March 17, 2014

It Gets Whiter: Kids Books After The Snowy Day


Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day was one of my favorite books growing up. It wasn't until I was a parent myself that I realized how extraordinary it was, and that before Keats' success, there had been almost no kids' books with non-white characters in them.

This weekend's NY Times has a couple of frustrating essays looking at this same whitey white problem, which somehow still continues, decades later. And in fact, it seems to be even worse once you get out of the storybook phase, and into books that kids read for themselves. There are only pink people.

Walter Dean Myers writes very movingly about realizing he'd never seen himself or his world in books:Books did not become my enemies. They were more like friends with whom I no longer felt comfortable. I stopped reading. I stopped going to school.Christopher Myers is even more devastating about the limits this literary apartheid puts on the imaginations of kids of all colors, and of the adults around them.

And as I'm thinking of how kids' worlds get shaped and foreclosed from the get-go, often without our even noticing, I recognized the chords of Myers' critiques echoing through this manifesto by the literary editor of the UK Independent, decrying the gender segregation of kids books, and the inequities and stereotypes it deepens.

You see, it is not just girls' ambitions that are being frustrated by the limiting effects of "books for girls", in which girls' roles are all passive, domestic and in front of a mirror. Rebecca Davies, who writes the children's books blog at, tells me that she is equally sick of receiving "books which have been commissioned solely for the purpose of 'getting boys reading' [and which have] all-male characters and thin, action-based plots." What we are doing by pigeon-holing children is badly letting them down. And books, above all things, should be available to any child who is interested in them.
Again, they're discussing books for kids who can read, but it starts at the beginning, with the books we read with our kids. Angelina Ballerina and Fancy Nancy and Ruby and , I'm looking at you.

Anyway, point is, think about it.

Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books?" [nyt]
The Apartheid of Children's Literature
Gender-specific books demean all our children. So the Independent on Sunday will no longer review anything marketed to exclude either sex []

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