African American Children's Literature

A special issue of Humanities (ISSN 2076-0787). This special issue belongs to the section "Literature in the Humanities".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 19 August 2024 | Viewed by 20473

Special Issue Editor


E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of English and Project Humanities at Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85247, USA
Interests: African American literature and cultural studies; American popular culture; everyday lessons in privilege and bias; cultural appropriation; the Nword

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Accepting the notion that “childhood” and “adulthood” are social constructs and not biological facts affords an opportunity to see and understand how the lived experiences of children and adults, past and present, intersect in complicated and multitextured ways. Literature created for and about children, then, is always filtered through the lens of adult experiences since children are not writing, publishing, or buying their own texts. Adults are the gatekeepers defining and documenting the good and the bad of children’s lives and placing value and legitimacy on the creative and literary expressions for and about children.

To read the history of a country, a community, and of a people is to attend to the children’s texts—songs, ditties, toys, stories, folktales, folklore, jokes, games, and the like—that serve to indoctrinate and to teach lessons and values about good and evil, about right and wrong, about Black and white. However, adult politics are framed allegedly around “protecting the children”, and children have participated directly in social movements and been directly affected by social injustices.

This Special Issue of Humanities focuses on African American children’s literature, and looks at the many diverse ways in which reading and studying children’s texts teach as much about the adult world as about the world of children. This issue is not a history of African American children’s literature though histories certainly inform the texts being written, published, lauded, celebrated, banned, taught, or ignored. Those who study and teach African American children’s literature know that stories and narratives about Black children were not always available in ways and forms that celebrated Black children when they were not altogether erased or absent. From stereotypes to violence, literary and creative expressions about Black children by non-Black authors–when available--engaged problematic tropes of white saviorism, animalization, primitivism, violence, and tokenism—too often in efforts to “educate” and entertain white children. When Black authors endeavored to rescue Black children from the damaging tropes that denied humanity, they too often subscribed to respectability politics, “toxic positivity,” and classism. From representations to illustrations to narratives, this special issue seeks essays and perspectives that offer a comprehensive, critical, and more nuanced treatment of Black children’s lives and experiences.

A 2018 “Diversity in Children’s Books” Infographic, created by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Department of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison offers this breakdown: “American Indians/ First Nations (1%), Latinx (5%), Asian Pacific Islander/ Asian Pacific American (7%), African/ African American (10%), Animals/ Other (27%) and White (50%).”[1] Thus, while there are far more books about Black children, there is plenty of work yet to be done to move Black children’s literature to the same studied value both inside and beyond the academy to reflect the value and meaning of Black children’s lives and experiences. This Special Issue seeks to move that critical conversation along more deliberately and intentionally, moving African American children’s literature from the sidelines and margins to the center of literary and cultural studies. This issue further seeks to imbue African American children’s literature with the same complexity, nuance, and relevance as African American adult literature; essentially breaking down the artificial barriers around relevance, value, and importance.

In Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye (1970), Claudia MacTeer narrates a childhood memory of meeting her Black family’s new tenant. This perspective mirrors the ways in which adults have not always centered children or children’s experiences in the world: “Freida and  I were  not introduced to [Mr. Henry]—merely pointed out. Like, here is the  bathroom; the clothes closet is here; and these are my kids, Frieda and Claudia; watch out for this window; it doesn’t open all the way.”[2] Ideally, this Special Issue will contribute to the growing body of scholarship and discourse that covers a range of identity and representation issues that center rather than marginalize African American children. This issue will further underscore the reality that critical conversations about children and what they are exposed to is as much about the adults who create and present these texts and ideologies to children.  This issue will be of interest to and a valuable resource for students, parents, teachers, and community members invested in representation, narrative, social justice, critical race theory, and identity politics, and will serve as a way to make the invisible more visible and relevant and acknowledge children and children’s lives beyond just being extensions and human possessions of adults and parents.

Possible topics to consider:

  • Black children and mental health
  • Black children and sexuality
  • Black children and transgender identity
  • Black children and violence
  • Black children and US history
  • Black children and the diaspora
  • Black children and toys and games
  • Black children and sports
  • Black children and death and dying
  • Black children and education
  • Black children and dance
  • Black children and theater
  • Black children and creativity
  • Black children and disability
  • Black children and racial justice
  • Black children and white supremacy
  • Black children and social movements
  • Black children and Black Lives Matter
  • Black children and “critical race theory”
  • Black children and language
  • Black children and music
  • Black children and the arts
  • Black children and folklore
  • Black children and science
  • Black children and class
  • Black children and social organizations
  • Black children and homelessness
  • Black children and other racial/ethnic groups
  • Parenting Black children
  • Black children and “curriculum violence”
  • Black children and trauma
  • Black children and intergenerational trauma
  • Black children and play

Please send full papers to: [email protected] by 29 February 2024.

[1] Sarah Park  Dahlen, “Picture This: Diversity in Children’s Books” (19 June 2019): https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/ (retrieved 1 August 2019). 

[2] Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye  New York: Washington Square Press, 1970. p. 16. 

Prof. Dr. Neal Lester
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Humanities is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • children’s literature
  • race
  • United States literature
  • intersectionality
  • childism

Published Papers (6 papers)

Order results
Result details
Select all
Export citation of selected articles as:

Research

10 pages, 254 KiB  
Article
Afro-Latin@ Representation in Youth Literature: Affirming Afro-Latin@ Cultural Identity
by Ada Malcioln Martin
Humanities 2024, 13(1), 27; https://doi.org/10.3390/h13010027 - 30 Jan 2024
Viewed by 1905
Abstract
Studies show that diverse representation in children’s literature can positively impact the self-perceptions of marginalized children. To promote feelings of self-worth, children must see their cultural identities authentically portrayed in a manner that does not promote stereotypes in stories that affirm and support [...] Read more.
Studies show that diverse representation in children’s literature can positively impact the self-perceptions of marginalized children. To promote feelings of self-worth, children must see their cultural identities authentically portrayed in a manner that does not promote stereotypes in stories that affirm and support their world experiences. This essay focuses specifically on Afro-Latin@ identity in the United States and the role Afro-Latin@ representation in children’s and young adult literature can play in shaping Afro-Latin@ feelings regarding race and cultural heritage, and in constructing and affirming self-identity and feelings of self-worth. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue African American Children's Literature)
20 pages, 323 KiB  
Article
Art and Storytelling on the Streets: The Council on Interracial Books for Children’s Use of African American Children’s Literature
by Nick Batho
Humanities 2023, 12(4), 69; https://doi.org/10.3390/h12040069 - 25 Jul 2023
Viewed by 1053
Abstract
From 1970 until 1974, the Council on Interracial Children’s Books (CIBC) ran the Arts and Storytelling in the Streets program throughout New York City. This program involved African American and Puerto Rican artists and storytellers bringing children’s literature directly to children in the [...] Read more.
From 1970 until 1974, the Council on Interracial Children’s Books (CIBC) ran the Arts and Storytelling in the Streets program throughout New York City. This program involved African American and Puerto Rican artists and storytellers bringing children’s literature directly to children in the streets. This occurred amid a rise in African American children’s literature and educational upheavals in the city as local communities demanded oversight of their schools. Originating in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district in New York City, the Arts and Storytelling on the Streets program helps to underscore the interrelation between African American children’s literature and educational activism. This article examines how storytelling sessions run by authors and illustrators became extensions of African American children’s literature and educational activism in the city as Black American children’s books became key tools in a fight for a more representative and relevant education. Storytelling teams hoped to use African American children’s literature to help engage children in reading and provide a positive association with literature among local children. The Art and Storytelling program mirrored ideas and themes within African American children’s literature including Black pride, community strength, and resisting white supremacy. The program also became a key extension of the literature as the locations, storytellers, and the audiences all helped to expand upon the impact and many meanings inherent in contemporary African American children’s literature. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue African American Children's Literature)
15 pages, 499 KiB  
Article
Strong Enough to Fight: Harriet Tubman vs. The Myth of the Lost Cause
by Laura Dubek
Humanities 2023, 12(4), 67; https://doi.org/10.3390/h12040067 - 20 Jul 2023
Viewed by 1809
Abstract
Black creators who tell Harriet Tubman’s story engage in an ongoing rhetorical battle over historical memory with regard to slavery and the Civil War. This essay examines the challenges Tubman’s story poses to a Lost Cause narrative that took root in the nineteenth-century [...] Read more.
Black creators who tell Harriet Tubman’s story engage in an ongoing rhetorical battle over historical memory with regard to slavery and the Civil War. This essay examines the challenges Tubman’s story poses to a Lost Cause narrative that took root in the nineteenth-century and manifests in the work of celebrated children’s author Robert Lawson. Reading Ann Petry’s YA biography Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad (1955), Jacob Lawrence’s picture book Harriet and the Promised Land (1968), and Kasi Lemmons’ film Harriet (2019) together, and within the context of Lawson’s award-winning They Were Strong and Good (1940) and his historical primer Watchwords of Liberty: A Pageantry of American Quotations (1943) offers an opportunity to assess the rhetorical firepower of creative work about a historical figure who continues to fascinate people of all ages. Such reading also underscores the extent to which the apartheid in and of children’s literature limits the imaginations of critics, thereby hindering efforts to promote social justice. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue African American Children's Literature)
Show Figures

Figure 1

18 pages, 1202 KiB  
Article
John Brown, Black History, and Black Childhood: Contextualizing Lorenz Graham’s John Brown Books
by Brigitte Fielder
Humanities 2022, 11(5), 124; https://doi.org/10.3390/h11050124 - 3 Oct 2022
Viewed by 2460
Abstract
Lorenz Graham wrote two children’s books about the (in)famous abolitionist, John Brown—a picture book, John Brown’s Raid: A Picture History of the Attack on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (1972) and a biography for young adults, John Brown: A Cry for Freedom (1980). Both books [...] Read more.
Lorenz Graham wrote two children’s books about the (in)famous abolitionist, John Brown—a picture book, John Brown’s Raid: A Picture History of the Attack on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (1972) and a biography for young adults, John Brown: A Cry for Freedom (1980). Both books recount a history of Brown’s life and antislavery work, situated within Brown’s African American context and recounted from a Black perspective. While Graham’s books are exceptional in their extended treatment of this historic figure for a child audience, they are not unprecedented. This essay situates Graham’s children’s biographies of Brown in the long history of Black writers’ work on him—for both adults and children. Reading Graham’s John Brown in this context shows how Graham follows familiar traditions for encountering Brown within the larger context of Black freedom struggles. Graham’s books follow a rich tradition of presenting him to Black children. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue African American Children's Literature)
Show Figures

Figure 1

22 pages, 4154 KiB  
Article
Remapping Black Childhood in The Brownies’ Book
by William Gleason
Humanities 2022, 11(3), 72; https://doi.org/10.3390/h11030072 - 13 Jun 2022
Viewed by 1693
Abstract
This essay examines the recurring preoccupation with geography in W. E. B. Du Bois’s and Jessie Redmon Fauset’s African American children’s magazine, The Brownies’ Book (1920–1921). Drawing in part on conventions established by early Black periodicals, including an emphasis on the rich global [...] Read more.
This essay examines the recurring preoccupation with geography in W. E. B. Du Bois’s and Jessie Redmon Fauset’s African American children’s magazine, The Brownies’ Book (1920–1921). Drawing in part on conventions established by early Black periodicals, including an emphasis on the rich global presence of non-Western peoples and places, many of the magazine’s features, from its stories and poems to its images and games, offered Black children a much wider view of their place in the world—both literally and imaginatively—than that provided by typical U.S. schoolroom atlases and geographies, which tended to have little to say (or show) about countries and continents outside North America and Europe. By aiming to develop in its readers alternative forms of geographic and political consciousness, The Brownies’ Book provocatively recast geography as a radical mode of knowledge available to Black children through cultural as well as cartographic forms, in the process remapping Black childhood itself. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue African American Children's Literature)
Show Figures

Figure 1

25 pages, 1712 KiB  
Article
Black Children’s Lives Matter: Representational Violence against Black Children
by Neal A. Lester
Humanities 2022, 11(2), 41; https://doi.org/10.3390/h11020041 - 14 Mar 2022
Viewed by 9982
Abstract
Black children have never been exempt from the violence and abuse that have beset Black adults. Any comprehensive attention to and understanding of systemic racism, anti-Blackness, and intergenerational Black trauma must consider the historical violence literally, representationally, and fictionally against Black children and [...] Read more.
Black children have never been exempt from the violence and abuse that have beset Black adults. Any comprehensive attention to and understanding of systemic racism, anti-Blackness, and intergenerational Black trauma must consider the historical violence literally, representationally, and fictionally against Black children and youth. For each news story headline about violence against Black children, there is a comparable Black adult story, underscoring the interchangeability of Black adult and Black children subjected to racial violence. This essay is not a history of violence against Black children in literature but, rather, an effort to understand and demonstrate that Black children’s lives have not always mattered and that to address true racial justice in this country, systemic assaults on Black children and, by extension, on Black children’s families and communities, must be included in any justice conversation and work. This essay looks at representative children’s literature that normalizes violence against Black children. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue African American Children's Literature)
Show Figures

Figure 1

Back to TopTop