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 borrowed identity

Every January, Tucson hosts an International Jewish Film Festival, and I haven’t been for years because I haven’t lived here and I was never visiting in mid-January because of school schedules. So it’s been nice to be home this year. I’ve seen two films thus far and will hopefully catch another one or two. The first was called Mr. Kaplan and is pretty strange in its approach to humor, but it was cool to revisit Jewish Uruguay, since I spent a summer there doing a Hillel study abroad program.

The one I saw yesterday was called A Borrowed Identity, and it was great. It’s apparently based on a novel called Dancing Arabs, which I’ll now have to try and track down at the library. Per IMDb:

A Palestinian-Israeli boy named Eyad is sent to a prestigious boarding school in Jerusalem, where he struggles with issues of language, culture, and identity.

[That poster is stupid, because the main character is the boy in the middle, not the girl. She’s cool and all, but she’s just the girlfriend. (That’s very antifeminist of me, but really, she’s not a focalizer at all, just a character interacting with the protagonist.) And if it’s not clear, this boarding school, being prestigious and in Jerusalem and all, is a place where non-Jews are not super welcome]

You never have to say much beyond “boarding school” to get me to want to read or watch something. And add in a fish-out-of-water story with actual substance instead of some sort faux outcast (y’know, the girl who thinks she’s so humble and boring and quirky because she listens to the Smiths and needs a boy to tell her how pretty she is) setup, throw in a pointed microaggressions, and force me to perk my ears up by listening to multiple foreign languages, and you’ve got me.

You may know I wrote an article about Israel recently that spurred some….reactions. (Generally speaking, people who found out about the article via Facebook pegged me a narcissistic bitch, and people on Twitter were supportive.) So it was pretty fitting that a week after it printed, I would go see a movie that might confirm my biases against what I felt was a lot of hypocrisy on the part of Jewish Israelis or that might just make me see a kindred, bicultural spirit, or that would do something else entirely. Continue reading

i hate libraries, creepy people, and everyone who thinks i’m not human because i’m a woman of color

Today my (white and blonde) friend and I went to a library to do some observations. We’re in library school, preparing to be youth services librarians, you know, so we were sitting in the teen section of said library and critiquing it. We were being pretty quiet and respectful, or at least she was – I kept saying things like “This blows” and “This is the most badly designed space ever.” We were in a back corner of the library, far away from most other humans there except for two teenagers who looked pretty annoyed that we were there and talking shit (sorry, it’s a beautiful building for a house, but the space was deeply uncomfortable and way too quiet). We both believe that teen spaces in libraries are for teenagers and that adults only have business in those areas if they are quickly browsing and then leaving or if they are the librarian. Obviously we are not technically either of those things, but clearly we had a legitimate, non-creepy reason for being there, and if a librarian had come up to us to ask why we were there, we could have explained that we are graduate students studying library science and that also we are pretty young, as far as adults go.

Anyway. We’ve been sitting for awhile, and all of a sudden I hear, “Hi, beautiful.” HORRIBLE, I know, but I looked up the way you do when you hear your name. GROSS. A telling reaction, I think you’ll see. Anyway. It’s this man who is maybe in his 50s and dressed kind of strangely and layered (but in a way distinct from the average homeless library patron – he was clearly the quirky kind of person, not the down on his luck kind of guy), and he comes over and says, “So, you must be either Hispanic or Ethiopian.”