Saturday, November 9, 2013

Meet My Anti-Bias Children's Book List!

I'm sure many of you know I have a growing list of AAPI children's books on this blog. But how many of you know that I also have a broader working list of Anti-Bias Children's Books on Pinterest? "Long ago" before I ever had a child of my own, I was a preschool teacher. And I tried very hard to be a certain kind of preschool teacher. One that embodied open-ended, progressive and anti-biased early learning. It sounded so idyllic and beautiful - plus it looks pretty good on paper, right? I laugh at myself a little now. I was so romantic and idealistic about it at the time.The truth is (and what I discovered pretty quickly) that kind of teaching/learning is much easier said than done. There were so many depressing barriers that came from so many unexpected places. I could write a whole other blog post on it (and probably will some day). Ultimately I decided preschool teaching wasn't how I wanted to fight the "good fight." And frankly I was way too tired from having a baby at home to give a damn after a while anyway. Yes of course I left a little (or a lot) more jaded and maybe a little more cynical. But there were a handful of powerful ideas I got to add to my tool belt too. One of the most important, and one I have come to stand by and champion powerfully, is the power of children's literature to address messages of bias.

In my classrooms, despite whatever (in)visible forces conspired to push back against my attempted messages of change, story time always seemed to set itself apart as fairly impenetrable. Why? I'm still not sure entirely. Something about the power of the pen, of words, of pictures being worth a thousand words. Something about the way children's minds and imaginations are turned for a moment almost completely away from the social forces that control our world to engage with and be completely engulfed by a different script. We, as a people, love stories. It's our nature. It's a chance to escape and sometimes an opportunity to think outside our box. And there's the real gold when it comes to undoing racism. Reading books with our children can challenge our thinking in a way we don't mind and actually often enjoy. Teachable moments! Teachable moments! Teachable moments!

That said. We can't just pick up any book and learn new things. Remember my August post on the shocking racism in children's lit publishing (if you didn't read it yet, make sure you do now). There still aren't enough children's books representing oppressed, targeted groups. Also, a lot of kids books out there unfortunately just reinforce the messages we're trying to undo. Check out this image from a 1933 Little Golden Book version of Walt Disney's Three Little Pigs:


Notice how "good," "vulnerable," and "innocent" are embodied by a light pink, flesh-colored pig while "bad," "menacing" and "dangerous" are embodied by a deep brown shaded fox. This concept  of dark, brown and/or black being evil is still something we see today not only in kids books, but toys, TV, film, etc. Do you see striking parallels with the way we tend to view different raced peoples in general in our society? I remember being at a training a few years back. I mentioned to another educator the importance of doing projects with kids using/celebrating dark colors because they're colors we tend to avoid. The teacher nodded her head thoughtfully and said, "You know that's true. In my preschool if you go to the paint cabinet, black is the only color that's always full."

And it isn't always so black and white or obvious as this. Take for instance the much more recent Global Babies, a Global Fund for Children book that's been making it's way popularly around Seattle and is often touted as a celebration of diversity:


The book represents 17 babies from 17 different cultures. I read it to my son a bunch when he was  little and at first found it pretty fabulous. But after a while I got to feeling funny. Why? I sat with it a while and realized, there are two U.S. babies pictured. One is white, the other is Native. Are there Asian babies in the book too? Yes, but they're not from here. Okay seriously. In a culture where we continue to battle the idea that Asians are un-American and where discriminatory practices against Asians have centrally involved exclusion based on foreignness, I don't find this kind of book very helpful, culturally sensitive or affirming.

So what DO we do? What I took away from my preschool teaching was a belief and a practice that I continue to use today. We don't have to be activists or lobbyists to rewrite the script (though if you are, my hat is definitely off to you). We can effect every day powerful change in our individual lives just by choosing carefully what we read with our children. Learn how to identify anti-bias books. It isn't that hard! I promise. See my November 2012 post Evaluating Children's Books for Bias. Once you get the hang of it it'll become like second nature to the point you won't even have to think about it. You can also always visit my Anti-Bias Children's Pinterest List. Then once you find the books, support them -- not only through reading/buying but also by asking teachers, libraries, bookstores, families and friends, etc. to do the same.

Isn't it cool to think we could change the world one children's book at a time?



6 comments :

  1. How ridiculous. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason why the pigs were portrayed as light pink and the wolf as dark brown is because that's how the animals are in real life? Not everything is a racial conspiracy. Also, just because a particular book doesn't cater to you and your racial heritage does not mean it is racist or even discriminatory. White authors of these books have every right to make books targeted to white children with whom they can relate more. If you feel that the lack of children books with nonwhite characters is a serious issue, then it is your responsibility to take the initiative and begin writing/publishing books that would appeal to nonwhite children. Whites have no obligation to cater to nonwhite children, just as black authors have no obligation to cater to white children. the anti-bias book list is a good idea and I support your overall goal, but please don't cry racism because white authors write primarily for white children.

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  2. I feel I can say this as a white woman, but this response seems so incredibly, well, white. I find it incredibly ignorant that the anonymous author states that (1) "whites have no obligation to cater to non-whites" and (2) it's the responsibility of the blog author to fix the problem of the lack of representation of non-white children in children's books. Now- as a white person I do not pretend to understand what it must feel like to NOT see myself/my children NOT to see themselves represented in books, movies, tv and so on- because we can see oursleves everywhere. BUT that does NOT mean it is not my problem! I do not hear the author stating that white children should be represented LESS, but that children of color should be represented MORE- a position I find quite difficult to challenge. And "cry racism"!? This makes even less sense to me: From what I know people of color want racism about as much as gay people want homophobia. Just because you do not feel YOU are being discriminated against does not mean it is not happening.

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  3. I feel I can say this as a white woman, but this response seems so incredibly, well, white. I find it incredibly ignorant that the anonymous author states that (1) "whites have no obligation to cater to non-whites" and (2) it's the responsibility of the blog author to fix the problem of the lack of representation of non-white children in children's books. Now- as a white person I do not pretend to understand what it must feel like to NOT see myself/my children NOT to see themselves represented in books, movies, tv and so on- because we can see oursleves everywhere. BUT that does NOT mean it is not my problem! I do not hear the author stating that white children should be represented LESS, but that children of color should be represented MORE- a position I find quite difficult to challenge. And "cry racism"!? This makes even less sense to me: From what I know people of color want racism about as much as gay people want homophobia. Just because you do not feel YOU are being discriminated against does not mean it is not happening.

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  4. So... yeah. Commenter #1 is obviously not familiar with the racist blackface imagery of the um..30s and 40s and probably other times. If this were like a lot of chicken little stories where they didn't anthropomorphize the animals, they might have a slight point. *slight.* but the wolf is very much representing a stereotype. Really, it doesn't matter what color the pigs are, because it would still represent a predatory black man.

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  5. Dear Anonymous, why so much hate and what world are you living in? The author of this blog is just stating that we need more authors to write more books celebrating our diverse world. She didn't say we need more white people writing books about non-white people. Also, I'm sure a lot of "white authors" would balk at what you said "White authors of these books have every right to make books targeted to white children with whom they can relate more." I'm sure the majority of "white authors" write books for everybody from around the world to enjoy (black, brown, red, white, pink). It's just that they write about what they know. Most white authors DO NOT write books just for white kids to read. The author of this blog is stating that we need more books that represents what being an American is all about - not just being white. America was built by immigrants from all over the world. That's what the author of the blog was saying. She was stating for example the lack of mixed race books, or books celebrating the beauty of multiculturalism. The author of the blog is not dinging white people. How can she when she is part white. If you read her blog entries, you will know that. So please "anonymous" get off your white platform and open your eyes to look at what the real world looks like -- the colors of the rainbow.
    If you look at some news articles, especially by CNN's Ashley Strickland, she wrote the article about the lack of diversity in YA books, http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/09/living/young-adult-books-diversity-identity/ And, OMG, Ms. Strickland is white! Demand for books with multicultural characters has risen in the last few years. And it's not just the people of color asking for #morediversebooks white people are asking for them as well. The author of this blog is just stating the obvious. Anonymous, take a chill pill and get with the times.

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  6. I think this is a very interesting article and I agree with most of it (though I'm personally not certain on the 3 little pigs analogy... pigs are kind of pinkish and wolves are kind of grayish). But I absolutely see it as important to read your children multicultural and multiracial books.

    I also wanted to comment on Anonymous's quote "Whites have no obligation to cater to nonwhite children." We *all* have an obligation as a society to care for all our children. And they certainly aren't all white. Exposing children to books of other races and cultures helps white kids (by teaching them diversity) and children of color (by validating who they are and showing them they belong). It isn't catering to nonwhite children, its catering to ALL children. Which is definitely needed.

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