Monday, October 13, 2014

Does multicultural literature get the details right?

In my online Children’s Literature class this week, I was asked to address the metaphors of multicultural literature as a “mirror” and a “window” (attributed in our text to Rudine Sims Bishop, a noted professor of children’s literature).

When multicultural literature acts as a “mirror,” it speaks to the experiences and concerns of readers from a similar background. As a “window,” it gives a greater understanding to readers who are not of that culture.

Good multicultural literature can do both simultaneously, simply by virtue of who is reading and what background the reader brings to the experience.

I believe that culturally-specific and culturally-neutral selections both have their places in the library or among classroom reading selections. We can learn as much from each other’s similarities as we can from unique backgrounds or concerns.

Authors who are intimately connected with the culture can offer a unique perspective, but I don’t automatically discount writings by people who are “cultural outsiders.” It becomes an issue for me if the collection is made up only of cultural outsiders.

What’s important for me is the care with which an author bothered to get the details right (and the care with which a teacher or librarian selected this material).

For one thing, these stories may be the first exposure that people outside the culture have. And perhaps more importantly, it sends a powerful message if the adult-in-charge didn’t seem to care if my culture was portrayed respectfully.

I hope that teachers and librarians look beyond big-name authors and consider emerging voices from smaller independent publishers when examining materials for selection. A diversity of viewpoints and backgrounds among authors can enrich multicultural literature.

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