For some reason, the British seem a little bit further along with integrating children’s books regarding race. Not that I’ve done some large-scale survey contrasting US vs. UK books, but I am taking donations if you’d like to pay for one…
I’ve become a huge fan of Nick Sharratt, British children’s book author, for his colorful, interactive art and accessible language. This particular version of Goldilocks, part of a series of fairy tales by MacMillan, follows the traditional plot line in funny, rhymed quatrains.
And it’s just nice that the main character’s gold locks are in dreds, and her skin is not white.
I’m glad for my kids to have fairy tale characters imprinted on their imagination in a range of styles and a variety of colors, to reflect the world we live in, not Germany in the 1800s.
Another book with a contemporary and folkloric feel is Madlenka by Peter Sis. If you’re familiar with Sis’s work, you know he’s created a beautifully illustrated panoramic work, whatever the subject. In this story, a little girl goes around her New York city block telling all her neighbors about her loose tooth, each of whom hails from another geographic part of the world – India, China, Germany – so that by the end of the story, when her parents ask her where she’s been, Madlenka very honestly replies, “I’ve been around the world!” Quite an accurate reflection of New York.
My fellow blog author, Mary Beth, pointed out something that bothered her in this story – Madlenka’s little friend, who is African American, says “Cool, baby,” and Mary Beth felt that was a bit dismissive (she can correct my portrayal of her discomfort)… And yes, it seems like an odd representation of the African continent – all of the other characters speak the language of their home country – this girl kind of sticks out. But I actually like that her roots, however long past, receive the same kind of treatment as the others’ –
Of course, living in Charlottesville is nothing like living in New York (and don’t get me started on that issue – you people who think it’s the same need to check yourselves before you annoy me further) so I’m not sure how much sense this story makes to my four year old. I mean, she recognizes where Virginia and China and England are on the globe – which I guess means she’s ready to graduate high school – and she’s learning Spanish at school – but the concept of different locations and languages is still challenging to her, I believe.
Which is why I do think books like Madlenka and Goldilocks are important for developing a child’s worldview. We need our books to introduce us to a world broader than that on our street or little town.