Saturday, December 30, 2006

Children's Writer addresses multicultural publishing

Children's Writer: Newsletter of Writing and Publishing Trends quoted me in an article that ran in their current January 2007 issue. Storming the Castle: Blacks in Children's Literature is the first article in a series that will focus on multicultural publishing. The article, written by Chris Eboch, basically looks at how far multicultural publishing has come since the days when children's books consisted mostly of white characters.

Where the article spoke to changes in multicultural publishing, I addressed how art has changed, too. I said: "In the late 1980s, early 1990s, I was told by everyone in the industry — editors, agents, authors, educators, multicultural editorial boards — that there was only one way to portray black people in children's books, and that was very realistic portraiture. They said it had to be done that way to offset years of derogatory images of African Americans in children's books. I wanted to let down my dreadlocks and have some fun! I wanted to use whimsical cartoons and stylized realism."

I remember standing in bookstores in the early 1990s and studying the variety of styles in illustrations on children's books. Books with animals or white characters ran the gamut, from cartoons to realism. But African American books all looked the same — realistic, to somewhat realistic. But that has changed. While I appreciate realism as an art form, and am humbled by other artists who can execute it successfully, it's just not my thing personally.

The article also spoke to the limited subject matter of African American books, often focused on the civil rights era or slavery. On that subject, I said: "I'd like to see a greater diversity in topics. From the books in my personal library, I found many stories about slavery, and about hardship and struggle. There were folk tales and poetry collections. Then, of course, there were stories of slavery. I found stories about famous black personalities, and stories about the black experience. Did I mention I found stories about slavery?..."

I don't mean to suggest that stories about slavery should not be told. Those stories are very important, and I will be sure that my son is exposed to those stories. But the black experience transcends slavery and civil rights and poverty and struggle.

The article also discussed the issue of color in children's magazines, too. At Highlights magazine, the senior editor discussed how they receive quite a few historical stories about the underground railroad, but that she'd like to see more stories about contemporary African American children.

Also featured in the article was Editor in Chief, Louise May, Lee & Low Books; Andrea Pinkney, Vice President and Editor at Large, Scholastic; Allison Whittenberg, author, Sweet Thang and many others.

I'm honored that Children's Writer quoted me many times in this article, and I look forward to reading others in the series.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I find this fascinating. I had to come back to this post to respond. I want to read a broad range of books on Black experiences. I hope you will post more of your thoughts on this in the future.

I have been avoiding reading about slavery in history for the reasons you mentioned. But now I am starting to read from the history shelves in the library. I am finding books written by Blacks to portray slavery and civil rights from a different, more powerful perspective than I remember reading as a young person in the 70s when I think the books were written by white males. Books like Myers’ Now are Your Time and Russell Freedman's Freedom Walkers and Tonya Bolden's Tell All the Children Our Story have greatly impressed me in the last few months and weeks. I wonder if you have thoughts on how the writing/portrayal of the history of African Americans has changed in our lifetime.