At our October meeting, we had a lively exchange about writing books about groups or cultures that are not our own:My view is that storytellers should not be limited by race or culture, neither our own nor our characters, but does the same hold true for illustrators? I believe so, and was thrilled with artist Jamie Hogan's illustrations for my own Rickshaw Girl, despite my initial suggestion of several South Asian artists' names to Charlesbridge (which they requested, considered, and decided against after realizing Jamie's art worked so well). Why, then, does my gut feel slightly more reluctant about this wide-open "yes" to illustrators crossing borders than the one I resoundingly shout when it comes to writers attempting the same?
Bob Lipsyte spoke about his groundbreaking novel, THE CONTENDER. Ellen Levine talked about her picture book, I HATE ENGLISH, which deals with a Chinese child. Helen Benedict spoke about her novel, THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE, about a biracial teenager; and Catherine Stine mentioned her novel, REFUGEE, about an Afghan boy seeking asylum from war. Each of these writers described the extensive research they did as well as the depth of their commitment to doing justice to the themes and characters they depicted.
We also talked about the complex issue of who should illustrate picture books about minority groups: Ezra Jack Keats's groundbreaking picture book, THE SNOWY DAY, appeared before African-American artists were given extensive opportunities; and today many editors prefer that books about African-Americans be illustrated by African-American artists. Cheryl Hudson, who is both a writer and the publisher of Just Us Books, gave a quick overview of changes in the field since THE SNOWY DAY. We also looked at picture books written and illustrated by people across cultural boundaries, including, THE FUNNY LITTLE WOMAN by Arlene Mosel and Blair Lent, and THE THREE SAMURAI CATS by Eric A. Kimmell, illustrated by Mordecai Gerstein.
Who Shall Draw Our Children?
After our past chats about authenticity and the right to tell a story, I thought my Fire Escape visitors would enjoy this synopsis by Fran Manushkin of last month's PEN young adult and children's book committee meeting, and she kindly gave me permission to excerpt it for you: