Tuesday, June 8, 2010

WRITING FROM YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE: One Crazy Summer, Post #1 of 6

Dear Heather and Meg,

I grew up in the suburbs of Connecticut, a white girl in a working-class family. Like every kid in my neighborhood, all of whom were white, I had a father who worked, a mother who stayed home, and I went to St. Agnes Catholic Church on Sundays. There was confidence and comfort that came from being just like everyone else, and for the most part I was blithely unaware that anyone's experience was much different from my own, for even the books I read were about girls much like me.

As an adult looking back, how I wish that the librarian had been able to thrust into my book-crazy hands a copy of Rita Williams-Garcia's novel so that I could have begun at an earlier age to appreciate the experiences of a child growing up non-white, which were so different from my own.

Reading this book as an adult I was struck by the way Delphine noticed her own blackness. At the airport preparing to fly to Oakland, for instance, Delphine notices the ratio of black to white people. 

There weren’t too many of ‘us’ in the waiting area, and too many of ‘them’ were staring. I’d taken a quick count out of habit. Vonetta, Fern and I were the only Negro children (p. 5).

This isn’t the only time Delphine counts the non-white faces. It’s something she and her sisters are confronted with on a daily basis as she describes here, when talking about their experience watching television:
The Mike Douglas show wasn’t the only place to find colored people on television. Each week, Jet magazine pointed out all the shows with colored people. My sisters and I became expert colored counters. We had it down to a science (p. 118).
What a terrific example of "show don't tell"! By watching Delphine and her sisters notice the world around them we discover just how deeply they are affected by it.

It was shortly after I finished reading One Crazy Summer that I came across a cartoon in the May 31 issue of The New Yorker (p.59), which smacked of Delphine's experience. The comic shows two men watching television, drinking a beer. One says to the other, “I actually saw ten gay characters on television this week—which almost balanced out the 2,174 straight characters I saw.”

And I recall a lecture delivered by Mitali Perkins back in April at the Western Washington SCBWI conference. Speaking about multiculturalism in children’s literature, Mitali commented that whenever she walked into a room she immediately noticed how many other people of color there were.

Whatever the minority experience one has, be it that they are black, gay, or from another country, they are acutely aware of being outside the majority culture in this country. It is so important that kids like Delphine have a book such as this to relate to, and that kids like me have a book such as this to learn from. 
StorySleuth Tip #76: Whatever your experience is, there are kids out there that need to hear it. Even if you think you are a minority of one, tell your story.

Post #2: Dialogue