Bright Eyes, Brown Skin – Cheryl Willis Hudson and Bernette G. Ford

“Bright Eyes, Brown Skin” is a book that shouts the need for illustrated picture books with non-white characters.  Like Snow Tunnel Sisters, it serves a specific purpose getting books produced with brown-skinned characters in them.  It would be well worth having in a library but would not be an “A-list” must have story.  It is a poem that follows the day of some African American preschoolers.  It highlights the attractiveness and joy of the preschoolers and their daily lives.  The illustrations by George Ford are sweet.  I understand why the Fords and Ms. Hudson made this book and why it has been published and purchased.  There is need for this kind of portrayal of African American children.

This book could be useful for discussing who we see in picture books and on T.V. and how different ethnic groups are portrayed.  Questions like, who would write this book, why would they write it, is it an important book, for whom is the book important, who else needs more visibility in literature or popular culture?

Thematic links – school, children, community, U.S.A., racism, skin colour.

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4 Comments

Filed under children's lit, curriculum, education, library, literacy

4 responses to “Bright Eyes, Brown Skin – Cheryl Willis Hudson and Bernette G. Ford

  1. Debbie Pushor

    In the children’s literature classes I teach, I often use the metaphor of a window and a mirror (which I borrowed from Rudolph Bishop Sims, an African American educator) with teacher candidates. I challenge these prospective educators to consider who will be represented in the literature they share with children in their classrooms. I ask them to consider which books are a mirror for children; in which books can children see themselves? Who can? Who can’t? What does it say to children if they cannot see themselves represented? What are the implications of this? I ask them to consider which books are a window for children, opening them to a world they do not know or have not experienced and, thus, enriching their lives and experiences.

    Books like Bright Eyes, Brown Skin, The Snow Tunnel Sisters, or Peter Eyvindson’s books (such as Red Parka Mary) are all important as mirrors for some of our students. If all the children in the stories we read are white, middle class, from two parent families, what do we teach our students who are not represented by these images about their place in the world? I think it is critically important for us as teachers to truly know our children and their families and to be sure there is literature in our classroom libraries and in the books we share and read aloud that honor all of them and who they are, that honor the way they live their lives, that honor the families they come from.

    This conversation links back to an earlier entry on families, Susan. You talked about what you may or may not include in your church library, your classroom or school library, or what you would feel comfortable sharing aloud with students. I believe it is important to share literature in which families are comprised in different ways e.g. single parents, grandparent caregivers, foster parents, adoptive parents, same sex parents, and so on because for some of our children it is a window and for others it is a mirror. Whichever it is, both serve important purposes.

  2. I have had a real awakening to this issue in children’s literature in this last year. I had rarely thought about who was portrayed in the books that I loved. As often as not, they are children and families that look like mine – both my childhood family and my current family. No wonder I loved to read. I could find characters to relate to and lives which extended my understanding but were completely recognizable.

  3. Debbie Pushor

    I think that is why your awakening is such a significant one, Susan. I believe it is typical for us as teachers to choose the books we loved as children or that we are currently falling in love with to use in our classrooms. Inevitably, those books represent us, speak to who we are, reinforce our own sense of identity and sense of the world we live in. Inadvertently, we are often representing only some of our students – and not others. It is when we are awake to this that we begin to be much more thoughtful of our choices.

  4. Thanks for opening up this discussion. All children love to see images that look like them in the books that they read. Part of the mission of Just Us Books is to bring a diversity of stories into the classroom and into the marketplace. For more titles showing the diversity of African American life and culture please visit our website, http://www.justusbooks.com and also http://www.cherylwhudson.com

    Thank you for sharing,

    Cheryl Willis Hudson
    Editorial Director, JUST US BOOKS

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