Racial Awareness and Children’s Literature

I created a session for the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ conference entitled, Stepping into Writing Across Culture.  The following begins my posts on the subject.  I offer my journey in these posts as a white writer who writes books about people in cultures not my own. I’ve been studying white privilege as a key factor in the discussion of the responsibility of  white children’s book creators who seek to portray cultures outside their own experience.

My first step has been to explore blogs, essays, books on the subject of race and children’s literature and in this post I offer a bibliography of resources on issues of race in children’s and young adult books.

I also want to share a key idea that is a vital starting place: children’s books cannot portray a race, a culture, an ethnic group, a category of people.  Our responsibility is to portray the individual. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a book in the form of a letter to his son, Between the World and Me. He helped me see this vast responsibility we have as we create for children with these lines about enslavement: “Slavery is a particular, specific enslaved woman whose mind is as active as your own, whose range of feelings as vast as your own, who prefers how the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, excels at dressmaking and knows inside herself that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone.”

Resources on Issues of Race and Culture in Children’s and YA Books

Book Cover Project

The New School for Children librarian Allie Jane Bruce and students had a series of discussions about the covers of young adult books and representations of and race, stereotypes, and other issues.

Examining Multicultural Picture Books

Diversity in YA

Dear Ellen, You are not Me


Dear White Writers Ellen Oh’s Blog post

Educating Alice


The Open Book Lee & Low blog

Reading While White

Writing Diversity While White

From the Outside, post by Linda Sue Park

” I don’t know of a single good fiction writer who doesn’t write outside their own experience. Period. But here’s the thing: Not all ‘outsides’ are created equal.

“Who Can Tell My Story” by Jacqueline Woodson

Thanks for reading. I will follow with the story of my interviews with writers and illustrators and wisdom we have gathered in the process.  I want to share this wisdom with you.

Joseph’s Big Ride in Three Languages at Broken Ground School

Joseph’s Big Ride got a magnificent launch at Concord, New Hampshire’s Broken Ground School with students from many refugee families.  I came for Family Night. Everybody  got ice cream sundaes, then came and listened to the story in the gym. Families were from all parts of the world and many families were from Rwanda and Bhutan. So the best part of sharing a story written only  in English is that I read with two colleagues, one from Bhutan, one from Rwanda. And we read in  THREE languages! English, Nepali, and Kinyarwanda. Magic! And a talented teacher painted Joseph and Whoosh from the story on the gym door!Luis LaunchBrokenGround Broken Ground with drawing Drawing Joseph Broken Ground Joseph Readers BrokenGround Broken Ground with Fiona, Terry, and moreHere are some photos:


“Chnam Oun 16” and Either the Beginning or the End

bo-sf-CREDIT-HeathOrchardWhen I heard the song “I am 16” – “Chnam Oun 16” – by Bochan, I thought she must speak for so many Cambodian daughters, mothers, and grandmothers with her gripping lyrics of survival. And Bochan has just said, Yes, we can use her song as the audio for a book trailer for Either the Beginning,  and I think nothing in the world could honor my character Sofie and her family more.  Thank you, Bochan. Her dad was a pop musician in Cambodia in the early 1970s, playing psychedelic music brought to South East Asia from the west.  Bochan brings his version – and her own interpretation – to America. Bochan writes, “I get to chose my identify.”  Sofie wants this same thing.

BochanFullMoonMonday“I Am 16” is on Bochan’s album Full Monday Moon. The Cambodian Alliance for the Arts says the album “captures the Cambodian-American experience, a conglomeration of varied cultural influences. The album isn’t purely one thing, and neither is contemporary Khmer identity—it’s a heady, explosive mix that creates something new, both loyal to its influences and different from them.” Here’s some more about Bochan:

Studio 360 “Bochan: A Cambodian-American Idol

PRI – “Oakland Singer fuses Cambodian Psychedelic Rock and Hip Hop

Stay tuned:  Curious City with videographer Fred Okot Ben are creating a trailer for Either the Beginning or the End. Bochan welcomed us to use “I am 16” as soundtrack for the video. Coming soon:  video trailer, and giveways of the novel and Bochan’s CD, Full Monday Moon.