Tuesday, November 03, 2015

A Slightly Different Take on A FINE DESSERT

There's been a lot of talk about A Fine Dessert, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. I won't rehash everything--you can check out posts at American Indians in Children's Literature and Reading While White to learn more.

A lot of people are upset about the book.

I am not.

Some background--in many ways, I see myself as the ideal purchaser of this book. I am African-American, with two picture-book age daughters. I grew up in South Carolina, about 120 miles from Charleston. I am descended from slaves from South Carolina (at least as far back as we can tell; history is not kind in that regard.) Most importantly, I love blackberries. (I even featured them in a YA novel, which is sadly out of print....)

So I was extremely excited when I first heard about this picture book. I was especially happy that the author and illustrator showcased a diverse set of people in the book. And then, very quickly, I learned of the book's troubling content. What reviewers were saying made sense, but I wanted to read the book for myself before passing judgement.

I finally purchased A Fine Dessert. I read it. And read it again. And again. And studied each illustration.

And you know--it works. For me. What especially makes it work is the Author and Illustrator's notes at the end. This book was made for discussion; more so, the creators seem to be urging for that discussion to take place. (I wonder--should the creator notes be considered part of the "book"? A discussion for another day.)

I see why many people view the book as insensitive. The illustrations of the slave girl certainly made me pause. But I also see the illustrations of the slave family as a gateway for meaningful conversations with my daughters--about slavery, artistic choice, and finding joy in the midst of great sorrow. That being said, I don't know if the book works for young readers without an adult there to facilitate discussion--which perhaps is a fatal flaw.

I understand why many people are upset about the book. And I don't want (or have the right) to invalidate another reader's feelings about the book.

But for me, A Fine Dessert works.