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Multiracial characters in books

  • Posted on June 13, 2015 at 3:16 PM

Where are the books with multiracial characters? How are these books being tracked? Why does it seem like this form of diversity is ignored and dismissed? I started asking teachers at my school just how many students they thought were biracial or multiracial. They were surprised because that wasn’t a category they considered. Some said 5-10%. None of them really worried about the category because as one teacher said to me, “Most of the kids would just choose to be black.” Stop and think about what such a statement means. If you were to say this when the student was in front of you, what impact and what message would this send?

Timothy and Anthony Chen

My Beautiful Boys

I have two biracial/multiracial sons. Their father is Chinese. My heritage includes Norwegian, Dutch, French, Scots-Irish – the typical northwest Iowa mashup. I’ll never forget the day when my oldest son answered someone who asked what race he was, that he was Norwegian. The expression on their face was priceless.

In February the Cooperative Children’s Book Center had released  “Children’s Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States” Statistics Gathered by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Each year they analyze the books they receive for non-white diversity and categorize them into these four racial categories: African Americans; American Indians; Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans; Latinos.

Debbie Reese at her blog analyzed this in relationship to which books were about Native Americans and which were written and or illustrated by Native Americans.   Debbie advocates daily for Native Americans. Who is advocating for multiracial families? I started pondering and thinking deeply about this back in February. I began researching for a blog post. I emailed various bloggers, authors, and publishers. I asked questions of trend spotters.

I’m not alone.  The Washington Post’s Nevin Martell is a freelance writer who blogged asking, “Where are all the interracial children’s books?”  http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/01/20/where-are-all-the-interracial-childrens-books Unless you directly have an interest and have biracial/multiracial/interracial children, it appears you don’t care.

My problem is that there is no one out there tracking or looking for any trend on multiracial characters in literature. Over twenty years ago I began pleading with authors like Laurence Yep and Ed Young to please write for my sons and for our future blended generations. One year I was ranting about this and Arnold Adoff spoke up and said, “Honey, I get this.” (Have I mentioned again how much I adore that man?!) The number of blended children increases. The number of books with their faces and their families doesn’t.

Cynthia Leitich Smith has some blog posts where she explores Interracial Family Themes in Picture Books and an excellent introduction to the topic of exploring multi-racial families. Throughout her blog as Cynthia explores diversity, I feel like I could curl up and chat with her about these issues openly for hours.

The blog Brown Baby Reads keeps us current about books with African American children and gives me some hope with their list of Books about Multiracial Children & Families. The Epic Adventures of a Modern Mom has some children’s books featuring interracial families. If you are seeking to adopt a child or explain a multiracial adoption, there is a short list here Multiracial Diversity Books for Adopted Children.

I keep searching for other blogs, but I need your suggestions. In 2010 there was a post “Books with Biracial Children” but it looks like it’s archived and not updated at http://4bedtimestories.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/books-with-biracial-children/ There is an extremely confusing list from GoodReads that I wouldn’t depend upon. Maybe some library student can undertake this project.

One of the best discoveries while researching for this article was The Grio Raising biracial kids in 2013: The challenges and the opportunities for the African-American community by Suzanne Rust | August 5, 2013 http://thegrio.com/2013/08/05/raising-biracial-kids-in-2013-the-challenges-and-the-opportunities-for-the-african-american-community/ I quote: “As more African-American women are considering marrying outside their race than ever, and 25 percent of black men married interracially in 2010, issues relating to how their children will be treated and perceived are paramount.” It goes on to explore the topics of being “other”, the census and having to choose a category, and racial profiling.

book cover for The Case for Love

The Case for Loving

One of my favorite books this year was The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls. If I’d known I was leaving my school, I wouldn’t have donated all my copies and would have kept one to take with me to my new school!  Scholastic publishers description:

This is the story of one brave family: Mildred Loving, Richard Perry Loving, and their three children. It is the story of how Mildred and Richard fell in love, and got married in Washington, D.C. But when they moved back to their hometown in Virginia, they were arrested (in dramatic fashion) for violating that state’s laws against interracial marriage. The Lovings refused to allow their children to get the message that their parents’ love was wrong and so they fought the unfair law, taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court — and won!

Yesterday, NPR recognized Loving Day with this broadcast:

When I moved my family to Nashville in 1997, one of my young co-teachers was chatting with me one day at dismissal when a mixed family was picking up their child. She suddenly mentioned how she was from Mississippi and she was sorry, but that just didn’t set right with her. I looked at her and said, “You do realize my last name is Chen, right? My husband was Chinese. I have two half Chinese sons. They are absolutely beautiful and their is nothing wrong with that.” I don’t think she ever recovered from that moment and transferred midyear. I never treated her badly and did try to show her through love and kindness that my children were a beautiful blessing, but I have always wondered if her views on life have changed.

Forcing me to finish this blog post is the upcoming ALA Conference in San Francisco where Diversity is being celebrated in many ways. Today Jason Low, Lee & Low Books emailed out congratulations to Juan Felipe Herrera the first Latino U.S. Poet Laureate, and their  Diverse Summer Reading Lists from LEE & LOW BOOKS.  They included a link to a Proportional Perspective Infographic on the world’s native languages. While Chinese continues to be the most populous, I laugh at the irony that my alma mater in Iowa is disbanding their program where I studied modern languages with an emphasis on Chinese and a minor focus in Spanish. Such lack of vision but they’ll save money.

Don’t miss Publisher Jason Low’s Ignite Session on Diversity’s Action Plan onSaturday, June 27 at 11:30AM in the Moscone Convention Center room 130 (N).  Want more diversity? Here’s a list of more diversity-related programming and events happening at the show. LEE & LOW BOOKS will be located at booth #1020. I continue to admire their publishing efforts and support them as often as I can in spreading the word.

One new book on my list to gift is I am Mixed. If you go to the link http://www.amazon.com/Am-Mixed-Book/dp/0578110873, you will see some excellent other suggestions below to accompany this list.  I wanted to include a picture, but Amazon only had an image to the Kindle edition. Great reviews even from Susan Graham of projectrace.com

New Year, New Job, New Excitement

  • Posted on June 13, 2015 at 11:15 AM

The News is Out! After four years at Hattie Cotton STEM Magnet Elementary School, I am moving back to middle school. I am now the new school librarian at Bailey STEM Magnet Middle School in Nashville, Tennessee. Thrilled, excited, anxious to get to work, sad to leave my old school, and so happy to think about the faces of my former students when they see me at their new school. Those are just some of my emotions. It took three car trips to take my things across the street and a mile down the road, and I was moved out in a morning.

Communication. One of the first things I did was set up my new twitter page @mybaileylibrary

I’m hoping that will be an inclusivemakersp1makersp2 twitter handle that will spark students and teachers to use next year as we spark our conversation on books, technology, and STEM.

When I walked in the library, I was excited to see a MakerSpace in place. The possibilities! The ongoing collaboration with Vanderbilt University Scientists. It’s going to be such an exciting new year.

Book Collection. I’m already identifying areas of improvement where I hope I can make a difference right away. For example, I happened to walk by the 793-799 section (sports, music, fun) and only found 1.5 shelves of books as you can see in the illustration to the left. When I first went to Cotton, I had the same exact sce793-799nario. By immediately purchasing some sports titles, I was able to engage new readers. Even though I will be at a STEM school and will focus on STEM titles, I won’t neglect student interests. This shelf happened to be right beside the door so I want it to draw student’s attention. 

Programming. I’m putting up the big calendar and planning for the next year so there’s something exciting to look forward to. I am so fortunate to be able to chat with the former librarian to be able to continue the exciting projects from last year. Since the students were so enthusiastic about Battle of the Books and other monthly contests, let’s have a student advisory group. 

Phrases to Validate Readers

  • Posted on June 6, 2015 at 9:15 AM

“Thanks for reading that to me. You may have saved my life. ”

“Wow! I’m glad you caught that. Something terrible could have happened.”

Seem overly dramatic? What if you didn’t read the prescription label and took someone else’s pills or the wrong amount? You could die. What if you didn’t read the label printed inside your car door or on your tire and over inflated your tire? It could explode. Or in the case of my ex-husband, you could put 70 pounds of pressure in a tire in winter and have no traction at all on ice – causing us to go careening across the road into a deep ditch.  Reading is a vital activity that saves lives and is a necessary skill.

Often librarians emphasize how good reading makes you feel, but as teachers we need to help children and young adults understand that all types of reading are valuable. The ability to read car manuals, road signs, driver’s education training materials, car purchasing documents, and insurance papers is important. I took my sons with me to the store to teach them how to look up my car model and locate the parts I needed. This is an essential reference and research tool. It requires reading. Yes, some computer programs now can do this, but its much faster if you are standing in an aisle and can flip to the chart and scan along the page to your model. We even would have races against the computer to see who could find the right part first.

The ability to read cook books, food labels, warning labels on cooking pans and oils, and recipes online is important. Teaching children how to read the labels on boxes to see how many ounces of jello are in the box compared to how many they need in the recipe then teaching them how to compute changes are valuable hands-on-skills parents need to be involved in. These are teachable moments when a simple comment on the importance of being able to scan quickly can be effective.

A trend in schools is to focus on social and emotional learning (again). This week I will spend two days on Restorative Practices and focus on SEL. While I am thinking about student’s emotional well-being, I am also thinking about their needs to validate their reading abilities and their recognition of when they are reading. Not just when they are novel reading, but when they are “vital reading.”

Please continue to leave comments of positive phrases to promote reading.

Sea Rex by Molly Idle

  • Posted on June 6, 2015 at 8:47 AM

Molly Idle has created a fun summer read for our dinosaur loving PreK-first grade crowd with Sea Rex

cover of Sea Rex by Molly Idle

Sea Rex by Molly Idle

published by Penguin Random House. Cordelia returns as she heads to the beach with her friends and her beach safety tips. I love the image of T. Rex applying sun screen with his teeny tiny arms.

The smooth sunny illustrations have a sandy quality that drew my fingertips to touch to make sure there was no texture on the page. This has vaulted to my favorite summer 2015 sharing pile because it draws children in with its subtle use of humor, open space, a soothing summer palette of sea colors, and well-placed funny touches that the reader can discover on his or her own. Sea Rex respects readers to enjoy reading and devouring pictures without someone cutting them up for them into bite sized pieces. Take as big a bite as you want and enjoy.

I read Sea Rex four times before I wrote about it because there was so much to discover. My only regret? I love the cover illustration so much and it doesn’t appear inside the book. There are many more wonderful illustrations inside, but I was left wondering if there wasn’t a story behind it’s not being inside. Did Molly create the cover illustration at the request of the publisher? Who wrote the hyperbole about the book? “What could that be down in the sea? Is it a fish? A snail? A mermaid’s tail? No, it’s bigger than that . . . a LOT bigger . . . it’s Sea Rex!” It almost seems like the cover and overview are talking about one book and the inside story focus is of another. Tell me I am being too picky and just move on. It doesn’t take away from the fact that I love this book and it’s simple embracing of the sandy joys of the beach.

Factoids:  Hardcover ISBN 9780670785742; 40 Pages; 26 May 2015; Viking Books for Young Readers; 3-5 years

Creating a wishlist of products

  • Posted on June 2, 2015 at 9:45 PM

An interesting trend among blogger friends has been the group creation of their wishlists of products. Tools keep evolving. From those little paper slips posted in your local stores, to sophisticated social media tools like teacherlists.com, donorschoose.org, teacherwishlist.com, and http://classwish.org. Using Mr. Linky and Pinterest, teachers are finding ways to share images of products they like. I’m going to add a board on my Pinterest account called “Supplies for School I Want” https://www.pinterest.com/dianerchen/supplies-for-school-i-want. Please help me find super cool products you think I should add.

Disclaimer: I love purple and if I have a sample to showcase, it’s going to be in purple or turquoise. Bwahaha