Chapter Books with Diverse Characters for 7 year old - Page 2 - Mothering Forums

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#31 of 52 Old 05-25-2013, 08:38 AM
 
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Also, I've been thinking about who writes books. People who are out having lots of experiences and getting to know lots of people really well? Such outgoing people may not want to write, because writing is a pretty solitary occupation.
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#32 of 52 Old 05-25-2013, 08:42 AM
 
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"Authors don't have to live in a cave to be lacking the depth of understanding to write characters of other ethnic groups. And it takes more than imagination to get the nuances of a different ethnic background. Otherwise, a supposedly Chinese character ends up with a Korean name and a British, white, middle class personality, for example.

Keep in mind that authors are trying to support themselves financially, and when some people refuse to buy books at full price, it can be difficult to have time to collect experiences."

 

I'm sorry, just to be clear here. Are you saying, its acceptable not to include a diversity of characters in children's literature, if the writers of that literature happen to have only white, middle class, experiences themselves? That the situation we are discussing above, where the overwhelming majority of books have characters which are either explicitly or implicitly entirely white characters, is actually somehow ok?

 

And that this is caused not by institutional racism in the publishing industry, which makes it disproportionately hard for writers of colour to have their experiences heard in the first place, not by culpability on the part of writers,or lack of interest in publishing minority experiences by the industry but by people-children, using their pocket money mainly-buying secondhand books

 

Before I reply, I want to be sure that this is the argument you are actually trying to make.


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#33 of 52 Old 05-25-2013, 11:29 AM
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"It's tricky for a writer to write characters outside of the personal ethnic background."

 

TBH if an author can't write outside their own personal experience, I'd question whether they were much good as a writer. I think lack of imagination and inability to step outside their own experience is a really poor excuse in a writer for not including a range of characters. 

 

But the reality is that writers write outside their personal experience all the time. That's their job. And if they don't have the experience, they go get it. If they consider it important. 

True, but whenever I have heard about a white writer who wrote a story told from the pov of a non-white main character, they have gotten slammed.  I think that many writers may not want that sort of negative publicity and feel that it is better to leave it alone and let other's do it.  

 

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#34 of 52 Old 05-25-2013, 11:58 AM
 
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Great thread.  

 

I think it's easier for movies to make the "just-so-happens-to-not-be-white" point.  They just pop the actors in and the point is made.  Books are trickier, and perhaps those authors taking the time to describe a character's race are attempting to counteract a widespread tendency to visualize characters as white by default.  I cringed every time I hit the words "black wizard" in Harry Potter, but then Dean Thomas was played by a black actor in the movies with nary a mention in the books.  (I know Harry Potter is not the shining example of diversity!)  It can be difficult, I imagine to make the choice between letting race and ethnicity be up to the reader, and trying to get the reader to visualize a more diverse makeup of characters without prompting.


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#35 of 52 Old 05-25-2013, 12:55 PM
 
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"Authors don't have to live in a cave to be lacking the depth of understanding to write characters of other ethnic groups. And it takes more than imagination to get the nuances of a different ethnic background. Otherwise, a supposedly Chinese character ends up with a Korean name and a British, white, middle class personality, for example.




Keep in mind that authors are trying to support themselves financially, and when some people refuse to buy books at full price, it can be difficult to have time to collect experiences."


I'm sorry, just to be clear here. Are you saying, its acceptable not to include a diversity of characters in children's literature, if the writers of that literature happen to have only white, middle class, experiences themselves? That the situation we are discussing above, where the overwhelming majority of books have characters which are either explicitly or implicitly entirely white characters, is actually somehow ok?

And that this is caused not by institutional racism in the publishing industry, which makes it disproportionately hard for writers of colour to have their experiences heard in the first place, not by culpability on the part of writers,or lack of interest in publishing minority experiences by the industry but by people-children, using their pocket money mainly-buying secondhand books

Before I reply, I want to be sure that this is the argument you are actually trying to make.


Since you are not clear about my point, I will explain it again.

First, let me say that I am holding the *parents* (adults) accountable for the lack of financial support given to authors. Parents set the tone from the time the child is a toddler, or even a baby, about the value of books. Too many refuse to spend $4.00 for a book (which a new author typically gets only $0.40 from, by the way). If parents take the time and make the effort to search out and support new authors writing about issues or representing diversity, that will go a loooong way toward changing things.

Publishers aren't interested in anything other than money. There are no hidden agendas. There's only the tried and proven (usually redundant) themes that publishers are willing to risk investing in. Self publishing costs money that low income people can't spare. So I don't see anyway to change the publishing world, unless you'd like to start a publishing company that is committed to diversity, that is. I don't have the money to invest, personally.

Now let's get back to the 'use imagination' remark. In a TV show or movie, a real person of that ethnic group is brought in to play the part. Any erroneous dialog can be identified by the individual playing the part. And still, aren't some upset? At least now and then? Take away the outside person, and an author is more likely to offend because of an incomplete understanding. How does that help?

The only way imaginary diversity can exist is in the realm of science fiction. There an author can create various ethnic or species groups. The sky is the limit! Or is it? Some people like to criticize more than anything else in this world, and will find fault even there.

Bottom line, you can blame and criticize, or you can financially support authors who write things you like. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. And for anyone who thinks "My $4.00 isn't going to make enough of a difference", remember that if 1,000 people think that way, that's $4,000. Now it's making a difference. And since other occupations get paid for their services, why shouldn't authors? How arrogant and ego-centric is it to demand such a high standard of quality from someone you are unwilling to pay. Why should authors have to have a full time job to support the family, write on the side, AND live up to YOUR expectations? If you think it's so easy, you do it! Write a book, children's fiction, keep it interesting, and make the characters diverse. Then I'll discuss this further with you.
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#36 of 52 Old 05-25-2013, 04:43 PM - Thread Starter
 
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The default setting for characters in stories/books/movies is white.  It is simple as that.  Even when the author goes on and describes a person that is different, if she is not really explicit, then a lot of readers just miss it.  Did you guys follow the hunger games outrage?  All those fans who got upset because Rue, Thresh and Cinna were cast as black in the movie?  This article in the New Yorker -- Until Proven Black -- is a good place to begin: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/03/hunger-games-and-trayvon-martin.html

 

But please, I urge you to look at some of the tweets here: http://jezebel.com/5896408/racist-hunger-games-fans-dont-care-how-much-money-the-movie-made  and if you are interested in more, please go to: http://hungergamestweets.tumblr.com/    While these fans (mostly teens) expressed their feelings, and prompted by one blogger, they got called out for it, make no mistake -- this kind of thinking is prevalent. The bottom line is, the default setting is white; everybody else is other.  We use ethnic characters, especially blacks, the way we use spices in our food; sparingly: too much or too many kinds will overwhelm the main staple.  Unless of course we are serving a specialty dish, in which case we have to call it that because it is brim-full of otherness.  It is not  a staple and can not be consumed by all.   

 

Here are a couple of other links that may contribute to this conversation: 

 

http://www.hbook.com/2013/01/choosing-books/horn-book-magazine/beyond-the-friends

 

The article itself speaks from a point of view of a once upon a time young (black) reader.  Then, within the comments section, there are two particularly passionate responses, one from a black librarian Vanessa Irvin Morris who takes librarians, schools and teachers to task for pigeonholing black readers and another from an author Christine Taylor Butler -- who touches on many issues in the publishing industry that gets to decide what is "authentic" and what is not.  AND there is another problem, it seems black characters have to be "authentically" black and since that "authentic" stereotype leans towards the negative ills that affect the community, any individual character that lives mainly like a middle class American person gets tossed out as not "authentic."  Good lord.  

 

And as far as white authors writing about black experiences, in many cases, these books (if they are well written at all) actually do really well while similarly statured books tackling similar subjects but by black writers don't break through.  Here is an article that discusses that issue: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2010062504125.html

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#37 of 52 Old 05-26-2013, 12:40 AM
 
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The link for the washington post article doesn't work for me. Also I'm wondering why Ms. Hare doesn't write fiction herself. She writes well, and understands the niche perfectly. And surely a publishing company can be formed by a group of like minded folks, if publishers aren't accepting such books.
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#38 of 52 Old 05-26-2013, 07:29 AM
 
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I read the entire thread this morning. I see I missed a few important posts on page one. I apologize for sticking my foot in a hornet nest by posting without realizing the direction the thread had taken.

I would like to point out that my point about authors was reinforced by the comment about Harry Potter characters being stereotypical. Should Rowling have done something different? Not written the books? Authors can be criticized for trying, and for not trying. It is difficult.

Lack of diversity of race is not much different than lack of diversity of gender. I grew up reading books mostly featuring boys (possibly all), and written primarily by men. But that's not teaching racism or sexism as much as parental attitudes. Girls are now emerging as stronger characters, and I believe the various races will also become more prevalent. Complaining about it, however, will not change it. Neither will attacking authors who are not depicting racism. Racism, like sexism and other -isms , is mostly taught at home, when children witness it within their own families.
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#39 of 52 Old 05-27-2013, 01:27 AM
 
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"Complaining about it, however, will not change it. Neither will attacking authors who are not depicting racism."

 

This is where we disagree, I think. I don't know how to teach my children about racism, sexism and homosophia without being vocal about the experiences that we have in mainstream society, including the books they and I and we read.

 

I don't aim to raise passive citizens who take what is coming and don't criticise society, books, media or what have you. I don't want my kids to believe that change is something that just happens, brought about by the ebbs and flows of capitalism. Thats a very reductionist, simplistic approach, IMO. Individuals and small groups do bring about change. You can't teach kids about racism, homophobia or sexism in a vacuum. 

 

It also sounds as though you have a very market-focussed approach. You see the issue of books as coming down to who provides a market for them and the publishing industry running entirely for profit without any social interest at all, and that if we disagree we should just use our economic power better . Its not the fault of the producers (writers) or the suppliers (publishers) but the consumer-in this case, children. This argument has been around for as long as industrialisation to deflect blame for appalling industrial practice. I remember Shell's supporters arguing it over the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa. 

 

I see the issues as considerably more complex. 

 

A very simple free-market approach, IMO falls at the first hurdle: that companies are run by humans, not money, and humans have prejudices and beliefs. Incidentally this is what we were told in my first year economics elective at uni, its not an out there idea. Even if a publishing company is interested only in making money, their own, possibly prejudiced, possibly incorrect, beliefs about what will sell will ultimately be what determines the product they produce. 

 

But you know, it does come down to what you believe is important. Is it important that children of colour see their reality reflected in their literature? Do authors and publishers have a social responsibility to make this happen, or does the fault lie with an irresponsible 7 year old buying a used Harry Potter at a yard sale? 

 

ETA the more I think about it I think this comes down to how important you actually see this issue as being. I think, pek, with respect you seem to see it as something that is just about personal preference, on the level of, perhaps, a desire to see more books about Tokyo or living in a bakery or something else which doesn't usually have a huge relevance to people's self-image making it to the bookstore. I'd see the effects of racism and the importance of normalising diverse characters as too important to leave to the free market. Racism is a lot more complex than an adult saying to kids "hey guys, don't be racist". A huge tool in the armour of anti-racism is knowledge and normalisation of other cultures and books have a huge role to play in that.


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#40 of 52 Old 05-27-2013, 11:08 AM
 
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I've thought about this a lot since my last post. I have tried to explain my point, multiple times, but can't find a way to do so without looking more ego-centric than I already do. Here goes this attempt.

I have a temper. That's not justification for opening my mouth without thinking. It is, however, a fact. I do work on it. And have more work to do.

I have written a book that provides (I hope) entertainment for children while avoiding certain ills that I see in literature. Racial diversity was not one. Actually, I failed to describe most of my characters.

The rules of publishing companies are prohibitive to most new authors, and I feel very frustrated by that. However, I prefer to remain positive and look for ways to change the situation, or at least the portion I have to deal with. So I looked at self-publishing. There are costs and difficulties associated with that that is further frustrating me.

I came to mothering that day seeking to escape my frustrations and found this thread. Here I discovered that I had neglected to consider my characters fully. So, I am not finished writing, or do I go ahead with this book and hope I do better in the future. More frustration.

Then I got called out for not reading the thread. While I had only read a few posts, the criticism was the final straw, and I lost my temper. I lashed out because of my own feelings. And for that, I'm sorry.

Regarding the links I was asked to read. The Washington Post one doesn't work for me, I'm not sure why. It is a problem I've been experiencing lately where random links take me to a blank page. I'm not sure what's happening. I read the link above it, but not the ones related to the Hunger Games. Until today.

I have had food issues for too many years, and when I asked a sales person at the bookstore about the book, she told me the title pretty much describes the book. I do not wish to read about withholding food as a form of entertainment. I need no reminders of my past experiences. I avoided the links for much the same reason, and didn't see how reader opinions were relevant to author responsibilities. Still, my curiosity got the better of me.

I AM APPALLED. I couldn't even finish reading.

In light of those remarks, mine seem incredibly insensitive to the issue of racism. I am sorry. I cannot take back what I said, as it's been seen by many, but I hope I can be forgiven.
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#41 of 52 Old 05-27-2013, 12:51 PM
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In light of those remarks, mine seem incredibly insensitive to the issue of racism. I am sorry. I cannot take back what I said, as it's been seen by many, but I hope I can be forgiven.

My brain is kinda fuzzy this morning, but I must say that I thought you pov added to the discussion.  It brought another perspective that made me think.  So, for me, there isn't an apology needed.  Good luck with your book!

 

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#42 of 52 Old 05-27-2013, 02:31 PM
 
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My brain is kinda fuzzy this morning, but I must say that I thought you pov added to the discussion.  It brought another perspective that made me think.  So, for me, there isn't an apology needed.  Good luck with your book!

Amy

Thanks!

Obviously I believe in taking action versus just complaining, since that's what I'm doing, but I regret the hostile way I presented that idea.
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#43 of 52 Old 05-30-2013, 05:17 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I just wanted to say thank you to ALL of you guys who contributed to this thread.  You have pointed me to wonderful resources and kept the thread discussion respectful and interesting.  This is why I love this forum :)  

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#44 of 52 Old 05-30-2013, 11:14 AM
 
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I just wanted to say thank you to ALL of you guys who contributed to this thread.  You have pointed me to wonderful resources and kept the thread discussion respectful and interesting.  This is why I love this forum :)  

 

Yes! I agree- thanks to all. 

 

Also- Pek64, thanks for coming back and explaining where you were coming from. Trying to get published can be a discouraging process. I'm an author (kids and young adult fiction, traditional publisher) and while I'm not sure I have anything helpful to offer beyond the usual "keep writing, don't give up" type of advice, please do feel free to contact me if you'd like to chat. 


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#45 of 52 Old 05-31-2013, 12:04 PM
 
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I just read the third book in a trilogy of YA novels by Beverly Brenna-- Wild Orchid, Waiting for No One, and White Bicycle. The main character, Taylor, is a teenage girl who has a diagnosis of Aspergers. I thought they were well written and wanted to mention the series here in this discussion of kids' books and diversity, in case some of you were interested. Characters with disabilities (not that Aspergers is necessarily a disability) are also under-represented in kids' and teen fiction. 

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#46 of 52 Old 06-13-2013, 09:38 PM
 
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Just revisiting this thread to add a link-- an argument for the importance of gay characters in middle grade fiction, and a list of a few books to check out: 

http://vikkivansickle.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/ya-is-too-late-gay-characters-in-middle-grade-fiction/


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#47 of 52 Old 06-14-2013, 02:23 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Just revisiting this thread to add a link-- an argument for the importance of gay characters in middle grade fiction, and a list of a few books to check out: 

http://vikkivansickle.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/ya-is-too-late-gay-characters-in-middle-grade-fiction/

 

Thanks for posting this.  Here is a bit of a rant:  I had a rather interesting conversation with someone a while back.  I casually mentioned my son's reaction when I explained to him that two men and two women can have the kind of relationship his daddy and I have. The person I was talking to wondered why I would do that -- like this is not an issue I need to be concerned about because it doesn't affect me personally.  I explained that I want my children to know same sex relationships exist.  We have yet to meet gay couples/families where we live and we probably won't for the foreseeable future.  

 

Where am I going with this?  Well, I think people who are part of the majority culture tend to think that stuff that has anything to do with minority groups -- i.e movies, books-- is just for that audience.  This shrinks the potential market by a huge amount.  The end result is publishers/movie makers etc don't bother much with such stories.  In book stores, for example, books with characters from minority groups tend to get shelved in their own ghettos -- which on one hand, makes them easy to spot for members of whatever group but on the other hand, this removes them from the general book population, making them less visible to people who are not of minority groups.  Not many straight people hang out in the gay section of the bookstore.  Not many non-black people hang out in the African American lit. section.  However, the other way around is not true.  People from minority groups read, watch and otherwise participate in wider cultural activities.  I mean, isn't a gay man a human above and beyond anything else?  Just like a woman, or a black kid, is? Why do people just assume that they will not be able to relate to those stories? That these stories aren't for them?  I mean, if one can read about WWII and relate to a character of a soldier, then by god, the same person should be able to relate to whatever minority protagonist in well written, solid book.  

 

Good books with black, gay, girl, etc, protagonists should be consumed by everyone not just by members of the particular group the protagonist comes from.  But in general, this is not the case.  Sure, there are exceptions but it is not the norm.  

 

Anyway, Cassidy, thanks!  It is your fault I am back to this thread :)

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#48 of 52 Old 06-15-2013, 08:50 AM
 
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Unfortunately, that seems to be true, Emaye.

 

 I just got done reading a fantasy novel (The Wheel of the Infinite, by Wells, if you're curious--might be good for tweens and teens, but not really for the youngsters) which takes place in a made-up world, specifically in a country wherein the native population is black.

 

 The main character is a black woman. They put her white boyfriend on the front of the book. She gets to be on the back, and repeated really tiny on the spine.

 

 At first I didn't think anything of it, but I wonder if this was the publisher's attempt at avoiding this problem? They thought people would disregard the book if they put a black priestess on the front? (Further, she's kind of middle-aged, but that wasn't really apparent from the picture they did have.)

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#49 of 52 Old 06-15-2013, 09:21 AM
 
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Unfortunately, that seems to be true, Emaye.

 

 I just got done reading a fantasy novel (The Wheel of the Infinite, by Wells, if you're curious--might be good for tweens and teens, but not really for the youngsters) which takes place in a made-up world, specifically in a country wherein the native population is black.

 

 The main character is a black woman. They put her white boyfriend on the front of the book. She gets to be on the back, and repeated really tiny on the spine.

 

 At first I didn't think anything of it, but I wonder if this was the publisher's attempt at avoiding this problem? They thought people would disregard the book if they put a black priestess on the front? (Further, she's kind of middle-aged, but that wasn't really apparent from the picture they did have.)

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#50 of 52 Old 06-15-2013, 10:01 PM
 
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Justine Larbalestier's YA novel Liar is an interesting example of this. The MC is a young black woman described in the book as having short nappy hair and being somewhat androgynous in appearance. Guess what the cover showed? Yep- feminine fair skinned girl with long straight hair. Sigh. OTOH, lots of interesting discussion (and hopefully some shifts in views and awareness on part of both readers and publishers) arose from it and the publisher did eventually change the cover. Here's the author's blog if you are curious: http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/07/23/aint-that-a-shame/

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#51 of 52 Old 06-20-2013, 08:52 AM
 
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YES! There are some more lists here. Actually, a list of lists! Lots of good books... 

http://www.pragmaticmom.com/multicultural-books-for-children/


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#52 of 52 Old 06-21-2013, 08:24 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Cassidy, you rock!  Thanks for both of your last links.  

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