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Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books

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Racism is resilient, duplicitous, and endlessly adaptable. A significant reason racism endures is because it is structural: it's embedded in culture and in institutions. One of the places that racism hides--and perhaps the best place to oppose it--is in books for young people. Was the Cat in the Hat Black? presents five serious critiques of the history and current state of Racism is resilient, duplicitous, and endlessly adaptable. A significant reason racism endures is because it is structural: it's embedded in culture and in institutions. One of the places that racism hides--and perhaps the best place to oppose it--is in books for young people. Was the Cat in the Hat Black? presents five serious critiques of the history and current state of children's literature tempestuous relationship with both implicit and explicit forms of racism. The book fearlessly examines topics both vivid-such as The Cat in the Hat's roots in blackface minstrelsy-and more opaque, like how the children's book industry can perpetuate structural racism via whitewashed covers even while making efforts to increase diversity. Rooted in research yet written with a lively, crackling touch, Nel delves into years of literary criticism and recent sociological data in order to show a better way forward. Though much of what is proposed here could be endlessly argued, the knowledge that what we learn in childhood imparts both subtle and explicit lessons about whose lives matter is not debatable. The text concludes with a short and stark proposal of actions everyone-reader, author, publisher, scholar, citizen- can take to fight the biases and prejudices that infect children's literature. While Was the Cat in the Hat Black? does not assume it has all the answers to such a deeply systemic problem, its examination should stimulate discussion and activism.


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Racism is resilient, duplicitous, and endlessly adaptable. A significant reason racism endures is because it is structural: it's embedded in culture and in institutions. One of the places that racism hides--and perhaps the best place to oppose it--is in books for young people. Was the Cat in the Hat Black? presents five serious critiques of the history and current state of Racism is resilient, duplicitous, and endlessly adaptable. A significant reason racism endures is because it is structural: it's embedded in culture and in institutions. One of the places that racism hides--and perhaps the best place to oppose it--is in books for young people. Was the Cat in the Hat Black? presents five serious critiques of the history and current state of children's literature tempestuous relationship with both implicit and explicit forms of racism. The book fearlessly examines topics both vivid-such as The Cat in the Hat's roots in blackface minstrelsy-and more opaque, like how the children's book industry can perpetuate structural racism via whitewashed covers even while making efforts to increase diversity. Rooted in research yet written with a lively, crackling touch, Nel delves into years of literary criticism and recent sociological data in order to show a better way forward. Though much of what is proposed here could be endlessly argued, the knowledge that what we learn in childhood imparts both subtle and explicit lessons about whose lives matter is not debatable. The text concludes with a short and stark proposal of actions everyone-reader, author, publisher, scholar, citizen- can take to fight the biases and prejudices that infect children's literature. While Was the Cat in the Hat Black? does not assume it has all the answers to such a deeply systemic problem, its examination should stimulate discussion and activism.

30 review for Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kaethe

    Seeing the one star reviews of this book have made me feel strongly that I should review it, which for some reason I didn't do when I read it last summer. It's a fine book. Nel points out institutionalized racism in publishing, specifically the subset of children's books. He encourages the disproportionately white writers, publishers, teachers, librarians, reviewers, booksellers, etc to do better. This is an academic work, which many readers find dry. Some also find it sanctimonious or morally sup Seeing the one star reviews of this book have made me feel strongly that I should review it, which for some reason I didn't do when I read it last summer. It's a fine book. Nel points out institutionalized racism in publishing, specifically the subset of children's books. He encourages the disproportionately white writers, publishers, teachers, librarians, reviewers, booksellers, etc to do better. This is an academic work, which many readers find dry. Some also find it sanctimonious or morally superior, which is weird: I mean, isn't it obvious that the beneficiaries of institutionalized racism or sexism or whatever are the ones who have to change the system? I don't read that as any sort of moral high ground, just you know, not being an entitled and oblivious asshole. Library copy

  2. 4 out of 5

    Neil R. Coulter

    The five chapters (and conclusion) of Philip Nel’s Was the Cat in the Hat Black? don’t connect into one book very well, and sometimes something in one chapter contradicts something in an earlier chapter. So I find it a difficult book to rate as-a-book. I enjoyed some of it and really didn’t enjoy some of it. As a reader and parent who is very enthusiastic about good, honest, meaningful communication across cultures and subcultures, I am completely interested in Nel’s topic of bringing more diver The five chapters (and conclusion) of Philip Nel’s Was the Cat in the Hat Black? don’t connect into one book very well, and sometimes something in one chapter contradicts something in an earlier chapter. So I find it a difficult book to rate as-a-book. I enjoyed some of it and really didn’t enjoy some of it. As a reader and parent who is very enthusiastic about good, honest, meaningful communication across cultures and subcultures, I am completely interested in Nel’s topic of bringing more diversity into children’s literature, and I opened the book eager to learn. Reading with that attitude, I found much to ponder in the book. However, it takes a long time to get to the best parts. The first three chapters are where Nel is on the shakiest ground. The first chapter looks at the works of Dr. Seuss, and especially The Cat in the Hat. The reader wants to know: Was the Cat in the Hat black? Nel’s answer: Yes! No. Maybe? It depends... Every bold assertion Nel makes is followed by a paragraph or two of hedging and backtracking, which results in weak, ambiguous conclusions. There is, as Nel points out, definitely evidence of racially insensitive artwork throughout Seuss’s corpus (even while Seuss was at the same time promoting anti-racism in other works)—and Random House has recently taken several titles with that questionable imagery out of print, which is fine—but The Cat in the Hat ...I just don’t see it as a racist text, even after Nel’s chapter. He writes:However, read a second way, the Cat’s performance fails to conceal the threat of violence. Not just a smiling song-and-dance man (or cat), the Cat in the Hat embodies unrest: he unsettles the social order, bending the rake, scaring the fish, and unleashing two Things who both knock the wind out of Sally and knock over a vase, lamp, books, and dishes. In his subversive aspect, the Cat evokes media images of violence associated with the civil rights movement. Though he is initiating the violence (rather than practicing nonviolent civil disobedience and receiving a violent response from Whites), his disruptive presence serves as a reminder of African Americans’ struggle for human rights. He is entertainer, warning, and provocateur. (44)I’m willing (probably more than most people) to read a lot into a text, and I don’t disagree at all that the Cat is a potentially dangerous agent of chaos. But really—does anyone read The Cat in the Hat and think about the civil rights movement? As Nel says, “there is no record of readers in 1957 interpreting the Cat in racial terms,” and I’ve never heard that interpretation in my lifetime, so maybe in addition to investigating the possible historically race-related influences on the character, we also need to consider the ways that the relationship between a sign and the signified changes over time, to the point that any connection to an earlier signified is nullified. That certainly seems to me to be the case for The Cat in the Hat. In Chapter 2, Nel explores ways in which obviously racial content in some books was altered in later editions of the books—in particular, Doctor Dolittle, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Mary Poppins. The content in this chapter gets somewhat repetitive. The only one of those three books I have any connection to is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a book which I love and which I’ve always been comfortable regarding as a very unsettling story. I think changing the Oompa-Loompas from African pygmies to a fictional people was a good revision, because it leaves intact the disturbing idea that Willy Wonka uses people so flippantly, but it allows the Oompa-Loompas to stand in for any and all oppressed people. Wonka is not a normative, be-more-like-him kind of character. He’s only sentimental and cuddly in the end of the original film version, and that was a completely wrong characterization. Johnny Depp’s version of the character is more correct in emphasizing the strangeness and inappropriateness; in the conclusion of that film, Wonka is awkwardly domesticated—with emphasis more on “awkward” than “domesticated.” Chapter 3 returns to picture books (one of the odd things about this book is that it shifts from picture books to children’s chapter books to young adult literature, of all eras), this time focusing on William Joyce, and especially the racial erasure evident in his book/app/film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. I’m not familiar with this story in any of its incarnations, but I know some of Joyce’s other books. If Morris Lessmore really is meant to be about New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, then I agree that it’s weird to show only white people, and also a bit distasteful to suggest that the answer to everyone’s problems is just to read from a narrow selection of books. However, Nel’s research approach in this chapter bothered me. He (repeatedly) affirms how terrible it is that the library Joyce presents in the story includes only books by dead White people. But it’s not the “dead” part that’s an issue, it seems, because William Joyce is, in fact, a live White person, and yet Nel made no attempt to actually call, write, or interview him about the accusations he makes in this chapter. Joyce lives less than a ten-hour drive away from Nel—what’s Nel’s reason for leaving him out of a highly critical chapter that’s all about him? Instead, Nel snipes at him from the safe distance of tenured academia. It’s at least lazy, if not immature and cowardly. Chapter 4 was my favorite of the book. I love book cover illustrations, and in this chapter Nel looks at the ways book covers have tended to be “whitewashed”—that is, even when the novel’s protagonist is non-White, the book cover is likely to show either a White model, a person in silhouette, or more abstract imagery with no person at all. In this chapter, the evidence presented is so much clearer and more reasonable. By dealing with things that are happening in publishing right now, rather than a picture book from the 1950s, Nel is able to address real problems in publishing that can be fixed. I hope that in the years since this book, the amount of book cover whitewashing has been reduced (and I think that’s the case, but I don’t have numbers to supplement the data Nel provides from 2014). It seemed a little odd to me that Nel criticized the process of “White authentication”—where a work by a non-White author is introduced by a White author, as if to reassure the reader that it’s all right, you can trust me, this really is worth reading. Ok, I don’t disagree with the criticism, but...I’m reading a book by a White author assuring me that it’s all right, I can trust him, it’s good to read more diverse books. Can we acknowledge the irony, at least? Nel doesn’t. The final chapter and the conclusion make a compelling case for more racial diversity in children’s literature. It definitely made me want to seek out more books that take me outside of my own subculture and experiences. Nel offers a number of suggestions for improving the situation of diversity in publishing, but I often felt helpless—like, so I care about this, but what can I do, really? I’d love to work in publishing, but I’ve found no open doors no matter how much I’ve knocked; and I buy almost no new fiction of any kind, so my dollars aren’t casting votes one way or the other. I have some influence within my family, a minuscule influence among friends, and even smaller influence among the four people who ever notice what I do on Goodreads. So the prospect of affecting decisions made by top-tier publishers in NYC seems laughably remote to me. I do resonate, therefore, with Nel’s assertion that one of the most important aspects of reading well is being guided by wise parents and teachers:That said, books offering a critical examination of racism’s cruelty are (obviously) quite different from those that passively perpetuate racism. The intervention of a thoughtful adult will be vital in reading the latter type of book. Un-bowdlerized versions of these books require guidance, critical questions, and emotional support for the strong feelings that they may elicit. They must also be read in the context of other books that (a) offer affirmative images of racial group members, and (b) supply some of the necessary history that will help young readers make sense of the structures of racism. (99–100)That’s what I’ve always tried to provide for my kids (despite Adam Swift’s delightfully ridiculous assertion that I should occasionally feel bad about reading to my kids, because of the unfair advantage this gives them over kids who weren’t read to). While I affirm most of Nel’s suggestions for improving diversity in publishing, he sometimes proposes something that strikes me as nearly humorous. For instance, when he writes,There are few novels or picture books about Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement. Likewise, there are few about the prison industrial complex, or racist profiling (192).Wait a minute. You’re telling me that when you think back to snuggling on the sofa with your three-year-old as you read a big stack of books together, that’s the moment when you’d like to have a discussion about the prison industrial complex, via a picture book? Come on. My overall impression of Was the Cat in the Hat Black? is that it presents a confused concept of racism. Nel says on page 1 that “racism endures because racism is structural: it’s embedded in culture, and in institutions.” I disagree—and interestingly, so does Nel later in the book, when he cites a 2015 Pew Research study that found that three-fourths of all people demonstrate racial bias. As the study reported,Roughly equal levels of implicit racial bias were found among men and women, old and young, and college educated and those with a high school diploma or less formal schooling. Republicans and Democrats with the same racial background also had similar levels of underlying racial bias.“If there are racial biases in your work,” Nel writes, “then you are statistically normal” (133). This I agree with. Looking back through history, you easily find that all people across all eras and regions of the world seem to want to draw lines between “insider” and “outsider,” “us” and “them.” So racism doesn’t come from social and cultural structures; it comes from something deep within all of us, something that has to be addressed, fixed, forgiven, in every generation. Changing the structures to be fairer and more equal is an excellent endeavor, but it can’t end racism. It’s addressing the effects, not the root problem. Beyond the tenets of “white fragility” (which I don’t wholeheartedly endorse) and the good work for fairness and justice in society, we have to look deeper, at the darkness in our hearts that can so quickly motivate any of us to unloving actions. A fellow who spent time walking around Israel some years ago has answers to those deeper issues.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Andre

    The book has a definitive academic feel, but is still quite accessible. Professor Nel may ruffle a lot of feathers with this one, good thing he seems to be clear about this. He remarks in chapter 3, “As an educator, I frequently wonder: how do I speak directly, name racism when I see it, and yet minimize the chance of a White artist, writer, editor, agent, or reader rejecting my argument? While I have never met Mr. Joyce and cannot predict his response, it is certainly easy to imagine a White ar The book has a definitive academic feel, but is still quite accessible. Professor Nel may ruffle a lot of feathers with this one, good thing he seems to be clear about this. He remarks in chapter 3, “As an educator, I frequently wonder: how do I speak directly, name racism when I see it, and yet minimize the chance of a White artist, writer, editor, agent, or reader rejecting my argument? While I have never met Mr. Joyce and cannot predict his response, it is certainly easy to imagine a White artist accusing a critic of ‘reading too much into’ a work or (as P.L. Travers does) pointing to young Black readers who allegedly did not perceive any stereotypes in the work, or even (in the case of a film or app) saying that X number of non-Whites worked on it.” This quote is in relation to his discussion of James Joyce’s book, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. The book came after the app and an award winning animated short. The story is set in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, but has no people of color in any of its forms. The quote however could and does apply to the whole work. How can one do anything set in New Orleans and not include Black folks is beyond crazy. This is, according to Professor Nel “one of the most pervasive but least examined type of structural racism in children’s literature: the absence of non-White characters from places where we might expect to see them.” I am almost certain that he will be challenged on the ‘reading too much into’ front, however valid his points are. Others may dismiss him outright as being overzealous in his search for racism, where none exists. I think either approach would be short sighted and unproductive. Hopefully academics, scholars, librarians, teachers and general readers will engage and examine the book closely and come away more conscious of children’s literature. The future of America depends on it. Professor Nel makes a compelling case for the importance of diverse children’s books. Children tend to make sense of the world through books, and if children of color do not find themselves in literature, what message does that send? He challenges his fellow Whites, particularly those involved in the publishing industry, to be vigilant in making changes towards a more diverse children’s literature. He uses five chapters and certain children’s texts to expound on a central point in each chapter. His motivation for writing this book, is contained within the question of why after 50 years are we still asking the question posed in Nancy Larrick’s essay, All White World Of Children’s Books. Where are the people of color in children’s literature? “In her oft-cited article, Larrick lamented that ‘non-White children are learning to read and to understand the American way of life in books which either omit them entirely or scarcely mention them. ‘These omissions damage the child of color, and may harm White children even more.’” Professor Bel uses his book to propose some answers to this fifty-year-old question. It’s a call to raise consciousness because racism in literature is so often undetected, and the social illness of racism is pervasive, persistent and elusive. In the fight for a more diverse literature this fine book is like a wakeup missile fired at those who are currently asleep. Some of his writing will easily resonate with readers, while others will over react, instead of engage in deep thought and contemplation about the issues raised. Numbers don’t lie, and there are many presented in the text about the number of diverse books published or lack thereof, and simply remaining in denial will not help move the needle towards diversity. Professor Nel anticipates deftly the circular economic argument and exposes the fallacy in it. Are Black children not buying and reading books in greater numbers because they don’t like reading or are the lack of Black characters on book covers and/or as subjects driving down interest and sales? The exposing of white washing children’s and YA book covers was informative. Apparently, publishers have convinced themselves that Black people on book covers will hurt potential sales of a book. That is an admission of the racism that permeates the world of children’s literature. He concludes this work with a manifesto for anti-racist children’s literature. He offers up 19 suggestions toward that end; “About one-third of the suggestions that follow are explicitly directed toward Whites. There are two reasons for this. First, as the major beneficiaries of White supremacy, Whites have the strongest moral obligation to end it……...The second reason is power: A White-dominated children’s book publishing industry will be harder to change if people within that industry fail to address its systemic racism. However, in following these explicitly ‘White People’ suggestions, Whites must never speak for people of color, nor assume that we know all the answers. We do not. We must listen to people and communities of color, and do our part in opposing racism.” An important book and one that should be shared with teachers, librarians and indeed all people who interact with children around literature. Thanks to Netgalley for the advanced e-copy in exchange for an honest review. The book will publish August 1, 2017.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Katelyn Patterson

    White librarians should read this.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    America is again entering a period of civil rights activism because racism is resilient, sneaky, and endlessly adaptable. In other words, racism endures because racism is structural: it’s embedded in culture, and in institutions. I took my time in getting to this book because one of my favorite childhood authors, Dr. Seuss, was mentioned in the title and I knew he wouldn't come off well in the book and how could I defend an author who introduced me to my love of reading? Nel had some harsh truths America is again entering a period of civil rights activism because racism is resilient, sneaky, and endlessly adaptable. In other words, racism endures because racism is structural: it’s embedded in culture, and in institutions. I took my time in getting to this book because one of my favorite childhood authors, Dr. Seuss, was mentioned in the title and I knew he wouldn't come off well in the book and how could I defend an author who introduced me to my love of reading? Nel had some harsh truths to deliver. Whites have not had to build tolerance for racial discomfort and thus when racial discomfort arises, whites typically respond as if something is ‘wrong,’ and blame the person or event that triggered the discomfort (usually a person of color). Nel focused on five areas of structural racism in the world of children’s books: the subtle persistence of racial caricature, how anti-racist revisionism sustains racist ideas, racial invisibility as a form of racism, racial erasures via whitewashed young adult book covers, and genre-coding in the children's publishing industry. Authors like Seuss are "what happens when race gets displaced, re-coded, hidden. It is about how racist ideologies persist in the literature and culture of childhood, frequently in ways that we fail to notice on a conscious level. It is about how race is present especially when it seems to be absent." Some authors' work has been bowdlerized in recent years, such as Twain, with the exchanging of the n-word for slave, completely changing the meaning of the text and the work itself. My understanding of Nel's take on racists texts are that it would be a toss up of banning them from libraries or teaching students to look critically at these books, and continuing to cause damage readers of color. Nel exposes the publishing industry's argument that books by people of color in a certain genre or with a POC on the cover won't sell. They don't admit that they're using hiring via nepotism, filling quotas for writers of color within genres, or that they are driven by the economic bottom line. As the primary beneficiaries of structural racism, White people have the strongest moral obligation to work toward dismantling it. As John Metta writes, “White people are in a position of power in this country because of racism. The question is: Are they brave enough to use that power to speak against the system that gave it to them?. One of my favorite things about this book is that he gave multiple examples of children's books in recently history with examples of racism but that he also gave examples of books written by POC which were overlooked by the publishing industry and were self published or who don't fit the mold of one of the three genres they've been pigeonholed into by the publishing industry. Nel encourages white writers, publishers, teachers, and librarians to do better and even better, he gives a list of places to go to accomplish this. This book is going to remind me that I need to look at my read alouds I share with my class and look at the ratio of books written by white writers versus everyone else. I'll now be looking at books I choose with a closer eye for structural racism. My only critique is that the book became repetitive at times. I remember reading specific phrases and asking myself hadn't I just read that phrase word for word a few pages ago? Other than that, this book was entirely worthwhile.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ceillie Simkiss

    Full review to come, but this book is really really important. Read my full review HERE Full review to come, but this book is really really important. Read my full review HERE

  7. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    An eloquent and powerful book. Nel begins with a historical and literary perspective on the privileging of whiteness in children's literature and moves into an examination of the contemporary children's book industry and the way that decisions about publicity, staffing, and genre forward the implicit and explicit message that whiteness is universal and racial difference is exceptional, abject, or invisible--often that it is exiled from a land of imagination peopled exclusively by white children. An eloquent and powerful book. Nel begins with a historical and literary perspective on the privileging of whiteness in children's literature and moves into an examination of the contemporary children's book industry and the way that decisions about publicity, staffing, and genre forward the implicit and explicit message that whiteness is universal and racial difference is exceptional, abject, or invisible--often that it is exiled from a land of imagination peopled exclusively by white children. In the title essay, a tour de force, Nel investigates the racial history of "the cat in the hat," a figure whose iconography draws on minstrelsy and caricature, which Theodore Giesel both knew well and practiced himself. Nel recognizes the charisma of this figure, the association of racial difference with pleasure that Eric Lottfamously explores in Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, but he also unpacks the implications of this rule-breaking cat entering white domestic spaces he's "not supposed" to be in. Then Nel moves to a series of classic children's books--Huck Finn, Dr. Doolittle, Mary Poppins, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory--that have been expurgated to disguise the racism and imperialism at their heart; he demonstrates in a series of powerful readings that none of these alterations in fact undo the racist implications at their core, and in fact, the retention of overt racist slurs or racist caricature could open a space for children to express anger, criticism, or resistance in the classroom, where sanitized versions obscure the bias that is still omnipresent. These tour de force readings set up Nel's look at the contemporary children's literature industry: the erasure of race in the mythologization of Hurricane Katrina in The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore; the whitewashing of YA covers for fantasy books featuring protagonists of color (the contrast between the first A Wizard of Earthsea cover and all subsequent was so striking!); the ghettoization of books-about-race to historical fiction and realism, which excludes writers of color who would like to publish in fantasy and sci fi and implies that racism is an effect of the past. Perhaps the best part of the book is the rousing manifesto at the end where Nel lists all of the things that White people can do to contribute to the fight against white supremacy in children's literature: http://weneeddiversebooks.org/ Nel must be a fantastic teacher; he writes cleanly and crisply with wit and passion, and he pulls no punches in his investigation of how structural racism and unconscious bias continue to distort and limit the books that are available to children. Nel moves deftly between historical context, literary interpretation, political commentary, and theories of racism and racialization--all of which he explains with careful erudition and clarity. Nel brings his own biography and identity into his discussion, which makes it richer and even vulnerable in some moments. Though this book was published by a scholarly press, Nel makes his narrative accessible, so that parents, caregivers, educators--anyone who cares about children's literature and its shaping power for young lives, imaginations, and psyches, not to mention literacy prospects--will find it readable, provocative, angering (in a productive way), and inspiring.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

    That's just how things were back then! How many times have you heard that? Perhaps you've even said it yourself when confronted with proof that an old favorite film, or some bygone social norm you still adhere to, is actually racist and always was. This is what Philip Nel does with The Cat in the Hat and several other "classic" children's books, such as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Story of Doctor Dolittle, and Mary Poppins. It gets brutal. And eye-opening. Nel's main argument is that That's just how things were back then! How many times have you heard that? Perhaps you've even said it yourself when confronted with proof that an old favorite film, or some bygone social norm you still adhere to, is actually racist and always was. This is what Philip Nel does with The Cat in the Hat and several other "classic" children's books, such as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Story of Doctor Dolittle, and Mary Poppins. It gets brutal. And eye-opening. Nel's main argument is that many White supremacy beliefs are woven into literature written for children (mostly because those beliefs run implicitly within our society). Then, that racially-dubious literature is read to and by children and young adults, who grow up with fond memories of the stories. Thus, children's literature can influence (in part) the racial beliefs held by adults. I don't think this is such a big stretch of logic. I'm guilty of using the above phrase: That's how they thought back then. Who's "they"? And when? 10 years ago? 50? 100? It's easy to excuse away the racial beliefs of "other people" who thought their backwards thoughts sometime that isn't the present. As Nel points out, this outlook implies that ALL people held those racist ideas at any point in time, which is unlikely. Nel brings up and expounds on other issues surrounding diversity and children's literature, too. Several of them I've contemplated myself. Should we use/teach books with racist elements? Yes. If we hide or ban them, how will we learn to do better? How do we teach a book that is racist without perpetuating those ideas? By identifying what makes it racist and cruel and stereotypical and demeaning to Black people, then denouncing those elements, no matter when the book was written or by whom. Why does the book industry allow White supremacy beliefs to color what does and doesn't get published? Ignorance. And money. Can a racist book be separated from it's historical context? It can and it should. Books should be judged on the sum of their parts, not the date of their publishing. What should diverse children's literature look like, ideally? Telling truths felt by children who are Black and Brown and every other color. It's more than having a Black character in your book. It's about telling stories that reflect the experiences that children who are not White see in their own lives and neighborhoods. But this all takes effort to achieve. I speak as a White person when I admit most White people don't want to confront the privilege they receive from their race. Or don't even think it's there! They bristle, if not outright rage, if accused of being racist. So the task becomes not just changing how children's literature is written, but tackling the larger issues of race in our society, especially in America. I felt a lot of the discourse here pertained to diversity as a whole, outside of kids books. Published in 2017, it doesn't take into account all the shit that hit the fan in 2020. Yet it's there all the same. Racism wasn't invented in the past year. We really need a sea change. P.S. Whatever your opinion on the theories put forth in this book, you have to admit it has a superb title. Was the Cat in the Hat Black? Your answer to such a question could reveal more about your implicit beliefs on race than you might expect. Or maybe not. But it sure gets you thinking.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    An interesting look at racism in children's lit and a reminder to constantly review my curricula and classroom library. An interesting look at racism in children's lit and a reminder to constantly review my curricula and classroom library.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    A well-documented, very thoughtful academic analysis of the implicit bias and hidden racism contained in much of children's literature. Primarily white publishers "relate more" with what they are familiar--the white lived experience. They choose to publish what (in their minds) will sell. All children need to be able find someone who looks like them in the pages of a picture book and read about experiences similar to their own in novels and non-fiction. Also, children need to read stories other A well-documented, very thoughtful academic analysis of the implicit bias and hidden racism contained in much of children's literature. Primarily white publishers "relate more" with what they are familiar--the white lived experience. They choose to publish what (in their minds) will sell. All children need to be able find someone who looks like them in the pages of a picture book and read about experiences similar to their own in novels and non-fiction. Also, children need to read stories other than their own--to see and read about happy (and unhappy) children who do not look like them, whose life experience has been much different, whose family situations contrast how they are growing up. Walking in someone else's shoes, through reading, builds connection and develops empathy, mutual understanding and respect for other people's life experiences. This is one of the most important books I've read as a children's librarian, a mother and a global citizen. I am inspired to read more widely and critically.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Janel England

    I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. To start, let me say that the author was white. I went in assuming that he was a PoC considering the topic and the book's call for publishing to make room for authors of color. It's slipped in pretty early on that he is white, so it's not like I went the whole book thinking he was, but he doesn't address it directly until the end of the book. I personally would have preferred that this acknowledgement of this innate contradiction came at the beginn I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. To start, let me say that the author was white. I went in assuming that he was a PoC considering the topic and the book's call for publishing to make room for authors of color. It's slipped in pretty early on that he is white, so it's not like I went the whole book thinking he was, but he doesn't address it directly until the end of the book. I personally would have preferred that this acknowledgement of this innate contradiction came at the beginning of the book--I think it would have been the harder, but better thing to do. Due to his whiteness, there is unnecessary tension in the book that distracts from the actual content. It's unclear who Nel's intended audience is, except for a brief mention in the manifesto that 1/3 of the suggestions are specifically directed at white people. The result of this is that at some points you're left thinking "is he lecturing to people of color about...diversity?" Additionally, the points in which he acknowledges his privilege and whiteness are difficult to not read as self-aggrandizing. At times he situates his own personal stories of race within his academic arguments, which turns the attention away from diversity and on to himself, a white man. (There's also the uncomfortable tension that a lot of the central points of his argument comes from work already done by PoC, and yet he is the one profiting from it.) My final problem with the execution of this book is the inaccessibility of the knowledge and recommendations he is giving. If he truly claims to want radical change, why isn't the manifesto, which contains a wealth of resources, online for free? (If it turns out that it is, please let me know. My googling yielded zero results.) As for the actual content of the book, I found it unorganized at times. There are five different chapters, varying from the history of the Cat in the Hat to the current state of the publishing industry. And while I do understand the over-arching connection between the topics, I wasn't sold that every chapter was necessary in order for Nel to make his argument. And within the chapters themselves, the evidence given was meandering. It felt like Nel had too much evidence and, rather than using only what was absolutely essential, included all of it. I can see this being a difficult read for someone who isn't used to reading academic literature (which again, another issue with accessibility). For me, the highlights of the book were the fourth chapter (about the white washing of children's book covers) and the manifesto. I would recommend this book as a starting point to learn about the issue of lack of diversity in children's literature and the publishing industry as a whole. It offers a number of excellent resources and book recommendations--many of which I jotted down. But don't go in expecting it to be the definitive guide on the topic.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chelsey

    Now this would have been something actually useful for my children’s materials class to have included in library school.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Amy Layton

    I was so glad to see this book in my university's library.  This is something widely discussed in children's literature and adult literature academic journals and blog posts, but I've rarely seen these topics discussed in academic books.  So, was the Cat in the Hat black?  Yes, and no.   The premise of this book is to discover and discuss the ways in which unintentional and intentional racism has made its way into children's literature--beginning with the Cat in the Hat.  Theodore Geisel was pret I was so glad to see this book in my university's library.  This is something widely discussed in children's literature and adult literature academic journals and blog posts, but I've rarely seen these topics discussed in academic books.  So, was the Cat in the Hat black?  Yes, and no.   The premise of this book is to discover and discuss the ways in which unintentional and intentional racism has made its way into children's literature--beginning with the Cat in the Hat.  Theodore Geisel was pretty dang racist until he made some realizations that had him rethinking his opinions.  From then on, he created children's picture books about oppression, the problems with anti-semitism, respect, and other topics.  But that doesn't change the fact that even though he overtly changed his opinions and tried to do his best to illuminate that, his internalized preconceived notions didn't change as much.  And as a result, the Cat in the Hat looks rather like a minstrel-show character in blackface, and represents a character who creates an upheaval in a "traditional" white home.  Not intentionally racist, but racist nonetheless. Nel uses this example to propel his argument forward, to show how some editors and publishing houses have tried to retcon publications such as Huck Finn and Doctor DooLittle--the overt racism in these were changed for less overt, and more PC scenes.  But what does this do to the integrity of the book, and how does this affect readers?  And furthermore, what happens when even covers are changed to show symbols instead of the lead characters of color?  And even the publishing houses themselves--why are there so few people of color in this industry? He discusses these problems with plenty of examples, and illuminates his points eloquently and sufficiently.  This is definitely a must read for those interested in the discussions surrounding children's literature today and how racism still pervades the literature we provide for our children.   Review cross-listed here!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    An odd book for a bedtime read-aloud, but I wanted to see how a non-children's lit person would think about the issues Phil raises in this provocative book. My husband kindly agreed to take a month and read this one aloud to us both. He was and is a big Dr. Seuss fan, but found Phil's arguments persuasive and compelling. For me, the arguments were familiar from previous scholars' work in the field, as well as Phil's own original conference presentations on the topic, but still a powerful reminde An odd book for a bedtime read-aloud, but I wanted to see how a non-children's lit person would think about the issues Phil raises in this provocative book. My husband kindly agreed to take a month and read this one aloud to us both. He was and is a big Dr. Seuss fan, but found Phil's arguments persuasive and compelling. For me, the arguments were familiar from previous scholars' work in the field, as well as Phil's own original conference presentations on the topic, but still a powerful reminder of the major work the field still has to do to confront systemic and institutional racism. Especially valuable is the book's final chapter, which presents a list of suggestions for ways everyone, but primarily white people, can work to create and support anti-racist children's literature. Most helpful lines for me: "I aspire to be an ally, but I would never call myself an ally. A member of a dominant group cannot confer allyhood on himself or herself. Nor, of course, does the power to confer allyhood reside in any one member of a group facing institutional oppression. Howeve, that individual has a better ability to evaluate allyhood than I do" (211).

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    Was the Cat in the Hat Black? by Philip Nel is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late July. Oh, once I knew that I was okayed to review this, I was super excited to delve into this one. Even if I'd learned in an American Race Relations class this winter that race is a social structure, this book has full, precise, and well-rounded research examples to back it up when racist statements are made in children's and YA literature (i.e. early Dr. Seuss comic strips containing imagery of lynching an Was the Cat in the Hat Black? by Philip Nel is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late July. Oh, once I knew that I was okayed to review this, I was super excited to delve into this one. Even if I'd learned in an American Race Relations class this winter that race is a social structure, this book has full, precise, and well-rounded research examples to back it up when racist statements are made in children's and YA literature (i.e. early Dr. Seuss comic strips containing imagery of lynching and hanging, the appearance of Oompa-Loompas being illustrated differently between editions, the Bad Tuesday chapter of Mary Poppins, the 'neutral whiteness' and non-acknowledgment of poverty in The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, and the lack of minorities on YA novel covers). I'd also highly recommend this book for it putting forth truthful ideas and concepts to ponder on, like readers being empowered when they see characters that resemble them vs. avoiding books when there's no one that looks like you in them, ideology as nostalgia, being inoculated by one's own social environment and experiences, Toni Morrison viewing literature's reinforcement of racelessness as a racist act, misunderstandings that white literary agents have toward the work of minority writers, and how children are aware of the difference between a child's freeing, giddy laughter and the knowing, controlled, sardonic laughter of an adult).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Houlihan

    The author makes a case for the Cat in the Hat having minstrel origins, and I can see that. Then he spoke of how viewers blind themselves to the minstrel nature of Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Scarecrow. I’ve been aware of Bugs for some time, and I don’t know the Mouse except for Steamboat Willy so yes; but Scarecrow made me ponder. Because he can dance and has no brain? Because he hangs out in a field without actually doing any labor? I don’t dispute it but I don’t immediately grasp it, not as The author makes a case for the Cat in the Hat having minstrel origins, and I can see that. Then he spoke of how viewers blind themselves to the minstrel nature of Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Scarecrow. I’ve been aware of Bugs for some time, and I don’t know the Mouse except for Steamboat Willy so yes; but Scarecrow made me ponder. Because he can dance and has no brain? Because he hangs out in a field without actually doing any labor? I don’t dispute it but I don’t immediately grasp it, not as immediately as I saw, upon fresh viewing as an adult after a remove of years, that Tin Man is gay and that “Jimmy Crack Corn” is not an acceptable song.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ginny Kaczmarek

    This amazing nonfiction book explores ways in which "classic" and modern books for kids reinforce racist tropes, harming kids of all races. Heavily researched and annotated, the book offers a deep exploration as well as suggestions for reading intelligently with kids (as opposed to whitewashing or censoring books). Includes A Manifesto for Anti-Racist Children's Literature for all creators, publishers, and readers. Highly recommended. This amazing nonfiction book explores ways in which "classic" and modern books for kids reinforce racist tropes, harming kids of all races. Heavily researched and annotated, the book offers a deep exploration as well as suggestions for reading intelligently with kids (as opposed to whitewashing or censoring books). Includes A Manifesto for Anti-Racist Children's Literature for all creators, publishers, and readers. Highly recommended.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    A lot of great and detailed information on the history of racialized cartoons in children's books, arguments again editing out (especially without acknowledgment), and current stats around the whiteness of children and YA publishing today (editors, writers, and marketing). Stars off for at times dry writing, but mostly for a white author giving POC "advice" on how to affect change in a racist industry. A lot of great and detailed information on the history of racialized cartoons in children's books, arguments again editing out (especially without acknowledgment), and current stats around the whiteness of children and YA publishing today (editors, writers, and marketing). Stars off for at times dry writing, but mostly for a white author giving POC "advice" on how to affect change in a racist industry.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

    Sometimes insightful, sometimes irritating (quoting White Fragility all over the place makes me think you haven't internalized the Kafkaesque qualities of that book), but nonetheless an interesting read. I appreciated the list of actionable steps people can take in the concluding chapter of the book even if I don't agree with all of them. "In the United States, the range of racial beliefs has changed relatively little from the nineteenth century to the present....but the proportion of people who Sometimes insightful, sometimes irritating (quoting White Fragility all over the place makes me think you haven't internalized the Kafkaesque qualities of that book), but nonetheless an interesting read. I appreciated the list of actionable steps people can take in the concluding chapter of the book even if I don't agree with all of them. "In the United States, the range of racial beliefs has changed relatively little from the nineteenth century to the present....but the proportion of people who think these thoughts has." http://www.diversityinya.com/category...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kacper

    A good primer for being a critical reader and a call to action for all of us to promote multicultural works within our own reading and to those we come into contact with.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I'm going to write my review as I'm reading this book to help me remember how I am feeling. Chapter 1: I felt like there were times this chapter was dry and really hard to get through- but the arguments all made sense. I never made the connection between the portrayal of the Cat and minstrel shows. I feel part of that is my lack of exposure to minstrel shows/black face. The only blackface I remember seeing is a brief (but still racist) scene in Holiday Inn. I also appreciate that Nel acknowledges I'm going to write my review as I'm reading this book to help me remember how I am feeling. Chapter 1: I felt like there were times this chapter was dry and really hard to get through- but the arguments all made sense. I never made the connection between the portrayal of the Cat and minstrel shows. I feel part of that is my lack of exposure to minstrel shows/black face. The only blackface I remember seeing is a brief (but still racist) scene in Holiday Inn. I also appreciate that Nel acknowledges the conflict within Seuss's work. He speaks out against segregation (Sneetches), and other forms of racism, but still portrays racist beliefs in the way his illustrations are done. Chapter 2: I struggled more in this chapter- not because of disagreeing with the author- I agree that the books Nel highlighted in this chapter (Huck Finn, Charlie and the chocolate factory, Doctor Dolittle and Mary Poppins) have racist parts and the attempts to fix those were poorly done. BUT I felt like Nel was repeating himself constantly and a lot of this chapter came off as "I'm better than you" Chapter 3: Again- mixed feelings. I 100% agree about racial erasure in Joyce's books. I can see where Nel is coming from and why he has issues. My problem is it feels like a huge stretch to say Pitch Black from Rise of the Guardians and the book that inspired it is based on race. I feel it is far more likely that Pitch Black was Pitch Black because.. darkness and kids are scared of the dark at night because monsters- and Pitch Black is basically the Boogie Man. Chapter 4: I am happy to see that Nel focuses his ire on the publishers in this chapter instead of on the authors, especially since authors often have very little say over what their book's cover art looks like. I also agree with all his complaints and arguments. Covers are horribly whitewashed and publishers use that awful argument of "People of color don't read x genre" or "white people won't read books with x people on covers". It's extremely frustrating, especially when trying to build strong displays for YA books that focus on non-white characters. I don't want all the colors to portray stereotypes or just objects. Chapter 5: I never really thought of the lopsidedness of genres and how cultures/people of color are represented in each genre as a type of Jim Crow - but the arguments are sound. I might have missed it but I was reading fast/skimming- but I don't know that Nel pointed out that one problem with self publishing is that it often requires having the disposable income to do so. I might have just missed that though. Conclusion: The ways to help create change were helpful- I appreciated the list format. Overall Feelings about this book: Overall the arguments were sound and well thought out. There were times it definitely felt repetitive. At parts it also came across as "I think of these things so I'm better than you!". I think I would have appreciated more of a focus on recently published titles (recently published to the publication of this book that is) at one point. There's a little bit but I would have liked to see an evaluation of changes included- and a focus on some newer books and how they are better or still enforcing structural racism.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    I've heard as much through the years. But William Joyce's book??? Nope. Filler. As for the cat in the Hat being Black based on minstrel shows, maybe, but you can hardly blame Theodore Geisel for writing or drawing what he knew or was influenced by directly or indirectly, and it seems wrong to point the finger at the book when the man is no longer living to defend himself. I do agree there has been, and likely still remains much wrong in the book industry when it comes to minorities. Just making a I've heard as much through the years. But William Joyce's book??? Nope. Filler. As for the cat in the Hat being Black based on minstrel shows, maybe, but you can hardly blame Theodore Geisel for writing or drawing what he knew or was influenced by directly or indirectly, and it seems wrong to point the finger at the book when the man is no longer living to defend himself. I do agree there has been, and likely still remains much wrong in the book industry when it comes to minorities. Just making a character one of color doesn't make it better. I recall hearing Gary Paulsen give a talk once where he pitched a book to a publisher and the guy actually told told him it would never sell. When Paulsen asked why, the publisher said , well, it's a boy's book. Paulsen agreed and the publisher told him, well, boys don't read! Of course, they didn't! There were no books for them! Gary Paulsen persisted and his books, "boy" books have done very well. Minority stories are appearing. Just not as fast as white folks want them to. I can't recall any titles specifically, but I do remember a few fiction book covers that were changed to children of color, or to include children of color, like it would make a difference! I also recall hearing at a conference once that the Coretta Scott King Awards were created, when there was an outcry from various quarters, that books by people of color never won Caldecott or Newberry Awards and they were told to create their own. I think it would be very interesting for a person of color to write a similar book from their pov, rather then a white person writing to tell us how these books are harmful. Yes, changes need to be made and stories need to be more inclusive, etc... on that I agree. But overall, I'm not very impressed by this book. As for Laura Ingalls Wilder, it was the 1800's for goodness sake! How on earth could she have written for a 21st century audience??? She wrote what she knew from what she lived.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michael Ritchie

    Five academic essays on race and children's literature. It's a real mixed bag. The essays on "whitewashing" (the habit of putting white or obscured faces on the covers of books featuring lead characters of other races) and on genre as Jim Crow (publishers ghettoizing African-American authors into genres like realism or history while claiming that SF, fantasy or early readers with Black characters won't sell) are right on target. The Cat in the Hat chapter, which exposes the influences of blackfa Five academic essays on race and children's literature. It's a real mixed bag. The essays on "whitewashing" (the habit of putting white or obscured faces on the covers of books featuring lead characters of other races) and on genre as Jim Crow (publishers ghettoizing African-American authors into genres like realism or history while claiming that SF, fantasy or early readers with Black characters won't sell) are right on target. The Cat in the Hat chapter, which exposes the influences of blackface minstrelsy and African-American folk literature on Seuss's creation, is interesting, but it's difficult for me to accept that any readers, especially children, would recognize the Cat as a Black caricature. And the chapter that takes William Joyce to task for "erasing" Black experience during Hurricane Katrina in his book The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore just seems foolish. If I recall correctly, nowhere does the book present itself as being about Katrina; it uses a storm, more like the tornado in Wizard of Oz, as a taking-off point for a story about books, reading, and loss. I think Nel needed one more chapter to make a full book and tried desperately to make this fit, but for me it drags down Nel's reputation as a trusted closer reader. (Interestingly, he mentions in passing that he is white but never really discusses the tricky negotiations he may have had to go through--internally at least--to carry out this work.)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    I started this book months ago, but as I do with many nonfiction books, I shelved it for others. I picked up The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Leguin. The main character of that book is described as copper-colored and his best friend is black. However, I could not stop picturing these characters as white! I worked so hard to change their colors in my mind. I was constantly reframing their world to look like other fantasy books and I would have to check myself. And that is a big part of what this boo I started this book months ago, but as I do with many nonfiction books, I shelved it for others. I picked up The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Leguin. The main character of that book is described as copper-colored and his best friend is black. However, I could not stop picturing these characters as white! I worked so hard to change their colors in my mind. I was constantly reframing their world to look like other fantasy books and I would have to check myself. And that is a big part of what this book is about. Implicit or explicit racism in children's literature; white-washing of characters and book covers to increase sales and the lack of authors published who represent the majority of the people in the world. I came away with strategies to recognize and talk about racism in books and reading suggestions in multiple genres. I highly recommend this book even though it is repetitive at times and you can skim the last couple chapters and not miss too much.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    amazing. a must read for those interested in children's lit, or race, or the cat in the hat. read for a children's lit class. would read again. highly recommend. amazing. a must read for those interested in children's lit, or race, or the cat in the hat. read for a children's lit class. would read again. highly recommend.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shelley

    A very important topic, with a very dry, academic writing style. I'd really been looking forward to this, but it seemed a rehash of things I've been reading for years. I hope this reaches a broader audience, those who may not have been paying enough attention, because he makes excellent points and arguments. One point he made is to interrogate who "they" is in "they all thought that way in the past." Did all African Americans think they were subhuman? Did immigrants think of themselves as lazy? A very important topic, with a very dry, academic writing style. I'd really been looking forward to this, but it seemed a rehash of things I've been reading for years. I hope this reaches a broader audience, those who may not have been paying enough attention, because he makes excellent points and arguments. One point he made is to interrogate who "they" is in "they all thought that way in the past." Did all African Americans think they were subhuman? Did immigrants think of themselves as lazy? Abolitionists and people who enslaved other people did not have the same opinions. Saying "they" thought that way does a disservice to those who didn't (or else how would we have progressed?) and fully erases entire communities and races and ethnicities from the conversation. Talk to all kids about the racism they see in books. If you don't, they still see it and they struggle alone and don't learn how to channel their anger and sadness. They may stop reading entirely. Children can handle so much more than adults remember. The entire chapter on the Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore was wonderful. How can a book that doesn't include anyone but White characters be racist? By erasing people of color entirely, especially those that IRL would have been a major part of the community, you are continuing the idea of a White community as the norm. This books normalizes segregation by perpetuating it. Did Joyce mean to do this? I highly doubt it, and so does the author of this book. But by not looking critically at the world you are sharing, you share racist stories. One thing I had not fully understood was how segregated genres are in kids lit. I did know that so many of the books written about African American kids were historical or realistic, but I didn't continue that thought towards understanding fully that they were being gate-kept out of fantasy, sci-fi, dystopias, etc. Authors are specifically told that it wouldn't sell, even acclaimed authors like Walter Dean Meyers. But because editors and agents and publishers can't put themselves into the shoes of anyone else, they say no one will connect with the characters or story. And if one or two are published, then that's enough. Many White authors can tackle similar plots in various genres, but authors of color are told "Oh, but we already have one like that." One Asian fantasy per publishing house, really? There's so much work to do.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    “Proposing that we teach racist classics challenges the assumption that multicultural education requires young readers to see only the mirrors and windows that celebrate. Of course all young readers (but especially those from underrepresented groups) do need books that offer such mirrors and windows, but we should also help children face those distorted mirrors and windows that may cause anger, confusion, or sadness. “The need to read and to teach un-bowdlerized books is an argument I make with r “Proposing that we teach racist classics challenges the assumption that multicultural education requires young readers to see only the mirrors and windows that celebrate. Of course all young readers (but especially those from underrepresented groups) do need books that offer such mirrors and windows, but we should also help children face those distorted mirrors and windows that may cause anger, confusion, or sadness. “The need to read and to teach un-bowdlerized books is an argument I make with reluctance and sadness. All children should be granted a childhood free from the injuries of prejudice. However, since encounters with hate are sadly inevitable, literature can offer a safer space for young people to explore the complex, difficult, painful emotions that racism elicits. Both shielding children from and exposing children to racist texts are poor choices, but failing to confront racism is far more dangerous than ignoring it. “These confrontations can even take place where racism does not seem a core issue of the work – where, at first glance, racial politics and race itself seem wholly absent. However, the stories in which race seems to disappear are also often those where racism is embedded more subtly, and more dangerously. Though William Joyce’s works are hardly unique in their racial erasure, they do offer an excellent case study in how Whiteness makes itself invisible and appears to make race and racism vanish.” pp.105-6 “In contrast, the speculative and more richly figurative works acknowledge that trauma takes us by surprise, without warning or foreshadowing. The non-realistic landscapes and timescapes of the fantastic offer more opportunities for inflicting traumatic shocks upon readers and viewers. Trauma is not linear – it infects memories prior to the event, and colors experiences after the vent. Those works willing to veer further toward the symbolic estrange the familiar in ways that help us understand more deeply.” p.126

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Cobb Sabatini

    I won a copy of Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books by Philip Nel from Goodreads. An important must-read for anyone who cares about children, Philip Nel's book, Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books, is well researched, thoroughly documented, and extremely thoughtful. This short book should have been a quick read for me, yet it is so densely packed with issues t I won a copy of Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books by Philip Nel from Goodreads. An important must-read for anyone who cares about children, Philip Nel's book, Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books, is well researched, thoroughly documented, and extremely thoughtful. This short book should have been a quick read for me, yet it is so densely packed with issues to ponder that I found myself pausing often to reflect upon my own life and actions. Nel helped me to have a deeper understanding of "White Privilege" and my own unconscious role in it. While chronicling the history of white supremacy in publishing, and in children's books in particular, Nel carefully argues for diverse books for children. With an examination of race in classic books, attempts to bowdlerize books, and the changing covers of books, Nel demonstrates the roles we all play in the lack of diverse books for children. The author also explains, in step-by-step, clear language, the actions we can take to minimize bigotry and promote healthy discourse. The ultimate goal, of course, is to create a strong movement for more diverse books. Philip Nel's Was the Cat in the Hat Black: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books is a good guide for writers and other artists, provides important insight for caring educators, and is a true eye opener for every reader.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Beronica

    Spoilers: -"It is more risky to ban racist books outright, or to use only the bowdlerized versions. It is a less risky choice to teach these books critically, helping students see the ways in which they reinforce racism, engaging them in a difficult and painful, but sadly necessary conversations...American children become racialized subjects very early in life. Children of color also tend to become aware of their racialized subjectivity early on." p. 74 -"The Trump Effect" P. 75 "Deciding to white Spoilers: -"It is more risky to ban racist books outright, or to use only the bowdlerized versions. It is a less risky choice to teach these books critically, helping students see the ways in which they reinforce racism, engaging them in a difficult and painful, but sadly necessary conversations...American children become racialized subjects very early in life. Children of color also tend to become aware of their racialized subjectivity early on." p. 74 -"The Trump Effect" P. 75 "Deciding to whitewash a book cover on the unproven assumption that White people buy more books may seem a sound business decision, but it is a morally suspicious one. What children see on the covers of their books tells them who matters, and who does not." p.146 -"...[E]ven children who have not formally studied whitewashing understand when they are being excluded. They may lack the language to express it, but the dominance of Whiteness in book covers, comics, and throughout popular culture lets them know, on a fundamental level, that their aspirations and histories are just not as important." p.153 -"Listen for racecraft,...term for a linguistic sleight of hand that conceals racial assumptions...'racial profiling' should be called 'racist profiling." P. 209 -"In White people, White supremacy produces prejudice. In non-White people, it produces self-hatred, self-doubt, and pain. It is impossible to row up in a racist culture and not have these ideas infiltrate your thinking." P. 209 -"In case this is not obvious, White people---especially those afflicted with White fragility---should get over themselves. Listen to people whose experiences differ from your own. Listen with humility and thoughtfulness. Remember that, in America, people of color face racism nearly every day. So, White people, if you think someone is overly sensitive about race or weighing race too heavily in her analysis, then ask yourself: how would I feel if I faced racism daily?" P. 210 -"When only one of the required texts on the syllabus was written by a Latina or Latino author, it becomes the token Latino/a book. So we need to diversify what we teach within any given group, too." p.214 -"While we have made progress since then, progress is not the same as justice." p. 215

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cscha101 cha

    A wonderful and essential book that really explores racism within children's literature and publishing. Using the focus of publishing and literature, Nel masterfully goes through a spectrum of how racism affects children, ourselves, our perceptions, institutions, and more, showing how utterly pervasive it is and how necessary it is to work to dismantle racism. It also has helpful guides to how to unlearn and learn systems of oppression like racism. The day before I finished the book, I was going A wonderful and essential book that really explores racism within children's literature and publishing. Using the focus of publishing and literature, Nel masterfully goes through a spectrum of how racism affects children, ourselves, our perceptions, institutions, and more, showing how utterly pervasive it is and how necessary it is to work to dismantle racism. It also has helpful guides to how to unlearn and learn systems of oppression like racism. The day before I finished the book, I was going through a hard time questioning myself and the painful possibility that despite all my work, I was still racist and thus evil in the process. Reading this book gave me more peace in mind because it helped me recognize, although I knew already, that it is more about "reflecting on why their (my) behavior might sustain racist ideas" (Nel 132). Nel cites Maya Angelou, "we need to prevent anger from turning into bitterness because 'Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn't do anything to the object of its displeasure[...] So you use this anger, yet. You write it, you paint it, you dance it, you march it, you vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it' (Nel 98).

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