Some while ago I was led to this post by Aarti Chapati, a Chicago reader who blogs at BookLust. She has been hosting #Diversiverse for 3 years now, inviting bloggers to review books that contribute to the diversity of our shared body of literature. She specializes in science fiction/fantasy but the event is for all genres. I signed up right away and although I'm a couple of days ahead of her scheduled diversityfest, I wanted to take this hosting opportunity to highlight some of the good work that is being done to make children's literature diverse enough to allow every child to find a mirror between the covers of a book.
This link will take you to Aarti's compilation of all #diversiverse book reviews from previous years. At the bottom you'll find the spot to add your links. Meanwhile, today is a regular school day for me, so this is going to be a self-rounding round-up and as usual, I won't get around to visiting everyone's post until the weekend. Thanks for stopping by My Juicy Little Diversiverse this week!
I went looking for a book by an author of color to review, and found my way to this rather comprehensive and thought-provoking post by Betsy Bird of Fuse#8 Productions at SLJ. I've read the Nurture Shock book too, and one of the reasons I like teaching the youngest children is because of an opportunity to make an impact on their "inclusion" stance before their ideas of "us" and "them" are permanently established.
Our school system had last Wednesday off for Yom Kippur, but when my student Aini was absent on Thursday I remembered Eid Ul-Adha. I taught Aini, who is Indonesian, in kindergarten so I know her family is Muslim. During Morning Meeting on Friday she shared about going to a "big place like a soccer field to pray, boys in the front, girls in the back." I made a big point about how much Aini knows that many of us have never heard of and explained why. Next it was Didi's turn to share. He is a boy of few words and often passes up his turn to talk, but on this day he told us that his father went to pray too, at the mosque. Well! In a class of only 14, I have more Muslim than Jewish kids--that's a first for me at this school.
So when I went to choose a new-to-me book for my #diversiverse review, I selected Big Red Lollipop by Pakistani-born Canadian Rukhsana Khan (Viking Penguin, 2010). This picture book for ages 4 and up is not primarily written to support conversations about race, religion or ethnicity (see my recent thoughts on stories that teach lessons). In fact, it's an autobiographical story much more like A Birthday for Frances, about two siblings, a party and frustration, greed and jealousy--emotions that are just plain human.
However, these siblings, in their "regular" kid clothes, live in a "regular" house with their immigrant mother Ami, who wears a headscarf and asks, "What's a birthday party?" (She also feeds the baby and works on her computer in the course of the book.) Ami gives her oldest daughter Rubina permission to attend the party as long as little sister Sana goes too, and of course Sana not only behaves embarrassingly at the party but eats Rubina's goodie-bag treat as well as her own--and then Rubina gets scolded for being greedy. Oh, the unfairness!
"A really long time" passes and Sana is old enough to be invited to her first birthday party. By now, the baby is old enough to demand to go to the party too--and Ami is set to make Sana take her, just as Rubina had to take Sana. It's only fair. But then Rubina intervenes, and the red lollipop of anger becomes a green lollipop of understanding between the sisters.
The first-person text is lively, full of authentic-sounding dialogue. It skims right over that question about birthday parties ("It's when they celebrate the day they were born." "Why do they do that?" "They just do! Can I go?"), but a teacher or parent could slow down and help children investigate the information in both illustrations and text to get at the diversity agenda's best general question: the Identity Question. Who are these characters? What do we recognize as familiar and what do we notice as unfamiliar? What might those unfamiliarities make us think about the characters? What other information might each of us need to understand their words and actions?
These questions can apply to characters in any story, even (especially?) those in a culturally "normative" literary work. That's the practice we want to develop as leader-readers--the practice of regularly investigating identity--all identities--rather than assuming that we know all there is to know at first glance.
Perhaps you know the We Need Diverse Books campaign, which took off in April 2014 "in response to the announcement of an all-white, all-male panel of children’s book authors at a major book and publishing convention. What began as a social media awareness campaign quickly grew into a global movement that demanded the attention of the publishing industry, the media, and readers everywhere."
I heard about it, of course, but it was later, by accident, that I learned it all started with my fellow soccer mom, Ellen Oh. Our daughters play on the same school team, and as our closest neighbors there's a lot of shared driving. (The girls are often together, but the moms hardly ever are, which is how I failed to connect WNDB to Daisy's ride home.) I am filled with admiration for the energy which kicked off this powerful campaign.
What Do We Do All Day? I see with delight that Iguanas in the Snow by Francisco X. Alarcon is front and center here--I have all four of his volumes of bilingual poetry and leave you today with this...
Para escribir poesia | Francisco X. Alarcon
oler y saborear
To Write Poetry | Francisco X. Alarcon
smell and taste
Again, thanks for joining Poetry Friday today, and enjoy these offerings...