White nationalism is on the rise in the US and nativism is in the ascendant across the globe. What role can literature for children play in teaching the next generation to be more empathetic, to respect difference, and to reject hatred? How do we find children’s books that promote these values? And what do we do with classics that offend?
Over on the Oxford University Press blog today, you’ll find “7 Questions We Should Ask About Children’s Literature,” including:
… and 6 more questions.
Oxford UP asked me to write the post to help promoteÂ Was the Cat in the Hat Black? My own aspiration was also to write something that could be useful in evaluating books for young readers. Â Here’s hoping that the questions can be of some help to educators, parents, publishers, and all who are involved with children’s literature.
If you’d like to learn more, Oxford University Press has created three short videos (featuring me) addressing some of the subjects in the book.
1. What do children’s books tell us about society? (90 seconds)
2. Literary Activism with Children’s Books (2 minutes, 50 seconds)
3. The Responsibility of Authors Writing Children’s Literature (2 minutes)
Historical context from Rudine Sims Bishop (3 minutes, 30 seconds)
Rudine Sims Bishop’s work is foundational (I mention Professor Bishop in the second video, above). My book builds upon the work of lots of smart scholars, including Bishop, Michelle Martin, Robin Bernstein, Kate Capshaw, and many others. Was the Cat in the Hat Black? wouldn’t be possible without their groundbreaking work.
Related posts on this blog, including glimpses of the work in progress:
- Free Book: Goodreads Giveaway of Was the Cat in the Hat Black? (1 Sept. 2017)
- Racism & Seuss: It’s not a bug. It’s a feature. (A Twitter Essay) (12 Aug. 2017)
- Was the Cat in the Hat Black? – cover reveal (19 Dec. 2016).
- Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and Why We Need Diverse Books (4 Dec. 2015). The announcement of the book’s publication. It inspired a response from Debbie Reese, which in turn prompted me to change the title. Upon learning that “We Need Diverse Books” is trademarked (by the excellent We Need Diverse Books organization), I changed “Why We Need Diverse Books” to “the Need for Diverse Books.”
- The Archive of Childhood, Part 2: The Golliwog (13 Jan. 2015). A revised version of this blog post appears as part of the book’s introduction (“Race, Racism, and the Cultures of Childhood”).
- Was the Cat in the Hat Black? (22 June 2014). An earlier version of the title chapter (“The Strange Career of the Cat in the Hat; or, Dr. Seuss’s Racial Imagination”) appeared as an article, in Children’s Literature 42 (2014).
- On Reading the Expurgated Huck Finn; or, Why We Should Teach Offensive Novels (17 Oct. 2014). I wrote this blog post so that I could write about Alan Gribben’s expurgated edition of Twain. Pieces of this appear (in revised form) in Chapter 2, “How to Read Uncomfortably: Racism, Affect, and Classic Children’s Books.”
- Can Censoring a Children’s Book Remove Its Prejudices? (19 Sept. 2010). My earliest thinking on what became Chapter 2 (“How to Read Uncomfortably”), and one of the most frequently cited posts from this blog. I hope that – in future – people cite the book chapter… because it’s better!
- “The Boundaries of Imagination”; or, the All-White World of Children’s Books, 2014 (17 March 2014). On the occasion of the New York Times pieces by Christopher Myers and Walter Dean Myers, a collection of information and essays about the fight for diversity in children’s literature.
- Disagreement, Difference, Diversity: A Talk by Christopher Myers (24 Oct. 2015). A few thoughts and notes on an excellent talk by Christopher Myers. I quote from his talk in the book.
- Regarding the Pain of Racism (4 Apr. 2015). Reflections on an observation by Naomi Murakawa, and on my challenges as a White male scholar writing about oppressions I have not experienced. A few slivers of this appear in the Conclusion, “A Manifesto for Anti-Racist Children’s Literature.”
- Ferguson: Response & Resources (24 Aug. 2014). I began this book before the Black Lives Matter movement began, but it and its leaders have informed my work.
- #BlackLivesMatter – A Twitter Essay (3 Dec. 2014). Daniel Pantaleo is on video choking Eric Garner to death. When a grand jury said there was no need for a trial, I wrote this.
- Again. And Again. And… ENOUGH! (7 July 2016). The murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile inspired this. #BlackLivesMatter
- Charleston, Family History, and White Responsibility (22 June 2016). A response to the terrorism in Charleston, South Carolina. Following sustained critique from family members, I removed this from the blog – the first time that I’ve altered a post for reasons other than finding an error or a typo. However, the Wayback Machine preserved the post. Ideas expressed in it emerge in the book (notably, the end of Chapter 3), but (unlike the original post) do so without identifying specific individuals.