CLA’08-5: Multiculture

For my second Saturday afternoon session I went to a room I was not planning to. But chatting with one of the exhibitors I learned that a Jewish author will be on a multicultural panel. As I realized my eyes glazed over this session description because it was focusing on children literature, which is not on the top of my personal interest list. The title and the description of the section is below:

Cultural Diversity on the Shelves: Authors’ Perspectives on Blending Latinos, Asians, and Others into Children’s Literature Five authors, five cultures, five different perspectives on weaving multiculturalism into children’s literature. These authors offer insight into how and why they chose to write about Latinos, Asians, African Americans, Jews, and American Indians, and show innovative ways for educators and librarians to use cultural diversity in today’s curriculums and programs.

This session (unplanned for me) ended up being one of the high points of the conference. The variety of stories, presentations styles, cultures and illustrations was a real treat. Together they sure were multicultural, but first I had a bit of a hard time understanding why they refer to a story set in any single culture as “multicultural.” Then I got it: if the heroes are not Caucasian children then the label can be applied to it. These were the authors (the first four shown on the picture in this order):

Stacy Nyikos is of Hungarian origin, whose last book Dragon Wishes, published this month, incorporates Chinese mythology. To go along with the story Nyikos created activities such as seal carving. She even brought along her own beautiful seals, made of jade.

Caryn Huberman Yacowitz the second speaker, also wrote a story based on a Chinese folktale, titled Jade Stone. But she mostly spoke of the seven books she wrote about various Native American tribes and the Pumpkin Fiesta, set in Mexico. Her Jewish origin might be the reason that her upcoming book’s title is “I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Menorah.”

Next, Linda Joy Singleton talked a little bit about her paranormal tween books and then read from the latest, Dead Girl Walking.

I went primarily to listen to the fourth, the Jewish participant, Susan Goldman Rubin. She authored many books for young people on arts and artists, such as Matisse, Warhol, Thiebaud, Hopper and Degas. She also wrote six books related to Jewish themes. I purchased one of them for the library I work at and asked her to sign it. “Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin” is a book about the Holocaust for children that is not as terrifying visually as most books with pictures on this topic. The book won eleven prizes including AJL’s “Honor Book in the 2000 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers.” I am hoping that this book will be borrowed by the children who visit my library.

Ms. Goldman Rubin’s other books include “Searching for Anne Frank: Letters from Amsterdam to Iowa,” L’Chaim! To Jewish Life in America! Celebrating from 1654 until Today,” “The Flag With Fifty-Six Stars: A Gift From The Survivors of Mauthausen,” “The Cat with the Yellow Star: Coming of Age in Terezin,” “Haym Salomon: American Patriot.” One of her upcoming books, “The Anne Frank Case: Simon Wiesenthal’s Search for the Truth” is about Simon Wiesenthal’s (successful) search for the Nazi officer responsible arresting Anne Frank. Currently she is working on a book about Mengele.

During her 15 minute talk I learned about how she grew up in the Bronx, where she thought that being Jewish is nothing spectacular, but later in life she learned to appreciate the uniqueness of her culture and background. She also shared the organic process how she got involved in writing about Jewish topics. She spoke about the importance of teaching the Holocaust to the younger generations, who have less and less chance to talk to survivors themselves.

The last speaker, Belle Yang, was the only author from the group who creates the illustrations for her own books. As a Chinese artists who lived in Japan she has a unique voice both in her text and her artwork.

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