The Multi-Construction of Story OR Are Multi-Cultural Books Dead? Maybe . . . Maybe Not!
by Uma Krishnaswami
Roderick McGillis puts it, “a desire for recognition on the part of people who have been either invisible or unfairly constructed or both.”
Recently, I received a letter from a young Indian American reader who had read a couple of my books. She wrote about the main character: “I cannot tell you how much I loved Dini because she sounds and thinks like me and her family looks and sounds like mine. I read a lot, so I don’t mean that I only like books where the characters are similar to me. But once in a while it is very nice.”
One can interpret such a letter as calling for culturally grounded books to serve as mirrors, reflecting readers’ images back to themselves, but that is not what I think my young reader is saying. I think she’s echoing the very same call for many stories that made Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk so wildly popular. She’s talking about multiple constructions of identity. By 2020, when one in two students in the United States is projected to be a child of color, such diverse constructions should also be commonplace in books.
Perhaps, too, my reader’s call is for many kinds of stories. Typically, stories of immigrants in the United States have tended to focus on the journey to America. There are many wonderful stories in this category—Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, for instance, or Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. But other narratives are now beginning to be told, stories in which identity choices do not constitute the storyline, where cultural multiplicity is taken for granted. Books like Kathi Appelt’s middle grade novel, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Or consider the YA novel Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata, where the bonds of sisterhood get forged in a wildly atypical family context.
Perhaps it’s time to think of constructing stories that will function, not as mirrors reflecting who we are now or who we were yesterday, but prisms projecting who we can be in decades yet to come.
From Kimberley Griffiths Little, one of your SPELLBINDERS:
Uma blogs on this subject frequently as well as teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA program for children’s literature. She calls them *Books With Cultural Contexts*! (Click here to read Uma’s intriguing bio).Visit her website at http://www.umakrishnaswami.com
Below is a book list with books in all children’s lit categories with specific cultural contexts—they are only a small selection of the many, many fine books out there.
How many have you read? (And scroll down for the **giveaway** of Uma’s new MG book!)
Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying Hwa-Hu
The Kamishibai Man by Allen Say
From the Bellybutton of the Moon by Francisco Alarcon illustrated by Maya Cristina Gonzales
The Princess of Borscht by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen
Tiger on a Tree by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Pulak Biswas
Anna Hibiscus (and sequels) by Atinuke
The Year of the Dog (and sequels) by Grace Lin
The No-Dogs-Allowed Rule by Kashmira Sheth
Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
Looking for Bapu by Anjali Banerjee
Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today edited by Lori Marie Carlson
Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
The Wild Book by Margarita Engle
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami
The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic by Uma Krishnaswami
Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy
Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy ShangThe Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Breakaway, Enchanted Runner, and The Last Snake Runner by Kimberley Griffiths Little (soon to be re-released in print and Kindle/Nook versions in a week or two so keep an eye out!)
Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye
A Step From Heaven by An Na
Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac
Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize series
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos
Tyrell (and sequels) by Coe Booth
A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
And now for your chance to win Uma’s MG novel – set in India about Bollywood! Funny and poignant family story about friendship and magic and dreams and movie stars! Just leave a comment on our SPELLBINDER blog to win OR email Kimberley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our random generator (or a hat!) will pick the winner in our final SPELLBINDER issue Monday, December 9th before we break for the holidays.
Kimberley Griffiths Little is the author of three magical realism novels with Scholastic, THE HEALING SPELL, CIRCLE OF SECRETS, and WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME (2013). Forthcoming: THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES (Scholastic, 2014) and her Young Adult debut, FORBIDDEN with Harpercollins (Fall 2014). When she’s not writing you can find her reading/daydreaming in her Victorian cottage and eating chocolate chip cookies with a hit of Dr. Pepper.
THE WINNER OF THE AUTOGRAPHED TYGER, TYGER TRILOGY IS MARJORIE DIBENEDETTO contact Kimberley at email@example.com