I’m changing subjects just a bit… away from Valentine’s Day, but not so far from love. This is because something else that I love a lot has been on my mind lately… that is, picture books on whose pages Children of Color find themselves portrayed, and see their beauty in realism and truth and self-respect – and where children with less variety of pigment to hair and skin and eyes, see children of color as subjects of the world’s finest art and prose and poetry. Without time and space to share all of my favorites, I present my most recent discoveries, as well as my most long-held favorites, and only briefly share my journey of discovery of this world of appreciation.
I had no understanding of this exchange between the 3-year-old little girl and her mother sitting across from me as I held my feverish 10-month-old in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. This was more than twenty years ago, when I could still claim the title of “young mother.” The little girl brought an open magazine over to her mommy to show her the dolly she would like to have. Mommy ripped that magazine out of the little girl’s hands and threw it onto the pile of magazines on a table a few feet a way, yelling, “Don’t you come bringing no white baby over here! You know you not going to get no white trash baby!” I didn’t have any frame of reference or understanding for that exchange. I was sad and afraid for the little girl because of the angry yelling, and the look of rage in the mother’s eyes. But I didn’t know what to think of the “white trash” baby doll, as I held my own little baby.
Years later I would read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and take my first step toward an epiphanal journey in coming to understand just a little bit, the heart and soul of that mother in the doctor’s office, that day. I would also come to notice so many things that were unfair but unnoticed around me, such as calling that one particular color of nylon stockings “nude,” that one crayon “flesh; or the unfairness of my neighbor in West Virginia having to drive 60 miles to get hair product that would work for her hair. So in order to surround my students, and my future grandchildren with beauty in realism and self-respect in a variety of color of skin and eyes, and texture of hair, and wonderful prose and poetry and truth, I will keep looking for brilliant authors and illustrators, and I will celebrate their work and their talents, and they way they show me the world. As I looked for just the right book to end this with, I found it… well, I should say, I found the author. It was Nikki Grimes. I’ve been collecting her poetry books, her picture book biographies — pretty-much everything I can get my hands on that she writes. I thought I might try to find just one of her poems, perhaps from Thanks a Million, so I did a search on the internet. What a found instead was her website, and even better — her blog. So here, at the end of my blog post, I introduce you to hers — Nikki Grimes. Please take the time to go to Nikki’s blog and read what she posted on December 21, 2012. Thanks to Nikki Grimes, I found myself, and the feelings of my heart, beautifully portrayed upon the pages of her blog. I think you might find something of yourself there, too. Don’t you just love how books and writers and illustrators can do that for us? Don’t you just want to share that with the young people in your life?