Sunday, October 8, 2017

ok, let's talk about Dr. Seuss...


So, I've been avoiding the whole Dr. Seuss debacle , as I know the authors involved and I imagine (especially after vicious trolling myself), they probably just want the issue to die away. But the story keeps getting bigger, and recently someone on a friend's Facebook page said how he thought Mo Willems was being a hypocrite for accepting the Theodor Geisel Award from the American Library Association, yet boycotting the museum event.

Lord knows, Mo Willems doesn't need me to defend him, but here's the thing. I received the Theodor Geisel Honor as well and I, too, would've boycotted the museum event. And I don't think it's hypocritical.

So, let's do some background. Theodor Geisel is Dr. Seuss. All children's book creators worth their salt know the history of the industry's greats and almost all of us know Dr. Seuss. So, while most of the mass public doesn't realize this, we know that Dr. Seuss's early career is filled with creations of racist propaganda. He drew horrible stereotypes against Jews, African-Americans--you name it. One of his more egregious cartoons depicted Japanese Americans lining up to receive bombs.


It was 1942, a time where anti-Asian paranoia was at in full tilt. Geisel was a product of his time and  reflecting what people were feeling.

However, as time passed, Geisel began to regret his earlier images. It is widely accepted that his beloved book, "Horton Hears a Who!" was his way of apologizing for his earlier art. He went on to write books like "The Sneetches," stories with themes of inclusion and tolerance.

And that is what makes Geisel a good man and artist. Because he was willing to grow from his original mindset, realize the harm the his work could do and get better. That is why he is an artist I am honored to receive an award with his namesake on and why he deserves a museum.

Now, for the museum controversy. The image that is displayed is from Geisel's first book, "And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street" printed in 1937, the same time Geisel was doing his racist cartoons. "The Chinaman" image that is being debated initially had the character bright yellow and with a long pigtail. In 1978, acknowledging that the image could be offensive, Geisel himself changed it so that the character is white and without a pigtail.*

It is now 2017. Even with the character being white and without a pigtail, a great many people (myself included) wince at the caricature.  My first reaction is, "Do we really need to see that now? Of all the images of this man's work, do we really need to show this one?"

And, in a Seuss museum, the answer could be yes. However, the answer is only yes if the image is put in context. Viewers need to know, and honestly Geisel himself deserves, an explanation. They need to know Geisel's history with his own art and with this particular image.  To display it without context (which, I daresay is a museum's job) reduces the image to mere decoration.  And, to many (myself included) an offensive decoration**.

I was not asked to participate in the museum's event, but I cannot fathom trying to read my books in front of the Chinaman caricature presented as it is now. To do an event with this image right behind me, without acknowledging its racism and Geisel's journey away from it, would be pretty insulting. I would have declined to have participate. Just like Mo Willems.

Yet, I proudly display the sticker with Geisel's image on my book.

What is the difference? It's different to me, because when you accept the award it is a picture of Theodor Geisel on the medal; not any of his past racist art--the medal and award is symbolic of him as a whole person. The ceremony is with educated, adult librarians, whom I assume know or should know the history of the him.

The Seuss museum and the event there is for kids and adult who are not aware of Geisel's history. They are at the museum to learn about him and the museum refuses to teach this part of his past. Instead they just show the racist image as decoration. I would not accept the invitation because they are allowing the racist image to stand as a racist image instead of showing it as a part of Geisel's regrettable past.

I honor the Theodor Geisel as a man who outgrew his racism and created some of the best books of children's literature of all time. And without an explanation, I abhor the single image that is displayed.

Which is why I don't think Mo Willems is a hypocrite. And I don't think I am one either.


*Which leaves me with this question--now, forty years later, if Geisel was still alive--don't you think it would be a possibility that he would change it again? If he was willing to do it once because time had changed his mind, what do you think another forty years would do?

**Is this image offensive? Let's break down a couple responses to this question.  (fyi, I edited this from my initial posting to add a few more thoughts)

Response #1: "I loved this book, and I'm fine!" (sometimes with the additional, "and I'm Asian!")
Okay, that is great for you. I'm happy you are fine and it didn't bother you. But there are lots of people who images like this hurt, trust me. I am one of them and I have bunch of readers who will say the same. Maybe you weren't teased that your eyes were so small that dental floss could blindfold you, but that doesn't mean I wasn't.  Can you at least acknowledge that it is offensive to some people and for good reason? And if you can't find it within yourself to find a little empathy, then perhaps those images affected you more than you think.

Response #2: "This is history! How dare you try to erase it!"
You are mixing up nostalgia for history.  No one asked for the mural to be removed, the museum decided to do that themselves because they were unwilling to put the art in context---think about that. The museum would rather take the whole mural down than put a caption that acknowledged Geisel's true history.  Here, I’ll even write the caption for you: 

 “This image of “the Chinaman” was originally printed in 1937 with yellow skin and a pigtail. In 1978, Dr. Seuss, himself, changed the image, acknowledging that his original rendition could be offensive. It is probable, that now, over 39 years later, that if he were alive he would change the image again.”

 There, fixed the whole thing! It’s 52 words. Yes, it’s longer than a tweet, but I think it would take about 3 inches space, max. Why was this so hard to add?  Why aren't you offended that instead of adding 52 words, the museum decided to take the entire thing down? Isn't a museum's job to educate and put things in context for the viewer? 

The artists in question here asked for the art to be put in context.  If anything, the artists were trying to give a more accurate view of history. 

p.s. I've disabled comments for my blog because I am tired of trolls.





Thursday, October 5, 2017

Resources

I'm giving a couple talks ("Putting the Books to Work" and "The Books are Not Enough") and these are the resources I mention. Posting this here for any attendees that need it:

Places to Help Find Diverse Books

We Need Diverse Books website
Our Story Book Discovery App
Nerdy Book Club
Lots of links from Lee & Low

Ways to Bring Diversity into Your Child's Reading Life

The BookStop (posts include the reading suggestion sheets text and the booklist): http://www.gracelinblog.com/search/label/book%20stop

Selling Diversity Cheat Sheet: http://www.gracelin.com/media/press/diversitycheatsheet.pdf

If you like this classic book, you'll like this diverse one: https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/like-classic-book-love-diverse-book/

WNDB Summer Reading Series: http://weneeddiversebooks.org/summer-reading-series/

Reading Without Walls Reading Challenge: http://read.macmillan.com/mcpg/reading-without-walls/#challenge

Grace's TEDxtalk: https://youtu.be/_wQ8wiV3FVo


Creative Activities to Do with Grace's Books

Activity Book and Event Kit (Go on Minli's Journey) for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon: http://www.gracelin.com/content.php?page=wherethemountainmeetsthemoon&display=activities

Readers' Theater with Starry River of The Sky and more:
http://www.gracelin.com/content.php?page=starryriver&display=activities

Elaborate Readers' Theater (for the ambitious) and activities for When the Sea Turned to Silver:
http://www.gracelin.com/content.php?page=whentheseaturnedtosilver&display=activities

One Book Programs with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon:
http://www.gracelinblog.com/search/label/one%20book%20program

Ways Grace's books have been integrated in schools: http://www.gracelinblog.com/search/label/school%20visits

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Books are Not Enough



I've been thinking a lot about activism lately, and I'm starting to believe that small activism, at a local level, might be the key to a brighter future. So, I've organized an event at my local library-- a presentation about diversity in children's books: why it's important and how we can use them.

If you live in Western MA, please spread the word, tell your kids' teachers & librarians and come! Honestly, I'm a little scared people won't show up--even though I do many, many presentations, I usually don't organize these things, so I'm wearing a slightly different hat here! But I do know that when these events are poorly attended, it sends a message that it doesn't matter. Please help me show that these things matter.

The Books are Not Enough:
Windows, Mirrors and the Bookshelves of Our Community
Forbes Library (upstairs in the Coolidge Museum)
Wednesday, November 1st at 6pm
20 West St, Northampton MA
When we talk about diversity in books, we often talk about "windows and mirrors." But what does that mean? Why is it important? And, if we can agree that diversity in children’s books is important, can we do more than pay it lip service? How can we use these books to help create a more accepting and welcoming community?
In this extended presentation of her popular TEDx talk, Newbery Honor author Grace Lin shares childhood anecdotes, personal publishing experiences and strategies to support diversity through children’s books. 
Librarians, Teachers and Parents welcome!

Want to help spread the word? Downloadable flyer here: http://www.gracelin.com/media/press/nov2017_flyer.pdf

Thursday, September 7, 2017

my humble opinion on PBS

Yes, that was me...

Did you miss seeing me on PBS last month? I was on the PB NewsHour, sharing my humble opinion about potentially racist classic children's books. I actually didn't think my position was that controversial but after it aired I received a lot of...well, let's just say it was a lot more controversial than I thought. You can make your own opinion after watching:




However, even with the unpleasant feedback, I do stand by my position. Whether you agree or disagree with my "Little House" example (yes, Ma was scared of Indians because she was a settler--but her hatred of them was portrayed as far stronger than that of Pa's or Laura's who were also settlers, so I--as an 8 year old girl-- took that to be racism), I hope that my real message of simply talking to your kids about the books they are reading can be one we don't have to disagree on. 


Sunday, August 27, 2017

memorial



I don't have your grave to visit
and I never strew your ashes.
I thought it didn't matter
because I had you in my memories.
But it's been ten years
and I'm starting to realize why people carve their names on trees
and tag graffiti on bridges
and why I write down my stories.

 we'll never know what we forget
 and I know I don't want to forget you.

I hope you like it.



5/30/72-8/27/07



Wednesday, August 2, 2017

playing during the pause

using a friend's tip for freezing blueberries for cherries: freeze them flat first and then put them in a jar--that way they won't freeze in big clumps!

So, I am in the rare pause in my work--the calm before the storm--where I've sent in my sketches/rough drafts and am waiting for publisher feedback before I can continue. This is usually an optimum time to start something new or research a new idea (or clean the house) but instead I'm spending my days pitting and freezing cherries (for Christmastime cherry pies!) and making zucchini bread. I'm not sure where all this Little-House-On-The-Prairie homemaking urges are coming from but I'm enjoying it:



To the point where this has really piqued my interest:


Gee, I wonder why the Sasquatch keeps asking if I've heard from the publisher yet...



Tuesday, August 1, 2017

color-blind just means being blind


Listen to my NEPR commentary on  color-blindness here: http://nepr.net/post/its-schools-job-acknowledge-race 

Here I am on NEPR again, this time talking about the problems of teaching "color-blindness" and spreading the word about the Community Book Stop! Take a listen HERE!

(Edited to add that the discussion suggestions for the Book Stop can be found HERE.
And our book list HERE.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Book Stop: Part 4

The sign is up and we are putting in the books:



Because our Community Book Stop is finished! Ta-dah!



We did it!
me & two members of the Diversity Committee-- we're missing at a bunch of others!

And it's already being used! People are borrowing the books and sharing their thoughts:





Just as we hoped! I hope the Book Stop continues, and I hope, maybe, you might consider making one of your own, too.




Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Book Stop: Part 3

It seems like the Book Stop was slow going, but it wasn't really. Once we got it going, we were able to pull it together pretty fast!  One of the parents began building the shelves:


And another designed the the sign:



which we decided to make even more personal. At the school picnic, we had all the kids sign their names on the back:




A nice little memory for posterity!


Now, we just need to hand it over the finished Book Stop...


Thursday, July 6, 2017

the art critic



About a year ago, when Rain Dragon realized what I did for a living, she asked if I would put her into a book. Little did she know, I had already been planning it for a while! Yes, she is the "star" in my upcoming picturebook, "A Big Mooncake for Little Star," the art of which I have just recently finished! The book doesn't come out until August 2018 (more than a year away!) but according to Rain Dragon, that is just fine because the art still needs work. Apparently, I forgot to make her into duck.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Win this painting!


Would you like to have this painting? It's an original piece that I just finished and it could be yours!

In honor of this 4th of July and as a proud American, I am auctioning this off with 100% of the proceeds to go to DonorsChoose, an organization that funds needy schools, one classroom at a time.

This painting is done in gouache and is 5.5 x 5.5.

Obviously, this 4th of July, I have some mixed feeling about being American...or maybe more about how America feels about me. I think that much of the anger and fear today is because people are afraid that something is getting taken from them, that they are losing something. But I truly feel that there is enough greatness in America for everyone and all Americans deserve a piece of it. Which is what I hope you get (in a fun way) from this painting!

If you want to bid, just put your bids in the comments section of this blog post. Starting bid is $50 and bidding ends on July 10th (next Monday) at 9pm EST.

Bid often and bid high! If the bids go higher than $200, I will mat and frame the painting for you as well!

Happy 4th of July!

Friday, June 30, 2017

on the radio...

my commentary "A Four Year Old Helps Her Mother Speak Out" on NEPR  is, of course, inspired by Rain Dragon

So, it looks like being a commentator for NEPR is going to be kind of a sort-of regular gig for me.  Just in case you missed it, last week I recorded this commentary,  "A Four Year Old Helps Her Mother Speak Out," featuring my post election thoughts (some of you may recognize it as an adaptation of my be brave post early in the year).

Hope you like it!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Community Book Stop: Part 2

Making the Book Stop for Rain Dragon's preschool was a multi-step process and needed a team effort. I am so glad there were so many on the Diversity Committee that stepped up to be a part of it!  Here we are, hard at work:

 

What are we doing? Well, first, in the front of the book,  we are sticking in these reading suggestions. They are general tips to help parents share the story with their kids, just in case they are feeling a little uncomfortable:



And in the back of the book, we are sticking in these little blank notebooks:


These are so parents can write down their impressions of the book to help the next reader!

This part of the project was really important, at least to me!  Because, to me, the books are not enough. Just having them is good, but sharing them--really sharing them-- by having parents and kids observing and discussing...that is what building bonds and a community is about. And  the true purpose of the whole thing!

Want to know what our suggestion sheet said? Here you go: 

Enjoy this book from the Community Book Stop! Sharing a book with your child is a wonderful adventure!

Every child is unique, and children come to these conversations at different times and in different ways. There is no one right way to read with your child, but if you are looking for suggestions, below are some you may find helpful.

1.Don't be afraid to bring up challenging subjects.
Even if you may be uncomfortable, it is better to talk about it with your child.

2. Stop to answer your child’s questions.

 Even if you do not know how to answer at that moment, think of it as the start of many conversations.
3. Pause to ask your child questions.
Help involve your child in the story by asking them things like, “What do you think will happen?”, “How does this make you feel?” “What do you notice here?”

4. Accept and honor your child’s responses.

 There is no wrong way for your child to interpret a story. Use it as a learning moment.
5. Consider talking about how your child could relate to the story. What things are familiar? What things are new?

Use these suggestions during or after your reading, don’t be afraid to reread this book many times. Each reading may spark new conversations.

At the back of this book you’ll see a space for you to record your thoughts and ideas. Please share them with our community!


Maybe you can use it to help make a Book Stop of your own?  Hope so! Stay tuned to see what we did next!

Monday, June 19, 2017

on my desk monday

It's been a long, long time since I've illustrated another author's words...but I'm doing it now! I'm going to be illustrating an updated version of this old book:

 

Doesn't look familiar? Well, does the author ring a bell?

  


Yes! It's that Eleanor Roosevelt! I'm honored to say that I will be the illustrator of an updated version of "When You Grow Up to Vote" by Eleanor Roosevelt!

It's going to be a bit of a challenge for me--I didn't realize how rusty I was being "only the illustrator" until now. But, hopefully, I can rise to the occasion...wish me luck!




Thursday, June 15, 2017

School visit, Slingerland NY!

Here is another school visit I did, all the way back in April! This one was in Slingerlands, NY where they did a One Book, One School Read (my favorite thing!) of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon:


Why do I love visiting schools that do this so much? Well, because the kids there are so awesome:


Of course, they are taught to be so awesome by their amazing teachers and librarians who take my little book and turn it into a school-wide opportunity for learning and community building.

For example, they used the idea of the red thread and had students draw who they were connected to:



They even had a red thread  wrap on all the walls of the school to show everyone was connected...with the red thread ended at a mountain, of course.


And this is the first time I've ever seen a class use my TEDx Talk as part of their lesson curriculum. Kids reflected on which parts of the books were like a window and which parts were like a mirror:




As well as pinpointing and illustrating the figurative language in the book:

 




Oh, and there were also goldfish swimming in the halls:


And, after the visit,  I received this:


Did I mention how the kids were so awesome? Thanks so much, Slingerlands!


Monday, June 12, 2017

School Visit Photo Album

My school visit season is winding down and I'm a bit aghast at how little I posted about them. Dear schools, please know it is not a reflection on how much I enjoyed our event! Because I have visited so many amazing schools that have welcomed me in such creative and fun ways! I love seeing how every school uses my books!

Here are some examples of some schools I visited in April:


There were beautiful welcomes and decorations:

beautiful Kite Flying kites!
 
look at all the details!

  
One school had a giant mountain & moon, with student-made goldfish all over the school "leading" the way to it:





And there's my first lego welcome sign:

lego Dragon!
Sometimes the artistic talent shown just put me to shame:




And the projects! Like I said, SO creative. At one school,  kids made "baseball" trading cards of all the characters in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon:



and postcards to and from  characters in the book:


I find this so funny! The Buffalo sending a peeved postcard to the Buffalo Boy because Minli came over.


the goldfish asking Aunt Jin if she's a dragon yet.

And then there were old fashioned book reports done so elaborately and with so much care that they was nothing old fashioned about it...this one actually lit up:



And there's lots more! I just have to get my act together and share them! Thank you, students, teachers and librarians for being so awesome!