Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Finding Diversity in My Favorite Books

When I embarked on writing this post, I thought about sharing my favorite childhood books. Looking at the list, I was sad at first not to have a shining example that represented diversity. But when I took a closer look, I noticed that each book on my list does convey diversity, or a theme of feeling marginalized, something I experienced growing up. So I changed my focus from just listing my favorite books to examining why they were so special to me.

Sweet home (Huntsville) Alabama
I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, at the tail end of the Appalachians. On one of the streets near my house, you could count ten churches, most of them Baptist, along a one-mile stretch. The Catholics were considered the liberals, Confederate flags were sold at Wal-Mart, and paddling (yes, hitting kids on their heinies with a paddle) was allowed in my middle school. When people learn where I grew up, they always ask, “There are Asians in Alabama?” To which I reply, “Yes. Four. My family.” I’d jokingly tell them about how the Asians lived in
yellow trailers and how I walked barefoot until I was fourteen. And oddly enough, sometimes people would actually believe me.

Truth be told, Alabama was just home to me, and I didn’t know anything different. It’s also worth noting that Huntsville wasn’t backwoods at all. It was a medium-sized city that was fairly diverse, with a NASA research hub and an Army base that attracted people from all over the world. It had a bustling downtown area with a children’s bookstore, owned by the mother of fellow children’s book editor and Huntsville native Sarah Dotts Barley (HarperCollins). It was definitely not the scary den of racism most people associate with Alabama or the Deep South. In fact, many residents considered themselves downright cosmopolitan. But even in the relatively open community of Huntsville, prejudice often hovered beneath the surface.

CBC Diversity School Visits

Kids read books every day. Books their teachers assign, books their librarians recommend, books their parents give them. But where do books really come from and how does a seedling of an idea in an author's mind turn into the actual thing a student holds in his or her hands? "The Life of a Book" is an interactive presentation designed to explain to students the steps it takes to become part of the publishing family and usher a book through this remarkable process.*

Through the very unique perspectives and experiences of established editors and marketers in the industry, our goal is to shed light on publishing overall, show the creativity and work that goes into every aspect of making a book, and explain the steps students can take themselves to eventually become a part of the process-whether it's as an editor, an author, an agent, or a marketer.

CBC Diversity Partners, all experts in the industry, will be available to visit or Skype with classrooms during Children’s Book Week, the longest-running literacy initiative in the country, May 7th-13th. For further inquiries about this program, or to make an appearance request, please email your questions and information to cbcdiversity@cbcbooks.org.

*Please note that this program can be adapted for students in elementary school, middle school, or high school and will last no longer than 45 minutes.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Connie Hsu: How I Got into Publishing

I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Sweet Valley Twins series. When I was a young girl in Alabama, I was put into a remedial reading group, which was pretty discouraging. I didn’t want to love reading, since I was told I wasn’t good at it. But then I discovered the Sweet Valley Twins, and oh boy did my life change. I couldn’t stop reading those, and when that series was exhausted, I bounced onto more. I challenged myself to read at higher levels, sometimes horrifying myself when I dipped into something too sophisticated for me. *spoiler alert!* When Ginger died in Black Beauty, so did my innocence!

By the end of high school, I had done poorly enough on the math portion of the SATs to know that my path lay in something English-related. But I was afraid to major in English—what was I going to be, a writer? I might as well have gone into art!
I ended up majoring in advertising, after switching from psychology, which involved more math than I could stomach. However, upon graduation, I had a Say Anything moment, during which I realized I didn't want to sell anything. So I went to grad school for a Masters in journalism. After internships at Chicago and Atlanta magazines, I was ready for the world, and I moved to New York City, the city of big dreams. My first job was at Starbucks!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cross-cultural Connections in our Reading

I first read Kara Dalkey's Little Sister in college. As I discussed in my last post, I grew up on a farm, in an area of rural western Illinois that had very little diversity. You could say that my ignorance on diversity issues was pretty high, notwithstanding my desire to be Japanese in the fourth grade. But in college, I had a lot of roommates from different cultures--over the years, roughly twenty women from a variety of other countries, including Laos, Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Belgium, Japan, and the UK. (I feel like I'm forgetting someone.) I also roomed with several African American and Asian American women. (I had a LOT of roommates in college and grad school.) So their influence on me as friends started seeping into the books I looked for.

I had a habit of walking through the college bookstore and wandering through the YA section on my way to various classes or the library, and one day this book stood out to me. I am a fantasy buff, and up until that point I don't know that I'd read any fantasy books set in a world based on an Asian culture rather than medieval European.

From the Goodreads description:
As a girl in the Japanese imperial court of the 1200s, Mitsuko is shielded from reality. But when her brother-in-law is murdered, and her family taken away by a warlord, she summons the courage to venture into the netherworld. The spirit of Mitsuko's beloved sister, still devastated by the loss of her husband, wanders between Life and Death. In order to bring her sister back, Mitsuko, with the help of Goranu, a shape-shifter, must battle the merciless spirits--to the death.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New Diversity-themed CBC Seasonal Showcase

Check out the Children's Book Council’s Spring Seasonal Showcase booklist, themed “What a Small World!”  This season, we’re thrilled to feature titles about multiculturalism. Every two weeks we’ll add new books, so keep checking back to the CBC website to discover more diversity-friendly titles from our member publishers!

The “What A Small World!” booklist will remain available on the CBC homepage until June 2012.  Once it’s been removed, we’ll provide a link to the full list of featured titles through the CBC Diversity blog.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Discussion about Tikki Tikki Tembo

Over on the Blue Rose Girls blog, Grace Lin has posted a very interesting and illuminating discussion about the book Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel, illustrated by Blair Lent. This book was one of my favorites as a kid, because it was such fun to repeat the long, complicated name, and like many other children, I took pride in being able to say it really quickly. But I never saw it as part of my culture, and somehow I loved it despite knowing it wasn't true--the sounds in Tikki Tikki Tembo's name sounded nothing like the Chinese words I knew. As has been documented, the story may have originated from a Japanese folktale.

Grace reposted the piece "Rethinking Tikki Tikki Tembo" written by Irene Rideout, who outlines the reasons why the book is racist, but offers some productive solutions to keeping the book on shelves. Please do go read the post in its entirety, but I thought I'd highlight this paragraph here:
When I read online forums and discussions about the potentially offensive nature of Tikki Tikki Tembo, I am disappointed because so frequently the responses are dismissive. People say, "Oh, lighten up, it's just a fun story for kids." There is, of course, a difference between INTENT and IMPACT. I feel pretty confident in surmising that the author and illustrator of Tikki Tikki Tembo did not set out to offend anyone. In fact, the INTENT may even have been to honor the Chinese culture by sharing a charming story of their understanding of China. But the IMPACT is that an entire culture is misrepresented, and it is not unreasonable that people within the misrepresented culture might feel offended. It's understandable that some people may have happy and fond childhood memories of this book, but their positive experiences with this book does not make other people's negative experiences any less valid.
Personally, I think it's a beautiful book, and I do have happy and fond childhood memories of reading it, although hindsight does make me cringe. I would encourage the publisher to reissue the book with a new foreword.

Many years ago, I had investigated the possibility of publishing a new version of the "folktale," but because of the confusing origins of the story, discovered it would be tough to do. But perhaps it would be worth republishing a version as a Japanese folktale.

What do you all think?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Stacy Whitman: How I Got into Publishing

I grew up outside a small town in Illinois, on a small farm where we raised horses, pigs, cows, and rabbits (which were my 4-H project). We were pretty poor, but we also made do with a huge garden and clothes from yard sales and generally living off the land. I loved being involved in 4-H and FFA.

My first major in college was actually animal science pre-vet.
I wanted to be an equine veterinarian. What else would a girl who grew up on a horse and pig farm want to do? But I worked my way through college in publishing jobs, first because they were “easy” jobs—not as much physical labor as working on the dairy farm at school, and not as many allergic reactions, either—and then because my experience and skills kept leading me to more jobs in the same field. I typeset college textbooks in Unix/LaTeX, I reported and took pictures for a local newspaper, I edited phone booksyes, phone booksI transcribed 19th-century journals and proofread them. Eventually, after changing my major and floundering with a human development and family studies major (I loved the child development classes, but didn’t like any of the expected career tracks from the major), I realized in the midst of an elective children’s literature class that I could combine my work skills and my interests. It only took me about six years of undergrad to figure out what I wanted to do.

m there, it was just a matter of figuring out how to get a job in children's publishing. But as an independent student who was paying my way through college with part-time jobs and major student loans, I was leery of moving to New York City. Not to mention it was a LONG way from home.