Threads: A is for Anansi in Literature for Children

11 Oct

There were some incredible presentations, discussions and conversations at the A is for Anansi Conference: Literature for Children of African Descent held at NYU this past weekend. (October 8-9). I’d like to share a few threads beginning with the notes I prepared for a panel that I moderated concerning the History/Significance of African American Literature for Children. Panelists included Kathleen T. Horning, Joe Monti, Colin Bootman, Regina Brooks and Hannah Erlich.

Mega thanks go to organizers Jaira Placide and Rashida Ismaili and for the sponsor of this historic conference, NYU’s Institute of African American Affairs under the direction of Manthia Diawara. Thanks for inviting me, Wade and Just Us Books to participate and to share our perspectives at the conference.

Time constraints prevented me from posing all of the questions I would like to have asked the panelists, but I am posting them here as a reminder of both the framework for the discussion and other ideas not covered over the course of the conference that I’d like to discuss in this blog. As days progress, I hope to post additional threads in this complex web of thoughts and ideas and action points surrounding issues in African American literature for children.

“Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” –African Proverb

Scholar and children’s literature expert, Rudine Sims Bishop writes the following words in introductory comments of her book, FREE WITHIN OURSELVES: “The seeds of an African American children’s literature were sown in the soil of Black people’s struggles for liberation, literacy and survival. For those seeds to develop into a body of written literature or children, there first had to be, among other things, a critical mass of child readers, a collective recognition of children as a reading audience distinct from adults, and a significant number of writers willing to address their work to that child readership.”

As the panelists prepare to make their presentations, I would like to propose these questions for all of us to consider.

1. How relevant is an historical perspective in terms of creating, developing, marketing and selling books for and about children of African American descent?

2. Contemporary children in the US today are more than 55 years removed from the historic 1954 Supreme Court Decision that stuck down “separate and unequal schools” for its citizenry. How realistic is it for them to be curious about that decision’s ramifications in literature in 2010? Does it matter?

3. Should children’s books be “color-blind”? What do you think that term means to parents who select and buy books for their children?

4. Let’s talk about authenticity, content, canon, and critical mass. Who should be telling, editing, marketing and selling African American stories?

6. Some writers have suggested that multicultural literature should be mirrors and reflectors for diversity in our nation. What are some practical ways to share books cross-culturally?

7. President Barack Obama was shown earlier in the year reading a picture book to a group of children at a White House gathering. What African American title (or book written and/or illustrated by a person of African descent) would you suggest that he read at the next setting? What books would you suggest for Sasha and Malia?


One Response to “Threads: A is for Anansi in Literature for Children”


  1. A is for (Amazing) Anansi « the open book - October 12, 2010

    […] Cheryl Willis Hudson has a great rundown of our panel here […]

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