Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Key Collection, by Andrea Cheng

I hate the way "multiculturalism" is taken up, most of the time. Imagine a flower drawn by a second grader with several colorful petals. You've got an "African American" petal, a "South East Asian" petal, a "Japanese" petal, an "American Indian" petal, a "Latino" petal, and hopefully several other lovely petals. But what often gets overlooked is the very "white" center of this deceptively colorful flower. Stories, people, families, cultures, and children are counted as "multicultural" if they are outside "whiteness". The normalization and invisible privileging of whiteness is often an unintended consequence of multicultural flowers and narratives.

"Well, it's better than nothing," cry the teachers who love to break pinatas on Cinco de Mayo. Maybe. I dunno. It's tricky. Here's what I do know: in my own classroom library I make a huge effort to have the majority of our books be visibly "ethnic". This doesn't mean we don't ever read books about white folks, it just means that I prefer books where the setting and white characters have a clear and particular ethnic context: books like Out of the Dust, Shiloh, Because of Winn Dixie, and Fighting Ruben Wolfe.

The irony of all this is that I am always on the lookout for books that celebrate the lives and stories of children of color, books that are often categorized as "multicultural". This relentless search is why I spend a couple hours each week in the kidlitosphere---a lovely place where I've made many exquisite discoveries. One book that I found and loved even before I started blogging was The Key Collection, by Andrea Cheng. This story is about a Chinese American boy who lives in Cincinnati and who has an incredibly close relationship with his grandmother. The tensions of being both American and Chinese are subtly explored and the main conflict revolves around the separation of Little Jimmy from his grandmother as her health necessitates a cross-country move. This very tender story was a favorite of one of my sweetest students, as it reminded her of her own struggles in the US and also of her separation from her grandma when she moved here from Mexico. I waited patiently, for two years, for this book to come out in paperback, but finally just bought a set of six in hard back.

You won't find any of my organizing tags referencing the culture or ethnicity represented in the books, but if you spend some time here you'll find plenty of "multicultural" literature.

2 comments:

cloudscome said...

I am so with you on this! I hate the terms "multicultural" and "diversity" too - for the same reason. I think it is often a code term for "not us", meaning other than the normal (white) people are here. I wondered if it was just me.

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