Have you seen Mitali Perkins' (author of The Secret Keeper, Monsoon Summer, and other books for young people) article in School Library Journal, called Straight Talk on Race: Challenging the Stereotypes in Kids' Books? The idea is to help teachers and librarians to guide kids in noticing how race is depicted in the books they read, but I think the issues are relevant for all of us, and all types of literature. As a fledgling writer, I have to admit it made my head spin a little bit. So, I've decided to borrow her idea for this week's roll call.
Mitali suggests picking up a novel you like and exploring one or more of these five questions. She's done this with a few books in her article, including John Green's Paper Towns and Ursula Le Guin's Powers, so you can get a feel for it before you start. Click on the question to see Perkins' examples.
1. Are the nonwhite characters too good to be true? (or do they have depth that goes beyond their race, faults and all?)
2. How and why does the author define race? (Does it need to be defined? Is their race crucial to the plot?)
3. Is the cover art true to the story? (Perkins cites as an example the cover of Cynthia Kadohata’s novel Weedflower, in which the Japanese American main character is wearing a kimono, even though she's never described as wearing one in the text).
4. Who solves the problems in the story? (Would "Dances With Wolves" have been as popular with theater-goers without the white hero?)
5. How is beauty defined?
I'm not looking for anyone to define "good" vs. "bad" depictions of race, here. Asking the questions simply offers an opportunity to think about a book on a different level. Some of my favorite books are ultra-light on the diversity scale--that doesn't make them bad books or the authors insensitive clods. But if I read the book without noticing that all the characters are white middle class heterosexuals who eat bacon and eggs for breakfast and play basketball in their spare time, I'm missing something huge.
By the way, this roll call is open to anyone, of any shade, whether or not you've participated before or ever expect to again. Post your answer in comments or feel free to use Mr. Linky to link to a post on your blog.
*This is not to say that either bacon or eggs is, or desires to be, a white middle class heterosexual breakfast food. In fact, bacon and eggs can both be eaten by any demographic, at any time of day. With the possible exception of pigs, chickens, and vegans, who are sorely underrepresented in today's literature but manage to hold their own pretty well anyway.