Thursday, January 16, 2020

“Hansel & Gretel: Fairy Tale to Opera”


Two singers from the San Diego Young Artists 
Opera Program performing a piece 
from the opera of "Hansel & Gretel"

On January 14th I had the wonderful opportunity to see Dr. Joseph Thomas and Dr. Nicolas Reveles’ lively discussion, “Hansel & Gretel: Fairy Tale to Opera” as part of San Diego Opera’s 65th year of the “Taste of Opera” series. Thomas and Reveles discussed the roots of Hansel and Gretel, both the Grimm Brothers’ version and the story in the Humperdinck opera. They explored the dark undertones of the story and how it turned into the (somewhat less dark) story it is known as today. Two talented singers from the San Diego Young Artists Opera Program performed a piece from the opera.

As Reveles beautifully puts it, Humperdinck perfectly illustrates children left to their own devices, without the scrutiny of parents, as seen by the two singers bickering with one another as they dance around the stage. This can be seen with Hansel and Gretel joyously skipping around the stage and fighting over who should do the laundry.

Nicolas Reveles playing a piano
piece from the Hansel & Gretel Opera

I don’t know much about operas, but I know a bit about the Grimm Brothers, so I was excited. The original opera was written in the nineteenth century by composer Engelbert Humperdinck, based on the Grimm brothers’ popular fairy tale.

The origins of “Hansel and Gretel” are a bit unclear, but Thomas says estimates lie around 1315, the time of the Great Famine in Europe. During this time there were many historic tales of cannibalism and child abandonment, two ideas present in the story of Hansel and Gretel. This popular tale may have been inspired by Charles Perrault’s fairy tale Hop o’ My Thumb.

Nicolas Reveles and Joseph Thomas

In the time of Grimm’s tales, it was not uncommon for many children to be abandoned due to lack of food, so Hansel and Gretel’s tale, at least the first part of the tale, is not as far-fetched as it may seem to modern audiences.

Although fairy tales are modernly associated with children, according to Reveles, fairy tales were originally written as a historical and theoretical study for adults. Grimm’s tales were a very new concept, as the common idea of literature was the it should come from Greek and Roman tales, an idea popularized by King Louis XIV. This was known as “The Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns”. 


Although Grimm’s first edition highlighted a motif of child abandonment, this didn’t sit well with audiences, so the mother was edited as a step-mother, and as Dr. Thomas states, editors argued that “a German mother would never do that [abandon her children]”. I am curious if this started the tradition of stepmothers that we see in many Disney movies and the fairy tales they were inspired by.

Hansel and Gretel has some interesting themes. For one, the natural world, or the woods Hansel and Gretel enter, is a world of mysticality, poetry, and fairy tales, perhaps as an escape from the restrictive world the two live in at their own home. These stories had many educational themes throughout which may not have been as obvious being a modern reader.

This was truly such a fun talk and I learned so much.


-SS

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Horn Book Magazine and Other Donations from Jim Silverman

Hello Scholars!



We are so excited to share an amazing and generous donation we received from Jim Silverman.



We received a couple of copies of California Kids: A Bilingual Book edited by Jim Silverman, two volumes of Fairy Tales from the Gold Lands and about thirty editions of The Horn Book Magazine. Our editions of The Horn Book Magazine are copies from published between 1937 and 1971. The Horn Book Magazine is published two to three times a year, sometimes including a Christmas edition.


The cover of California Kids




California Kids is a beautiful bilingual book published in 1992 by California Kids History Catalog. Everything about California Kids is truly stunning, but what first draw our eyes was the artwork. Rick Wheeler’s illustrations are incredible. I believe the illustrations are intricately carved wood block prints, possibly carved by hand. The wood block appears to be hand carved based on the fine details and organic etching of lines flowing through each illustration. Wheeler designed and printed the artwork in the book himself.




California Kids follows Lucy Young in “An Indian Girl,” Ygnacio Villegas in “A Boy Rancho,” and Eleanor Swinnerton in “A Gold Rush Girl.” Silverman describes each of their stories.




Eleanor (on the right of the cover), born Eleanor Josephine Harvey, was born in Butte County. Her ancestors arrived in America before the Revolutionary War and her father was constantly travelling. As a baby, Eleanor’s cradle was a small rocker that had been used for mining gold (Silverman 25). She went on to become a teacher. I loved how Silverman shows not just what Eleanor did for work, but what she loved to do in her free time. She loved growing plants, especially petunias. She pollinated them by hand with a brush, and she raised prize plants and sold the seeds to support her family. As she grew older, Eleanor wrote childhood memoirs which were later included in the book Isaac Julian Harvey, California Pioneer. Part of Eleanor’s section in California Kids is told from Eleanor’s point of view.


Double-page spread in "Lucy, An Indian Girl"





This is an image from California Kids: A Bilingual Book in which Lucy tells of her grandfather and his musings about the “White Rabbit” (10). The woodcutting is gorgeous and frames an equally compelling story.



At the very end, California Kids includes a section “My History/Mi Historia” to encourage readers to write their own history so far. The entire book is incredibly engaging, and this section allows for children to see the ease of writing their own stories after being shown how engaging it was to read of Lucy, Ygnacio, and Eleanor’s lives. 



Our new collection of Horn Book Magazines!

Now to The Horn Book Magazine! The Horn Book Magazine was founded in Boston by Bertha Mahony Miller in 1924 and is the oldest bimonthly magazine dedicated to reviewing children's literature. It was originally published by Macmillan and is now owned by Media Source Inc. According to the website, The Horn Book Magazine is self-“independent, opinionated, and stylish.” It “has long been essential for everyone who cares about children’s and young adult literature. Our articles are lively, our reviews are insightful, our editorials are always sharp. We have gathered current and archival material to give you a taste of what we’ve been offering since 1924”. Today, Horn Book continues to publish online reviews of books marketed for kids in preschool to young adults.



Bertha Mahony Miller is considered a figurehead of the children’s literature movement. She founded one of the first children’s bookstores, the “Bookshop for Boys and Girls” in 1916. The Bookstore was in the Women Education and Industrial Union’s (WEIU) headquarters. (https://www.hbook.com/?detailStory=roots)





Christmas 1937




Christmas 1937



Christmas editions from 1937, 1941, and 1943.



As the other editions do, the Christmas edition of Horn Book highlights recently published books, such as Elin’s America by Marguerite de Angeli and Pete and Peter by Charlotte Steiner. These books range from 75 cents to a whopping two dollars. It also suggests books for Christmas, including An Introduction to Television by C. J. Hylander which writes about the background and development of the “interesting new science of television”, and Career for Jennifer by Adele de Leeuq, which follows a young girl who turns her photography hobby into a successful career.



After tons of suggestions for books for young people, The Horn Book includes stories such as The Shepherds by Ruth Sawyer. The Shepherds is a Christmas story “about God, meaning Good” (Horn Book, 1941, 431).



Following The Shepherds is another review, Animals in Wonderland by Alice M. Jordan, which reviews Animal Stories by Walter de la Mare and other fairytales of animals. She searches for “how far the authors have kept the sense of man’s old-age beliefs concerning the animal world.” Although the fairytale is not new, Jordan argues “the arrangement is new, displaying the variety and richness of animal folk tales” (Horn Book, 1941, 439). She explores the symbolic nature of animals, such as the association of witchcraft and magic with cats. The cat, she argues, “demands” this association with “his inscrutable mien and lordly independence” (Horn Book, 1941, 442).



“What Do Children Read in Mexico?” By Edith Agnew and Dorothy Weatherby


“What Do Children Read in Mexico?” By Edith Agnew and Dorothy Weatherby


“What Do Children Read in Mexico?” By Edith Agnew and Dorothy Weatherby

           

            The January-February 1938 issue contains an article in which two scholars describe their experience searching out the children’s literature of Mexico. While they were initially pointed towards schoolbooks, the researchers rummaged through book shops to find children’s books written in Spanish. Agnew and Weatherby were told that the volumes of fairy tales they uncovered were from Spain, and that few children were able to read them because of the high cost. There were also cheap books that contained familiar tales, but “Peter Rabbit and all his ilk were really too expensive for Mexico” (48). After a scavenger hunt around the city in search of the library’s children’s books, they found the reading room where children had worn through the few books available. The article concludes with the hope that future generations will have access to “the written treasure that seem to us the natural heritage of childhood. That is a hope reserved for their grandchildren” (50).

           





October, 1954 - 30th Anniversary Issue



 

October, 1954 - 30th Anniversary Issue


This issue contains an article describe how to create Batik illustrations by essentially stamping designs. The beautiful illustrations alongside the article depict the process.






The magazine also nods to diversity in the latest issue we received, which was published in August of 1971. Above is an image illustrated by a Japanese painter named Fuku Akino, and below is an image captioned by a part of the story “How Ananse Brought Stories to the World,” an African story.





We are so grateful to have these issues of The Horn Book Magazine to read and share with you. They are housed in the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature office, so please drop by to take a look at all of them in more detail! Once again, thank you to Jim Silverman for your gracious donation!



-        (SS) and (AN)



Citations: Jenkins, Christine A. "The History of Youth Services Librarianship: A Review of the Research Literature." Libraries & Culture 35 (Winter 2000), p. 111.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Interview with Nayeli Castañeda-Lechuga, MFA Student


I got a chance to sit down with Nayeli Castañeda-Lechuga, a first-year student in the MFA program here at San Diego State University. She is currently wrapping up the semester of a course in Chicanx Children’s Literature taught by Dr. Phillip Serrato. We discussed her perspective on studying children’s literature with a creative writer’s mind. 


Nayeli Castañeda-Lechuga


What were your expectations going into the course? How have those expectations been affirmed or altered by what you encountered? 


Honestly, when I was looking into the course, I overlooked the “children’s” aspect of it and thought of it as a course on Chicanx Literature. The idea of spending a whole semester reviewing and analyzing Chicanx literature was extremely appealing to me, specifically because I love reading and writing about Chicanx/Latinx identity.

I didn’t think too much about how we would discuss the material, however. So it was interesting to delve into the efficacy of Chicanx characters in perpetuating or dismantling stereotypical ideals of Chicanxs or Mexican-Americans. Doing this through children’s literature--a side of literature I’d never thought too much about--was only that much more eye-opening.


How does your background and identity influence the way you read these texts?

As a Mexican and Chicanx women (I tend to identify myself as Mexican, though, technically I am Mexican-American/Chicana), I came into the course with an idea of what Chicanx literature looked like and those ideas set up certain expectations on how people of color should be represented, which writers qualified to portray brown bodies, etc. Soon, however, I learned that Chicanx literature (from children’s to YA to adult) is much more complicated than I imagined. I’d never taken a course on Chicanx literature--the closest I came to it was a course on Latin American Literature, which is still very different. This has been the course that most immediately and intimately relates to my background, my familial history, and my identity--so I’m definitely biased towards how much I appreciate (or don’t appreciate) the stories being told and examined in our class.


Did anything about the texts or critical frameworks surprise you? 

So much surprised me about the texts we read--from the extremely stereotypical Mexican-American/Chicanx characters we examined to the well-executed feminist constructions of  Chicanxs in children’s literature. As I’ve mentioned, I had never examined Children’s literature on a scholarly/grad-school level and applying critical frameworks to these often short stories was something I didn’t consider possible.

I enjoyed certain critical frameworks the most--such as Conocimiento narratives, marginality, and discussing how the stereotype functions as oppression and the white man’s need to ‘other’.


How has your understanding of children’s literature changed as a result of taking this course?

The most immediate change has been realizing that children’s literature is something we can and should be having scholarly conversations about. I used to overlook children’s literature and, honestly, thought of it as something that was very easy to write--a mentality which can and has led to poorly written children’s books. While the stories may seem simple, often the impact can be extreme--especially for stories about frequently underrepresented communities, such as Chicanxs. I’ve learned to appreciate writers and illustrators who tackle the task of writing and/or illustrating effective Children’s literature, especially since these are people’s first encounters with books and can shape how they understand social structures.

I’m also impressed by everything that can be analyzed from a thirty-page book with often minimal text. Children’s literature is much more than the text itself--it’s the images, the placement of words in relation to the images, line breaks, book size, blank space, etc.


Do you see the content of this course affecting your creative writing?

It makes me nervous to fall into the same category of creating really problematic pieces. I think that a lot of them had worked but I don't want to make it worse as a writer because like I said, one of my main goals us as a writer is to write Latinx characters – specifically Mexican characters – because I'm Mexican and I have more of more knowledge of the Mexican culture though some of our values tend to align with other Latinx cultures. I'm a little nervous about falling into traps that I didn't realize are traps or writing really trope-y narratives that end up reinforcing stereotypes that I didn't realize I was doing. Sometimes when you're writing, your characters kind of take you a place that you weren't expecting. You kind of got to follow them and it's a really weird thing to say, but like when you're so into it, you see things before you actually write them. So sometimes they might do something or they might be calling you to write something that you feel is going to be problematic. Like race issues. So then you have to decide whether or not that's something that you're willing to risk. Now you say, “it's okay; I'm going to risk it. But how am I going to address this so it's clear that this is the character's point of view? This is how the character is and it's not what I as a writer believe.” It's a lot of questions that you have to keep asking yourself as a writer and this class is has given me a lot more questions than answers as a writer. I think that's a good start to be conscious of what you're writing.


Do you have any favorite assignment or anything that you thought was fun to do?

In retrospect, I really enjoyed the presentation*. I was nervous about it at first, but once I began reading Calling the Doves and analyzing it, I felt like I was bringing something new to class discussion and I enjoyed the conversations that arose after it. Mostly, I appreciated the work and thought I put into the book prior to my presentation. I spent hours looking at Elly Simmons’ (the illustrator) images--analyzing every swirl and color and repeating image, until finally I began to notice different themes and patterns that related to the text itself. It was like finally fitting puzzle pieces together on a 500 piece puzzle with only one shade of blue. It was a different experience than writing an essay or participating in class discussion; I couldn’t rely on my classmates’ or Professor Serrato’s textual interpretations--I had to go through the process on my own, which was extremely rewarding.

In the end, I ended up discussing Lucha and Juanito’s (mother and son) relationship, which led to the topic of my final essay.

 *[Here, Castañeda-Lechuga references an assignment in which each student chooses a Chicanx children’s book outside of the course readings to present about during class. She chose Calling the Doves by Juan Felipe Herrera.]



Would you recommend authors take courses like this? 

Absolutely. That's what I appreciate about San Diego State University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. It’s required that MFA students take literature courses, which is well-thought out since to improve our writing, we should be reading and analyzing other writer’s work.

I recommend that other writers search for courses that will most directly aid in developing their own writing--whether that be taking a course that discusses texts that connect to the writer’s interest (as was the case for me) or taking courses that look into texts with different textual forms. I’m sure that all literature courses will broaden a writer’s perspective on effective story-telling, but it will definitely be more enjoyable and advantageous if the writer chooses to take a course that aligns with their passions.

In my case, I chose this course because I'm interested in writing about Chicanx and Latinx communities. I’ve found the course to be helpful in how I think about my own writing--how not to fall under the same stereotypical discourse of some texts and how to push further with my concepts of the Mexican identity(ies).

As writers, it’s inevitable not to read as writers. When I'm reading, I make notes about what kinds of strategies I like, or lines that I thought were well-written. Because they resonate with your own writing, you tend to find these courses more interesting and more helpful. Long story short, I would recommend it!



Thank you, Nayeli Castañeda-Lechuga, for sharing with us! We’re glad to learn that studying children’s literature helped you as an author focus on the importance of accurate representation. Looking forward to seeing what you will publish in the future!

- (AN)


Monday, December 9, 2019

My Defense of “Blood Heir” by Amélie Wen Zhao



Ever since the delayed release of Blood Heir I have been following the novel’s rocky road to publication.

After reading, re-reading, and researching, I’m here to defend the book.

For those who haven’t heard, Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao was called “this year’s most controversial YA novel” by Slate Magazine.

Fellow author LL McKinney of A Blade So Black blasted Zhao’s book on Twitter calling it “anti-black”. The original blurb for Blood Heir read: “In a world where the princess is the monster, oppression is blind to skin color, and good and evil exist in shades of gray…” In a string of tweets from January 2019, Author LL McKinney states (after reading half of an advanced copy) “I don’t give a good god damn that this is an author of color. Internalized racism and anti-blackness is a thing and I…no” (Twitter, 2019). I have to admit, this is probably not the best pitch for a novel and I can see why McKinney was upset, but I was disappointed to see an author of color being torn down before her book was even published.

People responded to McKinney’s tweet saying they were immediately cancelling pre-orders of Zhao’s book.

McKinney was not the only person upset by Zhao’s novel. According to The New Yorker, “critics felt that Zhao’s slavery narrative had erased a specifically African-American experience, and they objected to a scene in which an apparently black slave girl dies in an apparently white character’s arms, in an act of self-sacrifice. Zhao, who emigrated from China when she was eighteen, said that her book drew on ‘the epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking prevalent in many industries across Asia, including in my own home country’” (Waltman, 2019). For the “black slave girl” I believe refers to May, who is never described other than a young girl with “turquoise eyes” in the final copy. I cannot confirm that May was black in the advanced copy reviewers read; in the final copy, May’s skin tone is never referenced.

Map of the imagined Cyrillian Empire in Zhao’s novel

From the point of sending drafts to beta readers, negative reviews flooded Goodreads before she even published the book. She sent drafts to beta readers from 2014-2017 to perfectly finetune her novel (Zhao, 452), so some of the following reviewers may be beta readers.

A Goodreads reviewer addresses one controversy of the novel: “Another generic fantasy that appropriates Russian culture by twisting the tragic history of Anastasia Romanova. NO THANKS.” The reviewer shelved this on a shelf called “Cultural-Appropriation”. I also want to point out there is no direct reference to Russia in Zhao’s book besides her saying [online] that she was inspired by the story of the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia, and I see no obvious relation to Russia, but people have argued the novel is Slavic-inspired. The map above, which can be found in the book, shows Zhao’s fantastical world does not appear to be one exact country.

Cultural appropriation is not a new criticism for young adult novels. By “another fantasy” the reviewer is referencing Leigh Bardugo’s popular young adult fantasy novels set in the make-believe Grishaverse, especially The Shadow and Bone trilogy, which has been accused of appropriating Russian culture. I am not well-versed enough in the culture to know whether Blood Heir nor Bardugo’s books have Slavic influence or not, but I have not seen anything from Zhao mentioning Slavic culture in any form on social media or directly mentioning the culture in the novel.

Another review simply states “horrible and racist” [published before the final copy’s publication].

Yet another: “the magic system in the book just felt like a rip off of the Grishaverse” [referencing Leigh Bardugo’s novels].

And finally: “I couldn’t stop thinking about the whole mess earlier in the year with the book. Yeah, that’s a personal one. I just couldn’t disconnect that, and all the vitriol from that, from the book itself. But like I said, personal. And, not having read the first version of it, I don’t know the changes that were made so. It’s a me thing.”

This last review resounded with me, because Zhao isn’t being given a second chance from everyone. She heard criticism from reviewers and changed aspects of her book, but nonetheless, Zhao has been somewhat ostracized in the YA literature community for doing something new and different.

Following the backlash, Zhao pushed back the publishing date and sent her book through many sensitivity readers and editors to address concerns.

According to Katy Waldman’s article, In Y.A., Where is the Line Between Criticism and Cancel Culture? published in The New Yorker, the intentions of the book are not as sinister as they may seem. “The book’s allegories seem mythic, not historical. They are about discovering one’s hidden potential, celebrating the liberation of the self. If anything, the damning readings of Blood Heir seem guilty of something that the Y.A. community mitigates against: the misapprehension of a cultural context unfamiliar to one’s own”.

Clearly, there was a lot of controversy before this book was even published, and that’s why I decided to pick it up. I barely touch the surface of the expansive novel and its controversies in this blog, but I wanted to address them.

Here is your spoiler warning.
The inspiration for the novel, the young
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia.

At the start of the book, Anastacya Mikhailov has been convicted of a crime she didn’t commit: killing her own father.

Zhao creates such an exciting plot and world in the very first page. From the very beginning, Zhao throws the reader into Princess Anastacya’s world. Anastacya is in prison, waiting to be sold off to a work contract or indenturement (Zhao, 12). Anastacya, disguising her identity by calling herself “Ana”, is in hiding from being accused of murdering her father, the Emperor Aleksander Mikhailov. It was rumored Princess Anastacya was executed or drowned while fleeing execution.

Blood Heir is inspired by the compelling true story of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. The inspiration from the infamous story of Anastasia is seen in Anastacya’s story: A royal family was murdered, but rumors spread that the Grand Duchess Anastasia escaped the assassination.


From the very beginning, Blood Heir keeps the reader on the edge of the seat. After being convicted of murder and thrown in prison, Ana convinces a fellow inmate, Ramson Quicktongue, to break out of prison. Through hijinks and mayhem Ana and Ransom break out of prison to avoid being forced into “Employment Contracts”, essentially, being trafficked and forced to work.

After breaking out, fiercely independent Ana teams up with Ramson and fights to get her friend May back from the Playpen, a place Affinites are taken to perform, often against their will.

With exciting tension on every page, I had to know what happened next. With regards to the story itself and the character developments, I really loved the novel, except for the romance, but this is a common critique I have. Ramson is this bad-guy-gone-good from the Navy who is enlisted by Ana to help her find May, and of course, they fall for one another, when all I wanted was more Ana and May and less romance.  

There is an arguably forced storyline of Ana and Ramson both being damaged people fighting the urge to fall for one another, and in the end they do. That being said, I do have to appreciate Ana’s fierce determination throughout the novel never being smothered by Ramson. Through it all, Ana still is a fiercely independent woman determined to get her friend back, but I think the book would have been excellent without the love story.

While breaking out of prison, it is discovered that Ana is an “Affinite”, or a person with a special ability or connection to physical or metaphysical elements. In her case, Ana has a blood affinity, which is seen as deadly and a curse.

Back to the issue of slavery or indentured servitude, there are “employment contracts” with Affinites in the Cyrilian Empire. The employment contracts are what stirred up the controversy. Never does Zhao directly call it slavery in the book, but it has been compared to slavery by outside sources.

There is a very eerie scene for those who are familiar with the history of slavery in America. After being found without papers proving their “employment”, Ana’s friend May, another Affinite, is taken to be sold. At this trading/trafficking post, creepily called “the Playpen”, Affinites are put in glass domes and forced to perform while people bid on them.


However, some are not there against their will. “The Ice Queen”, a woman in pale blue with white hair is one of the few performers not forced to perform at the Playpen:


            “She looks like she’s enjoying it,” Ana whispered.
            “She’s a regular…She works with the brokers.” [Ransom said]
            “Under contract?”
            “Right, but…She’s not contracted against her will.” [Ransom said]

In this passage, The Ice Queen serves as this false image that those in the Cyrillian Empire are all performing of their own free will, but The Ice Queen is being paid, and from what we know of, she is not forced to dance or entertain. After learning May is scheduled to perform soon, Ana goes back to the Playpen.

This is probably one of the eeriest parts of the story, as we watch young May trapped in a glass stage being forced to show her Earth Affinity. She is advertised as the “Child of Earth” (Zhao, 223). People in the audience delightfully request for May to grow a fruit tree, juggle rocks, and make a statue from the earth, almost as if she were a circus animal. I honestly can see this being likened to a historical slave auction, and it’s truly a scary thing to read; people are ready to bet on a child, a child originally described as black. 

May breaks her glass cage when rebels storm the Playpen, and in the same scene a knife is thrown into her stomach, and May dies in Ana’s arms, as May begs Ana to carry on the Revolution of the Affinites (Zhao, 241). This is, most likely, the scene McKinney is referencing in her tweet. Although May is no longer described as black, it is interesting, and maybe problematic, to think of how May was originally written black. I don’t know how I would respond to this scene with the original details, but for those trying to attack Zhao still, I think we should give her the benefit of the doubt. Although I am sure she, being a college-educated woman, knew about American slavery, we need to be reminded Zhao did not grow up around the narrative of American slavery, she grew up in Beijing, and in the end, she listened to criticism and made changes.


Author Amelie Wen Zhao

So why did Zhao choose this controversial topic in the first place?
Zhao grew up around the narrative, and reality, of modern human trafficking.
In an interview with NPR, Zhao states: “these are forms of modern slavery that continue to impact 20 to 40 million victims around the world in countries such as North Korea, India, Thailand, Russia, Eastern Europe…And the main character, Ana - she is one of these vulnerable populations, and she's in danger of being trafficked and exploited. And that's what she fights against in the book. I really wrote her to be powerful and to be an angry girl, to really be a champion of justice and what she thinks is right.”
She continues, “At the time [of her ARC’s being read], it was really overwhelming because a few early readers had said that it was - believed my book was a portrayal of chattel slavery in America. And it snowballed into a lot of people who hadn't read the book, and there was just so much critique coming from people who hadn't read it. So that was really devastating to me because these are some real issues that draw from my background and from global issues that are ongoing and continue to affect so many people. So it was particularly devastating because it felt to me like my perspective wasn't welcome in this country. And honestly, for a while, it just felt like I wasn't allowed to have a voice in exploring deeply poignant subjects that were personal to me. Like, my fiancé is the descendant of a Chinese indentured laborer. And I believe these are difficult truths and ugly histories that need to be confronted through literature.”
On Goodreads, Zhao shared the Dear Reader letter included in the ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of Blood Heir. A passage of the letter reads as follows:


I emigrated from China when I was 18. Drawing on my own multicultural upbringing and the complex history of my heritage that has incidences of bias and oppression. I wrote ‘Blood Heir’ from the immediate cultural perspective. The issue around Affinite indenturement in the story represent a specific critique of the epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking prevalent in many industries across Asia, including in my own home country. The narrative and history of slavery in the United States is not something I can, would, or intended to write, but I recognize that I am not writing in merely my own cultural context. I am sorry for the pain this has caused.
Zhao also touches on those attacking her for trying to victimize herself or her characters. “I am an immigrant. I am a woman of color. And I am an ‘Other.’ In my time in the United States, I have never experienced the sense of crushing fear about my identity that I have recently. ‘Get out of my country, communist!’ is only one of the slurs I’ve had screamed at me from across the street. What I’ve experienced personally and seen across social media outlets and national television broadcasts has all amounted to a hyperawareness of my foreignness, my Otherness, and the possibility that because I am different, I am not worthy of belonging” (Goodreads, 2018).
The full letter can be found below my citations. I cannot speak to if this book is offensive or not. I don’t think the original blurb that McKinney read was a good pitch for the novel, but what is incredibly important is this author is not a western author. She grew up in Beijing and likely did not grow up with as much knowledge of the history of slavery in America as many Americans did; what she instead grew up with was the reality of human trafficking, especially in Asian countries. I think the topic Zhao is writing about is incredibly important, especially for a Western audience who may not be familiar with modern day trafficking or slavery.

Zhao’s book goes beyond just slavery. Blood Heir has brought up issues of cancel culture as well as western-centric views of slavery pushing away any other narrative of trafficking or slavery, like the narrative Zhao is trying to bring forward. Her book being “cancelled” almost proves why her book is important: people aren’t talking about the issue of modern trafficking in young adult novels. Successfully cancelling the publication of Blood Heir could have been detrimental to readers in the United States being educated about the relevance of slavery and trafficking.
With Zhao’s book, we are reminded that men, women, and children around the world are being taken and sold even today, not just historically.
We are reminded how people are discriminated against and dehumanized for being “different” from the majority. We are reminded of the cruel truth that Ana has to face head on, and Zhao and others have faced as well.
I don’t think the final copy of Blood Heir should be shot down, especially without being read. In fact, I think Blood Heir is an excellent book discussing important taboo topics such as trafficking, and I think it’s presumptuous to assume that aspects of this novel are based strictly on western slavery, especially when it is written by an author who is not from North America. I recommend those opposed to the novel in some way to actually give Zhao’s final copy of the novel a read with an open mind before jumping to criticize it.
There’s all this talk about me saying what others are saying about Blood Heir, people attacking the author, but right now, I want to say something to the author.
To Miss Zhao, who will probably never, ever read this blog:
Congratulations on a great debut novel, and I can’t wait to see the sequel.
You kept fighting to tell your story, and the story of so many other people.
Keep fighting.
I’m fighting for you, too.
-SS
Works Cited:
Garcia-Navarro, Lulu, editor. National Public Radio, 17 Nov. 2019,                                              https://www.npr.org/2019/11/17/780231746/am-lie-wen-zhao-on-blood-heir.

McKinney, LL (ElleOnWords). “I don’t give a good god damn that this is an author of color.   Internalized racism and anti-blackness is a thing and I…no. Square up.” 28 January 2019, 11:07 AM. Tweet.

Waltman, Katy. “In Y.A., Where Is the Line Between Criticism and Cancel Culture?” 21 Mar.           2019, https://www.newyorker.com/books/under-review/in-ya-where-is-the-line-between-       criticism-and-cancel-culture.



Wednesday, November 27, 2019

NCSCL at PAMLA 2019

Hello scholars! We had such a fun time at our first ever Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association (PAMLA) conference this past weekend. We met (and witnessed) so many talented scholars this weekend.


Graduate assistants Sofia and Ashley ready to check
scholars into the conference

One of the key takeaways Ashley got from working at the registration desk was seeing the diversity of people who attend academic conferences. Scholars from many states and countries came to present on a stunning variety of topics ranging from vampire studies to absurdist history. Several families came to America’s Finest City for the weekend, with many a child treated to a trip to the San Diego Zoo. Students and faculty came from all over, from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa to Vancouver Island University. A young girl in the audience of Joseph Thomas and Michael Heyman’s poetry reading delighted the crowd with her giggly additions to the performance. Ashley was also thrilled to meet another person studying Vietnamese American literature.




Thai Luong presenting on A Different Pond by Phi Bao

The Asian American Literary and Cultural Studies sessions on Thursday left Ashley dazzled. As a first-semester graduate student just entering that field, this conference was her first time meeting fellow Asian American literature scholars, and hearing their research left her inspired. She left with many topics of interest to research further: the effect of the model minority myth on lived experience, Vietnamese American history and literature, and the boundaries of what is defined as Asian American and literature. She is determined to search for an area of focus of her own (food is brilliant but taken) and to draw all the inspiration she can from the admirable work of those trailblazing in her field.

 
Katherine Sciurba presenting on White Flour by David LaMotte

Ashley also had the opportunity to attend the brilliant Children’s Literature I panel. Katherine Sciurba, Assistant Professor in the SDSU School of Teacher Education, opened with “March of the Coup Clutz Clowns: The Clown as Figure of Resistance to White Supremacy in David LaMotte’s White Flour.” She analyzed LaMotte’s humorization of ostensible KKK members who attempt to join a parade. It was fascinating to hear her perspective as an instructor who focuses on the affective response of her students to the books she reads, and the Q&A raised the question of empathizing with KKK members and where the limit is. Dr. Sciurba argues that children are capable of processing trauma in picture books because they might witness much worse on the news and maybe even personally.

 
Linda Salem presenting on Aruki Taro by Takei Takeo

Next, Linda Salem, the Children’s Literature Librarian at SDSU, spoke about “Takei Takeo’s Aruki Taro, Clara Breed, and Japanese Illustrated Children’s Literature in Context.” She described the wonder she felt finding this book and imagining the story, which she could only extrapolate from the images. After getting the story translated, she began extensively researching the history of children’s literature in Japan and shared those findings with us. Salem’s role as a librarian requires much communication with different organizations, such as the public library system from which she obtained this rare book. Thank you to Linda Salem and all librarians for making the study of rare literature possible!

 
Mary Galbraith presenting about animals in 20th century novels

Children’s Literature Lecturer Mary Galbraith presented “The Live Creature: Animal Presence and Inhabiting the World in 20th Century Children’s Novels.” The talk drew upon many well-known novels, such as The Black Stallion and The Call of the Wild, to explore how authors can typify emotion and express nonverbal communication. Dr. Galbraith marveled at how entire books can be written about animals that don’t communicate in words but with their bodies. She described how “yes” and “no” are very deep in physiology, spreading her arms and stepping forward to indicate “yes” and withdrawing while pulling her arms to her chest to express “no”. As always, Dr. Galbraith’s animated and yet casual style of speaking is engaging and simplifies her very complex research.

 

Dr. Joseph Thomas and Dr. Michael Heyman Reading
During “Children's Poetry Today: A Creative Writing Reading”

Dr. Joseph Thomas and Dr. Michael Heyman had a poetry reading together, entitled “Children's Poetry Today: A Creative Writing Reading: an event in four chapters,” on Saturday. Joseph Thomas read from “‘Advice for Children (NSFW)’ and Other Poems for Young People,” among other works. Joseph Thomas and Michael Heyman have worked on many projects together over the years, from collaborative poetry to being judges of The Lion and The Unicorn Poetry Award.

Adults and children alike joined together to listen to these brilliant poets and readers; at one point a child delightfully laughed at one (or maybe more than one) poem, emphasizing the wide reach poetry can have. The two did not write this show as a piece, but often worked through poems together on the phone, showing the true organic creativity of their poetry. For Joseph Thomas, although this reading is enjoyed by all, he states, “doing this for children makes the physical important,” referring to their vibrant movements and energy while performing.

Their reading was broken into four chapters. In the first chapter, Joseph Thomas dedicated a poem he wrote in the intro to his late father, and dedicated another poem to his beloved cats. Next, Michael Heyman read his poem “Bish Boshed” a rhyme poem with arguably “nonsense” names which he brought sense to with the rhythm and passion of his reading. Joseph Thomas then read his own poem, “Nonsense Rhyme for Michael Heyman” following “A Pomsense Poem” by Michael Heyman.

 In the reading’s second chapter, Joseph Thomas read eight lines from “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by British poet Alfred Tennyson, otherwise known as “Lord Tennyson.” Michael Heyman followed with his own poem, “The Chard of the Blighted Souffle.” Michael Heyman then read an excerpt from “Warning to Children,” which Joseph Thomas argues is an improvement to the original poem.

Dr. Joseph Thomas and Michael Heyman Reading

Chapter three, entitled “Seasick Love Songs,” began with “The Hummerhead Brill” by Michael Heyman. Joseph Thomas read his lighthearted poem “The Fisherman,” a poem about a man in love with a creature neither a fish, nor a human.

In the fourth and final chapter, “Rinnzekete bee bee nnz krr müü?”, A.A. Mill’s “Now we are Six” was improved by Joseph Thomas’s poem “Six We are Now.” Michael Heyman concluded with a stunning, dynamic rendition of Kurt Schwitters’s “Ursonate”.




Dr. Joseph Thomas and Michael Heyman waiting for
“Children's Poetry Today: A Creative Writing Reading”

Watching these two perform was such a joy, but it truly felt like watching one, with how in tune they were with each other’s every word and movement. The audience, and the readers themselves, could be seen exchanging smiles throughout the event. We were so lucky to be reminded of the creativity and joy involved with writing and sharing poetry.

The full video of this event is linked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBQOqxOgWoI
PAMLA 2019 was a blast, and we look forward to PAMLA 2020, which will be held in Las Vegas. Thank you for the generosity of all involved! 

-(AN) & (SS)

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

SDSU Children's and Young Adult Scholars at PAMLA

Hello scholars!

We have been looking forward to the PAMLA Conference this weekend! We would especially like to remind you of the panels featuring children’s literature scholars from San Diego State University. 


Thursday, Nov 14th:
In honor of its fifteenth anniversary, former and current judges/essayists for The Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry, along with the award’s founder, its first editor, and its newly appointed second editor will discuss literary prizing, the difficulties of aesthetic judgement, and the award’s history and future. Dr. Thomas will also preside over this event and speak of his roles as Editor (2013-19) and Founding Judge (2005-12; 2017-18) of The Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry. 




Act Four - Literature of the Oxford Inklings
10:15 AM - 11:45 AM  
Jordan Garza, a graduate student in the San Diego State University English Department, will be presenting “An Unexpected Spectacle; Or, the Situationist International Visits the Shire”. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a children’s literature fantasy novel published in 1937 that, through its depiction of Bilbo and Hobbit society and their drive for remaining in a passive consumerist state, anticipates some of the cultural critiques leveled by the Situationist International a quarter century before its founding.


Friday, Nov 15th: 

Act Four - Gothic II
10:15 AM - 11:45 AM

Phillip Serrato, the new chair of the San Diego State University English Department and a longstanding Children’s Literature faculty member, will be presenting “‘My Dearest Friend’: The Post-Coital Appeal Mad Monster Party? and The Nightmare Before Christmas.This talk examines the ways that in Mad Monster Party? and The Nightmare Before Christmas a carnivalesque ethos of rule-breaking fun plays out in ideological dimensions such as gender and sexuality. Specifically, this talk proposes that part of the appeal of these films lies in what might be called a post-coital defiance of heteronormative resolution.

Act Four - Young Adult Literature
10:15 AM - 11:45 AM
Our director, Joseph Thomas, will be the presiding officer and chair for three fantastic sounding essays: “Constructing the Young Poet-Activist in Margarita Engle’s Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings” by Krystal Howard from California State University - Northridge; “‘Toto, We aren’t in Kansas Anymore’: Resistance and Counterstorytelling in Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Hearts Unbroken” by Michelle Pagni Stewart from Mt San Jacinto Community College District, and “Self Image and the Community in Young Adult Steampunk Novels The Black God’s Drums (2018)” by Melanie Marotta from Morgan State University. 
Act Six - The Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry (Special Event)
3:20 PM - 4:50 PM

Saturday, Nov 16th
Act Nine - Children's Literature I
10:15 AM - 11:45 AM
This panel boasts an impressive lineup of San Diego State University scholars. Katherine Sciurba, Assistant Professor in the School of Teacher Education, will present “March of the Coup Clutz Clowns: The Clown as Figure of Resistance to White Supremacy in David LaMotte’s White Flour;” Linda Salem, Children’s Literature Librarian, will present “Takei Takeo’s Aruki Taro, Clara Breed, and Japanese Illustrated Children’s Literature in Context;” and Mary Galbraith, Children’s Literature Lecturer, will present “The Live Creature: Animal Presence and Inhabiting the World in 20th Century Children’s Novels.”
Act Eleven - Children's Poetry Today: A Creative Writing Reading Featuring Joseph Thomas and Michael Heyman (Special Event)
3:30 PM - 4:40 PM
Michael Heyman and Joseph Thomas will perform a number of children’s poems. Dr. Joseph Thomas will read from “‘Advice for Children (NSFW)’ and Other Poems for Young People” among other works. 
The NCSCL is a sponsor of this year’s PAMLA conference, but many other SDSU scholars will present their works in an array of fields! All SDSU students can attend for FREE; just make sure to bring your student ID card.  
We hope to see you all there!
- (AN) & (SS)