Silence, Sorrow, and Separation

Silence, Sorrow, and Separation: Birth Mothers and Birth Searching in Children’s Literature

img_1573

Where is home? Is it with the families that raised us? For many adoptees of color, loving our parents or siblings does not prevent us from feeling that we are missing a piece of ourselves. As young children, we search in vain for someone who resembles us, who can show us our connectedness to the rest of humanity… All adoptees are faced with the dilemma of whether to search for our birthmothers and the possibility of another rejection if we do find them… Intensely emotional and unpredictable, our reunion stories have become fodder for public consumption, sparking curiosity and voyeurism. (Introduction to Outsiders Within, 2006, p. 11)

Being adopted is a passive situation. Looking for birth parents, by contrast, is a choice. (Marianne Novy, Reading Adoption, 2005, p. 2)

[ An important disclaimer: I am not an adopted Korean nor am I the birth mother of an adopted person. I am the daughter of immigrant Koreans. About 15 years ago, I began studying representations of Korean adoption in children’s literature for my doctoral dissertation. In 2009, I moved to Minnesota, the epicenter of transracial Korean adoption (Park Nelson, 2018), where I met my husband, who is an adopted Korean. As an Adoption Studies scholar, I prioritize listening to the voices of adopted persons and drawing from critical adoption studies.

My goal with this post is to amplify the voices of adopted persons and their birth mothers, the two silenced members of the adoption constellation. ]

“The fact that I lost my son permeates my being.” 

In 2012, I saw children’s book author Lois Lowry during her book tour for Son, the final book in The Giver quartet. Lowry spoke about how the death of her son during a flight accident was one of her inspirations for writing the book. She told The New York Times, “The fact that I lost my son permeates my being.” The NYTimes continues, “And that loss permeates ‘Son’ as well. It’s a book of longing in the guise of an adventure. Children will love it. It will break their parents’ hearts.”

That evening, I thought, “Son is a birth search story.” I asked Lowry if she had done research on adoption, birth mothers, and birth searching for this book, and she paused and replied that she hadn’t thought of Son as an adoption narrative. I knew then that someday I wanted to write about it. Though I have been researching representations of Korean adoption in youth literature since the early 2000s, I have not seen Korean birth mothers depicted with much depth and care (Somebody’s Daughter by Marie Myung-Ok Lee is generally advertised as an adult novel). This may be because American children’s books depicting Korean transracial adoption are primarily written by white women, and particularly by white adoptive mothers, who fail to “imagine” (Thomas, The Dark Fantastic) the experiences of Korean birth mothers.

 In 2019, I presented a version of this essay at the biennial congress of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature (Stockholm). The theme of the congress was “Silence and Silencing in Children’s Literature” and my presentation was part of a panel titled, “Shattering Silences and Stereotypes in Transnational Adoption Narratives,” along with adoptees Shannon Gibney and Tobias Hübinette.

Birth Mothers and Adoption Discourse in the United States and Republic of Korea

The U.S. and Korea dominate in terms of both adoption practice and critical adoption studies (see Kim Park Nelson’s Invisible Asians, 2016, and Kimberly Mckee’s Disrupting Kinship, 2019). Korean transnational adoption began in the 1950s during the Korean War and escalated through the 1980s, when thousands of children were sent for overseas adoption. More than 200,000 Koreans have been adopted to countries outside of Korea, with about half going to the United States (see Tobias Hübinette for a history through 2004; see also Kim Park Nelson; Eleana Kim; Kimberly McKee; Elizabeth Raleigh). 

Birth mothers are often rendered invisible members of the adoption constellation. Specifically, many Korean birth mothers suffer in silence. In Virtual Mothering: Birth Mothers and Transnational Adoption Practice in South Korea (2016), Hosu Kim writes about how poverty, being widowed, abuse, rape, and the stigma of single motherhood lead many Korean women to relinquish their children; fathers are rarely held accountable. As American demand for adoptable children increased, Korea sent away thousands of children, turning a system that originally found families for children into one that found children for families. Social workers admitted to going to poor neighborhoods in search of single mothers and pressuring them to place their children for adoption. Consequently, for a while now, 95% of the children adopted out of Korea were born to single mothers; their “social death” (Orlando Patterson and Jodi Kim, cited in Hosu Kim, 2016, p. 9) is what renders children available for adoption. They are, as Lois Lowry writes, a “vessel.”

We have most commonly seen Korean birth mothers on Korean television shows as they are being reunited with their children. But these scripted reunions hardly allow birth mothers to speak for themselves (Kim, 2016). By individuating birth mothers and ignoring the larger multi-decade, multi-million dollar “transnational adoption industrial complex” (McKee, 2019), Kim writes that “the search and reunion narrative enforces a normative motherhood in which birth mothers remain disconnected from South Korea’s long history of transnational adoption and trapped in a sense of shame and guilt for their failure of mothering, and thus further discourages them from speaking about their experiences” (2018, p. 323). 

Birth mothers in the United States are also silenced. Ann Fessler says in The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Their Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade (2006): “… it is remarkable that so little is known about these mothers’ experiences even now, decades later. This silence has also kept many of these women from learning about one another and understanding that their feelings of grief and loss were normal…” (p. 12). Fessler  shares the stories of women who were, in the words of one woman, “told they must surrender their child, keep their secret, move on and forget” (p. 9). The women, who were mostly teenagers at the time of their pregnancies, were meant to just, well, forget and be forgotten. Fessler continues, “… none of the mothers I interviewed was able to forget. Rather, they describe the surrender of their child as the most significant and defining event of their lives” (p. 12). One birth mother said, “A lot of us are still suffering in silence” (p. 52).

Many children’s books are silent on the topic of birth parents and birth searching. However, we must discuss birth parents’ roles in adopted people’s lives, partly out of justice for the birth parents who are the “primary actor[s]” in adoption (Modell, Kinship with Strangers, 1994, p. 63), and partly out of the need to counteract the dominant images and discourse that diminish their roles or write them out of adoption stories (Kim 2007; Modell 1994, pp. 12, 61-90; Novy 2005, p. 13; Oparah, Shin and Trenka 2006, pp. 3, 12-13; Pertman 2000, p. 8, 11, 148-150). In youth literature, if Korean birth mothers are depicted at all, they are made into passive objects whose primary act is to give birth and then give away a child, or they are discursively written out of the narrative. They are likely to be deceased, drawing on both the social and actual death Hosu Kim references. 

Therefore, I am fascinated by the depth of character and compassion accorded to both the searching child and his grieving birth mother in Son.

Birth Mothers and Birth Searching in Son

Son (2012) is the fourth book in The Giver trilogy. In The Giver (1993), a child named Gabriel is born to a birth mother in a tightly controlled community. When the protagonist Jonas realizes that Gabriel will be “released,” a euphemism for being euthanized, for “failing” to develop properly, he takes him and runs away to Elsewhere. Son takes place when Gabriel is a teenager. The story is mostly about Claire, the woman who gave birth to Gabriel in The Giver. In Son, readers witness Gabriel’s conception, birth, separation, and search from Claire’s perspective.

I map Claire’s emotions and experiences to birth mothers’ testimonies in Fessler’s and Kim’s research. First, birth mothers are underprepared regarding pregnancy, birth, and relinquishment. Claire “had not known, until she both experienced and observed it, that human females swelled and grew and reproduced. No one had told her what ‘birth’ meant” (p. 27). Later, in a conversation with a fellow birth mother who had already given birth, Claire learns for the first time that the process might be “uncomfortable.” Fessler reports that “Most of the women [she] talked to had been wholly uninformed about sex and pregnancy prevention” (p. 45). Later, Fessler also writes, “These women were even less prepared and were completely taken aback by the intense feelings of love they had for their child at birth” (p. 180). Claire, who by accident is no longer taking the emotions-numbing pills distributed to each member of the community, experiences these feelings. 

Immediately after Gabriel was born and taken away, Claire thought, “… she missed it. She was suffused with a desperate feeling of loss” (p. 11), echoing Fessler’s observations that “moving on and forgetting was impossible. The full emotional weight of the surrender affected some immediately” (p. 187). Claire goes on: “… ever since the day of the birth, she felt a yearning constantly, desperately, to fill the emptiness inside her. She wanted her child” (p. 59). One birth mother in Fessler’s book shared, “The first few weeks at home, I cried all the time… I cried all night, but I didn’t let anybody hear me…” (p. 200). Hosu Kim likewise observes the “feelings of shame, guilt, lowered self esteem, and self-loathing as well as of depression, an emptiness…” (p. 204) expressed by Korean birth mothers.

Over time, birth mothers do not forget their relinquished children. Using the present tense, Hosu Kim writes about the “emotional devastation [the Korean birth mothers] are suffering over their lost child” (p. 169) and the “prolonged sense of unresolved grief” (p. 204) reflected in their online posts. Fessler reports that one birth mother said, “Even if my mind didn’t remember it, my body remembered. This really lives in your body” (p. 210). Similarly, when someone says to Claire, “You love your boy, though,” and even though it’s been years, she responds: “I loved my boy. I still do.” (p. 228). Again, the present tense indicates ongoing grief. 

Finally, readers learn that while Claire has been desperate to find her son, Gabriel has also been desperate to learn about his past. He asks Jonas questions such as, “What happened to the birthmothers? What happened to my birthmother” (p. 274) “Didn’t she want me?” “I’m going to find out” (p. 274). Laurel Kendall notes that “adoption self-help literature tells us that all adopted children think about their birth parents and some even construct powerful fantasies around them” (2005, p. 163). In the early 2000s, the Korean adoption agencies reported that about 2-3% of searching adoptees had reunified with their birth families. I can’t imagine the number is much higher now, but it may be skewed because while we hear about “successful” reunions, we hardly hear about the searches that do not lead to a reunion (see Palimpsest by Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom; Found in Korea by Nam Holtz). Gabriel’s desperation to find his birth mother resonates with research I’ve conducted regarding Korean birth searches, especially in reading the first person accounts of Korean adoptees in memoirs, short story collections, online, and in documentaries, as well as the stories I’ve heard and observed first hand from Korean adoptee friends and colleagues. 

#FlipTheScript: Centering Birth Mothers and Adopted Persons

Birth searching, grief, and loss on the part of birth mothers and their children seem fully realized in this novel written by and possibly featuring white people. It shows the reader how much birth mothers suffer as a result of having children taken from them. Claire is silenced, but she cannot suppress her sorrow in being separated from her baby. Readers see her grief, and we are encouraged to empathize and hope that Claire and Gabriel will be successful in their searches. 

In contrast, the actual sorrows suffered by birth mothers—whether Korean or American—who have their children taken from them or who are otherwise separated from their children, have their stories told in venues other than in children’s literature, and even within those venues, they are underrepresented. Adoptees are also severely underrepresented as authors in children’s literature; most Korean adoption narratives are written by white women, with nearly half by white adoptive mothers (Park, 2009). Similarly, adoptee Liz Latty observes that “The vast majority of children’s books about adoption are written by adoptive parents” that lead to a “dominant narrative of adoption [that] is one of unquestionable good, a one-time event, and win-win for everyone involved” (“Dismantling Whitewashing & Saviorism In Adoption Kidlit,” Books for Littles.) On Lost Daughters, adoptees write, “Whenever education is taking place about an issue or community, all voices of that community must be included. The world needs to hear adoptee voices included in the dialogue about adoption.” It is crucial that we #FlipTheScript and center the voices of adopted persons and birth mothers.

In 2019, I heard Celeste Ng talk about her 2017 novel, Little Fires Everywhere (now streaming on Hulu). As I did during Lois Lowry’s event, I raised my hand during the Q&A. First, I thanked Ng for writing the character of the birth mother in a way that included her back story, made her more human, and gave her an ending that so few birth mothers get in real life and in fiction. I then asked her what research she did on birth mothers, adoption, etc., before writing the book. Ng went into detail about her research, citing specific court cases where birth and adoptive parents wrestled for the right to parent a particular child. She, too, wrote her birth mother character in a way that encouraged the readers’ sympathy. Lisa Ko’s The Leavers (2016) similarly depicts an adoption, birth mother, and birth search; Lisa Ko is not an adopted person and writes about her inspiration for the story here.

Fessler observes that the birth mothers’ “grief has been exacerbated… because they were not permitted to talk about or properly grieve their loss” (p. 208). Hosu Kim says, “While information about the existence and experiences of birth mothers is seriously limited in the South Korean discourse on transnational adoption, the experiences of birth mothers is even less acknowledged in the adoption discourse in North America and Western Europe… birth mothers have remained treated, at best, as a symbol of a remote, unknown, and unfortunate past, and at worst, are assumed to be literally dead” (2016, p. 4). Kim also notes that when birth mothers meet adopted Koreans (not their biological children), “In accounting the circumstances leading to putting children up for adoption, and in their experiences with adoptees, the birth mothers are transformed into living documents. By sharing their life stories, at times too painful to remember, birth mothers breathe life into information that might otherwise remain unavailable or abstract to adoptees” (2018, p. 331). Shannon Bae extends the work Kim began, amplifying the “radical imagination and solidarity” between Korean adoptees and birth mothers that point to a present and future where neither of their voices are silenced (2018). 

Therefore, I conclude with a call to break the silences that persist around adoption discourse, and particularly around birth mothers’ rights, grief, and loss. Their full humanity should not be relegated to fiction, but fiction may very well help us to have more compassion for birth mothers.

I deliberately chose Mother’s Day for my #31DaysIBPOC post. Today, May 10th, is also Single Parent Families’ Day in Korea (Bae). On this day and with this post, I honor the women who have lost children to adoption. Their stories matter.

Works Cited

Bae, Shannon. (2018). “Radical Imagination and the Solidarity Movement Between Transnational Korean Adoptees and Unwed Mothers in South Korea.” Adoption & Culture 6(2). 

Fessler, Ann. (2006). The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. Penguin Books.

(2014). “#FlipTheScript.” Lost Daughters website.

Kendall, Laurel. (2005). “Birth Mothers and Imaginary Lives” in Cultures of Transnational Adoption, ed. Toby Alice Volkman, 162-181. Duke University Press.

Kim, Hosu. (2007). “Mothers Without Mothering: Birth Mothers from Korea Since the Korean War” in International Korean Adoption: A Fifty-year History of Policy and Practice, eds. Kathleen Ja Sook Bergquist, Elizabeth M. Vonk, Dong Soo Kim and Marvin D. Feit, 131-153. The Haworth Press.

Kim, Hosu. (2016). Birth Mothers and Transnational Adoption Practice in South Korea. Palgrave.

Kim, Hosu. (2018). “Reparation Acts: Korean Birth Mothers Travel the Road from Reunion to Redress.” Adoption & Culture 6(2).

Hübinette, Tobias. (2004). “Korean Adoption History” in Guide to Korea for Overseas Adopted Koreans, ed. Eleana Kim. Overseas Koreans Foundation.

Ko, Lisa. (2017). The Leavers. Algonquin Books.

Latty, Liz. (2019). “Dismantling Whitewashing & Saviorism In Adoption Kidlit.” Books for Littles.

Lowry, Lois. (1993). The Giver. Houghton Mifflin.

Lowry, Lois. (2012). Son. HMH Books for Young Readers.

McKee, Kimberly. (2019). Disrupting Kinship: Transnational Politics of Korean Adoption in the United States. University of Illinois Press. 

Modell, Judith S. (1994). Kinship with Strangers: Adoption and Interpretations of Kinship in American Culture. University of California Press.

Ng, Celeste. (2017). Little Fires Everywhere. Penguin Books.

Novy, Marianne. 2005. Reading Adoption: Family and Difference in Fiction and Drama. University of Michigan Press.

Oparah, Julia Chinyere, Sun Yung Shin, and Jane Jeong Trenka. (2006). “Introduction” in Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, eds. Jane Jeong Trenka, Julia Chinyere Oparah and Sun Yung Shin, 1-15. South End Press.

Park, Sarah Young. (2009). Representations of Transracial Korean Adoption in Children’s Literature. University of Illinois.

Park Nelson, Kim. (2016). Invisible Asians: Korean American Adoptees, Asian American Experiences, and Racial Exceptionalism. Rutgers University Press. 

Park Nelson, Kim. (2018). “Korean Transracial Adoption in Minnesota.” MNopedia. Minnesota Historical Society.

Pertman, Adam. (2000). Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming America. Basic Books.

Sjöblom, Lisa Wool-rim. (2019). Palimpsest: Documents from a Korean Adoption. Drawn & Quarterly.

Thomas, Ebony Elizabeth. (2019). The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games. New York University Press.

Notes

Special thanks to Dr. Betina Hsieh, Erica Kanesaka Kalnay, and Dr. Kimberly McKee for providing feedback on this post. 

[ This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of Indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Laura M. Jiménez (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle). ]

31daysibpoc_badge

 

GSJ 3990 Dismantling Racism: Social Justice & Children’s Literature

Here’s the reading list for my Global Search for Justice 3990 Social Justice and Children’s Literature course, which I am teaching for the third time for St. Catherine University’s undergraduate CORE Curriculum.

  1. Bryan, Ashley.  Freedom Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan
  2. Budhos, Marina. Watched
  3. Butler, Octavia E. Kindred (graphic novel adaptation by Damian Duffy and John Jennings)
  4. Campbell Bartoletti, Susan. They Called Themselves the KKK
  5. Cohn, Diana. Illustrated by Francisco Delgado. ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes We Can! Janitor Strike in LA
  6. Dauviller, Loïc. Art by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo. Hidden
  7. Diaz, Alexandra. The Only Road
  8. Diggs, Taye. Illustrated by Shane Evans. Mixed Me!
  9. Harris, Duchess and Sue Bradford Edwards. Black Lives Matter: Special Reports
  10. Hoose, Phillip. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
  11. Howell, Patricia Hruby. Illustrated by Shadra Strickland. Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case
  12. Jordan-Fenton, Christy and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard. When I was Eight
  13. José Older, Daniel. Shadowshaper
  14. Jung, Mike. Unidentified Suburban Object
  15. Khan, Hena. Amina’s Voice
  16. Lai, Thanhha. Inside Out and Back Again
  17. Lewis, John. March trilogy (3 graphic novels)
  18. Okorafor, Nnedi. Akata Witch
  19. Park, Linda Sue. When My Name Was Keoko
  20. Rhuday-Perkovich, Olugbemisola. Eighth-Grade Superzero
  21. Saenz, Benjamin Alire. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life
  22. Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis
  23. Tate, Don. Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton
  24. Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give
  25. Weatherford, Carole Boston. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
  26. Williams-Garcia, Rita. One Crazy Summer
  27. Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese
  28. Yogi, Stan and Laura Atkins. Illustrated by Yutaka Houlette. Fred Korematsu Speaks Up
  29. Yousafzai, Malala. I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education & Changed the World Young Readers Edition

CFP – Harry Potter and the Other: Race, Diversity, and Difference in the Wizarding Worlds

CALL FOR PAPERS

Harry Potter and the Other: Race, Diversity, and Difference in the Wizarding Worlds

Edited by Sarah Park Dahlen and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

Scholars in various disciplines have discussed how race and difference are depicted in the Harry Potter series. Existing studies include the relationship between religion and Harry Potter, interracial relationships, J.K. Rowling’s social justice agenda, and how young people growing up in the Wizarding Age experience and interpret the series. However, there has yet to be an anthology that specifically interrogates representations of race and difference across all Harry Potter media. Given that Rowling continues to expand and reveal more details about the wizarding world, both at Hogwarts and elsewhere, some fans and scholars are conflicted and concerned about how the original Wizarding World – quintessentially White and British – manifests in other worlds, worlds with which Rowling may be less familiar.

We seek for possible inclusion critical essays about how race is depicted in Harry Potter in all of its manifestations – print texts, movies, fanworks, amusement parks, and so on. We wish to include essays from multiple perspectives (English, education, library science, media and communication studies, childhood studies, etc.) and from scholars around the globe. Essays may include topics such as:

  • “Mudblood” and “pureblood” – racial analogies in the series
  • How different media (print, movies, theatre, audio books, etc.) construct race
  • Whiteness and normativity
  • Resistance to bigotry and fascism
  • Racebending
  • Anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, and Orientalism
  • Relationshipping
  • Trope of the monster
  • Alterity; intersectionality; nationalism
  • Fanworks (fanfiction, fanart, etc.) and fandom participation (cosplay, conference attendance, etc.)
  • Reader response to race-related aspects of Harry Potter (also, viewer response, etc.)
  • Merchandising and the commodification of the Wizarding World
  • Presences and absences

350-500 word chapter proposals are due by December 1, 2016. Proposals should be for original essays that have not been published previously (including in conference proceedings) and that are not currently under consideration for another edited collection or journal. Send your proposal and CV to both Sarah Dahlen and Ebony Thomas.

Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen, Assistant Professor in the Master of Library and Information Science Program, St. Catherine University (spark@stkate.edu)

Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania (ebonyt@gse.upenn.edu)

CFP PDF: Harry Potter Race CFP

2015 LIS 7210 Library Materials for Children List

LIS 7210 Library Materials for Children
Instructor Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen
2015 Fall
St. Catherine University
Master of Library and Information Science Program

Course Description

Selection, evaluation and use of media for children in elementary schools and public libraries. Materials in curricular areas are studied along with an examination of the relationships of materials to developmental characteristics and individual differences of the child, to curriculum and recreation, to the exceptional child and to a multicultural society. 3 cr.

Reading/Viewing List

  1. Alarcón, Francisco X. Illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez. Iguanas in the Snow: And Other Winter Poems / Iguanas en la Nieve: Y Otros Poemas de Invierno
  2. Alexander, Kwame. Crossover
  3. Bascomb, Neal. Nazi Hunters
  4. Bell, CeCe. El Deafo
  5. Burnett, Francis Hodgson. The Secret Garden
  6. Chainani, Soman. The School for Good and Evil #1
  7. Coy, John. Hoop Genius
  8. Dr. Seuss. Green Eggs and Ham
  9. Elliott, Zetta. The Phoenix on Barkley Street
  10. Engle, Margarita. The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom
  11. Erdrich, Louise. The Birchbark House
  12. Evans, Shane. Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom
  13. Ewert, Marcus. 10,000 Dresses
  14. Harris, Robie. It’s Perfectly Normal: A Book About Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health
  15. Jimenez, Francisco. The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child
  16. Jung, Mike. Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities
  17. Kibuishi, Kazu. Amulet: The Stonekeeper
  18. LaRochelle, David. Moo
  19. Levy, Dana Alison. The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher
  20. Lindgren, Astrid. Pippi Longstocking
  21. Lovelace, Maud Hart. Betsy-Tacy (book 1)
  22. Morales, Yuyi. Viva Frida
  23. Oppenheim, Joanne. Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference
  24. Richardson, Justin. And Tango Makes Three
  25. Rowling, J.K.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  26. Russell, Rachel Renée. Dork Diaries 1: Tales From a Not-So-Fabulous Life
  27. Santat, Dan. The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
  28. Selznick, Brian. The Marvels
  29. Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are
  30. Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Jingle Dancer 
  31. Sweet, Melissa. Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade. UMN CLRC online exhibit: http://gallery.lib.umn.edu/exhibits/show/balloons-over-broadway
  32. Telgemeier, Raina. Smile
  33. Tingle, Tim. How I Became a Ghost
  34. Ursu, Anne. The Real Boy
  35. Van Wagenen, Maya. Popular: How a Geek in Pearls Discovered the Secret to Confidence
  36. White, E.B. Charlotte’s Web
  37. Willems, Mo. Any picture book (Elephant and Piggy, Pigeon, Knuffle Bunny, etc.)
  38. Williams-Garcia, Rita. One Crazy Summer
  39. Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming
  40. Yang, Gene Luen. Secret Coders
  41. Minecraft (TBD)
  42. Read and bring to class any book(s) in the American Girl series
  43. Read, watch, or listen to any version of Wizard of Oz. Bring your version to class, if possible, and be prepared to discuss.
  44. The Lego Movie
  45. Perrault, Charles. “Little Red Riding Hood” > http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0333.html
  46. Find, read, and bring to class  at least one version of Little Red Riding Hood for children.

Required Textbooks

  1. Keywords for Children’s Literature edited by Philip Nel and Lissa Paul.
  2. Picture This! How Pictures Work by Molly Bang

Readings and Assignments for the First Two Weeks of Class

Week 1 | Sept 15 | Introduction & Publishing

Readings

  • Keywords. 3 Audience; 8 Childhood; 9 Children’s Literature; 13 Culture; 30 Literacy; 36 Picture Book; 42 Reading; 45 Story
  • Bang, Molly. Picture This! How Pictures Work (all)

Novels

  • White, E.B. Charlotte’s Web

Picture Books

Assignments Due

  • Bring in one your favorite picture books and children’s novels from your childhood (two books total). Be prepared to talk about why the books meant something to you and why you still remember them years later.  Pick books that are not on the syllabus.

Week 2 | Sept 22 | Publishing & Classics

Readings

Novels

  • Burnett, Francis Hodgson. The Secret Garden
  • Lindgren, Astrid. Pippi Longstocking

Picture Books

  • Elliott, Zetta. The Phoenix on Barkley Street

2015 LIS7190 Social Justice and Children’s/YA Literature list

(NOTE: The syllabus is heavy on black children’s and YA literature because I revised the course in light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and so we could use the concepts learned and discussed through those texts as examples for discussions of related issues in youth lit and social justice. I am fully aware that my reading list is not representative of all social justice issues, but what I hope is that by discussing a narrow segment, my students and I can learn to think broadly in terms of ideology, positionality, authorship, power, privilege, etc as they relate to about social justice and children’s literature.)

LIS 7190 Social Justice and Children’s/YA Literature
Instructor Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen
2015 Summer
St. Catherine University
Master of Library and Information Science Program

Course Description

In this course, students will learn how to select, evaluate and analyze depictions and aspects of social justice and injustice in children’s and young adult literature. We will consider topics such as power, racism, diversity, violence, perspective, publishing trends, authorship, illustrations, and ideology. We will also consider how these texts may be used in library programming. 

By successfully finishing this course, students will be able to select, evaluate, and recommend a variety of materials depicting social justice issues for young audiences.

Required Readings (assigned by me)

  • A Wreath for Emmitt Till by Marilyn Nelson
  • After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Eighth-Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  • A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott
  • Bridge by Patrick Jones
  • Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
  • Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos
  • No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Works of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
  • If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth
  • Rain is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith
  • The Real Boy by Anne Ursu 
  • El Deafo by CeCe Bell
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson 
  • Call me Tree/Llámame árbol by Maya Christina Gonzalez
  • Star of the Week by Darlene Friedman
  • The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

Additional Required Readings (assigned by students – the Unsyllabus portion)

  • Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
  • The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter
  • Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth
  • Brooklyn Burning by Steve Brezenoff
  • The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Assignments

  • Text presentation
  • Book talk and flyer
  • Unsyllabus presentation
  • Book discussion group
  • Reflection paper

First Week’s Readings 

WEEK 1 | June 2 Tuesday | #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Readings

  • Larrick, Nancy. (1965). “The All White World of Children’s Literature.” Saturday Review, 63-65. 
  • Horning, Kathleen T. (2014 May 1). “Children’s Books: Still an All-White World?” School Library Journal.
  • Derman-Sparks, Louise. (2013) “An Updated Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books.” Teaching for Change.
  • Diversity in Youth Literature. Editors’ Introduction “Open Books, Open Doors: Cultural Diversity On and Off the Page” (Jamie Campbell Naidoo and Sarah Park Dahlen)
  • Diversity in Youth Literature. Chapter 1 “Voices of Experience: Promoting Acceptance of Other Cultures” (Carol Doll and Kasey Garrison)
  • Diversity in Youth Literature. Chapter 2 “Opening Doors to Understanding: Developing Cultural Competence through Youth Literature” (Eliza Dresang) 

Youth Literature

  • A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson

WEEK 1 | June 4 Thursday | Occupy Children’s Literature

Readings

Youth Literature

  • After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

ALSC Day of Diversity – Step It Up

On Friday, January 30, 2015, I participated in ALSC’s Day of Diversity: Dialogue and Action in Children’s Literature and Programming (in collaboration with CBC Diversity). The goal was to “bring together leaders in children’s literature and literacy to discuss strategies for ensuring that all children have access to diverse literature and library programming.” It was an honor to be included among the 70 or so folks who have been working toward equity in children’s literature for years, and in many cases, decades. Also included during the day were 30 librarians who had applied to participate. Some of us were invited to present, some to moderate, some to facilitate, and some to attend. I was invited to facilitate one of the first breakout sessions – our task was to strategize on how to increase diversity in print and digital materials. My co-facilitators were Lesléa Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies (which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this March), and Wade Hudson, author, president and CEO of Just Us Books (the only publisher publishing Black-interest children’s books). I’m thankful to have been among so many smart and talented and hard working people.

Several friends have eloquently summarized and reflected on the event (Zetta Elliott, Debbie Reese, and Edi Campbell), so this is going to be more of a brief reflection than a summary. I think the general consensus was that it was wonderful to finally all be in the same room together, it was a great start, and we want to see how things will go from here. It was pretty evident that the first half of the day – what some of us called Square 1 or Diversity 101 – was more for the benefit of those who haven’t already been talking about these problems. The breakout sessions were opportunities to really start talking, but even then sometimes they turned into opportunities for self-promotion rather than strategizing for action. Cutting people off is hard. Still, I think we got some solid ideas at the breakout sessions, so I’m hopeful that we’ll be putting them into practice and effecting real change. Here are some of the ideas from my break-out session, in the order they were discussed:

  • book fairs at non-library and non-bookstore spaces (such as community centers, churches, sororities, etc)
  • send authors and illustrators into those unconventional spaces
  • target advertisements to specific communities (do research on where specific communities tend to get their news, whether TV, radio, internet, etc)
  • publishers should provide more resources on how to use particular books in the classroom and library
  • look for, speak up about, and debunk myths in the media
  • partner with Young Readers Center in Library of Congress
  • bookstores and libraries can organize out-of-the-box events, such as cooking classes and summer camps (check out La Casa Azul Bookstore)
  • empower local communities to partner more closely with libraries
  • push for books that move beyond what Rudine Sims Bishop would label as a “social conscience book” and more toward books that depict the multidimensional aspects of experiences
  • change curriculum in K-12 and higher ed (teacher education, LIS education, etc)
  • Common Core reform
  • build community esteem
  • speak up about white-centered book covers

I found the lightning talks to be quite moving, particularly when Namrata Tripathi talked about the assumptions people make about her name and background (I LOVED how she ended her talk – “Instead of saying goodbye, I’m saying hello, my name is Namrata Tripathi, and I’m very pleased to meet you.”) When author Ellen Oh started talking about her Korean American family and history, I nearly died. I tweeted:

One reason why writes is for her Korean Am daughters. Bc she writes, my KA daughter has more to read. Thank you

But the one thing that many of us talked about during and after was the absence of particular conversations. We didn’t really talk about power or oppression or dominance or privilege in explicit terms. There was a politeness that was encouraged and for the most part, observed. As the saying goes, “Well behaved women seldom make history” (Ulrich). I’m not saying we should have been rude and out of place, but, invoking another saying, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will” (Douglass). Because the conference program was so carefully crafted, there wasn’t really an opportunity to demand that we talk about power and oppression and dominance and privilege. Sure, there were moments – Violet Harris pointed out that we’ve been having this conversation not for just a year or a few years but for decades; Pat Mora pointed out that the system needs to change; Camila Alire pointed out that the publishing numbers are getting worse… But it wasn’t until the very end, when Satia Orange exhorted us to DO SOMETHING because #BlackLivesMatter. I’m paraphrasing here, but she basically said that the system is not interested in letting diverse voices speak. They want to shut us down because they’re afraid of how things will go down when we’re numerically the majority in 2050. They want to keep us illiterate, voiceless, and powerless, and keeping our stories out of circulation is one way to do that.

You could hear a pin drop.

I wish we had started and ended with something like what Satia said. It was powerful and would have provided the right energy. That said, it was a terrific way to end the conference, and I, for one, walked away feeling even more affirmed that our work matters. Only time will tell what kinds of changes we’ll see in the future.

I tweeted most of these photos, but I’m posting them again anyway! Here we are, just before getting started…

IMG_2007

The same cover, below, was used in Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo‘s white paper, The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children (ALSC, 2014).

IMG_2008

Notice the negatives… the number of diverse children’s books by and about particular populations has actually gone DOWN. Never mind that the CCBC does not evaluate the quality of these books. As Debbie Reese has often pointed out, it’s not enough to have 64 books about American Indians if many of them are horrible books.

IMG_2011

Author/illustrator Gene Luen Yang talked about how these (and many other) graphic novels bust certain myths about non-white people as heroes. Side note: I read The Color of Earth/Water/Heaven trilogy right after giving birth to my daughter, and it was amazing.

IMG_2015

The Diversity Gap infographic created by Lee & Low (part of the “Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased in 19 Years” blog post from 2013) that so clearly lays out the fact that the number of diverse books has not changed in the past 20 years. Absolutely unacceptable.

IMG_2012

Loved this – a cheat sheet on how to promote diverse books without making your sell about the characters’ race. For example, instead of “This is a book about a Native kid living on a reservation,” say “Can’t get enough of the Beatles? Neither can the author or the kid at the heart of this story. Friendship and rock n’ roll” for Eric Gansworth’s awesome novel, If I Ever Get Out of Here.

IMG_2019

Pat Mora (founder of El día de los niños/El día de los libros – Children’s Day/Book Day) finally just laid it out – we need a diverse publishing system at all levels. It’s not enough to have diverse books written by diverse authors – they need to be edited by diverse editors (hurray to Namrata Tripathi for embracing her role!), marketed and promoted by diverse marketing and promoting departments (Remember the time I received a letter from an editor promoting a novel as “foreign” and “exotic”? Yeah, I’d like to forget that happened…), reviewed by diverse reviewers, awarded by diverse award committees, etc. The system has to change at every level.

IMG_2020

After the conference, we enjoyed a reception at the Harold Washington Library, where Lesléa convinced us all to try a Twix bar that wasn’t a Twix bar and tasted a million times better than a Twix bar.

IMG_2033

Sandwiched between Debbie Reese and Cynthia Leitich Smith (who is, I believe, one of the most animated and hilarious people I’ve ever met!!) at the We Need Diverse Books dinner. What else is there to say? It was an epic way to end the day.

IMG_2035

It’s not a trip to Chicago unless you take your favorite friends to your favorite french toast restaurant. Closed out the weekend with author Zetta Elliott and author/illustrator Maya Christina Gonzalez – two crazy awesome award winning women whose books and other writings we should all read. For example, I always assign Zetta’s “Something like an open letter to the children’s publishing industry” alongside Laura Atkins’ “White Privilege and Children’s Publishing: A Web 2.0 Case Study.

IMG_2038

This is not The End. This is also not The Beginning. It’s a point along the continuum – it’s quite possibly a tipping point that, and as the We Need Diverse Books campaign has pointed out, “Now is the time to raise our voices into a roar that can’t be ignored.

The industry – indeed, the world – can’t ignore the fact that the number of multicultural books has not increased in the past 20 years. It can’t ignore the fact that our society continues to diversify. It can’t ignore that publishing does not. It can’t ignore the fact that there are very talented authors and illustrators who make wonderful and amazing children’s books. It can’t ignore the fact that a lack of diverse books hurts ALL children. It can’t ignore the fact that we need to have these conversations, that we need to address these issues and talk them out and DO SOMETHING to CHANGE the system. And we can’t do it alone. Debbie Reese pointed out that she can’t fight racism re: Native Americans in children’s literature alone. None of us can do the work alone. We all have a stake, and we should all work to dismantle racism and promote equity in children’s literature.

Many of us – including those not mentioned here – are already at work, and now, more than ever, we need to STEP IT UP. Won’t you join us?

— Update 2015 February 3 —

Check out the following resources on ACTIONS we can take to increase diversity in children’s books and get diverse books into the hands of all readers:

2014 LIS7210 Library Materials for Children list

LIS 7210 Library Materials for Children
Instructor Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen
2014 Fall
St. Catherine University
MLIS Program

Most but not all of the books will be available through the St. Kate St. Paul bookstore. Therefore, I encourage you to look for them in local bookstores and libraries, just in case. You are responsible for planning ahead, acquiring and reading the books by the due dates.

Required Readings

  • Bang, Molly. (2000). Picture This! How Pictures Work. Chronicle Books.
  • Nel, Philip and Lissa Paul. (2011). Keywords in Children’s Literature. New York: New York University Press. (Denoted as Keywords throughout the syllabus.)

Optional Readings

  • Nodelman, Perry and Mavis Reimer. The Pleasures of Children’s Literature, 2nd Edition
  • Horning, Kathleen. From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books

Required Children’s Texts (Listen to at least one of the books on audio and read at least one as an e-book)

  • Bascomb, Neal. The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survives Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi
  • Carle, Eric. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • Cha, Dia. Dia’s Story Cloth
  • Coy, John. Hoop Genius
  • Creech, Sharon. Love That Dog
  • Dahl, Roald. The Witches
  • DiCamillo. Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
  • Dr. Seuss. The Cat in the Hat
  • Erdrich, Louise. The Birchbark House
  • Floca, Brian. Locomotive
  • Frasier, Debra. A Fabulous Fair Alphabet
  • Freedman, Russell. Who Was First? Discovering the Americas
  • Furgang, Kathy. National Geographic Kids: Everything Money: A Wealth of Facts, Photos, and Fun!
  • Harris, Robie. It’s Perfectly Normal: A Book About Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health
  • Hesse, Karen. Letters from Rifka
  • Holm, Jennifer and Matthew Holm. Baby Mouse: Queen of the World!
  • Jeffers, Oliver. The Day the Crayons Quit
  • Kent, Rose. Kimchi & Calamari
  • Kinney, Jeff. Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  • Lai, Thanha. Inside Out and Back Again
  • Lindgren, Astrid. Pippi Longstocking
  • Lovelace, Maud Hart. Betsy-Tacy
  • Lowry, Lois. The Giver
  • Manzano, Sonia. The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano
  • Morales, Yuyi. Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book
  • Paterson, Katherine. The Great Gilly Hopkins
  • Perrault, Charles. Little Red Riding Hood
  • Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America
  • Richardson, Justin. And Tango Makes Three
  • Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  • Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret
  • Smith, Cynthia Leitich. The Jingle Dancer
  • Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are
  • Silverstein, Shel. Where the Sidewalk Ends
  • Taylor, Sydney. All-of-a-Kind Family
  • White, E.B. Charlotte’s Web
  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie
  • Willems, Mo. A Big Guy Took My Ball
  • Yee, Lisa. Warp Speed!

I’m posting here the readings for the first 3 weeks so you can get a head start:

Week 1 | Sept 10 | Introduction

Readings

  • Keywords. 3 Audience; 8 Childhood; 9 Children’s Literature; 13 Culture; 30 Literacy; 36 Picture Book; 42 Reading; 45 Story
  • Bang, Molly. Picture This! How Pictures Work (all)

Novels

  • White, E.B. Charlotte’s Web

Picture Book

  • Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are

Week 2 | Sept 17 | Publishing 

Readings

Novels

  • Taylor, Sydney. All-of-a-Kind Family

Picture Book

  • Carle, Eric. The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Week 3 | Sept 24 | Popular Children’s Literature

Readings

Novel

  • Rowling, J.K.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Picture Books

  • Willems, Mo. A Big Guy Took My Ball.
  • Jeffers, Oliver. The Day the Crayons Quit.

Happy reading! 🙂