Author Topic: Black History Month 2011: Why Black Bedtime Stories Matter More  (Read 1813 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Black History Month 2011: Why Black Bedtime Stories Matter More
« on: February 27, 2011, 10:28:54 am »

Black History Month 2011: Why Black Bedtime Stories Matter More
By Alice Randall
Posted Feb 24th 2011 4:18AM

Bedtime stories are complicated for black families. Take Addy. I will never forget page 23 of 'Meet Addy: An American Girl.' Addy is forced, by an overseerer with a whip in his hands, to eat live worms that she missed while tending tobacco plants.

I came to page 23 while reading aloud to my 6-year-old daughter. She was tucked beneath a patchwork quilt. Her room had two lovely windows looking out onto a pear tree. There was a three-story dollhouse that looked just like our pink townhouse down to the sponge-painted interior walls. Her head was resting on a floral Laura Ashley pillow.

When I got to the part in the story where Addy's Poppa was sold, Caroline's brown eyes looked worried. When we got to the live worms exploding in Addy's mouth, I saw tears.

My daughter asked me to keep reading. She wanted to know what happened. I wasn't sure if I should keep reading. Was Caroline old enough to take in the harsh realities of slavery and stolen childhood? Was Addy stealing my daughter's innocence?

We kept reading.

Eventually Caroline asked why the author hadn't chosen to write about a black girl living in Harlem during the Renaissance, or a black girl growing up as a campus kid on a historically black college like Fisk. She wanted to know why her white friends got books with characters who looked like them and drank tea in Colonial Williamsburg (Felicity), or lived in a mansion (Samantha) while she got a character that looked like her and got tortured.

I didn't have an easy answer.

What I had was a great big library, hundreds and hundreds of books, fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose, song books and picture books, depicting a very wide variety of black lives written to uplift and to provoke, to entertain and to educate, written to inspire young black readers.

But most importantly, I had 'Popo and Fifina' a book written by Langston Hughes and Caroline's great grandfather, Arna Bontemps.

Published in 1932 'Popo and Fifina' is a quietly exuberant tale of a brother and a sister growing up in Haiti. The children have adventures, a trip to a Lighthouse, and adjustments, a move from the hill town they know to the seaside town they don't. The tone is at once realistic and serene.

'Popo and Fifina' is an invitation to explore the world and language. It's an invitation not to let difficulties eclipse us. It's a respite from slavery narratives. And it is a black kid lit classic.

I'm feeling pretty good about "Addy" these days. Caroline graduated from Harvard last May. In June she began teaching in the Mississippi Delta. All her first graders have brown faces. And they love to read. She tells me their favorite book is Hamilton's 'Her Stories.' Caroline loved that book too, but she didn't love it till she was about ten. Her six year old students are precocious in many good ways.

Caroline's contribution to that has everything to do with reading about how hard Addy had it, and how Addy worked to make a difference--prepared for by all the Bontemps, Hughes, Du Boise, Hamilton, Dunbar, Woodson and others she had been read before Addy.

This Black History Month let's stop to honor the black kid lit greats:

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) who created and published The Brownies' Book (1920-1921) a magazine for black kids that is arguably the best magazine for children ever published in America

Arna Bontemps (1902-1973) who writing fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and editing anthologies has been acclaimed the father of the modern African-American children's book.

Virginia Hamilton (1936-2002) black kid lit's great novelist; Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872- 1906) whose poetry first dared celebrate the beauty and brilliance of black children and black language; and Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) the man who gave us Black History Week and who, through mentoring and publishing ,played a defining role in the development of black kid lit non-fiction.

These five knew what none of us can afford to forget: Young black readers grow to be strong black leaders.

Bedtime in the briarpatch is the powerful place black children grow the intellectual and emotional strength to discern when to upturn a world that will not uplift them.

Alice Randall is the author of The Wind Done Gone and other works of fiction. A Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University, she teaches Bedtime in the Briarpatch, an intensive examination of African-American children's literature from the seventeenth century to the present. Read her blog on Red Room.

Offline Curtis Metcalf

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Re: Black History Month 2011: Why Black Bedtime Stories Matter More
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2011, 02:28:05 pm »
This is great information. I can't help wondering how is that I am hearing about some of these for the first time. All of these works will be on the library list.
"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
"Be hard on systems, but soft on people."

Offline Magic Wand

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Re: Black History Month 2011: Why Black Bedtime Stories Matter More
« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2011, 04:21:55 pm »
Thanks, Reg!
Re-posted this to
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." --Aristotle, Greek philosopher

Доверяй, но проверяй