So I’m still thinking about last week’s #kidlitchat because it’s an interesting exercise, an alternate version of the question “your house is on fire and you have to evacuate — what would you grab in five minutes?” Growing up in California (and living a good chunk of my life there) earthquakes and wildfires happen and the question becomes less academic. Although I lived through the 1971 Sylmar and 1989 Loma Prieta quakes and was very near the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire I never really had to make those tough decisions.
The Desert Island question seems simple on the surface — what would you want to have with you? — but there are so many factors involved. It’s presumed you were traveling, but would you be traveling with your favorite books, or ones you wanted to read while traveling? If you being deliberately marooned and had the time, would you choose comfort books? Favorites that would help pass the time? Wouldn’t practical titles (plant guides, survival manuals) make more sense?
Am I over-thinking this?
Actually, no, but I’m not thinking very progressively, and neither were a lot of my fellow kidlit-chatters.
Of the twenty-one titles I listed for my desert island archipelago library I count only three women writers and no discernible minorities. Looking back at the titles other kidlit-chatters put down I see a few who made the effort to be inclusive, but that’s what it felt like, an effort to be inclusive and not necessarily and automatically obvious choice. This could be easily explained by the fact that until recently the children’s book world has been dominated by mostly white authors and, among “classics,” mostly male. Easily explained, but not happily. But we’re talking about this now, and we’re working on it, so no need to belabor the point.
When I think about what I didn’t include I realized two things: first, I had a larger number of books that stuck with me from childhood than I originally thought and second, fourth grade was a really good year.
After lunch in fourth grade Mrs. White would read to us from the middle grade books of the day. I date myself by saying most of these books were released within five years of my fourth grade year: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Sounder, Harriet the Spy, and James and the Giant Peach. There was no attempt to use these books to teach concepts (that I remember), no summary essays to prove we were listening (except occasionally when we acted up), it was a time to settle in after being wild and to listen to a story for the joy of the story. Though many had those gold and silver medals on them we had no idea what that really meant, and no fear of their being over “message” stories, they were simply contemporary titles that spoke to our ten- and eleven-year-old hearts and souls. Fifty years on and they’re all classics, popping up on adults desert islands.
But I know not a single one of these would end up on my daughter’s version of this list.
Oh, they know the books, and even like some of my classics, but for Em her list would have to include Harry Potter, and Jules would need some Sharron Creech or Leap by Jane Breskin Zalben. Maybe when they’re adults and have a different sense of what makes a classic they’ll redefine their memories, but already I can see the changes in the generations: their favorites include more women writers than mine.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, of all people, once said “Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.” Replace ‘people’ with ‘kids,’ ‘peace’ with ‘diversity,’ and ‘publishers’ with governments’ and…
Indeed, I think that kids want diversity so much that one of these days publishers had better get out of the way and let them have it.
Kidlitchat happens every Tuesday night on Twitter, and you never know how long a simple question and an hour-long conversation is going to sit with you and make you think.
9 to 10 PM EST, hashtag #kidlitchat. open to all. I consider it an important part of my continuing education.