Archive for Around the Web

Rudine Sims Bishop — Windows, Mirrors, Sliding Glass Doors — and Mike Curato’s “Flamer”

A librarian friend recently passed on a link to a landmark article by Rudine Sims Bishop. The article, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” was first published in 1990. While I was well aware of the ideas in the article, I had never read the original source. 

Bishop is credited with being the first to discuss children’s literature within the context of windows and doors. Most of the concepts are now familiar to anyone who has been paying attention. To quote the opening paragraph:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

Skipping down, she later writes:

When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part. Our classrooms need to be places where all the children from all the cultures that make up the salad bowl of American society can find their mirrors.

Those are profound and important points, widely recognized in the children’s literature community (finally), after decades of neglect. We are now witnessing a sometimes awkward but wholly necessary Diversity Movement in children’s literature.

There’s another concept from Bishop’s article that has been somewhat slower to be absorbed. Maybe it’s less obvious. Sure, many of us can easily accept the importance for nonwhites to see themselves reflected in books. But in the absence of those diverse books — an absence that has long haunted American culture — the damage is also felt by the dominant social groups who have always found their mirrors in books.

Writes Bishop:

They, too, have suffered from the lack of availability of books about others. They need the books as windows onto reality, not just on imaginary worlds. They need books that will help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in, and their place as a member of just one group, as well as their connections to all other humans. In this country, where racism is still one of the major unresolved social problems, books may be one of the few places where children who are socially isolated and insulated from the larger world may meet people unlike themselves. If they see only reflections of themselves, they will grow up with an exaggerated sense of their own importance and value in the world — a dangerous ethnocentrism.

Go ahead, read that last sentence again.

Here, I’ll help you out:

If they see only reflections of themselves, they will grow up with an exaggerated sense of their own importance and value in the world — a dangerous ethnocentrism.

I believe that we experience a perilous echo of that limited ethnocentrism in the “Great Replacement” theory espoused by Tucker Carlson on FOX News and the white supremacist movement. These fearful, narrow people probably didn’t read enough diverse books when they children.

Along these lines, I now teach an online class for Gotham Writers, “Writing Children’s Books: Level 1.” I began our last session by sharing Bishop’s article and discussing it. The truth is, if I hope to assist less-experienced writers, it can’t only be about encouragement and the development of writing skills. They need to know this information, too. 


Yesterday I sat down to read Flamer, a 2020 graphic novel by Mike Curato. Not strictly a memoir, the book is based on Curato’s experiences as a young gay male struggling with his own confusing feelings, an uncertain sense of identity and place in the world. The book is unflinching in its honesty and directness, including the portrayal of bullies and personal anguish, to the point of suicidal ideation.

Curato’s book is an act of courage and compassion. A triumph in every respect. He writes in the book’s afterward:

Although living is scary when we continue to suffer, I would do it all over again to be able to write this book for you. To hope. To dream. To want love. These are dangerous acts. Fear and hope are bound up together inside of us, alongside our flaws and our divinity. In this darkness, we can find an inner light to guide us. And there is light in you, even if you can’t see it.

Of course, in our often dark world, some folks will rouse themselves to challenge and ban such a book. We can’t have that in our schools. It is currently happening all around us. An act of erasure. The book-banners final solution? To make people like Mike Curato disappear from our bookshelves and our lives.

Returning to Rudine Sims Bishop, she rounds off her essay by recognizing the limits of literature. It cannot feed the hungry or wipe out the scourge of drugs. But, she concludes:

It could, however, help us to understand each other better by helping to change our attitudes towards difference. When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities, because together they are what make us all human.

Here’s to that better world.

Here’s to books, and diversity, and mirrors and doors, and to librarians who fight the good fight, and the bright light that burns within each and every one of us.

Shine on, my good people. Shine on. Our world desperately needs your light.

 

 

Books Are . . .

“The Most Beautiful Work of All”: Patti Smith & Robert Mapplethorpe

I’ve seen a lot of concerts over the years, but somehow one of my heroes, Patti Smith, always eluded me. But I recently saw her down in Knoxville at the Big Ears Music Festival. Twice, in fact. One show was a standard rock concert with a full band in the Tennessee Theater. The other show, titled “Words & Music,” took place in a slightly more intimate setting, the Mill & Mine. No drums, no bass. Patti on stage with only her son Jackson Smith on guitar and Tony Shanahan on keyboards and various other instruments. A cozier, chattier, more relaxed vibe. Patti performed songs, including covers of Bob Dylan (“One Too Many Mornings”) and Stevie Wonder (“Blame It On the Sun”); she gave brief readings and allowed herself the time to introduce songs at length. It was, as they say, a special night.

One of the things Patti read — maybe at the Tennessee Theater? — was the letter she wrote in 1989 to artist Robert Mapplethorpe who was in the hospital at the end of a long illness. Another bright soul taken by AIDS. Patti explained that she returned home after a hospital visit and composed a short letter to her friend, a relationship lovingly chronicled in her award-winning memoir, Just Kids.

He died the next day without ever having read it.

But you can. We can.

 

Dear Robert,

Often as I lie awake I wonder if you are also lying awake. Are you in pain, or feeling alone? You drew me from the darkest period of my young life, sharing with me the sacred mystery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together. Your work, coming from a fluid source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of holding hands with God. Remember, through everything, you have always held that hand. Grip it hard, Robert, and don’t let it go.

The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off, too. But before I did, it occurred to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through years of your work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.

Patti

Fingertreeprint

“I’m a little worried about how much I’ve been thinking about my fingerprints. All the places I’ve been, the things and people I’ve touched, the marks I’ve left behind.”The Fall, JP 

 

 

In my writing, here and there, I’ve frequently returned to the idea/metaphor of fingerprints. Probably most cogently in The Fall, a book about identity and figuring out who you are (among other things). 

And I’ve also been writing about trees (Blood Mountain, mostly, and in some new work not yet published). Not only writing, but trying to learn about them. Reading, stopping to look, researching. 

So when I saw this meme, it resonated. 

 

 

 

                      

This Saturday, 11/6, You Can Zoom Into the Rochester Children’s Book Festival — from Anywhere — and It’s Free!

A FREE VIRTUAL EVENT

The Rochester Children’s Book Festival goes VIRTUAL this Saturday, November 6th for a full day of FREE panel discussions and readings with a diverse assortment of children’s book writers and illustrators.

I’ll be staggering around in Room 2 at 2:00pm, moderating a (hopefully!) lively and (hopefully!) entertaining conversation about chapter books and series writing with Michelle Knudsen, Laurie Calkhoven, and Judy Bradbury. See below for a full list of participating authors and events.


         

         

You can also order signed book from all participating authors through the festival website.

REGISTER NOW by clicking this link and following the instructions.

Here’s the schedule for the day:

 

10:00 AM

ROOM 1

Read To Me Corner – Picture Book Stories Read By The Author

Annette Dunn

Susannah Buhrman-Deever

Unseld Robinson

ROOM 2 

Picture Books: How Are You Feeling? Coping With Emotions

Heidi Stemple

Jane Yolen

Susan Verde

James Howe

 11:00 AM

 ROOM 1 

Graphic Fiction: Drawing Demonstration  (Interactive – Pencil And Paper Required)

Frank Cammuso

Steve Ellis

Brian Yanish

ROOM 2 

For Our Younger Book Lovers: Stories and Songs (Interactive)

Iza Trapani

Tiffany Polino

Margaret Pence

12:00 PM

ROOM 1

Fantastical Fantasy for Middle Grade Readers

Vivian Vande Velde

Sheela Chari

Bruce Coville

ROOM 2

Historical Fiction – Fact and Fiction Storytelling

Keely Hutton

Elizabeth Falk

Susan Williams Beckhorn

Marsha Hayles

1:00 PM

ROOM 1

Diverse Themes in Middle Grade Literature​

Alex Sanchez

MJ and Herm Auch

Leslie C. Youngblood

ROOM 2

How Authors Use Poetry and Verse To Tell A Story

Linda Sue Park

Joseph Bruchac

Nikki Grimes

2:00 PM

ROOM 1

Picture Books: Fiction and Non-Fiction

Susannah Buhrman-Deever

Kevin Kurtz

Mylisa Larsen

ROOM 2

Get Hooked on Chapter Books: Mysteries, Non-Fiction, and Humor

James Preller

Laurie Calkhoven

Michelle Knudsen

Judy Bradbury

3:00 PM

ROOM 1

Doing It All: Writing and Illustrating Your Books

Jeff Mack

Frank Cammuso

ROOM 2

How Picture Book Authors and Illustrators Work Together​

Peggy Thomas

Kathleen Blasi

London Ladd

Yuko Jones

4:00 PM

ROOM 1

How To Write Non- Fiction That Middle Graders Want To Read​

Ronny Frishman

Rose O’Keefe

Andrea Page

Sally Valentine

ROOM 2

Read To Me Corner – Picture Book Stories Read by the Author

Mylisa Larsen

Yuko Jones

Kathy Blasi

THANK YOU

FOR SUPPORTING THE ARTS

IN THESE CHALLENGING TIMES!