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Literatures and Literacies of the African Diaspora for Children and Young Adults. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas Doctoral Candidate Joint Program in English and Education University of Michigan 20 October 2009. Overview.

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Literatures and Literacies of the African Diasporafor Children and Young Adults

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

Doctoral Candidate

Joint Program in English and Education

University of Michigan

20 October 2009

Overview l.jpg

  • A brief tour through the history of Black children’s literatures and literacies

  • The landscape today

  • Discussion: Some questions to consider

Origins l.jpg

  • Africa

    • Proverbs

    • Fables

  • New World

    • European influences

    • Native American influences

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Sources of Production

  • Propaganda

    • STRONGLY suggested viewing: Marlon Riggs’ Ethnic Notions (documentary available from California Newsreel)

    • Opening scene:

    • Some abolition propaganda as well; Coleridge, Blake, Lamb, Garrison & others

  • Counternarratives – “setting the record straight for 500 years”

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Literature and literate traditions during slavery

  • Penalties for learning to read

    • Slave narratives – many available for children today in story form (Julius Lester, Afua Cooper)

  • Yet there were very rich slave literacies

    • Talking Drums and a New Language (AAE)

      • Sounds of Blackness, “We Are The Drum”

    • Spirituals

      • Paul Robeson, “Go Down Moses”

    • Trickster tales and Freedom Stories

      • Anansi -> Brer Rabbit vs. Brer Fox

      • Virginia Hamilton, The People Could Fly

      • Verna Aardema – multiple stories

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When Emancipation Came

“The former slaves and freeborn Blacks who taught freedmen’s schools were buoyed by idealism, ambition, religious zeal, and the enthusiasm of a people who hungered and thirsted for literacy. As Union armies occupied rebel territory… Black southerners clamored for education. In the words of Booker T. Washington, “it was a whole race going to school.” --Adam Fairclough, A Class of Their Own (2006)

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Troubled Times: The Nadir Period

  • Retrenchment of racism

    • The Compromise of 1877/”Redemption”

    • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

    • Sundown Towns (Loewen)

    • Negative images of Black children (Ethnic Notions)

  • Periodicals for Black children

    • Joy (Amelia Johnson, 1887)

    • A Children’s Number (DuBois, 1915)

    • The Brownie’s Book (DuBois, 1921)

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The Harlem Renaissance

  • Langston Hughes & Arna Bontemps

    • Novels for children are now being republished, look for Boy of the Border

  • Poetry about Black childhood

    • Countee Cullen, “Incident”

    • Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son”

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“A Change is Gonna Come”

  • Great Migration

  • Great Depression

  • WWII and Jim Crow’s “First Blow”

  • The Dawn of the Civil Rights Era

    • Carter G. Woodson’s Negro History Bulletin

    • Richard Wright; James Baldwin

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“We Shall Overcome”

  • The role of children and young adults in the Civil Rights movement cannot be underestimated.

  • Much of the literature about African American young people is set during this era

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The Black Arts Movement

  • Surge of books featuring Black characters

  • Ebony Jr. magazine

  • White reformers and allies

    • Spotlight on Jim Henson and the Children’s Television Workshop

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New Times, New Challenges

  • Young Sisters and Brothers

  • Hip-Hop’s Influence on African American Children’s Texts

  • Recognition of non-American Black children’s literature

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“And Still, We Rise”

  • Children’s literature written by and featuring African Americans is a staple of school curricula and youth-serving libraries.

  • Taken together, the story that this literature tells is a magnificent one… from slavery and colonization to freedom and triumph.

  • Yet after a period of gains during the 1970s and early 1980s, the literacy achievement gap is widening.

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Some Key Authors

  • Ezra Jack Keats

  • Virginia Hamilton

  • Walter Dean Myers

  • Julius Lester

  • Mildred D. Taylor

  • Christopher Paul Curtis

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Some Key Illustrators

  • Leo and Diane Dillon

  • Fred and Patricia McKissack

  • Tom Feelings

  • Jerry Pinkney

  • James E. Ransome

  • John Steptoe

  • Kadir Nelson

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Landmark Texts

  • The Snowy Day (Keats, 1963)

  • Sounder (Armstrong, 1970)

  • M.C. Higgins, the Great (Hamilton, 1975)

  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Taylor, 1976)

  • Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters (Steptoe, 1987)

  • Bud, Not Buddy (Curtis, 1999)

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Authors from Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean

  • Rosa Guy (Trinidad)

    • The Friends

    • My Love, My Love

      • This became the stage play, “Once on This Island”

  • Maryse Conde (Guadeloupe)

    • I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

  • Elizabeth Borton de Trevino

    • I, Juan de Pareja

  • Malorie Blackman (United Kingdom)

    • Noughts and Crosses

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The Coretta Scott King Awards

  • “The Coretta Scott King Award Seal was designed by internationally-known artist Lev Mills in 1974. The symbolism used in designing the seal centers around Dr. King's teachings and doctrines, the purpose for which the Award was founded.

  • “The basic circle represents continuity in movement, revolving from one idea to another. Within the circle is the image of a black child reading a book…

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Relevant Printz and Caldecott Winners

  • Printz

    • Walter Dean Myers, Monster

    • Angela Johnson, The First Part Last

    • Marilyn Nelson, A Wreath for Emmett Till

  • Caldecott

    • To date, no illustrator of African descent has won this award.

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Other Resources for Teachers and Librarians

  • African-American Read-In (NCTE)

  • African-American Children’s Resource Bibliography (de Grummond Children’s Literature)

  • African Children’s Literature

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Questions to consider - #1

  • Many have critiqued the “all-white” world of children’s literature prior to the 1960s. I hope that after this talk, you understand that authors and storytellers of African descent have always produced texts intended for young people… just not published in the mainstream! What are your thoughts about this?

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Questions to consider - #2

  • This may be a question you have touched upon with previous guests, but who has the right to tell which stories? For instance, two prominent White authors of African American children’s literature are Ezra Jack Keats and Arnold Adoff. Many (in my opinion) do an excellent job. However, some non-Black authors have historically done harm (Ethnic Notions). Does it matter who writes books about and for children of African descent?

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Questions to consider - #3

  • What are your thoughts about the ways that Africa is represented in children’s literature, television shows, and movies? What are some of the challenges that we face as teachers, librarians, and others who select and provide texts for the young in light of this?

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Any additional questions?

  • Thanks for letting me be with you tonight!

  • My contact information: