Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Goodbye Lucille Clifton, Cybils Winners, Haiti and More

Poet and children's author Lucille Clifton died on Saturday February 13th. Lucille Clifton was one of the first female Black poets I read. She will always hold a special place in my readers heart. I didn't know she was the only author to have two books nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in the same year, 1987. That takes some serious skill.

Checkout Hear Me Sing, a teen who goes by the name Miss Elizabeth Bennett shares her poems. Please delurk and leave a comment because the children are our future.

The first thing I did when I got online tonight, checkout the Cybils winners. I love the Children's and Young Adult Blogger's Literary Award.

The rules are explained from the beginning and its an open process. Much congrats to the Cybils winners. Thank you to the bloggers who signed on as panelists and judges.

I recently interviewed YA author Debbie Rigaud about her debut novel Perfect Shot. She answered a few questions about Haiti as well. Check it out at Color Online. And thanks Debbie and Jennifer Echols author of The Ex Games for quickly signing on to get Sports and Boys or S&B into YA Speak.

I did a guest post at YA author Justine Larbelestier blog. Its about books being television shows. The guest blogger who gets the most comments wins a prize. (just kidding)

Edi, a high school librarian, wrote a critical review of Irene Latham's Leaving Gee's Bend at her blog Crazy Quilts. Its worth reading. Who we are and our experiences influence how we see a book and its characters. Latham's debut novel is a great example of that. There seems to be a blogger racial review divide with this middle grade novel. Before reading Leaving Gee's Bend, I read a lot of positive reviews by White bloggers. Like Edi, I was unimpressed. I hope when people read Leaving Gee's Bend they with consider the critics and praise. When given the opportunity readers should take into consideration other points of view. I think that makes for a stronger more active reader.


Jodie said...

I was surprised to see 'Cracked UP to Be' win young adult fiction, that cver always makes me think it's fluffy but I guess there must be more there. Must try it.

Anonymous said...

Doret, I wouldn't have read Leaving Gee's Bend if you hadn't encouraged me to do so. I think your readers should know how open minded you have been! As much as you didn't like this book, you encouraged me to read it and formulate an opinion on it. You know people have different expectations in what they're reading, but you also know a good book when you see one!

Anonymous said...


I am an African American English teacher in New Jersey with deep roots in the South. I was introduced to Leaving Gee's Bend by one of my students. I, like Brenda Woods (an African American author I completely respect and honor), could not put Leaving Gee's Bend down. I thought it was excellent and loved how it inspired one of my students and look for it to inspire many more.

I also agreed with Newbery winner Richard Peck about how this main character whether she's called Ludie or not "reaffirms the human spirit" but maybe his opinion doesn't count so much because he's not a black blogger or librarian. Unfortunately, he's just a white man who has won a Newbery.

This all makes me wonder if the criticism from African American reviewers isn't more about the color of the author's skin. It's a non-issue to me. Ms. Latham is an excellent writer and I loved so many of her turns of phrases. Her poetry roots are obvious.

What would reviewers have said had the author been black, I wonder? The scuttlebutt is that she's white and how dare she co-op a black story. I hope the scuttlebutt ends up selling her many, many copies. I'm going to invite her to come speak to my students--largely African Americans and Latinos.

If they have questions about the book that are not answered by the book, then I will do my job. I will teach. I have yet to come across a book worthy enough for the classroom that doesn't leave students with unanswered questions. If everything is on the page, what's my purpose? And where is the critical thinking?

To talk about a racial divide because a couple of African American bloggers (and I know you are also bookseller as well and Edi a librarian, is it?) didn't like this book (because they may have been looking for it to be something it never intended to be--a stand on race) is ludicrous to me.

This is a warm and charming story about a bold girl who did something unexpected to save her mother. At least that's how I see it. Every one has their own opinion informed by their own experiences, certainly. I'm just offering mine as another African American woman to hopefully give whatever discussion is developing here some balance. And if this book is ultimately well-received by more white people than black, I still think that is an excellent thing. How many white children have had the opportunity to think about the poverty in a small place like Gee's Bend before this book?
If there is a better book to be written, then please write it.

Another point I'd like to make is about the father. He read as a man who loves his family and is doing the best he can under unfortunate circumstances. He seemed heartbreakingly defeated, which is an emotion that given the circumstances rang very true to me and endeared him to me.

To ask that he be a certain kind of black man or to say that he should have been portrayed this way or that way because that's how a black man would have been given the times is also ludicrous. All characters can't be all things and it is not outside the realm of possibility that this man was representative of a man from 1932 Gee's Bend. Just because he is not the man that you would have preferred to see doesn't mean he didn't exist in that time. And this was not his story or the brother's story. It was Ludelphia's story.

I found the scene where she almost drowns so compelling. I so cared about this little girl from start to finish and could tell the author did as well. I did not think it was at all a forgone conclusion that the mother would live. But that Ludelphia was naive about the world that awaited her in Camden and got herself in way over her head was pitch perfect.

(to be continued in next comment)

Anonymous said...

(continued from above)

Further for a professional reviewer to use the phrase Yuck in her review is such a turn-off to me. So very unprofessional and just mean-spirited. Had this been an African American author I doubt such a word would have been used.

Again, I am black with deep southern roots though I live in New Jersey, and the experience described in this book read completely authentic to me.

The author, according to her website did talk to people in Gee's Bend, visited often and it seems had two residents who appeared with her at her book signing read the book:
Mary Ann and China Pettway. They were happy enough with the book and portrayal to appear with Ms. Latham at her signing, so that goes much further in speaking to the authenticity of this book than a reviewer who would use the word Yuck in what's supposed to be professional writing.

I know this is the web, but I would never use such a review with my students as a model of how to critique. Never, and I can't respect a review that does or consider it fair, especially given the circumstances surrounding the review (meaning the author's color) and my feelings that this is being made unnecessarily racial.

Thank you for your time,


Doret said...

Anon, I thought long and hard about deleting this. There is a length comment limit for a reason.

Though I decided to leave it up. In this case I decided an open discussion is more important then etiquette

Authors Brenda Woods and Richard Peck both have blurbs on Leaving
Gee's Bend. But it's not the first time nor will it be the last that I don't like a book endorsed by authors.

If the author of LGB was Black this would be a different story. Though a Black author is still no gurantee that I will like it.

I judge a book by the writing quility and style not by the authors skin color.

"I have yet to come across a book worthy enough for the classroom that doesn't leave students with unanswered questions."

How many unanswered questions should an author be allowed to leave?

What if a child is reading this book on their own. Who is going to explain Sharecropping then. Who is going to explain why what Mrs. Cobb is doing is wrong?

Heartbreakingly defeated - is a nice way of saying broken down.
Though you are right, just because I didn't like that character doesn't mean they didn't exist.

The author could have chosen to include a Black adult male figure who wasn't so heartbreakingly defeated, they existed in that time as well.

It was hard for Black men and women to stay strong in the unfortunate circumstances that was sharecropping.

Young readers should know there were men and women who refused to break.

Like, I said before, I hope when people read LGB they will consider both the critic and the praise. It will make for a better reading experience.

Anonymous said...

Hi Doret,
Angie here. Thanks for keeping the comment up. I appreciated reading it. I never commented before but for once I have something hopefully relevant and helpful to contribute. I am also a Black educator and must say I enjoyed the book and it is one I'd definitely give my kids. Trying to look at it objectively I do think maybe some Black reviewers wanted this book to be something it isn't. That comment resonated. And it does seem unfair to talk of a racial divide without pointing out that someone of Brenda Woods stature liked this book. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and yours is definitely informed but it seems mentioning that would have balanced things out some. Don't you think? Also, from some reviews I read by Black bloggers one might have thought the author never spoke to people in Gee's Bend and as the previous poster pointed out she did. I remember my elders speaking on sharecropping with first hand experience and yes it was a terrible time but it and Jim Crow also were not as black&white as we would like to believe. I remember my great grand dad saying boss man was at least fair. Not everyone had the same brutal sharecropping experience. Trying to make it seem like we did is the true caricature isn't it? I don't know everything and am definitely thinking aloud but I know there has to be room for the question and this book. It was clear that sharecropping was not a good thing (but it was not a book about sharecropping) and the father loved his family. I didn't see him as broken down or defeated. I saw him as trying to get through the day and protect his family. If he was broken down from anything it would be from his wife being near dead. Readers see and look for many different things when reading. Not your cup of tea I understand. I do hope readers of your blog will still give the book a chance and as you said consider the praise and the criticism. My two cents. I hope I didn't run too long. Thank you, Angie

susan said...

This may be off-topic but I am bothered that it took feeling a Doret and Edi wrongly reviewed a book to motivate you to speak up.

We need more black teachers and librarians actively engaged in the blogosphere sharing their opinions and knowledge.

And before you say you never felt you had anything to add before, I'm going to disagree with the argument. There are not enough diverse opinions in the discussion. Instead of simply criticizing those of us who read and promote all year long, show up sometimes. Whatever time you have is welcome.

Tell us about what you teach and promote to children and why you value it.

The bigger problem is that we disagree. The lack of participation is. Add your voice. We are all committed to literacy and education and serving children and young people.

If you had reviewed the book, all readers would have had a range of opinions.

Anonymous said...

Doret, Susan and Anon #1,
I found it odd that this comment was not on Doret's review of the book and I found it lacking in any kind of etiquette that the exact same comment appeared on at least two different blogs without the decency of any editing.
I, too find it troubling that this negative review of one book has gained so much attention when there are so many good books we can agree upon and work to promote because we are committed to literacy and education!

Anonymous said...


I teach middle school in Camden, NJ. I do not have a blog but did not realize I needed to have one to comment in this forum on a topic that interested me. I applaud you all for the service you provide and wish I could eek out an extra hour or two in my day to participate in a way that would grant my opinions a bit of credibility with this tight-knit group, but I simply don't have that extra hour or two. I promote literacy daily with my students and with their parents in my school district and pray I am making a difference despite my lack of a blog savvy. I didn't attack Doret or Edi. I challenged what I perceive as faulty thinking behind a review of a book I have affection for. It was the comment about a racial divide that prompted me to speak up on both blogs. My apologies if I went on too long, but I sought to provide a counter and offer details and facts I did not see mentioned in the reviews, so that this idea that this white woman wrote a poor book would not become the monolithic black opinion. We are a diverse group. I hoped it would be taken in that spirit.


Thank you for keeping my comment. I did not realize it was in bad form to leave a long comment. My apologies again for my lack of blog savvy. Hopefully, you can understand what prompted me to speak up, know there was no malice in it and that we can agree to disagree and leave it at that.


I hope there are many books we can agree on but having productive discourse on books we disagree on also seems a worthwhile endeavor to me.


Thank you for endeavoring to understand my position and offering more.

I would love to know more about where you teach and your family history. I also come from a family
who sharecropped and have stories from my relatives about those days. And YES! Jim Crow was not so black and white. There are wonderful and awful layers of gray. Please contact me at sancope54@yahoo.com. I would love to connect if you wouldn't mind.

Doret said...

There is no point to this.

I have been reviewing books here for over year. Including some by White authors who have written outside of their culture, that I've loved.

Part of me is wondering why it took my saying I disliked a book for two Black librarians to make their presence known.

Angie and San if either of you have the time, think about starting a blog. It's fun, its free and you can speak as long as you want.

I hope you two will go through some of my other reviews, and see that maybe we agree on a few other novels.

On this one we will have to agree to disagree.