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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Grade 7 Weekly Article, Due Tuesday, February 22

Please read the following article.  At the end, answer the question.  You must post your answer, and then at some point, come back and comment on what another person has said.  Do not just repeat someone else's answer.  Be sure to proofread your work before you post!

The Black Experience in Children's Books: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

by Walter Dean Myers

I was at a conference at a small school in Michigan. The focus of the conference was on literature for children. My talk had gone reasonably well, touching upon my own publications and my seven-year career as an editor. The question and answer period was divided into two sections, interrupted by a more than welcome coffee break. At the beginning of the second session a young man in the front of the auditorium raised his hand. He hadn't participated in the earlier session although I had noticed him taking careful notes.
"Mr. Myers, apart from your personal interest in multi-ethnic literature," he asked, "don't you think we've been harping on the issue of racism in children's books for some time now?"
The inference, of course, was that the "some time" had been too long a time. I asked him to elaborate on his question and, rather uncomfortably it seemed, he expressed the view that the push against racism in children's books, while commendable in itself, had become anachronistic in these enlightened times. What's more, the issue was being greatly overplayed by some people and some groups.
The response from the rest of the assembly was immediate. What buzzing there had been ceased. This was clearly a question that had been on more than one mind—and indeed I had heard similar questions from librarians and educators in Michigan, Kansas, New Jersey, New York and Texas, mostly within the last two years.
This essay is an attempt to answer, from my own viewpoint, this question: Is it time to say "enough" about racism in children's literature? I think I can express my viewpoint best by sharing my experiences as a Black writer.
I first became involved in writing for children some ten years ago by entering the CIBC's first contest for unpublished Third World writers. Before that I had been writing short fiction primarily, with only a dim awareness of the crying need for children's books reflecting the Third World experience. It became clear upon examination of the materials then available that books did not do for Black or other Third World children what they did for white children—they did not deliver images upon which Black children could build and expand their own worlds. But this was in 1969 and publishers and librarians alike were voicing similar concerns about the lack of suitable materials for Blacks and other Third World children. It was just, I felt, a matter of time before the situation would be rectified.
But I soon discovered that there was a lot of resistance, even resentment, to this idea. I visited my daughter's grade school in Brooklyn at the request of the school librarian. After speaking to a bright group of seven-year-olds I was introduced to the principal. I showed him my first book—Where Does the Day Go? (1969)—and he thumbed through it quickly, looking at the pictures. I fully expected him to say something tactfully complimentary. Instead, he said that he didn't feel that the book belonged in his school's library. There were no white children in the book! There were several Black children, a Japanese girl and a Puerto Rican boy, but no white child. I began to wonder if my work would be ignored—or remain unpublished—if I did not include white children. Would I be unable to write about all-Black neighborhoods?
My next book, The Dancers (1972), was published some two years later. I need not have been worried about not having white children in this book. The publisher introduced a white character for me. He's not in the story, but he appears in as many pictures as possible and seems to be in the story. This being a Black writer was not going to be an easy task.
The Dancers and The Dragon Takes a Wife (1972) inspired some of the most virulent hate mail imaginable. I've received hate mail in response to my magazine articles—an article about interracial adoption drew a lot of angry letters from whites, for instance—but the mail about these children's books represented a different beast altogether. The letters were primarily from parents, people who could keep my work from school shelves and from local libraries. Many correspondents were furious that I—a Black author—had "invaded" the white world of fairy tales; "obscene" was one of their milder labels for The Dragon Takes a Wife.
But, despite these minor annoyances, I still felt that the time was soon coming when literature for Black children would really blossom and that all children's literature would be truly humanistic. The accusations that Black writers wouldn't or couldn't write well was being mocked by the CIBC contest, which had attracted a host of good Third World writers, excited by the opportunity to chronicle their own experiences. Such writers as Sharon Bell Mathis, Ray Sheppard, Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, Margaret Musgrove and Mildred Taylor were demonstrating that not only were they excellent writers but that their work did have viable markets.
By the mid-seventies, however, the promise of the late sixties and early seventies seemed suddenly hollow. The number of Black writers being published decreased as Black political activity decreased. The reasons for this were clear. Publishing companies had never tried to develop markets for Third World literature. Instead, they had relied upon purchases made through Great Society government funds, and when these were phased out the publishers began to phase out Third World books. Books were spaced so that their publication would not coincide with other Black books because sales representatives complained that they couldn't represent too many at one time. A look at the most recent catalogs shows that there are fewer books being published for Black children now than a decade ago....
I have had good experiences in my writing career as well as bad. But while I am hopeful for my own efforts I am not hopeful for the body of literature that still needs to be produced. I am not hopeful for the writers who are being turned away because "Black books aren't selling." I am not hopeful for the librarian who claims to love children and children's literature and yet can tell me that American children who are white do not need to learn of the Black experience, or that the Black experience need no longer be chronicled with truth and compassion. But most of all I am not hopeful for the millions of Third World children who will be forced to grow up under the same handicaps that I thought, a decade ago, that we were beginning to overcome. I'm afraid that the time has not yet come to say "enough" about racism in children's books.

Do you agree or disagree with Mr. Myers?  Explain your answer.

Update:  This is not an essay on whether or not there is still racism.  It is about whether or not the topic of African American oppression and history should still be present in children's and young adult's literature.  Look at my comment below before you write your own comment.

Why the necessity in children's literature, specifically fiction? What are the consequences of Myers' quote, "A look at the most recent catalogs shows that there are fewer books being published for Black children now than a decade ago...."


  1. I agree with Mr. Myers because there is still racism in this world, but it's hidden. When you hear the word "racism," you normally think about the situation between black and white, but it is in all types ethnicity. I believe that no matter if you are black, white, Hispanic, purple, pink or blue, you should not think that your race is better than another. I also believe that you should not think that your race is lower than another but equal. Like Mr. Myers said "I'm afraid that the time has not yet come to say 'enough' about racism in children's books."

  2. What a great first response! What I'm still wondering, Sania, and all of you 7th graders, is why the necessity in children's literature, specifically fiction? What are the consequences of Myers' quote, "A look at the most recent catalogs shows that there are fewer books being published for Black children now than a decade ago...."

  3. I think that the racism issue is a touchy subject.But in spite of that I think that Mr. Myers is corrct.Racism is a topic that avoided in a lot of books.People think that the whole racisim issue was long ago and now nobody does it.If poeple were more informed about this topic more people would adress this issue. I beleive that the Glory Field is not one of the books Mr. Myers was talking about.This book is helping me to understand the discrimination against all people.And just for the recored I have seen racism in my own community. It is still out there

  4. I actually agree with Mr. Myers because racism is a problem and people are not really realizing that it is just not necessary. All the ethnicities should actually unite. I also agree with Sania because it is completely true that racism is still a factor and it is hiddin. When you see different places like Naperville, Forest Park, or even Oak Park you see both african american and white chidren and even adults playing in parks and laughing together. This article really is important and needs to be read by many because there still are racist groups out in the world and there are also groups in the world that are against racism and have faught it for decades. All the comments so far both by Sania and Kasen are good and they really do hit the main points of the article.

  5. Sultan Benson

    I agree with Mr. Myers because racism is a problem in our country. I feel that not all races need to be separated because we are all the same no matter what color. He focuses on the main points on the races. In my community, many people out in my community no matter what their race is we can bond on some certain things. Some of the people are racist but most are feeling that we are equally united. I do feel that Sania, Trent, and Kasen would have focused on the main parts of the story.

  6. I do agree with Mr. Myers because I feel that racism is still out there and sometimes the children of our community don't recognize it because they are to young to understand whats happening.I think Mr. Myers just want the racism to stop and the only way he is going to do that is by speaking to our children first because they are the future leaders of our world.Also he wants people of all different types of skin or cultures to unedrstand that the racism in our world is still strong and it wont stop unless we inform our children about this situation.I believe that the more children who are informed about the racism in our world, the better that they can understand it and try to make a plan on how to stop it.I agree with Sultan, Trent, Sania, and Kasen because they all are focusing on how racism in our community is hidden but it still is going on everywhere around us.I believe that Mr.Myers is a good author because he wants to let the children know of this situation and doesn't want to hide it from them.

  7. I very much so agree with Mr.Myers.The books I see today do not tell about black history or history itself.People go around reading and doing whatever else but fail to see/read between the lines.I think that it should not matter what race you are but that you be proud of it.I also think that there should be books for all childern so that they can learn about the history of their people and where their family comes from.I remember this one quote "There is enough history to make one proud of his or her race.Why not then teach the child more about himself or herself and less of other,more his or her elevation and less of their degradation.This can produce true pride of race which begets mutual confidence and unity." That quote says alot and in a way says it all.So yes I agree with Mr.Myers and Sania.

    Khadijah A

  8. I agree with Mr. Myers that racism should be present in children's and young adult's literature. I think that it will teach "the kids of the future" the awful physical and emotional pain racism caused. I think that we can learn from the mistakes that existed in the past and learn from them so it doesn't exist in the future world. I think the fewer books published for black children causes a piece of our history and culture to be lost. I agree with Angie that the only way to get through the minds of our youth and create a new world is to talk to our children about touche subjects like these. The kids of today are more technologically advanced so they hear in the news about important topics like racism, so I think thats the cause of the decrease in black books being published today.

  9. I'm not going to play the I agree game with her/him. But I do agree with Mr. Meyers because young children need to be prepared at a young age for the advanced hatred that black people faced inn America's history. Arena does make a point that it causes some of our nation's history and culture to be lost. And also the statistic that there are fewer books being published for Black children is very discouraging because black children come up from the ghetto wanting to make a difference in their life and change. They want to become these doctors, lawyers, and judges. Yet no one wants to create riveting and inspiring novels.

  10. I agree with Mr.Myers because I think that no matter what age people are, they still need to know about this issue of racism. Even though it might have been a bigger problem in the past, it is still present and hasn't gone away. Racism can hurt people physically and emotionally so everyone needs to know about this topic.

  11. I agree with Arena that fewer books published about black children will cause a piece of our history and culture to be lost because everyone needs to know about problems that we have in the world and how people are suffering. I am not saying that all stories about black children have to be about bad subjects.

  12. I do agree with Mr. Myers because racism is a problem and it has been for a really long time. I think that younger children should know about it because they are going to experience it for the rest of their lives no matter what. There is always going to be at least one person who doesn’t like you because of your race. Experiencing the types of thing that people will do because they don’t like your ethnic background will help to prepare them for what lies ahead.
    Rachel Abraham :)

  13. Well of course there is still racism in our era of children's book. Everybook we have read so far in any class that had to do with blacks and whites and rascism. Thank God it is not always the Blacks that are being the topic of steryotypes but Native Americans as well.If the overall answer of my content is still not notified,I agree. Immean is it that hard to say something positive about our race. Whenever we have tried to take a stand,"they" had to decide the were better than us and take us down for standing up for our wrights. And if it is that bad of a problem that we are getting boasted about in Chilren's Books;however, that is unsanitary. As if there is nothing else to talk about but how bad our race is.

  14. I agree with Mr.Myers, and i do think that it should be apart of young kids literature. I say this because young people should learn about what there heritage and culture had to go through. They should learn about it early so that they can teach the future generations about what happened, and so on. They should be able to get the knowledge they need to know about the past and all the racism and prejudice their ancestors went through.
    Jeremiah Jones

  15. I agree with Mr. Myers, i do think it should be in childrens literature because they should be able to know about their herritage so when they ger older they would be able to share the information they learned to the children so it can transmit to so many different generations.
    Walter L. Hardy

  16. I agree with Mr.Myers.African American oppression and history should be in children's literature because it's history. Children should learn about how far this nation, and it's people have come from the days of slavery. Learning about it will only help them better understand things that are going on.
    Nia J

  17. I agree with what everyone is saying about racism I children should know about racism too because it’s a huge part of our country history and s a major problem in our country and I agree with Mr. Myers. I also think that younger aspectual with African Americans children because what are insisters went through with slavery and racism.
    Aaron M. :)

  18. I agree with Jeremiah because children should know about their heritage and culture so they can appreciate the life they have now.Racism is an issue of the past and of today, and they should know the history.

  19. I agree with Mr. Myers because, there shouldn't be any problems involving books that does not include pictures or a race of another kind. Sure, there may be a few sensitive people who are offended by pictures (that does not include there race)but, this should not mean that there should be negative comments going to Mr. Myers who obviously wants children to have a better understanding of how we are not that different
    and how there is still racism going on in the world today.
    (Elijah Milton)

  20. To start, I think it is more reasonable to expose the children today to fiction rather than non-fiction because it could possible corrupt their minds. This corruption could lead to false interpretations of the decisions of those/that time and could lead into hatred and misjudgement.

    On the other hand, I feel that Mr. Myers was wrong, these types of books could be useful as a view into the past to discover what it was like in a different perspective. Therefore, they should still be wriiten and produce.

  21. I agree with Mr. Myers, children’s literature should not be predominately white. The third world children should be able to read what they want. It is sad to say that there are not as many African American literature books being published like there were a decade ago. Every author should write in many styles so we can have a variation of books to read.

  22. I agree with Rachel because books written by black authors open the eyes of the next generation. These books will help them with what lies ahead. Personally that is what I thought books are supposed to do.

  23. I agree with Nia because if children dont appreciate the heritage, then they wont get to understand where they came from. They wont understand the real value of life and how hard you have to work to survive. Racism is still a big issue today. I believe that when slavery ended, racism should have to. Since this is an important issue, I think it deserves to be recognized in history book.
    Desiree Y. Bass

  24. cameron pullum

    I agree with Mr. Myers that (childrens's) books should not be mostly black. the childern need to know of black peoples past. I feel that there needs to be more books about black peoples past. We need to teach the next generation about the past of black people and white people.

    cameron pullum

  25. cameron pullum

    I agree with nia that black people have come a long way and kids need to know that. I also agree with Racism is an issue of the past and of today because it is not over an I think we still have a long way to go.

  26. I agree with Nia. Black people have come a long way and the youth should know that. I think racials is stil a very important issue today. I think this because people still believe they are better than a differennt race of people. I think this can all change one day if we work very hard to achieve it.

    Chris Arter