Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rudine Sims Bishop: In Appreciation

Have you ever used the phrase “Mirrors and Windows” when discussing the need for more diverse children’s books? If so – or even if you’ve only heard someone else speak these words in this context – give a tip of your cap to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop.


On Monday at the Youth Media Awards in Atlanta, Dr. Bishop received a standing ovation after winning the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. How many of us were thinking, “It’s about damn time!” Dr. Bishop, Professor Emerita at Ohio State University, has done enough to push children’s literature forward for two or three lifetimes. Check the Reading Rockets site for several video interviews and a handful of links (one of which connects to her seminal essay, Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors).


The idea behind Dr. Bishop’s work is simple: all young readers need more books with characters of all ethnicities and backgrounds, having a diverse range of experiences. This doesn’t mean that African American children only need to see more books with characters like themselves (although obviously they do), or that Ojibwe children only need to see more books with characters like themselves (might I add, in the present tense), and so on; but that African American children need to also see those Ojibwe characters, and vice versa. And also, children from non-marginalized groups (read: White kids) need to see these aforementioned books too. When White kids see White characters all the time, they get a distorted view of reality. White kids are overwhelmingly seeing “mirrors” but not “windows,” and that’s a huge problem.
Rudine Sims Bishop acknowledges the crowd at the Youth Media
Awards after winning the Coretta Scott King - Virginia Hamilton
Award for Lifetime Achievement.


(By the way, earlier I mentioned the need to tip one’s hat to Dr. Bishop when talking about windows and mirrors. Let me take that a step further: we must give credit where credit is due by citing Rudine when we use this phrase, no matter the situation. This is really a good guideline to follow in general, but especially since many White people tend to take credit for ideas and things created by people of color or First/Native Nations, I implore readers to attribute this phrase to Dr. Bishop.)


This may all be old news to some, but one of the reasons Dr. Bishop is so impactful is her years of service, of pushing and prodding the children’s literature world to think more broadly about what diverse books can do. And she has done so for all these years with characteristic grace and understated authority, leading by example.


I had the great fortune of serving on the Coretta Scott King Book Award Jury these last two years with Dr. Bishop as my chair. When you’re on a book award committee, you get to know the other people in the room extremely well, and it isn’t always rainbows and ponies, as they say; things can get heated at times. Discussions hit brick walls, and committee members get feelings hurt – we have such personal attachments to the books we have read and loved! There were a few times I wanted Dr. Bishop to tell us what to do in these hard situations: “Come on,” I’d think. “You’re RUDINE SIMS BISHOP!! You have more knowledge than the rest of us combined! DRAW US A MAP!!!” But that isn’t the way Dr. Bishop works. She is not someone who is going to tell you what to do, or what to think; Rudine Sims Bishop does not direct. When Rudine speaks, the whole room leans forward, and not just because she has such a quiet voice. Dr. Bishop exudes authority, but not the kind that demands one snap to attention. Her authority lies in her knowledge, yes, but above all in the graceful and dignified way she carries herself.

All of this is to say: thank you, Dr. Bishop. Thank you for your tireless and continued work. Thank you for being a shining example of true leadership.

-Sam Bloom

2 comments:

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Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you for this post. Appreciated yours and Dr. Bishop's perspectives.