On creating a literature of diversity

For any readers who don’t know, I’m in my last semester of graduate school to be a librarian. One of the classes I am taking is Children’s Literature. One of our recent topics for discussion was multi-cultural literature or, as was mentioned in my class, a literature of diversity.

Anyway, for this class I had to read two articles about what would be called identity based awards. These would be book awards where the author’s ethnicity is a factor in eligibility. (To back up, in case I lost you at “book award,” there are a lot of book awards used to celebrate the most distinguished _______ book each year. The big ones in literature for young people are the Newbery for children’s literature, the Caldecott for picture books, and the Printz for young adult literature. The “Big Three” of the book awards, they’re kind of like the Oscars of kid lit, but there are lots of others for early readers, non-fiction and probably ten things I don’t even know about yet.)

Two of the most widely know identity based awards are the Coretta Scott King award (for African American authors/illustrators) and the Pura Belpre award (this one is for either latino or hispanic authors/illustrators, the criteria isn’t clear and honestly I’m not clear enough on the differentiations between these two terms to say which either–if you have some insight, please leave it in the comments!).

Now, if you want to play along with my commentary, you need to read “Slippery Slopes and Proliferating Prizes” by Marc Aronson which can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/ct1ZE6 (Aronson wonders why the identity of the author is a bigger factor than the quality of their work and calls for a stop to the fragmentation of awards based on identity. But he says it more eloquently.)

Then, read Andrea Davis Pinkney’s response to Aronson in “Awards That Stand on Solid Ground” here: http://bit.ly/dspvQ0 (Pinkney responds that while ideally Aronson is right, this is not an ideal world and identity based awards provide valuable exposure for authors of color in a field that is still mostly white. But she states her case in a more masterful way.)

I’ve stewed on this for a while and I have to say I’m inclined to agree with Aronson. I see Pinkney’s point, and I understand it–especially after following the various posts about whitewashing covers (one of the latest being a kind of sad, but very interesting, post from Alaya Johnson over at Justine “authority on whitewashing after the Liar cover debacle” Larbalestier’s blog). But it still doesn’t seem right.

If we are going to go by Pinkney’s standard, which is a fair and valid standard to use, where are the awards for women authors? Where are the awards to bring women out of the chick lit ghetto and get them more mainstream coverage? What about for feminist children’s books? Pinkney says herself that in every award scenario someone loses, but does that mean there isn’t a scenario where everyone can win?

Historically, the non-identity awards have favored white authors. And that’s a shame. Perhaps a solution is more Newbery/Caldecott categories instead of more awards?

You might be asking yourself, what’s the difference? Well, in my view, it’s huge. Instead of fragmenting the awards and separating everything into little boxes that don’t always make a difference in terms of what makes good literature, sub-categories could bring together awards based on literary merit and literature of diversity.

As a white woman writer (aspiring at the moment), I also worry about identity-based awards because while they do wonderful things to raise awareness of authors of color and writing about characters from a variety of cultures, they also seem to say “back off.” This might be an unfair bias but when I hear “Pura Belpre” or “Coretta Scott King” winner, it feels like a pronouncement that a white author can’t write convincingly or with respect about a different culture.

Aside from being unfair, that is completely untrue. All the same, it’s a discouragement. With so much emphasis on writing about diverse cultures from members of that culture it seems like I (and perhaps other writers though I can only speak for myself) are being encouraged to stay in our own cultural boxes and not write about a diverse group of characters.

Following that train of though, I keep wondering where Ezra Jack Keats fits into this equation. A child of Polish immigrants, Keats has written some of the most beautiful and most diverse picture books ever. He wrote not about white children but children of all colors to reflect his neighborhood. Yet, a Coretta Scott King award would never have recognized his contribution to reflect the African American experience. Maybe this is me, but that doesn’t feel right either.

That might have just been talking in circles so I’ll try to leave you with something more concrete:

Last summer in my YA Lit class I read The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd who came to speak to my class. Burd is African American but he made a conscious choice to write his novel about a white boy in Iowa because, as he told our class, writing about a black kid in Iowa would require a lot of stuff that would be extraneous to the novel. Another problem. Why does it need to be explained? My friend “Ray Gunn” posted a really brilliant post about this which you should all read here even though I might embarrass her by sending you all over. I agree with her wholeheartedly.

While reading about these identity-based awards I kept thinking about Nick Burd and Ray Gunn’s post. I think, really, that creating a literature of diversity isn’t just about separating out different cultures on their own pedestal; part of it is about mashing them all together.

The Rockette Problem

At my previous place of employ, “Tori” and I started talking about the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and how awesome the Rockettes are. This led to some sound relationship advice that we tried to share with a less-than-grateful “Bear.” This post has been a long time coming and, hopefully, some readers (assuming I have any male readers–do I?) will feel our findings were more helpful than Bear did.

To state it simply: Every girl wants to be a Rockette. But not every girl can be a Rockette since the Rockettes are highly trained athletic dancers who are between 5′ 6″ and 5′ 10′ in height (the tallest Rockettes are at the center of any kick line and other height discrepancies are made up for in the height of shoe heels and hats). No matter how unrealistic the dream, it is a hard thing to realize that even if you become a highly trained athletic dancer you cannot be a Rockette because you are too short (I imagine there are some people out there who are too tall, but I do not know any of them). Therein lies The Rockette Problem.

I am aware there are some people who simply do not like the Rockettes and will freely tell you as much. These people are lying to you and themselves. When I first told my “Kiki Couture” about The Rockette Problem her first response was a declaration of Rockette hatred. Further discussion revealed that Kiki’s hatred came not from animosity, but from envy. Because she could not be a Rockette. But one real life example of The Rockette Problem at work.

But what does The Rockette Problem have to do with relationships? I will tell you.

One day, Tori was trying to offer Bear some advice–because she is has a lot of wise advice and because offering advice is what librarians do. She posited that men would fair better with women if they just understood one universal truth. And I looked at her and said three words that you should know well by now: The Rockette Problem.

This was the advice she had for Bear and it is the advice* I now share with you, readers. Use it well:

When a guy meets a woman he might like, the surefire way to win her over is to take her to see the Rockettes. I know what you’re thinking. What if the guy is Jewish, does not celebrate Christmas, or simply does not enjoy a well-choreographed holiday dance routine? My initial response: Suck it up.

My expanded response: Use this advice hypothetically if you are for some reason averse to the Rockettes, but consider this first. If you fall into a demographic that would not generally enjoy a well-choreographed holiday dance routine but take your girl to see it anyway, think how many brownie points you could earn. (Hint: you would probably need to go on a diet.)

Also, almost everyone celebrates Thanksgiving. And the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade isn’t a parade until the Rockettes perform, so watch them with your special lady friend then. Tell her you like their costumes**. Admire their athleticsism. Tell her you understand The Rockette Problem and she will understand how much you care.

If, for some reason, that doesn’t work. Write a letter. Not a coy letter. Just write a letter and say “Hey, let’s go see the Rockettes.” It will be enough.

Should that still not work, you might be beyond this blog’s help, but in a last ditch effort you can consider telling her you like the way she looks in blue at five minute intervals. If it worked for Edward Cullen it might work for you, although utilizing The Rockette Problem to your advantage is really much more likely to work.

So, remember, you must not hate The Rockettes–just admire. And maybe The Rockette Problem can be your own relationship solution.

*This advice does not apply to women hoping to improve their relationship prospects with other women for the simple reason that women already inherently understand The Rockette Problem and therefore cannot utilize it further.

**Being one to try and get the last word, Bear later told me the costumes were NEVER the first thing a man noticed about the the Rockettes. My initial response to that was, I think, fairly obvious: Suck it up. And don’t tell your special lady friend that!

On Cover Commentary (some information and sources)

Earlier this week I posted a review on my NYPL blog of Justine Larbalestier’s wonderful new book Liar. The review can be viewed over on my blog at NYPL (and on this blog as I cross-post everything).

You might have heard about Liar because of the controversy associated with the cover the book was slated to have when it was released in the USA. This cover featured a white model on the cover–despite the main character being very obviously black. I also received a wonderful comment on that post asking how such things could happen and if authors have approval on their covers.

The short answer is sometimes they do, but not always.

There is a lot of really information out in the world from authors, readers, and bloggers about book covers. Too much information, really, to put into a comment as I had initially planned. Which is why you get this post.

Onward to the information and sources:

Sometimes authors do get input on their covers and it leads to cool ones like that found on Barry Lyga’s Goth Girl Rising (cover discussed here on Melissa Walker’s blog: http://www.melissacwalker.com/blog/2009/10/cover_stories_goth_girl_rising.html)

Other times it results in inaccurate covers like the one found on Liar which Justine Larbalestier discusses at length, and more eloquently, than I ever could in a series of posts on her blog, particularly in this post: http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/07/23/aint-that-a-shame/

If you interested in hearing about more book covers, Walker also has a lot of posts where other authors discuss their covers here: http://www.melissacwalker.com/mt/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=cover+stories

Maureen Johnson has also discussed her covers briefly on her blog. The end of this post marked DEPARTMENT OF COVER STORIES discusses the cover of Suite Scarlett. This post mentions the cover of Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes under POINT FORE

Johnson’s posts also led me to Bookburger’s commentary on the crazy cropping that goes on in a lot of covers (including several of Johnson’s): http://bookburger.typepad.com/bookburger/2007/01/covergirl_repor.html

Bookburger has a whole feature of cover reviews found here: http://bookburger.typepad.com/bookburger/covergirl/

If you’d like to see some behind-the-scenes shots of what it takes to shoot the photos for a book cover you can check out Ally Carter’s post about the cover of her upcoming book Heist Society here: http://www.allycarter.com/labels/Covers.html

Laura Schaefer’s blog has a post with shots of the cover shoot for The Teashop Girls (which I think has a perfect cover that totally nails everything about the book) on her blog here: http://teashopgirl.blogspot.com/2009/03/delicious-behind-scenes-look-at-teashop.html

“Cover twins” are another interesting phenomenon in the world of book covers which happens when two covers use the same stock photo as happened with North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley and Evermore by Alyson Noel. Their specific “twin-ness” is discussed here: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6646736.html?nid=2788

Finally, if you are interested about book covers in general, you should check out JacketWhys, a blog all about children’s and young adult book covers as well as having a handy page linking to articles and other information on cover design found here: http://jacketwhys.wordpress.com/articles/. The site was inspired by The Book Design Review which discusses cover design for a broader spectrum of books.

Hopefully all of that will answer some questions people were having about book cover design or at least provide some more information on the subject.

If you have any other sources readers should know about be sure to post it in comments!

The BMI Problem: A Linktastic Post

I recently read Body Drama (2007) by Nancy Redd (for my Young Adult Literature and Literacy) class which, in some ways, I did like. I think it’s really valuable because there is this weird stigma or shame about talking about your body–especially when you’re a girl.

(Although I don’t know that teens who are too timid to talk about such matters are likely to pick up this title. I am in many respects a prude and have been for many years. I know that I would have had the nerve to be seen reading this book no matter how valuable it is. Once an aunt bought me a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves for teen girls and I almost died of mortification just from looking at the book. I don’t think I ever opened it.)

What I didn’t like about the book was the focus on the Body Mass Index (BMI) as a way to gauge healthy weight because, frankly, BMI is bogus. The idea is that by plugging your height and weight into a chart you can find your BMI number and compare it to the range of “healthy” BMIs for people with your height and weight. The thing is, it doesn’t always work out as neatly as all that.

I didn’t know anything about BMI until I read about it in a New Yorker book review by Steven Shapin. I appreciated that Shapin took the time to debunk BMI as a means to measure healthy weights (according to BMI some famous athletes would be obese–while in peak playing condition).

Still, in a society that’s already obsessed with the idea of being thin it’s hard to hear that you’re overweight or obese. Even from a chart. I have never been underweight, but I imagine that would be an equally frustrating thing to hear from a chart. Especially one that is widely acknowledged as a flawed system of measurement.

Even with that knowledge, a strong/supportive family environment, and a fair amount of self-esteem, it took years to convince myself that the BMI was wrong and I was not obese. Honestly, I spent a lot of time thinking I was fat–and that’s with knowing full well that BMI isn’t always accurate and that there are all different healthy weights. It’s only been recently that I’ve started to understand that, while I’ll likely never be a size two or whatever, I am not that overweight. In an era where Marilyn Monroe–the sexiest sex symbol ever–would probably also be considered fat, I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way.

If you want to see what I mean about BMI, check out Kate Harding’s BMI project at http://kateharding.net/bmi-illustrated/. The project consists of a slide show showing real women and their BMI classification. I can guarantee that none of the labels will be what you expect.

Books like Body Drama are doing a lot to show that women come in all different shapes and sizes–all of which are normal. But until other measurements like BMI (and obviously unattainable expectations set forth by the media) are replaced with something more realistic, there will always be perfectly normal, healthy women stuck thinking there is something wrong with them.

The Ten Stages of Twitter

  1. You hear about Twitter from a friend or in the news. Intrigued, you file the information away for future use.
  2. Twitter keeps coming up but you still have no idea what it means. You ask a friend on Twitter to explain it to you. The idea of posting updates about your day in 140 characters or less sounds ridiculous. So does the idea of Facebook status updates minus the Facebook part.
  3. You discover a friend (or famous person’s) Twitter account. Intrigued, you being to read their updates by visiting the site periodically.
  4. After going through this for a week or two, you decide it might be time to join Twitter and see what it’s all about for yourself.
  5. Having joined Twitter it seems likely that you will never have anything interesting to say ever again. (You also have no followers.)
  6. Your Twitter self feels lonely, so you find the friend (or famous person) who inspired you to join Twitter and start following their updates. Some exploring leads you to the Twitter accounts of other interesting friends (or famous people).
  7. You’re starting to get the hang (and even the point) of Twitter. But you don’t understand how people spend entire days on the site. You check every evening or so and update a bit then.
  8. You discover Twitterfox, Tweet Deck, or some other programs that allow you to update Twitter from your internet browser window, desktop, or even your phone. You’re not sure how you  lived without these programs. You waffle between protective your updates and leaving them visible to the public.
  9. You start networking and chatting with the friends (or famous people) you have found on Twitter getting useful advice on everything from books to electronic purchase as well as some other unexpected bonuses.
  10. The next time someone asks for an explanation of Twitter, you’re the one doing the explaining.

On being a good student without reading cover to cover

I wouldn’t consider BEDA complete if I didn’t have at least one Words of Wisdom post in there.

Below are strategies I have used to get through not completing a reading in time for class. I will, however, begin with some disclaimers: First, I always do the reading one way or another even if it is a bit late. Second, I never intentionally skip readings (except for Tuff which was justified because I don’t think the professor read it either). Third, I made it through high school and college with a roughly 3.9 (out of 4.0) GPA, so I do not intend for these strategies to be taken lightly or used for slacking. They are simply meant to help you maintain your reputation as a school genius when times get rough!

First some reading strategies:

  1. For short readings the best solution is always to skim. If paragraphs are brief, read the first and last paragraphs and the first sentence of each paragraph in between.
  2. If you only need to read more quickly, rather than skim, try to avoid highlighting or note-taking as it’s a total time eater. (Note: This does not work for everyone. I have a photographic memory so I can find quotes without notes or highlights, if you can’t and you know you’ll need to notes might be of value).
  3. For books or longer reading assignments, read the beginning of the assignment (or as far as you can get in the time you have).

Now, how those strategies will help you the most:

  • As soon as the teacher (or professor) starts asking questions about the reading, raise your hand. Answering questions first does two things. First, if you read the beginning, you will actually be answering questions to which you will know the answers. Second, this will suggest that you have nothing to hide because you are prepared. The teacher will not feel a need to single you out later in the class with an embarrassingly specific question that is impossible to answer without reading the material provided.
  • If you are forced to take a quiz on the material, provide as much information as you have even if it doesn’t always answer the question per se. This way you can show that you do know (some) stuff even if you can’t pin down the exact chain of events the led to the murder on page 195.
  • When in doubt, be vague. Some people might like to be specific and just take a gamble if they don’t know the right answer. If you are wrong, though, you are totally wrong and outed as not knowing the material. If, however, you are vague you might just be mincing words rather than bluffing. Plus, you might even be right, who knows?
  • Finally, if you have a chance to get your class participation out of the way by providing opinions, do it (as long as said opinions relate to the part of the reading you did complete/skim). Opinions are almost never wrong (unless you were annoyed about that murder on page 195 only to realize on page 230 that it was a hoax–then you’re wrong). Plus, it’s easier to bluff through the reading you don’t know inside out when you’re discussing opinions and not the specifics of plot.

Another disclaimer: These strategies will never be a substitute for actually doing readings and, more importantly, are unlikely to get you through an entire term–eventually you’ll have to read something. However, if a book is particularly odorous or just impossible to manage with your other obligations, use these strategies as a last resort. Remember, use these tips for good!

On Warblers and Reference: A Linktastic post

This is a follow up to my post regarding Reference Without Words from October 2008.

For those who missed that post, Mom found a picture of a bird and I tried to identify it through some quick online research. This is that bird:

Yellow Bird

A few months later, in my reference class, I had to conduct a service review that consisted of my asking the same question of three different types of reference desks. I chose to ask them to help me identify the mysterious yellow bird. Given the need to share a photo, I reviewed face-to-face reference, online chat, email reference and Yahoo! Answers just because I felt like it. When I noticed that sometimes searches for “warblers” led users to this blog, I decided to share some of the sources I found. (Incidentally, the professor subsequently said that my choice of questions was “brilliant.”)

First, through my own queries, I located Birding.com. A sub-page on that site has information on bird identification (key features used in bird identification) as well as links to several identification quizzes to test your knowledge. These sources led me to conclude that the bird was a Warbler, possibly a Magnolia Warbler.

The Internet Public Library (something I didn’t even know about before my reference class) was another really helpful resource. IPL has an e-mail reference service. I sent them my question and a few days later got a thorough response back. Having been in class with students who volunteered for IPL I can attest that answering questions is intense and often a labor of love.

They led me to some other neat sources:

UNC Chapel Hill also has an unbelievable helpful e-mail reference service. They took a bit longer, but about a week later I got a response from the service which had forwarded my e-mail to one of UNC Chapel Hill’s Biology and Chemistry Librarians. Talk about customized service!

Last, but not least, never underestimate the help of the masses. Yahoo! Answers provides a giant user forum for, well, everything. You have to have a Yahoo! account, but then you can post a question, pick a category, and wait for a response. In my case I heard back from a woman who works as an ornithologist in real life.

To bring this back to warblers, no one source had a definitive answer. However, after pooling all of the various resources together, I am now able to say with relative confidence thaBlackburnian Warblert my bird was a Blackburnian Warbler.

What do you think?

On Becoming an Informed Consumer

All things in time.

When I was about 14 or 15 I became the primary grocery shopper in my household because it was becoming too much walking for her. Plus, with my handy-dandy phone card and a keen knowledge of nearby pay phones I could, and would, be in constant contact. (I turned 14 in 2000 before cell phones had become commonplace and did not have my own cell phone until 2006 when I was 16. I blame these facts for the reason that I use my cell phone more as a walkie-talkie than an actual phone.)

At that point in time I really wanted to get into using coupons but it was not meant to be. When the coupons continued to languish, forgotten, at home and expire I finally gave up. Coupons were not meant for me.

Things changed again a few years ago when one of my best friends started working at Duane Reade and enrolled me in their reward program. It works like magic! I spend money and get money back for it. Next thing you know I had reward cards at Staples, DSW, and Balducci’s not to mention joining Coca Cola’s rewards program. I haven’t met a Val Pak I didn’t like and I save coupons from Macy’s and Filene’s.

I’ve become one of those people who stand in line sorting through their wallet to see if any coupons are of use. And it’s kind of great. I know that all of these programs are meant to help sellers retain buyers and get people to spend more than they planned. But, that’s part of being an informed consumer, which I know since I now am one. Next stop, store circulars–whoo boy.

On boxing yourself in when it comes to musical tastes

I’m sick (agian, yes) but decided to take a minute to post another retro post, this time from March 2007. As part of reducing my Internet footprint, I’m deleting my “other” older blog archive and integrating any of the good posts here.

Without further ado:

A few nights ago “Chelsea Girl” and I were having a conversation via myspace comments about music. “Chelsea Girls”’s new favorite band is Augustana–good choice–so I recommended that she check out Daniel Powter who has a similar sound. She responded: “yea i know him too. i dont know y but i like bands better., There should be a word for a person who prefers bands over solo artists and the opposite, dont u agree?”

I did: “I like “groupists.” I think that works nicely with “solo-ers.” They’re similar enough but not too similar that people will think they are the same thing. This will all be documented in a blog later. Watch for it.”

And now here’s that blog.

* Groupist: A groupist is a person who prefers bands. For our purposes a band is defined as a group of two or more people who perform music. They sing, as well as play instruments. If you are a groupist with similar tastes in music to me and Chelsea Girl, you might consider checking out: Augustana, the Raconteurs or the Goo Goo Dolls.

* Soloer (alternate spelling: solo-er): Solo-ers are people who prefer solo artists. For our purposes, this means any musician who perfoms on stage alone. They can sing and play instruments or only sing. If you are a solo-er with similar tastes to me (since we have established that Chelsea Girl is a groupist) you might listen to: Daniel Powter, James Blunt or Jason Mraz.

* Groloer: This is a term for people who like bands and solo artists equally. In addition, it can also be used to refer to people who like musicians that do not fit neatly into either category. Examples include: Five for Fighting (one guy but it sounds like a band), The Pussycat Dolls (a band, but none of them play instruments), and Rob Thomas who should still be with Matchbox 20. Sorry, ignore that last example. I still really miss that band.

On making small talk with patrons

NEVER EVER DO THIS. If the question goes beyond asking about a book or the weather save yourself some grief and do not engage. What seems like a polite way to make conversation will most likely backfire horribly.

(Retro) Case in point (from June 2007):

Should a patron begin talking about their impending wedding, just nod politely. Do not speak. And when they come back DO NOT EVER ask how the wedding was. I had thought it was being polite, but it was a horrible, bad mistake.

Over the course of a painful and embarrassing conversation I would learn that this woman’s honeymoon was canceled, and that the wedding could end in divorce or annulment since the marriage was not yet consummated. Much more than I needed to know about anyone.

(Current) Case in point:

Miss Print (to child with his father while checking out The Legend of Sleepy Hollow): “Ready for Halloween?”

Child: *nod*

Miss Print: “What’s your costume?”

Child: “A drunk.”

Miss Print: “Oh. Wow. . . .” [While father smiles awkwardly like this has happened before.]