The first time that an African American child starred in an illustrated album in the United States was only until 1963, the same year that Martin Luther King delivered his famous speech "I have a dream" in favor of the movement of civil rights and equality of African Americans saying no to racism.
In the context of the agitated struggles for the civil rights of African Americans, fought by Luther King, Malcom X and some years later the formation of the Black Panthers, the American publisher Viking Press, made a risky decision for the time: to publish a book for children with a protagonist of Afro origin.
A book says no to racism
The book we are talking about is "A day in the snow" (The Snowy Day) by Ezra Jack Keats, American illustrator, paradoxically white man, of Polish origin and author of one of the 20 most influential books in the United States.
First it was Latin America
It is surprising how late the presence of an African-American protagonist is in North American publishing history and it is surprising that 16 years earlier, in 1947, the Chilean publisher Rapa Nui published Cocorí, by the Costa Rican author Joaquín Gutiérrez. However, Cocorí has turned out to be a controversial book as it was pointed out by some activists as containing racist expressions and attitudes.
Racist or not, Cocorí was written at a time when the construction of Latin American identity looked only towards Europe and towards the invisible other races that make up our cultural wealth. Perhaps Cocorí is not a clear attempt to say no to racism, but it is without a doubt an interesting presence.
Racism in current literary production?
Although we can happily see that publishers (especially independent ones) have said no to racism, and that more and more children of different races take the leading role in children's books, the statistics still show a complex picture.
According to statistics from The Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin, of the 3,500 new titles they received in 2014, only 84 were authored by African-American authors and only 180 talked about issues related to the African-American community. But the outlook for Native American communities is worse. Of this same sample, only 20 were written by Native American authors and only 38 books spoke of issues related to these communities.
We leave this interesting picture taken from the CCBC page:
4 Latin American Children's Books That Said No To Racism (Recommended)
However, more and more independent publishers, writers and illustrators say no to racism, linking in their publications themes and characters of the different ethnic groups and cultures that make up the wealth of Latin American human geography.
A very white rabbit has fallen in love with a very black girl and wants to be as black as her. Every time the rabbit sees the girl, she asks what is your secret for being so bold? After many disappointments and experiments trying to be a black rabbit, he manages to discover the secret. Pretty Girl is a charming story by Brazilian author Ana María Machado, with fantastic illustrations by Rosana Faría.
Malaika the princess
Malaika She is an African girl, princess of a herd of elephants. On the journey through the savannah looking for the drinking fountains, Malaika He understands that memory is the key to the survival of elephants and he knows the sacred baobabs. Difficult days come when daddy elephant senses his death, then Malaika will have to face one of the most difficult trials. Malaika the princess is a book written and illustrated by Lizardo Carvajal, which opens the way to the theme of death as a necessary reflection in life.
In the town of Palenque, almost no one can read. Mr. Velandia, the owner of the store, is one of the few who knows. When Gina begins to receive letters, which she imagines of love, her little sister decides to learn to be able to read those mysterious letters ... An endearing story by the renowned author Irene Vasco about literacy, which comes to us from a remote town in Colombia.
Jacinto and Maria José
Without words, with a realistic but poetic visualization, Jacinto and María José is a simple story about two children who like each other in a jungle region. In its pages, a candor close to magic emerges from Dipacho's illustrations, which evoke the oil paintings of Henri Rousseau.
We hope this article and the small selection of children's books that said no to racism were helpful. Dare to comment on this topic, still controversial, and share the article!