Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Inviting a Variety of Voices and Cultures to the Bookshelf

Today marks an effort by book lovers and bloggers to celebrate Multicultural Children's Book Day. It's an opportunity to introduce readers young and old to new characters and voices, to step inside worlds we're not familiar with and meet families that are new to us. I think of it like those early years of school, when we piled together on the reading rug and were transported to new places.

This past Friday at the cozy 57th Street Books on Chicago's South Side, the Chicago writing community gathered to hear four authors talk about their books and to call for more variety in publishing through the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. Their stories are worth checking out.

Photo by Betsy Rubin
From left: Crystal Chan, Ami Polonsky, Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, and Natasha Tarpley.
Claudia Guadalupe Martinez is the author of two middle-grade novels, the award-winning The Smell of Old Lady Perfume and Pig Park (both from Cinco Puntos). Claudia calls Chicago home now, but she grew up in El Paso, Texas. The Smell of Old Lady Perfume is set along the border, both literally and figuratively, as the main character, Chela, is on the cusp of adolescence. It's a heartfelt portrayal of a family in turmoil and the pain of growing up.

Her more recent book, Pig Park, tells the story of Masi, who fears what's ahead as her neighborhood becomes like a ghost town since the biggest business, a lard company, has moved out. She begins to build a giant pyramid in the nearby park in the hopes of attracting visitors. From the jacketflap: "Pig Park is a contemporary Faustian tale that forces us to look at the desperate lengths people will go to in the name of community–and maybe love."

Natasha Tarpley's I Love My Hair and Bippity-Bop Barbershop are celebrations of African American identity as well as universal rites of passage all children can identify with. As noted at the panel discussion: "We all have hair! We all get haircuts! We all brush our hair!" These are beautifully written and adorably illustrated books that will resonate with readers of all stripes. Natasha is also the founder of Voonderbar productions, an independent publishing company that produces multicultural books for children.

Ami Polonsky's debut novel, Gracefully Grayson, poses the question, What if who you are on the outside doesn't match who you are on the inside? It tells the story of sixth-grade Grayson who is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender's body. Kirkus Reviews calls it "A kind and earnest look at a young transgender adolescent’s experience."

Crystal Chan's Bird (Atheneum) is about a girl who belongs to the only mixed-race family in her town and the tragedy that haunts them. Crystal tapped into her experiences growing up in Wisconsin as one of the few mixed-race kids in her community. School Library Journal calls Bird a "powerful story about loss and moving on."

Looking for more multicultural titles to explore? PragmaticMom has some great lists, as does School Library Journal.
Standing room only for the Jan. 23 SCBWI South Chicago panel discussion on diversity in children's literature, part of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.

1 comment:

  1. I attended this event and found it enlightening and informative.