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  • Multiculturalism in Children's Literature
  • Roberta Seelinger Trites

In an excellent three-part series on multiculturalism that ran in The Horn Book Magazine in 2002-2003, Barbara Bader provides a comprehensive overview of the development of multicultural children's literature in the United States. She traces the growth of the field by citing a 1965 article by Nancy Larrick in the Saturday Review of Literature that identified "four-fifths of one percent" of children's books depicting life for modern African Americans ("How" 660), while the number of children's books published in 1995 included titles by 100 black authors or illustrators ("Multiculturalism" 271). Bader describes how, in the twentieth century, multicultural literatures evolved from "denying differences" to "emphasizing similarities" ("How" 660), and then from embracing integration in the 1960s to promoting "nationalism and separatism" in the 1970s ("How" 661). She employs Virginia Hamilton's term "parallel culture" ("How" 664) to describe how multicultural books at their best involve "understanding, acceptance" ("How" 670) and praises such authors as Vera Williams and Virginia Euwer Wolff for their "omniculturalism" (290). Bader describes the origins of the Council on Interracial Books for Children and notes its role in promoting multicultural literatures that include African American, Asian American, Latino, and Native American topics. Bader concludes with an observation that "with mutual respect, even admiration," we can return to the idealism of the 1960s when many literary critics and librarians shared a dream that children of all types could join hands and sing ("Multiculturalism" 291).

While Bader's triptych covers thoroughly the development of multicultural children's literature, she does not describe quite as thoroughly the development of multicultural literary criticism. (Since, indeed, the purpose of her articles is to describe the literature, not the literary critics, I intend no criticism with this observation.) Writing the history of multicultural children's literary criticism is a dissertation-length project yet to be written, and I hope that someone will soon. But major works of criticism do represent important turning points in the field. Pivotal multicultural literary criticism that has made a dif-ference to my own teaching and writing has included work by Rudine Sims Bishop, Violet Harris, Opal Moore and Donnarae MacCann, Dianne Johnson, Nancy D. Tolson, Katharine Capshaw Smith, Karen Patricia Smith, Carole Carpenter, Michelle Martin, Dieter Petzold, and Althea Helbig and Agnes Perkins. My list is incomplete and idiosyncratic, but I offer it as a partial bibliography at the end of this essay for readers interested in knowing major works in the topic within the discipline of children's literature.

Donnarae MacCann's introduction to the 2001 issue of The Lion and the Unicorn that is dedicated to Racism and Antiracism analyzes many of the issues surrounding the writing of multicultural literary criticism, including cultural dominance, assimilation, didacticism, political correctness, and pluralism. Her basic definition of multiculturalism is a sound one: "Multiculturalism addresses the warfare waged against specific groups of people—armed warfare, plus aggression implemented through forced labor and forced acculturation" (341). MacCann's definition is a violent one because of the violent forces that created a need for multiculturalism in the first place. While multiculturalism includes the appreciation of cultural diversity, if it were not for the inherent victimization of one culture at the hands of another, the term would never even have needed to exist.

This issue of the Quarterly evolved as an issue on multiculturalism only because of the confluence of forces that led the five contributing authors included in this issue to submit their works independently of each other and in response to no paper call. Rather, they are responding to the zeitgeist that insists we all pay attention to this extraordinarily compelling topic as we assess the aesthetic and ideological nuances of children's texts. John P. McCombe's "Picturing Jazz: Jazz Biography and Children's Literature" argues that picture books about jazz serve the double-purpose of teaching multicultural biography and the origins of a unique American musical form that has been heavily influenced by African American culture. María José Fernández assesses how [End Page 66] issues of gender and cultural border crossings are approached in a Latino picture book and a Latino novel...


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