Continuing the Conversation: Representation in Children's Literature

Dr. Lyn Jones, assistant professor of English at Ball State University, believes that children and young adults deserve to read about characters like them, and about lives like theirs. This belief was the impetus for Rethinking Children’s and Young Adult Literature, a free, digital, interactive literary magazine that she co-created with Dr. Jennifer Palilonis, George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of multimedia. The first two editions of the magazine featured multicultural literature in general. The third issue was focused specifically on literature that featured LGBTQ+ characters, and the latest issue’s theme is Black Lives Matter. This semester, Jones worked with a class of students to develop, design, and finalize the literary magazine.

The course offered her students (who come from a variety of majors including English, creative writing, and education) the opportunity to dive deep into the world of diverse literature and also gave them an opportunity to collaborate with second graders at Longfellow Elementary as they curated content. When asked why she chose to publish a literary magazine about Black Lives Matter, Jones responded that there is a dearth of representation, not only in children’s books, but in all of the arts. “Publishers are interested in books that will be profitable, and they don’t tend to shelve, buy, or sell books about Black characters,” Jones explained, “and we saw a need to help teachers rethink a more diverse curriculum that can affect a larger portion of the population.”

Jones’ students have different levels of experience when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement. One student attended a BLM sit-in at Lincoln Park in Chicago. Another student got interested in the movement after writing a series of poems comparing the lives of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin. Regardless of their level of knowledge or experience, this class has been a transformative experience for many of them. An education major explained, “This class redefined how I view my college experience. It opened my eyes to the deficit between minorities and typical white Americans, and it made me realize how surrounded by Whiteness I have been.”

The students heavily researched children’s books that not only feature characters of color, but also focused on finding stories written and illustrated by black authors and artists. The literary magazine includes stories and submissions from local artists and writers, and features a collaborative work from elementary students at Longfellow.

The newest issue of the magazine will be available for download in the iTunes store this month. Community members are invited to celebrate the publication at Longfellow Elementary School on Tuesday, December 20 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Light appetizers and cake will be served.

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