Wednesday, May 8, 2019

An Open Letter Regarding The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter Exhibit at the UMN Children’s Literature Research Collections



Today, members of the children’s literature community ask for action and change from the curators of an exhibit currently housed at the University of Minnesota.

Please read the letter below and leave a comment that includes your name if you would like to lend your support. (If you have trouble commenting, please email us at readingwhilewhite@gmail.com with the text of your comment, and we will gladly post it on your behalf.)

[Ed. 9am 5/9/19: Please note that we will wrap up signature gathering at 4:30 pm EST today (Thursday, May 9), and will also close comments at that time. We will send this letter with signatures to the Kerlan Board this afternoon at their board meeting. Ed. 4:30pm 5/9/19: Comments for this post are now closed.]

May 8, 2019
Leonard S. Marcus and Lisa Von Drasek, Curators
Members of the Kerlan Board
The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter
Children’s Literature Research Collections (CLRC Kerlan)
Anderson Library, University of Minnesota

Dear Mr. Marcus and Ms. Von Drasek,

We write to you today to ask for a public response to concerns regarding the erasure of racism in books and by authors featured in the exhibit, The ABC of It: Why Childrens Books Matter, that was first mounted at The New York Public Library in 2013 and brought to the University of Minnesota CLRC with an accompanying book in February of 2019.

Racism in societal institutions is more visible than ever and is being addressed in museums, schools, and in the children’s book industry. In this moment, the exhibit that proclaims that “children’s books matter” uses children’s books and words about those books to tell Indigenous People and People of Color that their children’s experiences with anti-Native and racist books do not matter.

Before the exhibit’s opening events on February 26 and 27, Trisha Speed Shaskan and other children’s book authors questioned Von Drasek on her directive to docents:

“Don’t be political. Do be culturally sensitive. For example Dr. Seuss was a racist. Yes he was, there is certainly a time and a place to discuss this. Comments can be put on post-its on the second floor. Caddie Woodlawn is racist. Yes it is. Again we welcome discussion. This exhibit is through one lens, there are others.” (Lisa Von Drasek, docent training document)

We are astonished that while Von Drasek acknowledged the well-documented histories of these books’ racist content, she refused to add new signage. Instead, she added a display of academic articles in the corner of the second floor. The exhibit opened and was not well-received by many members of the children’s literature community, particularly because neither the February 26 nor February 27 event included Q&A opportunities to publicly address these concerns with both Leonard Marcus and Lisa Von Drasek. On March 6, Von Drasek added signage to a few of the exhibits, but their placement and size are insufficient. She also began publishing a series of blog posts addressing the racism in Seuss and Caddie Woodlawn on the UMN Continuum’s Blue Ox Review page, but when they were criticized, they were revised, deleted, and republished again, without explanation.

Another response was to announce the “The ABC of It: Whose Story is Being Told? Race, Inclusion, and Representation in Childrens Literature” panel, to be held on May 10. Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens, authors of an article on Seuss, and Dawn Quigley, author of an article on Caddie Woodlawn, were invited to speak on the panel. When Ishizuka and Stephens learned about the whiteness and whitewashing of the exhibit and hostile responses to those who had spoken out about it, they communicated their concerns to Von Drasek in writing and verbally. Von Drasek failed to address, or even acknowledge, any of their concerns, which reflected the collective concerns of their colleagues of color, who have been silenced, ignored, gaslighted, and further marginalized through this process. In protest of the individual and institutional racism occurring around the exhibit, they canceled their participation in the panel.

On Friday, May 3, the panel was canceled because the fourth panelist, Andrea Davis Pinkney, was not able to attend. The web page with that announcement indicated that it may be rescheduled. There was no invitation to ask other panelists, or for the event to continue with Dawn Quigley.

While blog posts and panels can be useful, they are ultimately of no use to the initial visitors who went through the exhibit without the new signage providing some context to artists like Theodor Geisel or with books like Caddie Woodlawn and Little Black Sambo. As well, they are of little use to those reading the accompanying book.

Given the totality of these events, and because the exhibit is expected to travel to new communities, we the undersigned members of the children’s book community in Minnesota and beyond, recognize that the CLRC is an essential and respected institution in the study of children’s literature and therefore respectfully request that the CLRC:

1.      Acknowledge that The ABC of It exhibit and book were flawed in their inception and execution
2.      Explain why blog posts were posted, revised, deleted, and re-posted without comment
3.      Update the accompanying The ABC of It book to include more context for Seuss, Caddie Woodlawn, and other problematic works as identified
4.      Agree that the exhibit, as it travels to new communities, and the digital educational materials to be launched in September 2019, will contain the additional signage and/or more information
5.      Include the BIPOC literary community in future exhibit- and event-planning committees.

We await your reply.

Sincerely,

John Coy, children’s book author, former Kerlan Board member and Kerlan Award winner

Sarah Park Dahlen, Associate Professor and former Kerlan Board member

Shannon Gibney

Katie Ishizuka, The Conscious Kid

Dawn Quigley (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe), Asst professor, children's book author

Debbie Reese (Nambé Pueblo), American Indians in Children’s Literature; 2019 Arbuthnot Lecturer

Stephen Shaskan, current Kerlan Board member, children’s book author & illustrator

Trisha Speed Shaskan, Kerlan volunteer, children’s book author

Ramón Stephens, The Conscious Kid

Martha Brockenbrough, children’s book author

Anne Ursu, children’s book author

Kelly Barnhill, children’s book author

Edith Campbell, librarian; blogger

Nina Victor Crittenden, children’s book illustrator and author

Sarah Hamburg

Laura Hamor

Sarah Warren, children’s book author/early childhood educator

Kirstin Cronn-Mills, children’s book author and educator

H.M. Bouwman, Professor and children’s author

Dr. Laura M. Jimenez, Boston University

Sally Morgan, children’s book author

Kristin Johnson, children’s book author, writing instructor

Stephanie Watson, children’s book author

Cristina Rhodes, PhD

Bao Phi, Children’s Book author

Andrew Karre

Megan Maynor, children’s book author

Swati Avasthi, children’s book author and professor

John Yopp

Nicholas Yopp

Savita Yopp, student

Molly Beth Griffin, children’s book author and educator

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

Susan Marie Swanson, children’s book author and educator

Tasslyn Magnusson, PhD, poet and children’s book author

Olivia Ghafoerkhan, children’s book author and professor

Cori Doerrfeld, children’s book author and illustrator

Regina Santiago

Chayse Sundt, youth librarian

Mike Jung, children’s book author

Kristin McIlhagga, PhD

Megan Atwood, children’s book author and professor

Kate Messner, children’s book author and educator

Marcie Rendon, author

Charlotte Sullivan Wild, children's book author, former educator

Jean Mendoza, PhD

Laura Ruby, children’s book author and educator

Peter Pearson, children’s book author

Sherrie Fernandez-Williams

Links to more information regarding the exhibit:
       Marcus, Leonard. 2019. The ABC of It: Why Childrens Books Matter. University of Minnesota Press.
       Kirch, Claire. 2019 January 10. Kerlan Collection Adapts 2013 ‘The ABC of ItExhibition. Publishers Weekly.
       Reese. Debbie. 2019 March 6. Debbie. A Critical Review of THE ABC OF IT: WHY CHILDRENS BOOKS MATTER by Leonard Marcus. American Indians in Children’s Literature blog.
       Kirch, Claire. 2019 March 7. The ABC of ItOpens at the Kerlan Collection: A Photo Essay. Publishers Weekly.
       Kirch, Claire. 2019 March 12. An ABC of Controversy: The Kerlan Collection Tweaks Exhibit in Response to Concerns about Racism. Publishers Weekly.
       Reese, Debbie. 2019 May 2. A Brief Visit to Minneapolis. Twitter.

295 comments:

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Elisa Gall said...

Cosigned,
Elisa Gall

Sam Bloom said...

Co-signed.
Sam Bloom

Unknown said...

Co-signed,
Clair Dunlap, MLIS student

Emily Harris said...

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Emily Harris, children's book designer

DarkLiterata said...

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Laura Atkins said...

co-signed, Laura Atkins, children's book author and editor

Kate said...

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Katharine Slater, assistant professor of children's literature

Unknown said...

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Libby Otto, Associate Director of Curriculum

Christina said...

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Anne said...

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Carol Hinz said...

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Carol Hinz, editor

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Carole Lindstrom said...

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HAB said...

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Deborah Menkart said...

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Unknown said...

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CG said...

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Cristal G. Thompson, US Historian

Brian Walter said...

Co-signed,

Brian D. Walter, Professor of English and teacher and scholar of children's literature

Kr said...

Co-signed,
Kim Rogers

Margaret H. Mason said...

Co-signed,
Margaret H. Mason, children's book author

Jeff Berglund said...

Co-signed,

Dr. Jeff Berglund, Professor of English & Director of Liberal Studies, Northern Arizona University

Unknown said...

Co-signed,

Lisa Krok, MLIS, M.Ed

Kim Possible said...

Co-signed

Kimberly N. Parker, Ph.D.

Thomas Crisp said...

Co-signed,
Thomas Crisp, Ph.D.

Cr0w Squirrel said...

Co-signed,

Alex Arthen-Cheyne, parent

Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic said...

Co-signed,

Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic, children's book author and parent

Acoops23 said...

Co-signed, Abby Cooper, children's author

Allie Jane Bruce said...

Co-signed, Allie Jane Bruce

Anne Lippin said...

co-signed

Anne Lippin MD (parent, writer)

Unknown said...

Signed,
Jenna Wolf (librarian, g 9-12)

katyeh said...

Co-signed,
Kat Yeh, children's book author

Robin Nelson said...

Co-signed,
Robin Nelson, school librarian

Barbara said...

Barbara Torrey Workman, parent

David P. Geister said...

Co-signed,
David Geister, picture book illustrator and former Kerlan Board member

Beverly Slapin said...

Co-signed,
Beverly Slapin, DE COLORES: THE RAZA EXPERIENCE IN BOOKS FOR CHILDREN (decoloresreviews.blogspot.com)

Cindi Koudelka said...

Co-signed,
Cindi Koudelka 8th Grade ELA Teacher, Parent

Reading While White said...

Andrea L. Rogers
Writer, teacher, citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma

(We are posting this at Andrea's request.)

Reading While White said...

Tim Tingle, Choctaw author—Are we the solution or the problem?

(We are posting that at Tim's request.)

Megan T said...

Co-signed,

Megan Tarver

Mike Hays said...

Co-signed,

Mike Hays, microbiologist & author

Colleen Muske said...

Co-signed,
Colleen Muske

Kaye M. said...

Co-signed,

Karuna Riazi

Unknown said...

Co-signed,
Christina Rodriguez, children's illustrator + U of MN CLRC donor

Tracy Babler said...

Co-signed,

Tracy Babler, Lu and Bean Read

Rukhsana Khan said...

Co-signed
I think we live in a time when these texts no longer get a pass even through the lens of nostalgia.

Rukhsana Khan

Unknown said...

co-signed
Mari Kesselring, editor & writer

Minnesota Dad said...

Co-signed
Brian Baumgart, author and professor

Rob Bittner said...

Co-signed
Robert Bittner, PhD

Meredith Steiner said...

Co-signed
Meredith Steiner, Children's Librarian

Jennifer Baker said...

Addiitonally signed,
Jennifer Baker, editor/writer, podcaster (Minorities in Publishing)

Reading While White said...

Jennifer Moless Nguyen
Educator

(We are posting this at Jennifer's request.)

Cassandra said...

Cass Frances, writer

Adib Khorram said...

Co-signed
Adib Khorram, author

Megan Wolf said...

Co-signed,
Megan Wolf, teacher

Unknown said...

Co-signed
Jacqueline West, children's book author

Kazia Berkley-Cramer said...

Co-signed,
Kazia Berkley-Cramer

mt said...

Co-signed,
Monika Thakker, B.Ed. Student

Dana Collins said...

Co-signed

Dana Collins

Catherine Urdahl said...

Co-signed,
Catherine Urdahl, children's book author

Ruth E. Quiroa said...

Co-signed.

Ruth E. Quiroa, Ph.D.

National Louis University
National College of Education
School of Advanced Professional Programs
M.Ed. Reading & Language Program
Ed.D. Teaching & Learning / Reading, Language, & Literacy Major Director

Taradawn said...

Co-signed,
Tara Lazar, Children's Book Author

Lori Degman said...

Co-signed,
Lori Degman, Children's Book author

Sharalyn said...

Co-signed,
Sharalyn Edgeberg

Jaime O. Mayer said...

Co-signed,
Jaime O. Mayer

ct said...

Co-signed,
Catherine Thimmesh, children’s book author

Unknown said...

Dr. Karra Shimabukuro

msjb said...

Julia E. Torres - Language arts teacher/Librarian

Debra Johnson said...

Co-signed,
Debra Johnson

Brigid G said...

Co-signed,
Brigid Gaffikin, PhD

Gabrielle Balkan said...

Co-signed,
Gabrielle Balkan, children's book author and educator

Unknown said...

co-signed,
Kelli Gleiner, children's book author and educator

Martin Cozza said...

Co-signed,
Martin Cozza

Trish said...

Co-signed,

Tricia Lawrence, Agent, Erin Murphy Literary

Anne said...

Co-signed,

Anne Hennen Barber, Director, Morris Public Library

Bon Mots said...

Co-Signed,

Matthew St-Germain, Freedom From Media

Unknown said...

Co-signed,
Treasa Bane

Marge Loch-Wouters said...

Co-signed,
Marge Loch-Wouters

Unknown said...

Co-signed,
Gina Kimmel

Reading While White said...

Co-signed,
Abby Rombalski, PhD, Literacy education, University of Minnesota

(We are posting this at Abby's request.)

Amanda said...

Co-signed,
Amanda MacGregor

Elana K Arnold said...

Co-Signed,
Elana K Arnold

Kallie B. said...

Co-signed
Kallie B Schell

Minh said...

co-signed, Minh Lê

yvonne said...

Co-signed, Yvonne Pearson, Children's Book Author

Alexandra said...

Alexandra Ballard, young-adult author

Unknown said...

Co-signed,

Peter C. Kunze, Eckerd College

Triplezmom said...

Co-signed,

Jennifer Zimmerman, elementary literacy coach

Geoff Herbach said...

Co-signed

Geoff Herbach, young-adult author

Lisa Stringfellow said...

Lisa Stringfellow, educator and children’s book writer

january girl said...

Co-signed,
Harmony Neal

LISTEN TO PEOPLE OF COLOR AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLE.

Joanna said...

Co-signed,
Joanna Hunt, illustrator and soon-to-be MLIS student

Candice M. (tinylibrarian) said...

Co-signed,

Candice (Wing-yee) Mack
Incoming President-Elect, Asian Pacific American Librarians Association
Past President, Young Adult Library Services Association

Em said...

Co-signed,
Emily Huttner- community member

Mrs. Pilkington said...

Co-signed,
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Unknown said...

Co-signed
Kathy M Burnette, children's bookstore owner, former school librarian

Courtney Pippin-Mathur said...

Co-signed
Courtney Pippin-Mathur
Author/Illustrator

Brent A. Snavely said...

Co-signed,
Brent A. Snavely, Esq.

Becky Mahoney said...

Co-signed,
Rebecca Mahoney, author

Unknown said...

Co-signed,
Tamara Lee
Librarian
Kerlan Board member

ChelseaSC said...

Co-signed, Chelsea Couillard-Smith, librarian

A. Ross said...

Co-signed,
Amber Ross

Rachel Gold said...

Co signed,
Rachel Gold, author

Alea said...

Co-signed,
Alea Perez, Latina, Librarian

Zetta said...

Co-signed,
Dr. Zetta Elliott

adriana said...

Co-signed,
Adriana Estill, Professor of English and American Studies

Boston Kath said...

Co-signed,
Dr. Kathleen DeVore, 30-year teacher

BSiekiera said...

Co-signed,
Beth S. Walker, public librarian

Reading While White said...

Co-signed,
Chris Skoglund

(We are posting this at Chris's request.)

Reading While White said...

Co-signed,
Justine Larbalestier

(We are posting this at Justine's request.)

Lauren Strohecker said...

Co-signed,
Lauren Strohecker, Librarian

Reading While White said...

Co-signed,
Jill Daviau

(We are posting this at Jill's request.)

Ann said...

Co-signed,
Ann Niederkorn
School librarian
Cambridge, MA

Anne Sibley O'Brien said...

Co-signed,
Anne Sibley O’Brien
Author and illustrator

Perry Nodelman said...

Perry Nodelman
Children’s literature scholar

Amitha Jagannath Knight said...

Co-signed
Amitha Knight

frenchmix said...

Co-signed,
MicKenzie Fasteland, Visiting Assistant Professor

Unknown said...

Co-signed,
Lisa M. Bolt Simons, children's book author and elementary literacy coach

j. m. lee said...

co-signed,
J.M. Lee, author

Nina Lindsay said...

Co-Signed
Nina Lindsay

Juliana Brandt said...

Co-Signed
Juliana Brandt, author

C. Hadge said...

Co-Signed
Clarissa Hadge, bookseller

Laurie Young said...

Co-signed
Laurie L Young, children's book author and art director

Joanne Rixon said...

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Joanne Rixon, author

Ailynn said...

Co-signed
Ailynn Knox-Collins, children’s book author, teacher

Shameeka said...

Co-sign

n2scent said...

Co-signed
Connie Turnage, social worker

Kate said...

Co-signed,
Kate Stein

Katie said...

Co-signed,
Katie Gleischman, librarian

Zso Doshin Michele said...

Co-signed,
Zso Michele
Library Worker
Halifax, NS Canada

Kimmi said...

Co-signed,
Kim Viita, Librarian

Sara Fowler said...

Co-signed
Sara Fowler
Designer, Illustrator, Educator

Jolene Jaquet said...

Co-signed,
Jolene Jaquet, teacher

Robin K said...

Co-signed,
Robin Khan, early childhood educator

James Bowen said...

Co-signed,
James Bowen, artist

Czarina Pizarro said...

Co-signed,
Czarina Pizarro Kulick
Clinical Social Worker and Mother of 3
pittsburgh, Pa

Aarti said...

Co-signed,
Aarti Bhatt, MD Pediatrician

Rahma said...

Co signed, Rahma Naser

Asashia said...

Co-signed,
Asashia Martin, parent and educator

leahjane said...

Co-signed
Leah Elliott, clinical social worker
Rochester, NY

csoontornvat said...

Co-signed
Christina Soontornvat, Author

Joan said...

Co-signed
Joan Maeda Trygg

Saffron Press said...

Co-signed Navjot Kaur
Children’s author | educator | independent Publisher at Saffron Press

Joan said...

Joan Waddell
Fix it. It’s time for us (white people) to own up and do what’s right. We’ve been pulling this crap for far too long and it’s time to STOP!

Unknown said...

Zach Kaltenborn, MD Pediatrician

Eric Carpenter said...

Co-signed
Eric Carpenter, School Librarian

Vanessa Farquharson said...

Co-signed
Vanessa Farquharson, Author and Journalist

DT said...

Co-signed, Deborah A. Torres

vgutz said...

Co-signed Vanessa Gutierrez

Beck said...

Co-signed,
Beck Pittman, preschool director

MariaB said...

Co-signed
Maria Barney

Laura Mahan said...

Co-signed,
Laura Mahan, RN (parent)

erin said...

Co-signed; Erin Boyle, writer

Katrina McHugh said...

Co-signed, Katrina McHugh

Katrina McHugh said...

Co-signed, Katrina McHugh

Unknown said...

Co-signed, Emily Mellen

JRob said...

Co-signed, Jennifer S. Roberts

Hannah said...

Co-signed, Hannah Joy Anderson

kelly jo said...

Co-signed, Kelly Jo Mitchell Abdo

Cynthea.ae said...

Co-signed, Cynthea Abbott-Emen

Megan said...

Co-signed,
Megan Meyer, Children’s Book Enthusiast

sarah said...

Co-signed,
Sarah McLellan
Parent and educator

Christy said...

Co-signed,
Christy Estrovitz, Librarian

Becca Brainerd said...

Co-signed,
Rebecca Brainerd, Special Education Teacher

Julia Wheeler said...

Co-Signed,
Julia Wheeler, Parent

Claire said...

Co-signed,
Claire Larson, mother of 2

Julia Carrigan said...

Co-signed,
Julia Carrigan, student

Dianna Champ said...

Co-signed,
Dianna Champ, Parent, Future Children’s Book Author

MsErika said...

Cosigned, Erika Felt early childhood educator

Lindsay Perry said...

Co-signed,
Lindsay Perry, herbalist and parent

Jurassica Marie said...

Co-signed,
Jessica Floyd, parent

Sarah said...

Cosigned, Sarah Williams Elementary Educator

Donalyn Miller said...

Co-signed,
Donalyn Miller, author and educator

Robin Hosemann said...

Co-signed,
Robin Hosemann, parent and former educator

jlsmason said...

Co-signed,
Jennifer Mansfield, MEd & Parent

Jessica said...

Co-signed,
Jessica Russell, librarian

Hillary said...

Co-signed,
Hillary Oliveira, parent

Lorraine said...

Co-signed,
Lorraine Byrd

E. Katherine Kottaras said...

Co-signed
E. Katherine Kottaras
children’s book author and Professor of English (Children’s Literature), Pasadena City College

Meghan said...

Co-signed,
Meghan Kerlin, parent

Unknown said...

Co-signed,
Veronica Schanoes
Associate Professor
Queens College - CUNY

Bakery Mom said...

Co-signed,
JoEllen Kunz
Great Harvest Owner, Parent

Yuyi Morales said...

Co-signed,
Yuyi Morales
Author and illustrator

Rebecca said...

Co-signed,
Rebecca Hachmyer

Co-Founder, SHIFT Book Box
Reviewer, Horn Book Guide (though speaking for myself and not for The Horn Book, Inc with this signature)

Rebecca Burgio said...

Co-signed,
Rebecca Burgio

Niki Shelley said...

Co-signed,
Niki Shelley

Kira Busch said...

Co-signed,
Kira Busch

Melinda said...

Co-signed,
Melinda Freeland
Language and Literacy Specialist
Beverly Park Elementary

kate said...

Co-signed,
Kate Stevenson, cultural researcher and writer

Megan J said...

Co-signed,
Megan Jensen
Literacy Specialist

Cindy Sparks said...

Co-signed,
Cindy Sparks

Sara Ryan said...

Co-signed,
Sara Ryan

emily jean said...

Co-signed,
Emily Hope, Education & Public Programs Director, Kamloops Art Gallery

Joe Sutliff Sanders said...

Co-signed,
Joe Sutliff Sanders

Penny Brazier said...

Co-signed
Penny Brazier
Communications Consultant

Samantha Lawler said...

Co-signed,
Samantha Lawler, parent

Misstanbul said...

Cosigned,
Charlotte Roxborough
educator and parent

Unknown said...

Co-signed,

Tracy Smith

LocaParentis said...

Co-signed,
Amy Nottingham -Martin

Mandy said...

Co-signed,
Mandy Elizabeth Moore, children's literature and media scholar

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