When I posted my review of Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow (a book I enjoyed), I sweated blood. I was, although I avoided the word, suggesting that the publisher had whitewashed the kid on the cover. Here's what I said:
"As an added bonus, Jacob is a kid of color. Here's how he is described:
"He stared at his hands, a soft brown color that was lighter than his mom's dark skin and darker than his dad's light skin. It was proof that he was half of his mom and half of his dad, but since he didn't look like either of them, it also made him something else entirely" (page 22).
And you can see that in the internal illustrations, like the example above, Jacob's skin is indeed darker than that of his friends.
But would you know this from the cover? No. The boy on the cover is clearly less pink than the girl, but he looks pretty much like a white kid to me. I had no idea that he was a kid of color until I'd reached page 22. I've stared and stared at his skin tone as shown, hoping that its biscuit-like beige would become "soft brown," but it didn't, in my eyes at least."
So I wrote this, and very nervously wondered what people's reactions would be. And I waited, and waited...and there has been no reaction.
Here is the cover in question. Now, maybe a lot of people didn't read my review--I know a lot of you are readers looking for books for yourselves, so this would be a bit young. Or maybe people didn't think it was that egregious an example of whitewashing--the boy on the cover is, indeed, less pink than the girl (or the boy in the top right), and it's not as obvious as other cases of whitewashing from the past few years (ie, Liar, Magic Under Glass, and Sticky from The Mysterious Benedict Society). But heck. I still think there is no way this cover shows an accurate depiction of the kid of color described in the book.
I care rather a lot about this, perhaps more passionately in a middle-grade book like this than in Young Adult books. The reason why I care is the same reason why, back in May of 2009, I set myself on a long term mission of finding and reviewing middle grade fantasy and science fiction books featuring kids of color. And a pretty large part of this reason is that I have two children of my own.
My boys are blond and blue-eyed (more or less). They are going to have it pretty darn easy throughout their lives in terms of other people making judgements about them (other people might well judge their mother harshly for the state of their clothes and fingernails, but that's not their fault). I want to do my darnedest to raise them so that when they meet someone who is not like them--someone in a wheelchair, someone who doesn't look like them, someone who's gay--they see a person first and foremost.* And I think that giving them books that show people who are not like them is a tremendously important way to achieve such an innate, non-judgemental, acceptance of difference.
At the Diversity in YA panel I was at last night, the question of why we should advocate for diversity was posed. The answer most often put forward, both last night and in general was the importance of giving kids fictional mirrors. I agree wholeheartedly that this is an important reason to promote diverse books, and this is the main reason I keep my list--as a resource primarily for those buying the books.
But I think that my own personal reason is valid too--the importance of making "the other" not other, but friend.
For an eloquent discussion of this topic, please visit this conversation from last March between Tanita Davis, of Fiction Instead of Lies and Finding Wonderland; Hannah Ehrlich of Lee & Low Books; and Mitali Perkins, who writes at Mitali’s Fire Escape, hosted by Terry at Scrub-a-dub-Tub. As Tanita said then, "Somewhere away on the other side of the sleeping globe are people whose language and culture and stories we haven’t yet discovered, and yet books can transcend that gap, and speak a language creates a bridge." Somewhere down the street, across the town...
And so that's why I think it sucks that Jacob isn't a few shades more brown. And why it sucks that Jacob in the next book in the series is also pretty pale, although, again, still browner than the other kids.
So is this, do you think, a case of whitewashing? Do you think the publisher should add just a tad more brown? Or am I over-reacting?????
Thanks for reading; please let me know what you think!
*viz childrearing--I also want to raise them to be keenly and critically aware of descrimination and social injustice, of course. This is why for several weeks last year my oldest, who takes comfort in reiteration, kept saying at bedtime when we were snuggling "Mama, tell me again about book cover whitewashing." Sigh. At least it was better than, "Mama, tell me again about why you don't like Sarah Palin."