Picture book A Fine Dessert stirs heated discussions on diversity in kidlit
Bear with me, readers, and I’ll try to condense a week’s worth of conversations:
A Fine Dessert is a children’s picture book about the creation of blackberry fool over several centuries, focusing on four different kinds of families. One of those families is a black mother and daughter, who are both servants on a plantation owned by a white family. Elisa from Trybrary wrote about the book’s seemingly good intentions, which also had the effect of making slavery seem like a “palatable” option when it very much was not.
A month later, The Horn Book published a post about A Fine Dessert in their Calling Caldecott series. Again, the story was called out for its portrayal of a family in slavery. In October, illustrator Sophie Blackall addressed the commentary on her blog.
The conversation took off on Twitter, when fangirljeanne shared images of the book:
Looking at these illustration is making me sick and sad. pic.twitter.com/oXwOJZSBOT
— Fangirl Jeanne (@fangirlJeanne) October 25, 2015
Author Emily Jenkins, also known as E. Lockhart, has since apologized for the insensitivity of the story on the blog Reading While White:
— Mr. ©olby Sharp (@colbysharp) November 1, 2015
Though Meg Rosoff has continued to use this discussion as “proof” that “Diversity Agenda People” are running off white authors and illustrators from the industry, as detailed on Ellen Oh’s blog, we see what we want to see, and I am personally taking the existence of this discussion, and Emily Jenkins’ example of a true apology, as a sign of growth in the publishing industry. Let’s hope it keeps going.
If the last few years of Hunger Games movie promotion has taught us anything, it’s that we are scarily close to becoming the Capitol in its excesses. But this new push to create a theme park based on the bestselling series, which itself was based on a system that forced children to literally kill one another, is incredibly oblivious to the message of the novels. Unlike Harry Potter, no one wants to live in Panem. No one wants to experience what Katniss did at the hands of President Snow in three different violent Games. A theme park would sanitize and ignore the core ideas of The Hunger Games, and not even the promise of Peeta’s bakery will make that retcon appealing.
Robinson is one of the president’s favorite authors, and the conversation between them has a palpable sense of mutual respect and admiration. Obama even gives a shoutout to hit Broadway musical Hamilton, as they discuss the influence of history on their own perspectives.
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