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

a lot of reading in review coming up

pexels-photo-46274I’ve been way too swamped to blog, and I still am, but I want to blog and write all of the things and read all the things! Obviously I have not done my usual monthly roundup, and that’s going to have to change, as I’ve been reading TONS of picturebooks and the list will just be too long and cumbersome. So I think I’ll start just giving highlights of the stuff I think is really worthwhile.

This is because I now have a job that I can’t talk about that is everybody’s dream job – reading books and getting paid for it. And I don’t want to complain about it because I know it is truly a gift of a job. I’m also reading for an award committee I can’t talk about and also reading for The Horn Book, so that’s a lot of reading. And I have my fitness job and my new nonprofit job and the freelance writing, and I’m trying to finish my novel, so basically I’m swamped, but that’s also helping me be more productive overall.

Discipline when working mostly from home is really difficult to learn, but I’m slowly getting better at my time management and all.

I’m also officially matriculating in a PhD program this fall! And not currently anticipating quitting any of my jobs! Hahahahahahahaha that’s going to be hilarious. Stay tuned for my misadventures.

Anyway, will be back to normal soon, I promise!

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