I was really excited about a lot of books this spring. You may recall that I wrote a whole post about it. There was a lot of #blackgirlmagic in the works, and nothing could be better or more necessary than that. The biggest readers in the country are college-educated black women, while in the UK (and I gather in the US), young black girls are the biggest demographic of readers under 18. We deserve to be recognized for that and thanked by the publishing industry, but of course we’re not.

So I was really excited to find a bunch of upcoming books that not only starred black girls, but they were smart, middle and upper class, and front and center on the covers, too. I mean, look:

Little White Lies by Brianna Baker and F. Bowman Hastie III Flawed by Cecelia Ahern Into White by Randi Pink

Two of those, Flawed and Into White, are from the same publisher, Feiwel & Friends, and I give them extra points for not bowing to the whole “we already have a black book this year; thanks” thing that so many do, though I imagine part of it has to do with the fact that Cecelia Ahern is a white author with two solid adult books on her resume to recommend her. The other, Little White Lies, is from Soho Teen.

The problem is that at a time in American history (Flawed is Irish, but it’s being published here, so) when we desperately need #blackgirlmagic (and strong black men) in our books, in a life-or-death way, what we don’t need is these books. Continue reading


leon’s story

Oh, hi! I’m still here. I’m still reading. I’m still saying fuck and shit a lot on Twitter and talking about social justice. But I also started my PhD in children’s and young adult literature, and one of my first semester courses is Critical Content Analysis of Children’s Literature. The first children’s book we’ve read is Leon’s Story by Leon Walter Tillage as told to Susan L. Roth, and I have Thoughts.

This is young middle grade, maybe for third graders or so, and it’s basically The Circuit or The Big Lie but about sharecropping and the South in the 1930s and 40s. It reads like somebody talking and giving an oral history, and the afterword says that yes, it’s basically a straight transcript of this guy talking, so points to me, I guess. It doesn’t hold back and very openly talks about random violence for sport enacted by whites, like the time some people came out with dogs and tried to Most Dangerous Game him, and he says “nigger” all over because that’s what people were saying to him all over, and non-black child readers shouldn’t be coddled or protected from that word, frankly. So yeah, the point-blank statement that back when he was a kid, people called black people “nigger” is on the first page, and I give him all the props. This book came out in 1997. Good luck getting publishers to get behind that now.

Each chapter is a vignette or ramble about whatever the title says, like going to school or running away from Klansmen. For what is likely to be a kid of any color’s first book about this corner of American history, which most people like to gloss over as if it was just a blip on the way to white America’s favorite dead black person, Saint MLK, it does a good job describing stuff. The conversational tone works for awhile until it starts to get real transcript-y, with all of the fillers and disfluencies that any journalist would delete out of courtesy and in the name of clarity. Sure, in some cases those things add authenticity and character, but in this book I think all they do is make what is already an unconventional (for a person who, based on their time spent on earth, has read fewer books than others of us) text hard to understand.

I am of two minds when it comes to books like these Continue reading

some followup to the horn book podcast

I’ve been on vacation and starting new jobs and working on trying to meet lots of writing deadlines, hence not blogging. Vacation was incredibly restorative and amazing, physically and emotionally. I didn’t do as much of the stuff I intended to do, but I had some time off of work, and even though I meant to take advantage of trendy gyms in New York and Boston while I was there, I ended up not exercising for 10 days, which was probably a really big gift to my body with the overtraining I do.

Anyway, when I was in Boston I got to spend the day at the Horn Book offices, generally bothering everyone but also doing the podcast! You should listen to it, because I’m great. And also because Siân is a friend from grad school who is wonderful, and Roger is actually great to hang out with. It’s definitely a podcast I’m subscribing to, even if I am terrible at podcasts.

One thing, though, is that I don’t do well at talking – which is funny, because I do lots of conference presentations and used to do a lot of booktalks. If I don’t prepare for a booktalk, I am off-the-cuff and fun and engaging, apparently, but then I also get asked to clarify quotes for articles and literally have no memory of saying them. On the other hand, if I prepare, apparently I’m boring, but also I’m prepared.

I was somewhat prepared for the podcast, but I didn’t have a good way of answering Roger’s question about why whiteness is the default, because it’s been so long since I’ve had to explain it. It is common fact to me, as unconscious and a part of my being as driving, you know?

But here’s the thing, the real answer as to why everyone is white unless you explicitly say (and even then you still have imbeciles like the folks who failed to remember that Rue was always black): Continue reading