Monday, October 10, 2011

Of Children's Books and Halloween Costumes

Marisol McDonald (of Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match), as illustrated by Sara Palacios, is reminiscent of a modern-day Pippi Longstocking with her red hair in braids and her outrageous outfits. The combination of brown skin and red hair is one of the reasons Marisol doesn't match. This reminded me of trick or treating with my son a few years ago and passing a little Latina girl dressed as Pippi. A brown Pippi! When you think about the most recognized characters in children's literature, characters like Pippi Longstocking, one of the things they all have in common is that they are White. For children of color, it is difficult to find characters in children's books that at least physically resemble them. Can anyone think of a children's book character that is as well known as Pippi Longstocking but is not white? Not so easy, right? Granted, Pippi comes from Sweden so perhaps not the best example. How about Junie B. Jones or Ramona Quimby? This is a completely legitimate challenge. If you can throw out a list I would be super impressed. The most recognized Latino child to come from a book or other media that I can think of is Dora the Explorer!

I am reminded of the scene in Grace Lin's The Year of the Dog where Pacy wants to try out for the role of Dorothy in the school's production of The Wizard of Oz, but her friend tells her she can't be Dorothy because Dorothy isn't Chinese. This theme of searching for oneself in children's books and not being able to find images that resemble one recur in Lin's novel and continue to plague children's literature. We need some brown Harriets and brown Ramonas in children's books, characters who run the gamut of cultures, backgrounds, and lifestyles. Perhaps the day will come when those of us with brown skin won't feel stuck between being Ugly Betty or Dora for Halloween.

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