Released only a few hours before the new year, Such a Fun Age has already established its spot at the top of the must-read lists. In its rise to the top, the book has managed to acquire the attention of Emmy winner Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad Productions.
Image Via Bloomsbury Publishing
After having been rejected from the nine schools she applied to, Kiley Reid took her time to write about her experiences as a babysitter in New York. With 320 words, Reid was able to produce a well-written story about race and privilege through the eyes of a young black babysitter.
In the novel, Alix Chamberlin, a mother of two and newfound blogger, quickly made herself into a confidence-driven brand. Alix was mostly known for getting what she wants and teaching other women how they become as big as her. This quickly takes a turn when her son’s babysitter, Emira Tucker, is accused of kidnapping while out at a high-end supermarket. Being a black woman with a white child at night caused the unsettling looks of a security guard and the forming of a crowd around them.
Image via Slate
Emira, a twenty-five-year-old black woman, is about to lose her health insurance, and Alix wants to help her out in any way she can. “When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.” – Goodreads
Reid’s choice to set the scene in Philadelphia was one of intention. The city is known for leading the way to set standards for domestic workers. According to Kiley Reid’s ‘Such a Fun Age’ probes the insidious forms of racism, “Most of the estimated 16,000 domestic workers in Philadelphia are women of color,” according NBCto making an average income of $10,000.
Image via Visit Philadelphia
Masterfully, each character has a moment to be outside of themselves. The characters you hate, you begin to understand more. The characters you love, you begin to question. They all contain astounding depth. With the way the world is headed, it is nice to have a fresh view at Such a Fun Age.
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If this were a book and I opened it up by describing a “slim heroine with bright brown eyes, thick long hair, and a dimpled smile” what, or who would you picture? It’s natural for us as readers to assign a look to a character, sometimes even influenced by someone we know or a celebrity that we feel fits the description. But the fact of the matter is that many of you who read that description, without even thinking about it, automatically pictured this heroine as a white woman. And that, dear readers, is what it means to see whiteness as the default.
But why does this happen? While seeing white as the default isn’t an issue specifically monopolized by literature, the white bias in writing is more unique because of one major factor: it’s all words. Books have only text to rely on to show you the story. This gives us as readers a certain amount of responsibility when it comes to visualization. It’s not like in a television show, movie, or even comic book where the image of the character is clear, leaving less uncertainty about race. For this reason, part of what contributes to us seeing white characters as the literature default is the character description or lack thereof.
Image via writers HQ
Many authors take specific care to describe the skin-tone of non-white characters while not doing the same for their white counterparts. The reason that this is an issue is that it affects others those of different races while also conditioning readers to assume the whiteness of characters even if not explicitly stated as such. By pointing out the race of only characters of color, it’s an implication that characters that are not white are outside the “norm.” The implication then becomes that the “norm” is whiteness. Thus, we default to white when thinking of any character whose race is not specified.
While much of the burden is on authors to fix this problem, there’s also something important we as readers can do. We must unlearn seeing white as a default or the “norm” and that’s not an easy thing to do. One way to start to do this as readers is to read more books by authors of color. Being able to read books where there is diversity that is baked into the very nature of the characters is powerful. Simultaneously, you’re also supporting authors of color which are helping to diversify the literature we read.
Image via pinterest
Something else we as readers need to do is hold ourselves accountable. When we’re reading, we need to be thinking about the role assumption playing in our head-canons, fan-casts, and visualizations of characters. Questioning where in the text you get the idea that a character is white from their descriptor is something that will help you consciously think through your own biases.
Image via the black youth project
The last thing you can do goes beyond literature and it has to do with confronting the way you think of race in general. Oftentimes we’re presented with a fairly stereotypical view of non-white races. When we hear the word “blonde” we automatically think white, ignoring the fact that people of color can be born naturally blonde or that hair dye exists in the 21st century or that in fantasy books there are people with naturally purple hair so a person of color with naturally blonde hair isn’t out of that realm’s reality. Latinx people can have light skin or dark skin, same with Black people, Asian people, Native people, etc. So reading about a character that has “fair skin” or a character that blushes when they’re frazzled still does not automatically make them white. People of color are far from homogenous and all it takes is a simple google search to see that. Expanding your own world-view and taking some time to look a bit more into the way race can be presented will go a long way in keeping yourself from automatically assuming whiteness.
Image via Cosmopolitian
Unfortunately, many of the characters we read about whose races are explicitly mentioned actually are meant to be white by the authors and a lot of that comes from their own white bias. But being able to recognize our own biases, hold ourselves accountable, and change our own world views is going to make for a plethora of authors, both old and new, who have a vastly more progressive approach to writing racial diversity in literature.
Riddle me this: What is everywhere in your room but doesn’t clutter up any space?
Dust is actually very important, as far as books go. They can set a scene, they can create a mood, they can be an important plot element. So before you go off and clean your room or procrastinate about cleaning your room, you might just want to read through this list about our top 8 books that feature dust as an important element in the story.
Before we get dark, let’s start with a happy children’s book. Starting in 1963, Amelia Bedelia stars, well, Amelia Bedelia, which started this hit children’s series. Funny, brilliant, this stories often follow Amelia Bedelia, a maid in the Rodgers family, who often misunderstands various commands of her employer by always taking figures of speech and various terminology literally.
Image Via Teaching College English
Notably, she takes the command “dust the furniture” literally and, well, mayhem ensures.
Lucky, after a series of comic misunderstanding and general mayhem, Amelia Bedelia is usually able to the win the family over with a delicious pie or cake. After a while the Rodgers family becomes astute enough to realize that Amelia Bedelia takes everything they say literally so, instead of firing her, they give her more specific commands such as “undust the furniture”.
So remember: You shouldn’t ‘dust around the house’, you should ‘undust the house’. Or you can dust the house. I don’t care, you do you.
With that out of the way, let’s get dark. Dust can set a scene, set a mood, and you know that things are dark when this story opens with a little girl dusting the house while her step-mother and step-sisters are lounge around the house.
Image Via Your Keyword Basket
Since her father’s death, Cinderella’s has been left in the dust, left in the squalor of her step-mother’s tyrannical rule. We all know where the story goes from here, either from the Disney movie or Grimm’s Fairy Tales, with her rising from the dust and into the arms of someone who loves her.
Before the monsters of movies, Infinity War and Endgame, hit theaters, comic readers knew since 1991 that there was a chance our favorite heroes might get dusted. Though we weren’t sure if Disney was going to go through with it, we sat back in awe as our favorite characters, including Spider-Man, bit the dust.
If you want to see where this plot point came from, we’ll buy this comic and listen to Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” as you see characters you know and love and characters you don’t know but will love get dusted. Be warned:
Young and Old Sophie Hatter / Image Via Fairlight Books
The importance of dust cannot be understated. After her father dies, Sophie Hatter takes over her family’s hat shop but encounters some trouble when she meets a witch who believes Sophie is doing some magic in her territory. In the book Sophie’s guilty as charged, so the witch curses her into looking like an old woman.
She runs away and, cold alone, sneaks on board a moving castle. But she’s found out!
This is when dust comes into play. See, Sophie’s cover story is that, since the castle is old and dusty, she’s the new house keeper! A quick look around and everyone is satisfied with her story, and Sophie ends up actually cleaning the castle.
The story goes on from here, but the most important moral of the story is this: Dust is helpful.
You might know the film, the play, or Victor Hugo’s magnum opus, this story shines a lighter on the misery and the pain of poverty and finding redemption in a cruel world. From the grimy streets of Paris to the dirt of the taverns, this story is known best for this image:
Image Via Pinterest
There’s a reason for that. A young girl cursed to poverty, to survive and not thrive in a dirty world, she’ll have to work hard and, with a little luck, she might be given a new start and a clean slate.
Three orphans cleaning with toothbrushes because life sucks and then you die / Image Via Fast Company
In this series the Baudelaire orphans can’t catch a break. While they are bounced around to guardian after guardian, they are met with increasingly dire circumstances and squalor beyond repair. From a greedy man who just wants them for this vast fortune to a man engulfed in smoke who keeps them (including the baby!) working in a lumber mill, the orphans are no stranger to dust, grime, filth, and dusty things.
Thankfully, they never seem to catch a case of the sniffles, so I guess they’re lucky in that regard.
Image Via Pinterest
Darkly funny and disturbingly horrific, this series is certainly something that’ll make you thankful because, even though dust seems to follow you everywhere you go, at least you’re not being chased by a villain.
If you are in fact being chased by an evil villain, considering calling 9-1-1.
Does dust follow you everywhere you go? Well, that might be a good thing. In the His Dark Materials trilogy, dust are elementary particles associated with consciousness and are integral to the plot. Everyone is chasing dust.
In the first book, young Lyra is bombarded with adults who claim that dust is evil, a terrible particle that causes all the misery in the world. Even her father, Lord Asriel, tells her that
Somewhere out there is the origin of all the Dust, all the death, the sin, the misery, the destructiveness in the world. Human beings can’t see anything without wanting to destroy it, Lyra. That’s original sin. And I’m going to destroy it. Death is going to die.
In the first book, Lyra believes this wholeheartedly, but at the end of the novel her eyes are opened up to the wonders of dust when her daemon, Pantalaimon, asks her:
We’ve heard them all talk about Dust, and they’re so afraid of it, and you know what? We believed them, even though we could see what they were doing was wicked and evil and wrong…We thought Dust must be bad too, because they were grown up and they said so. But what if it isn’t?
From there, Lyra realizes:
If Dust were a good thing…If it were to be sought and welcomes and cherished..
‘We could look for it too, Pan!’ she said
The moral of the story? Don’t dust your house, because dust is magical.
Each week, Bookstr scans bestseller lists across the Internet to learn what people are reading, buying, gifting, and talking about most — just so we can ensure consistent, high quality recommendations. This week’s nonfiction picks are bestsellers, and showcase what’s resonating with audiences right now! Pick these up to see what everyone is talking about!
5. The Unwinding of the miracle by Julie Yip-Williams
The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams tells of her rocky beginnings to finding her path in life against all expectations. Born blind in Vietnam, she narrowly escaped death at the hands of her own grandmother before fleeing the political upheaval in her country in the 1970s. She eventually made it to the USA and started a family, but then, tragedy struck. She was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer and a difficult journey began. She sought guidance and finding none, began to write for herself, channeling her emotions into her work. Telling her story in a sprawling narrative, Julie offers guidance, joy, and channels her rage into cleansing, passionate anger. As inspiring as it is tear-jerking, this is a must-read.
4. Unicorn by Amrou Al-Kadhi
Unicorn by Amrou Al-Kadhi is a heart-wrenching and hilarious memoir about a young Muslim boy’s journey to becoming a proud, fearless drag queen. As a young boy, Amrou realized he was different when he found himself attracted to other boys, something his parents did not take kindly too and took strict measures to control him. But Amrou didn’t abandon his identity and through understanding marine biology, he accepted his own non-binary gender identity. Covering the relationship between Amrou, the world around him, and his own mother, this is a deeply enriching exploration of sexual identity that is an astounding read.
3. The Heat of the moment by Sabrina Cohen-Hatton
The Heart of the Moment by Sabrina Cohen-Hatton is a look into the life of a firefighter through the lens of a rare female firefighter.Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton has been a firefighter for eighteen years. She decides which of her colleagues rush into a burning building and how they confront the blaze. She makes the call to evacuate if she believes the options have been exhausted or that the situation has escalated beyond hope. This is her astonishing account of a profession defined by the most difficult decisions imaginable.Sabrina uses her award-winning research to reveal the skills that are essential to surviving – and even thriving – in such a fast-paced and emotionally-charged environment.
2. Underland by Robert Macfarlane
Underlandby Robert Macfarlane has been called the author’s masterpiece and it’s not hard to see why. A celebrated author of nonfiction books exploring the intersection between human nature and the natural world, with his new book Macfarlane delivers a downright epic exploration of Earth’s underworlds as they exist myth, literature, and nature itself. Exploring the sea caves of Greenland to the catacombs of Paris and underground fungal networks that run beneath the planet. Woven into these travels are stories about man’s relationship to the underground world, from cave paintings to divers to cave explorers and so much more. This is a fascinating, breathtaking novel you owe it to yourself to check out.
1. Love thy Neighbor by Ayaz Virji
Love Thy Neighborby Ayaz Virji is a timely book in today’s racially charged American climate. The author was living a comfortable life at an East Coast hospital in a big city but was forced to move to a small town in Minnesota to address the shortage of doctors in rural America. In 2016, this decision was tested when Donald Trump campaigned and the town swung in his favor. Some of the author’s most loyal patients began turning against him, questioning whether he belonged among them. Virji wanted out. But in 2017, just as he was lining up a job in Dubai, a local pastor invited him to speak at her church and address misconceptions about what Muslims practice and believe. That invitation has grown into a well-attended lecture series that has changed hearts and minds across the state, while giving Virji a new vocation that he never would have expected. This is a powerful novel about the consequences of toxic politics and the racism inherent across America, while pushing for a path to acceptance.
If picture books are meant to give voice to the experiences of young children, then why aren’t girls and racial minorities speaking? Using data from the top 100 bestselling children’s picture books, researchers have noted a growing gender and racial disparity in terms of which characters speak in children’s books.
Over half of children’s books feature a predominantly male cast; comparably, less than a fifth such books feature a predominantly female cast. It’s evident that male characters are literally dominating the conversation: not only does the gender gap exist in picture books, but it’s also growing. The Guardianreports that “speaking roles for male characters rose by 19%,” and at the same time, “one in five bestsellers did not feature any females at all.”
Only five of the top 100 books feature a BAME (Black, Asian, & Minority Ethnic) character in a prominent role. Of those five, three titles’ spots rely on the same character: Lanky Len, a mixed-race “nasty burglar” who hardly represents the sort of relatable character that nonwhite children can connect to. Statistics regarding BAME characters in less central roles are just as grim: 70% of such characters never speak at all. Across all 100 titles, only eleven BAME characters have speaking roles. And among these eleven, only seven have names. Of course, we’re discussing the umbrella of ethnic minority identities—on this list, there’s only one black male protagonist. Off the list, the disparity isn’t any better. Of all the 9,000+ children’s books published in 2017, only 1% featured a BAME protagonist… while 96% featured no BAME characters, speaking or silent.
When it comes to picture books featuring LGBT+ families and disabled characters, it’s the same story. None of the 100 bestsellers featured same-sex parents. Only one title included a disabled character—but that character doesn’t speak or play any major role in the plot. We may be talking about fiction, but these statistics are unrealistic. Predominantly white, male stories for children deny the experiences of many readers, but they also don’t reflect the mathematic facts concerning the gender and racial breakdown of English children. Around 33% of English schoolchildren are from minority backgrounds; 48% are female. Our stories should reflect the varied experiences of the children they aim to depict.
What causes this disparity? Among the 100 books studied, not one author or illustrator is BAME. This lack of diversity extends beyond the list: only 2% of all children’s book illustrators in the UK, not just the bestsellers, are people of color. The lack of diversity in publishing is a capitalistic Ouroboros: because few children’s picture books feature diverse characters, publishers come to believe these books won’t earn large sums of money. At the same time, these books rarely earn money for their publishers because they are rarely published. But while the exact cause of this phenomenon may be unclear, the results aren’t—girls, minorities, and disabled children don’t see themselves in stories that are supposed to be for them. It’s also possible that these sorts of disparities in children’s media could reinforce disparity and bias as the children grow into adulthood.