105 Ways to Give a Book

Booklights, and a Question of Race in Reviews

Today I’m sharing thirteen of my favorite picture books about summer over at PBS Booklights. I worked hard to make a list that showed the many different ways that kids enjoy summer, even though I found I could easily find that many books on the beach alone. As a beach lover, I worked against instinct to include only two, maybe three choices that covered the shore. Maybe the next list will be all beach books.

I also worked to incorporate diversity into the list. I had a number of books in mind that featured children of color, and at the same time I still wanted to show a variety of summer settings. I did come across an issue that I’d like to put up for discussion. With a one-sentence summary to work with, should every book that features a child of color be identified as such? On the one hand, I’d like to make sure that people know that there are books showing African American children. On the other hand, I don’t label all the other books as featuring Caucasian children. What makes sense to you?

In one book, I reference the Spanish words in the text, which fairly implies a Hispanic family. Another book shows a visit to India, which establishes a multicultural title. But I handled the three books about African American children differently and without knowing which is most correct. In one book, Come On, Rain! I didn’t mention it at all other than that it was an urban setting. In Think Cool Thoughts, I didn’t mention race, but I did include a picture of the cover. In Summer Sun Risin’, I did say that it was an African American family because I felt like people might not expect that in a book about a farm.

So my question to you is how do you think race should be addressed in a quick review?

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tanita✿davis said...

Pam, you did the exact right thing -- a few cover shots, the words "African American," and just a good description. Excellent.

It doesn't always have to be put right out there, I don't think -- and that you thought of that at all is just so very you. (Thoughtful, I mean.)

Kids should be looking at picture books in terms of ...words and pictures and themes. I think it's nice to highlight books for African American families, Spanish language books and the like -- but I think it's a mistake for any parent to single out ONLY books from their ethnic group, because we share the world, we don't live in it alone with only our tribe.

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

I agree with Tanita; the variety of ways you highlighted each book worked out perfectly. It makes sense to me to mention the race or ethnicity of the main characters in a picture book when it's part of the story or makes the story special in some way (as in Summer Sun Risin'); otherwise, I'm not sure it's necessary.
Thanks for a fantastic list...and a thought-provoking question!

web said...

As issue I have struggled with as well, for the same reasons. I tend to do the same, try to reference without labeling. It can be tricky.

Debbie said...

I don't have an answer for you, but I find the question very intriguing. I wish we didn't feel we had to address it and could just say "people".

Amy said...

What a great question. I think maybe we assume a little too often that if it isn't stated the books will be about people "like us" (speaking as a white heterosexual female). Usually race or sexual orientation, if it is different, is mentioned.

I don't know though if I like this or not. I like it in that if people are trying to read diversely they will be more apt to pick it up, but at the same time, what about those more close-minded that won't pick it up because it is about 'different' people?

I like how you referenced some of them without specifically mentioning it, because it isn't something that needs to be mentioned, I don't think. Or at least I'd like to get to a point where a fiction is fiction no matter who it is about :D So great job!

:paula said...

In my library, there's no question that, for some parents, the presence of African American, South Asian, Asian, Muslim, or Orthodox characters will help guarantee that a book will go in the basket rather than back on the shelf.

So I do want my reviews to be in some way flagged. On Pink Me I make do with a tag. My tag is 'diversity' and it covers diversity of ability, ethnicity, gender, race, and religion. Unless it's part of the story, as you say, I don't mention those things in the review.

Although with some books I wish I could find a way to bring that in -for example, Gregor's appearance is written very circumspectly in The Underland Chronicles, and I have always suspected Suzanne Collins did that so a variety of kids could identify with him. Most writers don't mention a character's race unless it's part of the story.

Anyway, I'm not answering your question. My answer is: I think it's tricky. I think you did it perfectly.

Unknown said...

First - I love Come on, Rain! Has a great cover and love the story! Even the title has rhythm.

Next - I think you did fine. I'm glad you cared.