Children's Literature Has Come a Long Way
Byline: Jeff Wright The Register-Guard
Read any good (children's) books lately?
We might suggest "Hana's Suitcase," the true story of a suitcase that arrived at a children's Holocaust museum in Tokyo in 2000. On the outside, in white paint, are the words "Hana Brady, May 16, 1931' and "Waisenkind" - the German word for orphan.
Then there's "The Power of One," the true story of Daisy Bates, a black woman who mentored the nine black students who attended Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., amid the protests of thousands of angry whites, in 1957.
If fiction is more your bag, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more gripping tale than "Chanda's Secrets," about a teenage girl who lives among the death and loss of Africa's AIDS pandemic.
Closer to home, "A Shelter in Our Car" tells the story of a Jamaican-born mother and daughter who are homeless in a large U.S. city.
Clearly, children's literature has come a long way from the days when unicorns and bunny rabbits predominated. Or when virtually all the human characters were white.
Kid lit really began moving toward more realistic topics, tackling hard issues with sensitivity, in the early 1990s, said Arun Toke, editor and publisher of Skipping Stones, the Eugene-based nonprofit children's magazine dedicated to cultural and ecological diversity.
Some of that literary realism has produced multicultural stories and characters. Skipping Stones, eager to accelerate the process, announced its first-ever Honor Awards for multicultural children's literature in 1994.
The just-announced 2005 winners, meanwhile, include "A Shelter in Our Car" (for elementary students), "Hana's Suitcase" (elementary and middle school), "The Power of One" (middle school) and "Chanda's Secrets" (upper).
In addition to 10 awards for multicultural literature, Skipping Stones also cited six top new nature and ecology books, and four books and DVDs intended as teacher resources.
Authors writing about other cultures have long struggled to get their works published, Toke said. "It used to be, publishers would just not consider you unless you had a well-known co-author," he said. "We needed some awareness of these authors and illustrators who wanted to represent things the way they are."
The magazine's goal is to promote authentic multicultural literature from all sources, including small publishers and even self-publishers.
"We want to recognize all cultures, all faiths, all nationalities," Toke said. "We're looking for the best in everything - including Christianity and Euro-American culture."
The task of selecting the winning books - out of more than 100 submitted - is an arduous, three-month process that includes a stable of 20 reviewers including librarians, parents, students and teachers. …