Guidelines and Selected Titles: 100 Picture Books chosen by The Working Group Against Racism in Children’s Resources
This list provides both pleasure and pain: the pleasure lies in seeing so many good titles portraying positive black images for hardpressed teachers and librarians to use imaginatively and with confidence; the pain comes from the sad realisation that such a list is needed after all this time. Clearly, there’s still a long way to go.
Here, though, is a wealth of material carefully annotated by several members of the Working Group. Arrangement is by title and, in addition to the usual bibliographical details, an indication of age group is given, as well as the distributor in cases where the material is fairly difficult to obtain. The titles range from alphabet and counting books to picture books, all reflecting black experience both in Britain and around the world, from mainstream and minority publishers. Care has been taken to include books in the more widely used community languages, but it is also good to see titles in Swahili and Somali. It’s essential for people without access to community language speakers to have a reliable list where such titles are recommended.
Especially pleasing is the grouping of titles by topic, which highlights issues in the stories like Birthdays, Grandparents (KS1 History!) and One-parent Families of either gender.
The Guidelines which introduce the list, though, make me a little uneasy with their tendency to re-activate old arguments when the debate has really moved on. I abhor the tokenism of earlier years, for instance, but have a problem with the idea that an author or illustrator should not feature black characters in their books unless they themselves are either part of the black community or have had `a lot of thought and consultation with members of the community being represented’. What constitutes `a lot’? If this were strictly adhered to, we’d lose many excellent stories – Amazing Grace, Eat Up, Gemma and Bet You Can’t were all written and illustrated by white people. Fortunately these titles do appear on the list – evidently the Working Party either decided there had been `a lot of thought and consultation’ in these cases or chose to ignore their own Guidelines.
It might also have been helpful to have the term `black perspective’ enlarged upon in the introduction. To some, it may still imply people of Afro-Caribbean descent, and not, as the Americans say, `people of colour’.
Even then, what happens to the Jewish perspective or the white Muslim perspective, to give two examples, where racism is often part of daily life? Racism doesn’t confine itself to skin tone, and the Guidelines should have been more precise on issues like these.
Fortunately, doubts about the theoretical perspective offered here in no way detract from the value of the list itself which can be recommended most warmly.
This publication costs £5 (£3 for students and the unwaged), plus 50p p&p, from WGARCR, 460 Wandsworth Road, London SW8 3LX (Tel: 071627 4594).
Membership of the Working Group is open to anyone and costs £5 per annum.
Anne Marley works for Hampshire County Library in the Children’s and Schools Service. She set up the Hampshire Intercultural Resources Centre to provide advice and promote awareness of positive images in resources for children.