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Posts Tagged ‘Jacqueline Woodson’

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Every year we audit the diversity of the authors we review because we truly believe we are what we read; and also because we truly believe that the best way to expand your horizons (when you can’t actually travel) is to read books written by or about people who are different from you. It is our hope these audits expose the voices we are missing in our libraries, and allow us to fill those gaps in our next year of reviews.

During the twelve months since our February 2017 audit, we reviewed 164 authors. If you have no interest in the audit results and only wish to see our new reviews of four great books, just scroll down to the next image — the new reviews start there.

The fine print for this audit: We did not include guest columns or the “3 Questions” series, because we don’t control their selections. We also excluded books written by groups such as Lonely Planet or series written by a variety of authors. Although we know some of the authors we highlighted identify as members of the LGBTQ community, we do not know the sexual orientations for all the authors we review, and thus do not audit by sexual orientation. We also do not have access to economic class statistics. Thus, our diversity audit focuses on gender and race/ethnicity.

Now some significant numbers from this latest audit: Women authors were 59% of the authors we featured. Fewer than half (41%) of all authors we featured were white women, and some (18%) of all authors we read were white women from outside the USA. Fewer than 10% of our featured authors were Latinas (5%) or Asian women (4%); and, 15% of the authors were black (either African or African-American) women.

There was slightly less diversity of country and ethnicity in the men we reviewed. Almost a third (28%) of the authors we featured were white men from outside of the USA. Ten percent of the male authors were black. Very few authors we featured were Asian men (1%) or Latinos (1%).

Adding men and women together, 32% of the authors we reviewed were persons of color. Within the white authors there was geographic diversity — more than half (55%) of the white authors we featured were from outside the USA (i.e., Canada, UK, Australia, Sweden). The largest group (25% of total authors reviewed) of authors of color were black (African or African American).

To sum, while we are improving the diversity of the authors reviewed — 26% of authors in 2016 and 23% in 2015 were persons of color — the fact remains that not quite a third (32%) of the authors we featured during the past 12 months were authors of color. So, once again, we vow to continue to search the shelves for a diversity of authors.

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And now some new reviews.

We begin February – Black History Month – by highlighting some great, new books by authors who identify as black.

FC9781250171085.jpgWhen They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (2018) – This memoir by one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement powerfully combines her personal experiences as a black woman in the USA with overarching social commentary about life for black Americans living in poverty. Her family’s story is incredibly moving and her prose makes all she has dealt with in her short life incredibly accessible. In the process, she also outlines the work, people, and dreams behind Black Lives Matter, a story greatly enhanced by her candor about her personal journey. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780871407535.jpgThe Annotated African American Folktales edited by Henry Louis Gates and Maria Tatar (2018) – Susan Voake of the Norwich Bookstore brought this to our attention with her recent review — “Hallelujah! Let’s begin 2018 with a landmark volume by two luminaries in their fields. Collections of African American folktales have been available, specifically for children, for the last thirty years. For the first time, they are collected and annotated by authorities in both African American culture and world folklore for the popular adult audience.” I agree this volume is worth reading, as well as owning, for years to come. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062359995.jpgAnother Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (2016) – This novel was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2016, but somehow I only just read it last week. (Perhaps I was too busy reading her fabulous children’s books.) In this adult novel, August, the novel’s main character, and her closest girlfriends believe Brooklyn is a magical place where they feel beautiful and capable, and they know a bright future is theirs for the taking. It is also a place where men behave badly, mothers have difficulties coping, and madness often prevails. Told in sparse prose, Ms. Woodson provides insight into growing up a black girl in the USA, and city life in NYC. If you need further persuasion her work is worth reading, she has been recognized with the Coretta Scott King, Newberry Honor, and a Caldecott Honor awards, just to name a few. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781594206252.jpgFeel Free by Zadie Smith (2018) – Essays by one of my favorite writers are always a reason to celebrate. This new collection contains musings about social networks, joy, the Oscar-nominated movie “Get Out”, Rome, mourning, and Key and Peele. As always, this book contains her precise, beautiful, and thought-provoking prose. Enjoy! (Thank you to children’s librarian extraordinaire Ms. Beth for letting us borrow your advance copy of this superb collection so we could include it today.) ~ Lisa Christie

And, we finish with some political cartooning.

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So a cold, snowy Vermont February is here once more, and again we find ourselves asking, “Do we create a specific post for African-American history month, or does creating a specific post somehow minimize the contributions of people of color?” This question led to — “Do we skip this year’s post, or do we again use this month as a reason to highlight the contributions of African-Americans and African-American authors?” And finally we asked, “How can thinking about these questions help us improve The Book Jam?” We answered that last question first by doing a quick audit of our site looking at our posts from the past 12 months, to see the races/ethnicities of authors we have showcased.

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We found that during the past 12 months, we reviewed 140 books. (We removed the “Pages in the Pub” and “Three Questions with Authors” posts as we do not choose all those books.) Over half (57%) were written by white authors from the USA, 24% by white authors not from the USA (mostly Brits, Canadians, Australians and a few Africans), and 19% were written by authors of color (Asian, Black, Indian, Latinos) from anywhere in the world. We noted that featured authors of color tend to be African-American (50%), followed by Latino (37%), and Indian/Asian (13%). Our gender break-down was more even, with 54% of books we reviewed written by women and 46% by men. We also looked at the images we insert into the posts (beyond the frequent book covers), and noted that we tend to insert images of objects, not people. But, we were uncomfortable to note that when we do insert images of people, they tend to be white.

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This audit led to a vow to be more aware of inserting pictures of people of all races and to feature more authors of color in 2015 — and beyond, in all our posts. We believe “you are what you read” and that reading from a diverse set of perspectives enriches you; so we will strive for more diversity. Our reflection also landed us on the side of using this month to give air time to recent books by authors who are African-American or ones that highlight the African-American experience. This decision was reinforced by an African-American student at Dartmouth College who reminded us recently, “sometimes it just helps for the white person in the room to be the one to raise the race issue.”

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So, after all the build up, we are pleased to share the latest GREAT books we have read that happen to have been penned by African-American authors. We think we have something for everyone here: some fiction, some poetry, some non-fiction and some items for children and young adults. And we sincerely hope our selections help you enjoy some great books this month.

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How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A powerful look at “what goes down” when a 16-year-old black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man. Was it defense against a gang incident? Was it a man stopping a robbery gone wrong? Was it being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it none of these, or a combination of these? And, just when you think you have all the pieces and perspectives to know what happened, a new piece of information inserted into one of the multiple voices used to tell this story, sends you another direction. A seriously impressive book – cleverly staged, with superb and unique voices throughout, and a plot from today’s headlines. This book makes you think about how perspective influences what you see, how stories are told, how choices have implications, and – well, to be honest – the pull and power of gangs.  Read it and discuss with your favorite teen. ~ Lisa Christie

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014) – I fall hard just about every time an author uses free verse to tell a story to children (e.g., Love That Dog by Sharon Creech). And Ms. Woodson’s prose paints powerful images in this National Book Award winning autobiography about growing up a “brown girl” during the 1960s and 1970s in South Carolina, Ohio and New York.  Her story emerges a book about the Civil Rights movement, growing up, and finding one’s voice as a writer. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) – This slim volume was a National Book Award finalist and offers a powerful way to meditate on what race means in the USA today.  Using news events, such as Hurricane Katrina or another professional tennis player imitating Serena Williams by stuffing towels under her outfits to enhance her bottom and breasts, Ms. Rankine contemplates both what it means to be Black in the USA, and what part we all play as events unfold and we chose what to acknowledge and feel. I think it is important to note that I did not read this in one sitting; but instead, I picked it up, read a bit, thought, put it down for awhile, and repeated. I recommend consuming this book in the same manner, or in one fell swoop. But no matter how you read it, you will be glad you did. ~ Lisa Christie (and Lisa Cadow)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – We LOVED this book but use the prose of Penny McConnel, co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore to describe it. Thanks Penny! “This amazing book has filled me with such great joy, interest and admiration both during and after I completed it. Efemelu, a young smart Nigerian girl dreams of someday going to America. When she does, her eyes are opened to so much more than she had anticipated; most importantly racism. Back home in Nigeria Efemelu had never thought about being black because everyone was, but when she arrived in the states, she discovered the heavy weight of race that burdens both the black and white populations. In the states she graduates from college, has several relationships with good men and ultimately writes a very popular blog called “Understanding America For The Non White American.” Throughout these years, Efemelu has never forgotten Obinze, the young Nigerian boy she fell in love with in high school and the reader never stops hoping that they will eventually find each other. This is a contemporary story that is not just another story of immigration, but one of identity, love and powerful insights. Adichie is a powerful voice in contemporary fiction; a brave writer whose work I look forward to reading more of.” ~ Penny McConnel (Seconded by Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie)

Matthew Henson: Artic Adventurer by Graphic Library (2006) – I am ashamed to say I had no idea an African American, along with two Inuit men, were with Admiral Robert Peary when he successfully traveled to the North Pole and on his previous unsuccessful attempts. I am grateful this graphic biography for children brought these men to my attention. THANK YOU to our town’s children’s librarian for putting this book in my sons’ hands. (But I will add, shame on me and shame on American history books for not highlighting Mr. Henson. And, shame on us still, for not talking about the Inuits who made the success possible.) ~ Lisa Christie

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selena Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls (2015) – Mr. Qualls received a Coretta Scott King Honor award for his previous work, and his illustrations for The Case for Loving are “spot on” in their inviting nature. In this picture book (also recently reviewed by The New York Times), Mr. Qualls teams with his wife to tell the story of Loving Versus Virginia, a landmark civil rights decision of the US Supreme Court that invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriages, a case resonating as we watch legal decisions over gay marriage unfold. But, beyond its importance, this book tells the story of love. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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