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Accuracy and Authenticity in Multicultural Children’s Literature. “Accuracy” and “Authenticity”.
These terms are notoriously almost impossible to define. As we’ve discussed in previous classes, even defining seemingly simple terms like “childhood,” or “children’s literature” is difficult, and subjective terms like “accuracy” and “authenticity” are even tougher.
We must make an attempt though, because literature is a potentially powerful factor in the child’s construction of knowledge about people and the world (Mendoza and Reese).
Accuracy: “richness of details, authentic handling of dialogues and relationships, and sensitive treatment of issues” (Yokota qtd. in Mo and Shen 86)
In her introductory PPT lecture, Dr. Wannamaker mentioned some forces that shape literature, such as business, cultural expectations and norms, and school curricula. These types of forces can create problems and debates surrounding the accuracy or authenticity of a multicultural text…
Example: Almost anything! But, let’s take a look at A Gift from Papá Diego…
2. In terms of authorship and illustrations, does this eliminate the possibility of sensitive research, and only allow books “by and about” minority authors?
Stereotypes and misconceptions may arise, or something may be just plain wrong.
Examples: Little Black Sambo and Sam and the Tigers (previously discussed), and Arrow to the Sun
3. In terms of schooling, there may not be enough time to delve into the depth of detail needed to be completely accurate. Also, which facts are emphasized and how they are presented will affect the “accuracy.”
Example: Persepolis describes some of Iran’s history, and in its way is indeed accurate, but cannot give all the details needed to really understand Iranian culture, or Iran’s history.
(Same with Number the Stars, and its lack of detail about the atrocities of the Holocaust. Even though this is not an illustrated text, it’s probably familiar for purposes of explanation.)
4. Also in terms of schooling, authors must adapt the text to make it comprehensible to outsiders, AND must be careful what they introduce (i.e. ideas of arranged marriages, footbinding, drinking ages, etc.) and how adaptation is “cultural filtering” (Mo and Shen 90).
Example: The story of Cinderella has changed throughout history, and cultures.
Authenticity: “Non-stereotyped portrayals, positive images, lack of derogatory language, accurate historical information and cultural details, and realistic illustrations” (Mo and Shen 86)
Being true to myself and my particular way of being (Taylor 28)
Authenticity: Representations of characters, situations, relationships, customs and values that the culture as a whole would consider authoritative, trustworthy, and worthy of acceptance or belief as confirming to fact or reality (partially from Webster’s dictionary, Mo and Shen, and me)
However, the first definition uses the word “accurate,” illustrating ironically how subjective the definitions for “authenticity” are just like those for “accurate.” This brings us to debates surrounding “authenticity”…
1. In terms of postcolonialism, an “authentic culture” is basically impossible. Cultures absorb values from other cultures, and new customs are fighting to replace old traditions within the culture based on so many factors (technology, religion, media influence, etc.).
In other words, cultural values are not stagnant (Mo and Shen 87). Look again at A Gift from Papá Diego…
2. In terms of realistic content, what about multiracial families, characters, communities, etc.? Often multiracial relationships are depicted through difference (Sands O’Connor 413), and a focus on difference is not necessarily accurate, authentic, or helpful in creating “positive depictions” – this sets the minority culture even farther away from majority readers.
Example: Black, White, Just Right!
3. In terms of readership, members of seemingly similar cultures may view a subject or viewpoint differently (as either authentic or inauthentic).
This is where cultural expectations and norms enter into the debate. One person in a culture may expect one thing, while another expects something totally different.
Example: Christmas traditions for a Midwestern, white, middle class family…
4. In terms of business/consumer society, there may be a tendency to romanticize or over-dramatize subjects, or ignore certain subjects, in order to sell books, which would certainly detract from authenticity.
And of course that so few multicultural books are published anyway (recall stats from Dr. Wannamaker’s PPT).
Refer to: Gangi, Jane M. “Inclusive Aesthetics and Social Justice”
Aesthetic elements: Different cultures appreciate different aesthetic values (i.e. order vs. chaos, detailed sketching vs. broad strokes, etc.)
Detailed meaning: Different cultures attach different significance to identical illustrations (color, shapes, symbols, order of words, etc.)
Characterization: Speech (or language) may be different, necessitating translation, but more importantly, characters are often where choice enters a narrative. This is subjective, and thus may not seem authentic or accurate to all readers.
Frames are not completely traditional, but simple page design, blank space, etc. are very traditional.
Basic imitation is not authentic either though, so small changes may be necessary, and welcome (frames). “Authentic art form should not be rigidly interpreted as the typical traditional style” (Mo and Shen 92).
If we want to get really specific, mechanical reproduction through printing presses is not really authentic either…