learn to recognize stereotypical writing in books for children. When I came back to my classroom, I invited my five students (elementary) to see if they could find any such books in our school library (a one-teacher school, the library had been created by a number of different teachers through the years). Within ten minutes, they had a “huge pile of books” on a table–they knew immediately what these books were, and where to find them. Oddly enough, the books I thought they would find most offensive, they did not–a series of books about “Little Indian Two Feet” that they loved. The one they hated the most was a Laura Ingalls Wilder book–“this is the book that says ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian.'”

    Research takes a lot of forms, the best of it, I would still say, integrated with life and love.

  36. Debbie Reese says:


    Interesting vignette. I’d like to know more, if you’re willing to share the additional information.

    Once they had the pile of books, did you ask them to pick out the “most offensive” ones?

    Had you worked with them on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE prior to their search of the shelves? If not, then how do you account for their ability to ferret out LHOP?

    I guess I’d like to know more details about how you taught them to recognize stereotypes, what grade level they were, public/private school, etc.

    After my earlier post, I received an email asking if I’d read your book yet. I did not realize you have written a book with a Native character. I have not read your book.

  37. Helen Frost says:

    I just spent some time on your wonderful website. I wish I, and my fellow teachers in rural Alaska, had had such a resource in the 80’s.
    Interesting that you discuss so thoroughly the Laura Ingalls Wilder book that I mention above. It was so visceral, the child’s comment, and my seeing so clearly in that moment that there was no context I could offer that would make his memory of hearing that anything but–the only word I can think of is “murderous.” He’d come across it more than a year earlier, and remembered it precisely.

    Like you, my commitment is to the children who are misinformed by books that fall short of what must be in place for a book to be worthy of their attention.

    Thanks so much for all you do.

  38. Helen Frost says:

    >Hi Debbie,
    Our last two posts were out of order–I mean I had not read your last post when I posted mine.

    Thanks for letting me know that you haven’t read DIAMOND WILLOW–it was hard for me to discern if “you” was personal or general, in your first post.

    My experience in the Athabascan community was a three-year teaching job; I was the only teacher, the only non-native in a very small (20-25 people, 5-10 students) community. (The school was built in the 70’s when the Molly Hooch Act was passed.) I had taken several courses in cross-cultural communication and education at the University of Alaska before I went there, which helped a lot.

    I’d started reading Little House on the Prairie as a read-aloud, about a year before the thing I mentioned above. We had stopped reading when it became offensive–of course I had talked about that with my students, though I must not have removed it from the schoolroom. It is interesting how we can forget things from books we read as children, and how sharing books with children can alert us to stereotypes and insults.

    The character in DIAMOND WILLOW is of mixed heritage. Her father is descended from Jeannie, a character in my earlier novel, THE BRAID, and her mother is descended from people who have lived in interior Alaska for many generations.

    We could talk more after you’ve read it, if you’d like, though this very public forum makes me a little nervous, for a conversation that has become so personal. What I often realize is that living in that community changed me in ways that may not be apparent, and that show up in the ways I experience the world and the way my stories come to me–that’s what I was trying to say in my first post.

  39. Beth Saxton says:

    >I don’t know if anyone is still reading this, but in reading comments I found myself thinking that any award that will help match a book to a reader is worth having.

    Celebrate the CSK, start an award for Asian books/authors, rural books, urban books, humor books, graphic novels, whatever. We have selection lists in YALSA where literary merit is not a criteria, because once again it’s all about connecting books and readers.

    On the other side, given the number of teens here who are bi-racial, I do find my self wondering exactly what is the tipping point into being “African American”.

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