Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Monday's Post

I liked the points made in the Ensisco article. I remember attempting to read Maniac Magee in middle school, a book that was pushed on me by my peers because the character's name was like mine but it was a boy. Eleven year olds think they're so funny. It didn't help that this was a highly recommended book too. I think I got about 30 pages in before I couldn't read it anymore. Up until reading the article, I couldn't remember what the story was about (honestly, I was thinking run away time traveller; obviously I didn't remember the book). There were very few books that I did read during the age range of Maniac Magee. But I remember my younger brother reading it with my mom years later. My mom really kind of expressed the same issues the researcher had in this article; the black characters seemed to be so one-sided and stereotypical.

Ensisco talks a lot about the power of authority when it comes to choosing texts. He mentions the Newberry logo and the power it has over students. That emblem to this day makes me cringe because I hated reading between fifth and seventh grades, and I mean hated it. Up until about eighth grade, I was considered a struggling reader because of my lack of interest. The Newberry books were supposed to be the "good" books, and harder and better and probably God himself wrote them (at least in my mind anyway--I was cynical even as a young kid. Ask my parents; they'll agree). These books were so important, that we were given double points in class. The only Newberry book I read in middle school was Number the Stars. I liked that book better than most when I was between ten and twelve.

I don't remember a lot of these books being all that rich in exploring multicultural perspectives though. All of the books that were recommended to us by librarians and teachers (people of authority) seemed to be about poor people in the south, or some kind of time travel/separate world kind of thing, like Freaky Friday or The Giver. I wasn't all that interested in these kind of books. I'm not sure why nothing looked appealing. I liked the American Girl series about the Swedish girl. I could read one of those books in an afternoon. I liked that it referenced culturally relevant things that my family, as Swedes, practiced or had. I liked seeing the illustrations of trunks that had the Kurbits painting style on them because I saw them in all of my relatives' homes. I was so excited when I read the Christmas story in that series and found out that I was not the only girl to have to wake up early on St. Lucia Day to make breakfast wearing a crown of fake candles. No, you cannot see pictures.

I asked a librarian once if they had other books like that series and she told me they didn't carry books like that because they weren't the right kind I should be reading and had no value in a school library. I cried out of frustration and stopped going to the library after that. These memories, trivial as they may seem, are ones that still haunt me. I don't go to libraries, if I can help it, even today. At ten years old I knew that what that librarian said to me was wrong. Not only were my interests insulted, but so was my cultural background as well as my family. The worst part is, I am not a minority, nor am I all that culturally diverse from the dominant one.

This article reminded me of the influence we as teachers have. It's reminded me to choose class texts carefully and provide other varying works that compliment it for additional perspectives. I sometimes wonder if students coming from a minority culture experience similar situations in libraries. Is this why so many students who aren't of the dominant culture struggle with literacy and/or education in general?

Also, out of curiosity, some of these articles are capitalizing the words "White" and "Black." Have I been wrong to not capitalize them? I feel like they shouldn't be.


  1. Ha! - I am laughing about that librarian - What kind of librarian tells a little girl that her American Girl books are inappropriate??!?! good grief. That is really too bad. I also empathize with your being wary of the gold sticker on the front of the book. Didn't those books always seem to be the boring ones? I thought so. Unlike you, I had a childhood love affair with the library - I even got to ride my bike there (and it was far away too). I loved to read as a kid- my favorite books were Where the Red Fern Grows and the Outsiders. Now, I am laughing again. Not because of anything that has to do with anything I am supposed to be talking about but because I just got my guy to finally do some sort of brain surgery on my computer (after much begging) so it is finally working again - and I just spilled sugar on the keyboard a couple of minutes ago (while baking treats for class)- so now thanks in part to my super toasty kitchen - my keys aren't pressing right and my sweaty finger tips are making sugary sticky goo on several parts of the keyboard. Ok, maybe that was too much information. Sorry.
    All righty. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the gold sticker books. I agree with you that the importance of having a variety of reading materials is imperative for hooking kids into reading. You can never know where a reluctant reader will get hooked. I read The Giver last summer (for the first time)- and was completely sucked in, but my daughter was way less impressed than I was. She thought it was depressing. Hmm. The further I get into education, the more I realize that I think I went to a school district where their goal was to not teach as much as possible. I don't know what we did, but I have no recollection of many of the things we do nowadays- especially in high school.
    What triggered the switch in you from struggling reader to English teacher? Is there a good story there?

    I'm glad you are my dialog partner too!

  2. I am impressed that your mom noticed the stereotypes in Maniac Magee. I know I wouldn’t have until graduate school!

    I also love the image of you with a crown of candles on your head. But seriously, that is significant, isn’t it—that you were able to find something culturally relevant in that American Girl book. You can see the value of literature serving as a window for that reason.

    And what a terrible story about that librarian! In my experience with JJ, it seems libraries are far more open and welcoming places now (they have to be, to compete with coffee shops as places to hang out and read).

    Some writers choose to capitalize white and black to signal that they are talking about race as opposed to just colors. There are lots of justifications for using capitals, or not, but personally I think it doesn’t really matter; it’s just a choice of style.