Sunday, May 6, 2018

Positive Representation Matters

I've been using the phrase #representationmatters in a lot of my postings about books lately. (sidenote: where did that phrase originate? If anyone knows, please share!) Because it does. Because kids need to see themselves represented in the books they read. Their lives need to be validated. All of the different variations of lives and families and types of people there are need to be represented in books we share with all kids. But...it has to be a positive representation.
And that's where frustration sometimes comes in. How disappointing is it when a book has such potential to be a wonderful representation for our kids who need it, but it somehow goes wrong in the execution. I'm not claiming to know it all, but I am pushing myself to be a more critical reader in considering how representations in the books we share with kids can affect those kids views of themselves and others. Below are a couple of recent books that I had high hopes for that were a big let down.

I don't share this post to slam these books, but to urge caution. Because sometimes we can get drawn in by the concept or the cover with our high hopes, yet we need to make sure not to miss the negatives that the images or text might portray, explicitly or implicitly. I urge caution to not just put a diversity of representations in your classrooms or libraries or read them aloud to kids without a critical reading and realization of the hurt some representations could cause, or the underlying messages that could be sent.

NOT RECOMMENDED: A couple of books that have been disappointing recently...

Natalie's Hair Was Wild
I was really sure what to think about this after I finished. It was not at all what I was expecting, but I was left feeling unsettled by it. The implication that natural hair is dirty and in need of taming was alarming.
Sidenote: This post from a reviewer who was asked to tone down her critique "Why Every Book Made for Our Black Girls Ain't a Good Book", that emphasizes the damaging representation this book presents.

Pink is for Boys
Though I like the message this book sends about gender perception and not gendering neutral things like color, and enjoyed the simplicity of how it cheerfully presents it to kids, there is an issue. In the illustrations of the diverse children throughout the book, there are some that have eyes that look noticeably different in shape from the roundness of all the rest. They have angled lines for eyes, seemingly referencing them being Asian children. It bothered me enough to look back at it wondering if I really saw that, which means it's subtle enough to not send an obvious message, but obvious enough to send a subtle message. And that stereotypical representation is not one I would want to present to kids.


HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: But here are some new picture books that I have loved and would highly recommend for their encouraging, positive representations...

Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Stunning. On so many levels. Beautifully full of heart and acceptance and family and love and joy. I could pour over these illustrations over and over and never tire of it. The love and unquestioning acceptance this grandma has for her grandson is life goals. This is one of my top five favorite picture books of 2018.
Happy Hair by Mechal Renee Roe
A beautiful, self-affirming, positive representation to have available for my students in the library. I had a 3rd grade boy read it to me, and he recognized both of his sisters and several of his classmates from our school community within the pages of this book
Don't Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller  (not out until Nov. 6th)
I read this F&G with two of my kinders who saw themselves represented in the pages and cover of this book, and they LOVED it! Empowers young girls to feel the beauty of their natural hair & to feel ok standing up for themselves if something makes them uncomfortable. A definite must-purchase for a school library.
Lovely by Jess Hong
This book is absolutely LOVELY! Positive self-image & acceptance abounds in the simple messaging of the single word text representative of the widely diverse representations in the illustrations on each page that are far from typical stereotyping.
Teddy's Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Madeline Valentine
I kinda want to gift this to every mom I know. It's a sweet story of a toy getting lost, but beyond that it's a story about how a mom will do everything she can to help her child, and a story showing that boys liking dolls is no big deal. And it's just cute fun. Definitely one I'll add to my school library and recommend others read.
 
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