Many people are familiar with the story of the “flesh” colored crayon. Part of Crayola’s second wave of color creation and from 1949-1962, the “flesh” crayon was a peachy-pink indicative of the white supremacist culture of the day. There is no way of knowing how many children of color told their stories with colors deemed less-than-flesh: goldenrod, sepia, raw sienna, raw umber. Many of us even remember the “indian red” crayon that was only recently renamed in 1999 for obvious reasons.
Crayola’s chronology website is open about its shady past, and while this particular staple of American childhood has grown up, many of the tools parents trust in their attempts to raise well-rounded, confident kids remain problematic.
Since the inception of Irene’s Daughters a few months ago, Nikki, Kate and I have all been talking about “bookshelf diversity.” In case you are just getting to know us, I highly recommend our Reading List tab where you can find great resources for a beginning or veteran anti-racist that might serve to balance your bookshelves.
Over the last week or so, we’ve been having an off-blog e-mail discussion about kids’ books. Kate has a young niece and Nikki and I both have children, so the topic is important to each of us. As a parent, I am always on the lookout for books that feature situations, themes, and topics that will help my kids learn about their world and themselves. These books can vary from those that teach about colors, to those that teach about family, to those that teach about feelings and friends, and some that teach about all of that.
While we three could all spend countless hours crawling the internet for helpful articles, bookstores or websites, we decided that we’d let our readers in on the fun and create a new tab just for Children’s Books. We will continue to add to the current list, but we wanted to open the floor to you folks and see what books you recommend.
We are also trying to provide information about the books, such as:
- Reading Level: what age group is this book intended for? (these numbers indicate reading skill level, not necessarily age-appropriateness; many of these books could be read aloud to younger children)
- Time Setting: is the story contemporary, historical (e.g. historical: 19th century; historical: Civil Rights movement), or myth/folktale/fantasy?
- Place Setting: what country (e.g. United States) or region (e.g. New England, Southwest) is the book set in? is the setting urban/suburban/small town/rural/ambiguous?
- Characters: are the main characters multiracial/multiethnic or predominantly one race/ethnicity?
- Theme: is race or racism a theme?
- Author(s)/Illustrator(s): what race or ethnicity are they?
At this point, we haven’t grouped the books by any sort of category. We’re still debating the best way to organize it, but our main goal is to present works that promote bookshelf diversity. We are looking for authors of color, characters of color or multiracial storytelling, contemporary and historic depictions of anti-racism, and anything that almost fits or fits all of the above criteria. We’re going for quality here, though quantity is also welcome.
We may also periodically offer our own reading lists and reviews in the form of blog posts, just as we do from time to time about reading material for grown-ups. As we’ve discussed before, the world of publishing is tricky to navigate when it comes to these issues. Many books about African Americans are set during the time of slavery. Many books about Asians are set in foreign countries or ancient times. Books about Native Americans often focus on folklore only.
We will undoubtedly talk about all of these subjects at various points, but know that we are not going into this endeavor “colorblind” to the tendency of the publishing world to stereotype or ignore authors and characters of color, and cater to certain “desirable” market demographics in discussions about race and prejudice.
We hope you’ll join us. As we’ve said before and as we will continue to say, we’re all learning here. Feel free to pick up a crayon (or more helpful, put your hands on the keyboard) and share a story or two with us.