With some hesitancy, on March 26, I started a reading experiment here at Allison’s Book Bag. As part of my Intercultural Communication course, I’ve been studying how people from various countries and cultures view the world around them and interact with one another. For my final project, I needed to read theories, conduct research, and draw conclusions about intercultural communication. After rejecting many possible topics, my husband suggested I analyze books. Because of their being among the most widely accessible and recognized books in my state to both teachers and students, I decided to focus on Golden Sower nominees. Over the past month, I posted my analyses of nineteen multicultural nominees.
I felt hesitant about my reading experiment for two reasons. Trying something new and outside of my comfort zone always makes me feel nervous. For example, the first time I tried Chinese food, I ate only the chicken and cookies. These were the most familiar to me. Actually, the second time, I agreed to try rice only if covered with a sweet sauce. Nowadays, my husband and I enjoy most ethnic foods except spicy ones. As for children’s literature, I grew up reading mostly ones about my European American culture. To my delight, I soon found myself being absorbed in my multicultural reading list. There are authors such as the prolific Joseph Bruchac, whom I enjoyed so much that I want to read more of their novels.
The books for my study fell into three reading levels: primary, intermediate, and young adult. Of the eight primary books, five dealt with racism. Four of those were biographical and dealt indirectly racism or sexism by profiling individuals who had faced discrimination in pursuit of their goals. The fifth issue book tackled racism directly through an overtly moralistic tale. Of the remaining two books, one was a folktale and one talked about daily life. The folklore lacked any clear connection to its Cuban roots. Books about daily life were conspicuously absent except for in I Love Saturdays y domingos by Alma Flor Ada. It is a great example of intercultural communication, comparing the visits of a girl to her American grandparents on Saturdays and her Mexican grandparents on Sundays. As for the authors, African American authors wrote the four books dealing with prejudice, an Asian American wrote about sexism in China at the turn of the century, a Cuban American author wrote the folklore tale, and a Mexican American wrote the story about daily life.
Of the six intermediate books, five of them dealt with racism. Except for the two stories by African Americans, all of them also included references to beliefs, customs, and language. One of the Asian American books even included scenes of characters talking about what it means to be American but also of another culture. While not actually writing biographies, two authors had drawn upon historical events for their novels. The lone exception, Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac, is the only genre story (suspense) in any grade level. As for authors, a range of multicultural ones were represented: African Americans wrote two, Asian Americans wrote two, a Mexican American wrote one, and a Native American wrote one.
With the exception of one book that turned out to be more regional-based than cultural, each of the young adult books dealt with racism. One of the Asian American books even included scenes of characters asking what one’s culture has to do with one’s abilities. Like with the intermediate grade level, while not writing biographies, three of the authors of young adult novels had also drawn upon historical events. As for the authors, a range of multicultural authors were represented: an Asian American author had written one, Mexican American authors had written two, and a Native American had written another. Surprisingly, although I know examples exist, African American authors lacked representation in the Golden Sower nominees at the young adult level. Lord of the Deep by Hawaiian author Graham Salisbury referred to negative attitudes of outsiders towards locals rather than between ethnicities.
One of the criteria for receiving a Golden Sower nomination is that a book must be reflective of a culturally diverse society. My ten-year sample indicates that the committee does pretty well, although there are groups that still need stronger representation. For example, Extra Credit by Andrew Clements is a current nominee written about Arabic culture. (It did not make my research booklist, because I restricted my selections to those by multicultural authors. Arabic authors have yet to earn a nomination.) Beyond that, the gaps I most observed were multicultural stories about daily life on the primary list and genre stories featuring individuals of other cultures for any age level.
A second reason for my hesitancy about my reading experiment is that I wasn’t sure how readers would take to the absence of regular reviews . For the past month, my posts have instead focused on themes within multicultural Golden Sower nominees. To my relief, the hits on my site remained above fifty on a daily basis. Comparing these hits to ones from recent months, where hits ranged between forty and fifty, this reading experiment seems worth trying again.
Time will tell if the topic or the approach is what had the most appeal. At any rate, I intend to undertake more research projects. For example, I work with kids who have special needs. How are authors depicting them and what expertise are they drawing upon? As another example, my husband and I hope to adopt. What novels are out there on that topic? While reading the Austin books by Madeleine L’Engle, I started wondering about the portrayal of families in contemporary young adult books . Am I wrong that most seem dysfunctional? Not to forget the multicultural project that I just finished, I’d like to branch out to books written by authors of other nationalities.
When I first posted about my experiment, I received encouragement from readers that you are interested in reading about culture. What about my above proposed topics? What additional themes would you like to see explored? Are there encouraging or disturbing trends that you see that might be worth exploration? You can help determine my next literary research project!
For convenient reference, all the posts related to my multicultural research project are listed below: