As the week winds down, dive into some of the recent literary discussions you might have missed.
The unbearable whiteness of reading
A recent study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the school of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison highlighted the dearth of children’s books by and about people of color. Of the 3,200 children’s books received by CCBC in 2013 (out of an estimated 5,000 total children’s books published), only 93 were about African- Americans, 34 about American Indians, 69 about Asian-Americans, and 57 about Latinos. The numbers of children’s book written and illustrated by people of color were even lower.
This stark reminder of the disparity in racial representation in children’s books has sparked an impassioned discussion about the causes and effects of this underrepresentation.
On March 15, The New York Times featured two op-eds discussing this problem. In “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature,” Christopher Myers, an author and illustrator of books for children and young adults, remarks that
We adults -- parents, authors, illustrators and publishers -- give [children] in each book a world of supposedly boundless imagination that can delineate the most ornate geographies, and yet too often today's books remain blind to the everyday reality of thousands of children. Children of color remain outside the boundaries of imagination."
In “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” Walter Dean Myers, children’s author and former Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, reflects on his own experiences with the lack of literary diversity, recalling, “As I discovered who I was, a black teenager in a white-dominated world, I saw that these characters, these lives, were not mine.”
The publishing house Lee & Low’s blog gathered a group of 10 experts to answer, “Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?” The respondents touch on industry practices, bookstore buyers, and the speculated effects of Common Core State Standards on publishing.
Do androids dream of electric books?
The New Yorker book blog, Page-Turner, featured a pair of articles yesterday on “digital humanities,” or the use of technology to study trends in literature. Mark O’Connell discusses recent Google-backed technologies for exploring literary trends, while Joshua Rothman looks at the “scientific” approach to literary criticism propagated by Franco Moretti, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism.
Though these articles deal largely with literary criticism, technology-assisted literary evaluation has already spread to the education sector in the form of software designed to grade student essays. Educators are conflicted about the reliability and value of technology-reliant grading. Leadership 360 bloggers Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers, for example, are cautiously optimistic about the practice, while Living in Dialogue’s Anthony Cody is deeply critical. (Both blogs are hosted on eEdweek.org.)
Around the world in 80 stanzas
Today is World Poetry Day, and UNESCO has an interesting archive of poetry collections from around the world to celebrate. The Guardian has also put together a worthwhile sampling of PEN International dissident poets. For a more crowdsourced approach, explore the active #WorldPoetryDay Twitter tag.
This would also be a good time to start thinking about National Poetry Month events coming in April. Poets.org is offering one such program, Poet-to-Poet, which seeks to encourage students in grades 3-12 to submit poems inspired by famous participating poets. The program also offers teachers a series of poetry activities and lesson plans designed for the classroom.
A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.