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Monday, November 17, 2014

Caribbean Carnival

I'm in an online class called The Heart of It: Creating Children's Books that Matter and one discussion that keeps coming up is if it's okay for writers/illustrators to create stories from the perspective of other cultures (for instance, a white person writing or illustrating the story of an African person).  It's an interesting and tricky question.  Honestly, although I had considered this with writing, I never thought that illustrators might have the same issue. 

In one of our webinars, we got to hear from the wonderful author Zetta Elliot.  She brought up how unfortunately in the publishing business, how it usually works is when you write about another culture, you are taking that opportunity and voice away from a writer/artist actually from that culture. Publishing companies will usually only publish one book from a certain culture in a year, maybe only one in a few years, because they feel there isn't enough room for more. It's unfortunate but the truth at this point in time. 

I still think it's a struggle because of course we want to include diversity and bring awareness to other cultures and experiences, but we need to mindful of writers/artists who need their voice heard.

To go with this theme, I've chosen Caribbean Carnival: Songs of the West Indies, illustrated by Frané Lessac.  I grew up with her books, and had always assumed she was Afro-Caribbean.  However, she is actually a white woman who grew up in New Jersey and currently lives in Australia.  She did live in Montserrat for a while, where many of her children's books are set.  But does the fact that she is not a Caribbean native take away from the authenticity of her books? What about how she illustrates in a Naive style? I personally still think her books are beautiful, but I am a white American myself so I don't really know how Afro-Caribbeans would feel about an outsider telling their stories.  Thoughts?


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