Into the Trenches
By Julie Bliven, Editor, Charlesbridge
As an editor, I wish I had more opportunities to see first-hand how young readers interact with the books I’ve worked on. I gauge reader responses from sales figures, reviews, and blog posts. I also solicit blunt commentary from my niece and nephew. But that’s about all I’ve got.
In the aftermath of the controversy surrounding A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George Washington, I wondered a lot about how kids might respond to these particular books. And I wondered how an adult reader would discuss these books with kids. What would I say? This got me thinking about the books I’ve edited: How might I discuss issues like race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability in these books? And why do these conversations matter?
I felt compelled to head into the trenches.
Armed with apprehension, I joined the kindergarten classroom of a friend and teacher in the greater Boston area. These were my goals:
- Read one multicultural picture book that I’ve
- Read one multicultural picture book recommended
by the teacher.
- Discuss the books, encouraging diverse viewpoints. (This particular class of twenty-one has six
students whose first language is not English, and four students of color.)
- Check my own biases by asking and answering questions literally and objectively. (For instance, avoid discussing elements in the text—like a soup kitchen or Arabic—using words like “good,” “different,” or “other.”)
Here’s what happened when we read the books: