Ive heard Pauletta Bracy praised for more than two decades. Curiously, our paths never crossed until last month when I finally met N.C. Centrals illustrious professor at a celebration of multicultural childrens books that shes led at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh for 13 years.
It was a heartening evening in view of recent statistics released by the Cooperative Childrens Book Center, a Wisconsin library that specializes in researching childrens literature. Their analysis of 3,600 books in 2012 found that 119 had significant African or African-American content; 76 had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content; 54 had significant Latino content; and 22 had Native American themes. In all, 216 of the books were written and/or illustrated by people from those groups.
Is this trend changing? None of the 2014 Caldecott and Newbery award winners featured characters of color.
I was greeted that evening by the sight of multicultural books heaped on a large table. I was savoring that image when Carol Moyer, head of Quail Ridges childrens department, presented me with Braceys 20-page bibliography a cornucopia of books featuring characters of color.
The event began with presentations by two African-American picture book artists from Charlotte. The playful Tameka Fryer Brown read aloud her melodic My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood (Viking, ages 3-6). Her lyrical associations of colors and moods depict one young boys emotional day, including his happy cold-plum eating/grape-juice drinking /bobbing to the beat kind of mood and an upset that stirs storm brewing inside gray. Illustrator Shane Evans colors are as vivid as Browns words, rhythms and her spirited reading.
Self-taught illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton gave a rich rendition of her recent collaboration with Debbie Levy, reading and singing their picture book We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song (Disney, ages 5-10). Levys well-organized, clearly written words trace the song from the times of slavery to the post-civil rights era. Brantley-Newtons collages show historical and cultural perspectives, her illustrative choices as diverse as the people who come together to seek equality and those who continue to fight for justice throughout the world.
Bracy invited the attendees to consider such questions as: When will books be equal enough? What number would make them equal? Whose responsibility is it to get these books known? Should we have multicultural awards? What defines authenticity? All sparked thought and lively discussion.
Finally, Bracy turned to the large collection of noteworthy books from the past year. Here is a a short list of some of her favorites to start your multicultural musings:
• Monica Browns biography, Tito Puente, Mambo King (HarperCollins; ages 5-8).
• Bonnie Christensens A Single Pebble: A Story of the Silk Road (Roaring Brook, ages 5-9).
• Leesa Cline-Ransomes Light in the Darkness: A Story About How Slaves Learned in Secret (Jump at the Sun, ages 7-10).
• Kelly Cunnanes Mauritanian tale, Deep in the Sahara (Schwartz & Wade, ages 5-8).
• Ji-li Jiangs story of the Chinas Cultural Revolution, Red Kite, Blue Kite (Hyperion, ages 8 and up).
• Alma Flor Adas complex views of Latinos through 12 narrative poems, Yes! We Are Latinos! (Charlesbridge, ages 12 and up).
• Ann Burgs free-verse story of a Haitian girl, Serafinas Promise (Scholastic, ages 9-12).