Category Archives: #WNDB

Time to Listen Tuesday

© Steven Shorrock via Flickr Creative Commons

© Steven Shorrock via Flickr Creative Commons

Privilege cannot be evaluated in terms of black and white. Privilege by nature is comparative and perceptual. It seems to be part of the human experience to struggle, yet there is a quantitative difference between the struggle to put food before our children or overcome a history of sexual abuse or live with the increased likelihood of attack or incarceration because of skin color…and the struggle to find a parking spot in the city, or host the in-laws for dinner, or get our work published. No matter what the struggle, no matter how privileged we are in this way or that, we seem to have the tendency to magnify our own obstacles, and overlook our advantages.

If you haven’t yet read Ellen Oh’s magnificent article Dear White Writers about defending/creating space for people of color to tell their own stories, go read it now. She voices important concerns about the role of writers privileged by their skin color/ethnic background in supporting and participating in the movement for diverse children’s literature.

According to Lee & Low’s Diversity Baseline Survey, a 2015 statistical analysis of diversity in publishing for children, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks train is still parked at the station. In the past, there wasn’t a train at all, and diverse books just had to walk themselves to the publisher and wait at the back door for a turn to get in. Then maybe there was an occasional train, but no posted schedule and not enough cars. Now we’ve got one line, just one train that leaves once a day, and everyone’s crowding to get on. Who gets a ticket for that train?

What we need to do is take over the train station. When all of us consumed with creating books for children are writing from an expanded perception of the ways our society privileges some over others, and our own roles in that system, we will need more trains. Old lines of thinking and publishing will become obsolete, and those trains will refurbished for a more just and equitable world.

How do we expand our perceptions? It’s not easy and it’s not comfortable. But that’s something we writers already know a lot about. We know how to play with ideas and challenge the absurd. We know how to fill our pens with agony and write toward healing, how to break open the fiction of any -ism to write toward the truth. And we know how to listen.

Time to Listen Tuesday is a new series dedicated to listening to the voices that are speaking out for diverse books for children.

Today’s featured author is Libba Bray, whose post In Support of Ellen Oh challenges us all to confront our own racism, to “do it right…as truth-tellers”, to be “better writers and better humans.” Thank you, Libba Bray, for inviting us to listen.

Listen here:

Image thanks to Steven Shorrock, Creative Commons license

Windows/Mirrors Book Review: Ling & Ting, Not Exactly the Same

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

Ellen Oh‘s article Dear White Writers poses some interesting questions for me as a curator of this Diverse Book Review series. She challenges white writers to support #WNDB by reading, buying and promoting diverse books, not necessarily by attempting to write them. That is not to say that authors can never cross color/other lines in their fiction–many writers of many backgrounds do this successfully. But what happens when privileged writers claim the diverse spaces on publishers’ booklists when we know that those spaces are limited? Writers of color and other diverse backgrounds can get edged out of the opportunity to tell their own stories, as described by Jacqueline Woodson in her post “Who Can Tell My Story?”. Not okay.

So for today’s Windows/Mirrors Book Review, and in honor of the Year of the Monkey, I am pleased to present, telling her own story:

Ling & TIng Not Exactly the SameLing & Ting: Not Exactly the Same, by Grace Lin, Little, Brown and Company, 2010

“‘Oh good,” Ling says. ‘I know this story.’”

If you were ever a fan of Frog & Toad, you will love Ling & Ting. Grace Lin perfectly captures the back and forth of a close friendship between two very different people, and like Arnold Lobel, highlights those differences as the root of the loving humor in her stories.

Read this book because it’s the first of four, so you will get to spend a lot of time with these spunky sisters. The language of each chapter cycles back on itself in a way that always moves the story forward, so it supports readers without becoming repetitive. Likewise, the structure of the book builds a cumulative story to a satisfying ending.

Add this book to your collection because Lin has thoughtfully layered her work to be engaging, accessible to new readers, culturally normative AND culturally informative. Its main characters—two twin girls of Chinese descent—challenge the racist stereotype that “all Asians look alike,” something that Lin considered carefully when developing her story. In the illustrations, the Ling & Ting not only dress identically, but also look identical, until the fateful moment early in the series when the irrepressible Ting cannot sit still for her haircut. But in personality the girls could not be more distinct, even though they amiably share interests and activities in all the stories.

“Making Dumplings” was one of my favorite stories, especially with the artistic reference to In the Night Kitchen on the title page. Lin manages to weave in the cultural meaning of dumplings  without being the least bit didactic, in a way that further illuminates the premise of the entire book—to be twins does not mean to be exactly the same. The following story, “Chopsticks,” hilariously relates a common childhood experience for many—the challenge of chopsticks.

As a writer, I particularly admire the metaliterary element of the stories “The Library Book,” in which a book refers Ting back to an earlier story, and “Mixed Up,” which like Lobel’s “The Story,” contains a story within a story.

More Books by Grace Lin include:

Novels—

Chapter Books—

Picture Books—

Illustrated by Grace Lin—

More from Grace Lin:

“Books erase bias, they make the uncommon every day, and the mundane exotic. A book makes all cultures universal.” —Grace Lin