Academic journal article African American Review

Commitment to Change: The Council on Interracial Books for Children and the World of Children's Books

Academic journal article African American Review

Commitment to Change: The Council on Interracial Books for Children and the World of Children's Books

Article excerpt

This is a particularly appropriate time at which to reflect on the role of the Council on Interracial Books for Children (CIBC) on its role in the promotion and development of children's literature that would adequately reflect our multi-racial society. It is also a truly troubling time for those who have shared the concerns of the CIBC over the last thirty years. The hard won Civil Rights gains of African Americans are being steadily eroded through court decisions and legislative actions. Multi-cultural studies are being derided as "feel good ethnic studies." The term politically correct has been transformed into a mocking description of vocabulary or actions used to avoid race or gender bias. There is no longer the sense of social concern and social responsibility that existed at the time that the CIBC was established.

Founded in 1965, the CIBC was an outgrowth of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. This was an era when the attention of the nation was focused on the dramatic and determined struggles of African Americans to eliminate the racist policies which had been imposed upon them. By 1964, Mississippi had been targeted for concentrated action as a state whose racist policies were considered to be among the most onerous. A group of socially responsible persons form New York City went to Mississippi to assist in the Freedom Schools that were being established by the community in order to provide a self-affirming, quality education for African American children. These people were appalled by the racist and sexist treatment of African Americans in the children's trade books and textbooks that were available. They were even more concerned about the lack of more suitable materials. The creation of the CIBC was a response to issues raised by this particular situation.

From the very beginning, the writers, editors, educators, illustrators, and parents who created the Council were quite clear about its goals: "to promote a literature for children that better reflects the realities of a multi-cultural society" and "to effect basic change in books and media." (Council vii). The tightly focused program developed by the CIBC over the years is derived from its commitment to the achievement of these specific goals.

The newly created CIBC immediately began to address the issues of racism and sexism in children's literature. These had become critical issue for certain groups, including African Americans, who had been demanding accurate and adequate treatment of their life, history, and culture in children's literature and textbooks. Following the African American lead, other similarly affected groups - Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, and women - began to issue kindred demands. At the same time school systems were receiving sizable grants from the federal government with which to purchase books. Publishers rushing to take advantage of the new market for cultural materials issued a spate of volumes purporting to answer the demands of the various groups. Many of these volumes, however, contained the same myths, stereotypes, and distortions previously found offensive, but in subtler and more sophisticated forms, which made them more difficult to detect.

The CIBC developed The Bulletin of Interracial Books for Children in order to give information about and guidance in the selection and use of children's trade books and textbooks. The Bulletin regularly featured evaluations of materials in terms of their racist and sexist content. The CIBC was particularly concerned with the presentation of people of color and women. Special issues were devoted entirely to examinations of the presentation of African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, and women in children's literature. As many as 100 books were reviewed in some issues. These concentrated reviews enabled readers to note how historical inaccuracies, cultural myths, and cultural stereotypes were perpetuated and reinforced by constant repetition in volume after volume. …

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