ERIC Number: EJ1119087
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2016
Much Ado about a "Fine Dessert": The Cultural Politics of Representing Slavery in Children's Literature
Thomas, Ebony Elizabeth; Reese, Debbie; Horning, Kathleen T.
Journal of Children's Literature, v42 n2 p6-17 Fall 2016
When selecting and evaluating historical children's literature, there are many questions that must be considered. For example, who will be reading the book? Is the imagined young reader of these historical stories a White, middle class cisgender heterosexual, able-bodied student who was born in the United States, or are child readers from all backgrounds being kept in mind. What kind of story is being told in the book? What makes the story difficult? Who is it difficult for? Does the nature of that difficulty differ depending on the demographic makeup of a classroom, school or community? None of these questions are new. Because problematic depictions of children continue to be published, reading and English language arts teachers in classrooms all over the United States, as well as the literacy educators who prepare them, must critically consider these questions as they select books for their students. As children read historical fiction, they are also learning about our nation's fraught past. Many historical topics found in children's and young adult literature--slavery, conditions in the Jim Crow South, the Japanese internment camps of World War II, and the genocide of Native Americans, to name just a few--are set amid the incomprehensible horrors of the bleakest chapters of American history. As literary critic Clare Bradford (2007) noted, one of the functions of children's literature is "to explain and interpret national histories--histories that involve invasion, conquest, violence, and assimilation" (p. 97). Addressing these fraught events, however, can prove difficult in light of some of the other functions of children's literature in our culture: to transmit values, to convey a sense of nostalgia and wonder, to spark young imaginations, or to provide an expected "happily ever after" at the end of each story. Racial issues raised during studying literature can cause considerable discomfort to both teachers and students. This is especially true of African American children's literature. Therefore, the authors of this article recommend that even when using award winning African American children's literature about slavery, recent research recommendations for learning and teaching African American children's literature should be consulted prior to approaching units on slavery. The authors offer a 5-point criteria by Rudine Sims Bishop for helping teachers, parents, and community members choose appropriate books depicting slavery. The 5 principles provided here for selecting authentic children's literature about slavery have the potential to expand the depiction of the lives of the enslaved beyond bondage. Using Bishop's framework to evaluate "A Fine Dessert," this article provides a recommended list of children's books that depict enslaved characters that are within the literary tradition that Bishop delineated.
Descriptors: Childrens Literature, Slavery, United States History, African Americans, African American History, African American Literature, Cultural Influences, Teaching Methods
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
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