The Order of Odd-Fish revisited --reading in color, defaulting to white)

I just got an email from James Kennedy, author of the truly bizarre middle-grade fantasy Order of Odd-Fish (my review), and thought it would be interesting to share it (with his permission).

"The heroine, Jo, is biracial (in the tapestry scene, when she sees a picture of her parents, she discovers she has a black father and a white mother). The narrative doesn't make a fuss about it; the book isn't "about" race. Sir Oliver, the leader of the Odd-Fish is black and so is Dame Delia. And the second protagonist, Ken Kiang, is of course Chinese. Many other characters don't have racial attributes described at all.

"Jo's face on the covers of the hardback [top left--in the center of the cover] and the paperback [below] seem to be about the skin color of a Maya Rudolph or Halle Berry. It seems you could read those images as either biracial or just a tanned white girl. I've noticed, however, that when I ask some who have read the book what color Jo is, they say "white" a distressingly large amount of the time, even though she's explicitly described in chapter 1 as having brown skin.

"Cover artists whitewashing characters is one thing; but when the reader's imagination automatically defaults to white for a character, even when the text says otherwise, that says volumes about our unconscious attitudes -- even among the most well-meaning."

I myself was a defaulter-to-white reader (gah). Which is why Kennedy emailed me in the first place, because I hadn't tagged my review of his book...

So the point would seem to be that reading in color is rather more than just picking up books with people of color on them, and involves making sure that the traps of old mental habits are avoided. In that spirit, next time I read A Wizard of Earthsea, by Usula Le Guin, I will try to push White Ged out of my head, and try to see him as dark skinned as his author intended.

More Order of Odd-Fish news:

Oddness would appear to beget oddness--here is Kennedy's gallery of fan art inspired by his book. Not content with showcasing it on line, he is putting on a gallery show / extravaganza of Order of Odd-Fish art in Chicago. Anyone can contribute fan art (the deadline is March 15). Here's the call for submissions.

It sounds like fun--from Kennedy's description:

"It'll be not only an art show, but also a costumed dance party and theatrical extravaganza. I'm working with a Chicago theater group called Collaboraction to do this. They're going to decorate their cavernous space to portray scenes from the book (the fantastical tropical metropolis of Eldritch City, the digestive system of the All-Devouring Mother goddess, the Dome of Doom, etc.).

Opening night will be a dance party where people dress up as gods and do battle-dancing in the Dome of Doom. In the weeks afterward, we'll bring in field trips from schools. They'll browse the fan art galleries, be wowed by the elaborately decorated environment we've created, take in some performances from the book, and participate in an energetic writing workshop."


  1. I loved Order of the Odd Fish.

    It's nice when an author create a character of color and doesn't make a big deal about it, it just is.

    I think this is such a beautiful idea.

    It's going to make a great school trip.

  2. Oh my gosh, I want to go to that event!! And it reminds me, I need to nag Jim to do some art for the show. We made a deal that he would if I wrote a short script for him for a graphic anthology, and I did. So.

    And, ulp, I totally would have said Jo was white, now a year + after reading the book. *slapswrist*

  3. or you could make your own art, Laini...

  4. Or, heck, both Jim and Laini . . . ?

    (I should be so lucky!)


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