Edi Campbell – The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth
title: The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth
editors: Cheryl Willis Hudson; Wade Hudson
date: Crown Books for Young Readers; September 2020
In a recent interview in their “Just Us &” series on YouTube, Cheryl Willis Hudson and Wade Hudson entered into conversation with George and Bernette Ford. The talk they had was pure gold as they offered up personal insights into the history of Black children’s literature. Bernette remembers what it was like in the 1970s, the early days when children’s literature included very few Black people. Cheryl Willis Hudson provided her memories of the time to further the discussion. The small group of Black people in the industry back then seemed to have been a tight knit group who, according to George Ford, collaborated to prepare themselves for opportunities as they presented themselves. Wade Hudson asked for more information about Tom Feelings and the Fords obliged with amazing personal memories. The conversation is a warm, intense treasure. This series establishes the Hudsons as masters at conversation, as a couple who can masterfully guide the talk.
So, why wouldn’t their next book not be called The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth?
From the publisher:
“This powerful collection of short stories, essays, poems, and art is a call-to-action that invites all families to be anti-racist and advocates for change.
Thirty diverse, award-winning authors and illustrators—including Renee Watson (Piecing Me Together), Grace Lin (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon), Meg Medina (Merci Suárez Changes Gears), and Adam Gidwitz (The Inquisitor’s Tale)—engage young people in frank discussions about racism, identity and self-esteem.”
Did your parents have ‘the talk’ with you, or you with your children? What was your ‘talk’ about? As the world is reminded that Black lives matter, they learn of how Black parents protect our children, of ‘the talk’ that is meant to prepare them for an inevitable stop by the police. But there are other talks caregivers have with young children, talks based in love and truth that protect and inform the next generation. Children may unwittingly initiate the conversation, as is the case in “Handle Your Business” by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James.
While doing his math at home, the son tells his father that his teacher is planning for the class to produce a play about monkeys jumping on a bed. One of the classmates tells the son that they’re doing a play with characters that look like him. His dad guides him through a conversation that affirms lessons already received.
“…That’s what I told him, Daddy.”
“You broke it down to him like that, son?” I was just egging him on at that point. I love it when he gets on a roll.
He nodded and said, “You know it, Daddy. You know it.” And just like that, he quickly turned his attention back to his math problem, jotting down equations, number lines, and the faces of his favorite anime characters.” (p.10-11)
And, I thought about talks I had with my sons.
Renée Watson delivers a direct message to all Black girls when she writes, “And if someone ever tries to silence you, speak for you and change your story, try to make you only one thing when you are so much more, remember you have your own voice” (p. 3).
Illustrator/author Grace Lin designs on sheets of lined notebook paper when she writes into the future to her 5-year-old daughter. She tells her, “Because if a boy is calling you a China doll or something like that, he is imagining that he can control you. He might not realize it, but he is imagining that you will do what he wants – that you will act and think the way he wants you to. He is imagining that you are a toy.” p. 19)
And, I thought about the talks I had with my daughter.
The stories are personal accounts of critical moments in the authors’ lives. When writers bare themselves in such a way, it’s not difficult to relate to them as people or to the integrity of their message that is laced with love.
Tracey Baptiste writes of a parent and child in a car. “Because the lights are flashing behind us, I need to tell you some things…” and between numbers 1 to 10 and April Harrison’s artwork, readers will need tissues. The book pulls you back together as you turn the page to see an elegant, young, Black ballerina drawn by Raul Colón. The way her arms spread to fill the page while her face gracefully tilts upward gives us some hope.
By the time I got to Minh Lê’s “The Road Ahead” I decided to pull out the journal I’ve been writing to my son. (It’s a surprise; I hope he doesn’t read this!) I had to write a “talk” to my son, the one who just turned 38 today, because my Black children still need to hear love and truth that may not protect them but that will wrap around them. Because what we all ultimately want is a better life for our children.
I’ve highlighted lines throughout the book by Meg Medina, Traci Sorrell, Valerie Wilson Wesley, Christopher Myers, Daniel Nayeri, Selina Alko and so many others. The grayness of the black and white illustrations reminds us life isn’t always bright and happy, but through love we endure. That’s the truth! I’ve no doubt that the final copy will be filled with color, but the lack of color felt so appropriate that I had to mention it.
“It burns my soul, singes the edges of my heart when I think of having to find a way to tell him that there will be places he will go, and people he will be confronted with, that when they see his bright brown eyes, his beaming smile and perfect Brown skin, they will see absolutely — nothing. That is the definition of heartbreaking. But that is also our reality in this land” (Derrick Barnes, p.11).
I hate that this book is timely and important because the messages also burn my soul. But it is necessary right now for homes, schools, and public libraries and I’m sure it still will be when it releases on 11 August (moved up from 29 September) Order your advanced copy now.
Filed under: Guest Posts
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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