Children’s Books

Children’s Books: NCCU prof picks multicultural favorites

CorrespondentMarch 22, 2014 

I’ve heard Pauletta Bracy praised for more than two decades. Curiously, our paths never crossed until last month when I finally met N.C. Central’s illustrious professor at a celebration of multicultural children’s books that she’s 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 Children’s Book Center, a Wisconsin library that specializes in researching children’s 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 Ridge’s children’s department, presented me with Bracey’s 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 boy’s 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 Evan’s colors are as vivid as Brown’s 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). Levy’s well-organized, clearly written words trace the song from the times of slavery to the post-civil rights era. Brantley-Newton’s 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 Brown’s biography, “Tito Puente, Mambo King” (HarperCollins; ages 5-8).

• Bonnie Christensen’s “A Single Pebble: A Story of the Silk Road” (Roaring Brook, ages 5-9).

• Leesa Cline-Ransome’s “Light in the Darkness: A Story About How Slaves Learned in Secret” (Jump at the Sun, ages 7-10).

• Kelly Cunnane’s Mauritanian tale, “Deep in the Sahara” (Schwartz & Wade, ages 5-8).

• Ji-li Jiang’s story of the China’s Cultural Revolution, “Red Kite, Blue Kite” (Hyperion, ages 8 and up).

• Alma Flor Ada’s complex views of Latinos through 12 narrative poems, “Yes! We Are Latinos!” (Charlesbridge, ages 12 and up).

• Ann Burg’s free-verse story of a Haitian girl, “Serafina’s Promise” (Scholastic, ages 9-12).

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