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Directions in children's literature at Riverside radio WRVO in New York City presents the sixth in a second series of programs with Richard Lewis poet and teacher and leading authorities in the field of children's literature. At this time Mr. Deuce's guest is Lee Hopkins senior consultant at New York's Bank Street College of Education. The topic for discussion the role of the Negro in children's literature. This is Richard Lewis. And today my guest is Lee Bennett Hopkins. And we're going to be talking about the trail of the Negro in children's literature. Lee Bennett Hopkins is a senior consultant at Bank Street at Harlem and is the author of a number of very very interesting articles particularly articles pertaining to the problem of literature in the urban child. He is presently compiling an anthology of poetry by Langston Hughes for young people which is to be published by can off as well as writing a book on the language arts as they relate to the urban child.
And that is to be published by citation press. Lee I'd like to begin in our discussion of the whole problem of the trail of the Negro children some which are by asking you what has been the situation in the past concerning this problem of betraying the negro. Truthfully honestly and with dignity I will take an arbitrary number of years and say 20 years ago what was the situation as far as children's books was concerned. For 20 years Richard we would get back to the 1940s 1948 and very very little had been written about the negro child as a negro child in America. I brought with me a very interesting text book which was used by many many major cities in America published in 1945. The title which is how people live. And this book goes into all kinds
of geographical situations in Europe Africa Asia and in the Americas. And the only mention of Negro in this book is relatively poor. And this is what teachers had to work with in the 1940s and use this through the 1950s. One page asks why few white people visited Africa. And I'd like to read just some section here. Some of the negro tribes who lived in Africa were savage and travel among them was not safe. Now that's a very typical sentence. In another section of this chapter we have what's called another visit to Africa. And we have a typical picture of a negro with a lawyer in cloth on and in one case with a bone through is no less. And the authors right now both the negro boy lives in Belgian Congo. Most of the people who live in that part of Africa are Negroes like now. Now we are going to a part of Africa
where white people live their homes there's someone like Nam balls and their lives is so different from his that you would hardly think that they lived in the same continent. Now this was the kind of material that was around in textbooks and you can imagine a negro child living in the 1940s the early 1950s experiencing going to school in an urban situation and having to meet with this kind of literature is absolutely absolutely no mention in the book of the Negro in terms of Africa as far as his history is concerned is there no there's no no history whatsoever. There's another book which I'd like to cite which was published in 1958 and used through 1964 again in major cities in America. There's discussions of major cities such as Philadelphia New York Miami and a chapter called American people and lands. And again in this book which was widely used again the only mention of Negro is in regard to
slavery. And that was during the Civil War era. And they do include things like the first people in the Americas the coming of other people to the Americas that cetera. And as I said the only mention is slavery there's no mention of the negro in a white collar job the negro. And why he came to America etc. So this is the kind of thing that had been perpetuated in the 40s and 50s and it was amazing of course is that that second book you just mentioned that that was still in existence when 1960. Well this was used right through 964 and some of the major cities. It's incredible when you think of it. When the Civil Rights Movement began when about nineteen sixty two sixty one around at least march in 1963 I think that was probably the reason why some some of these texts went off the list and wrote and used in the school. What about the situation of children's books in general I mean aside from say the textbooks that you've just cited were there any books at all
individual books that dealt with the negro either as a main character or as a character in a book. Yes very very few but there were several attempts made and some of them have really remained a classic in children's literature as early as 945 we had something like Jesse Jackson's book. Call me Charlie an excellent book about Negro white relationships. This one having to do really with school integration which many books followed along this theme. And there had been others. Marie Hall that's attempted to do a book called My dog Rinty which was a very successful book done with photographs. Probably the first one the portrait of a child living in Harlem as a child in Harlem would live. And there were early attempts in the 40s and 50s but certainly not as much as what's going on today today we really are seeing a boom in the serial. Now what do you mean by boom boom boom in what respect I mean what's happening that that perhaps is is is very different from what happened 20
years ago. Well. I think the decade of the 60s since we have seen such great movements in the civil rights movements we in the United States have witnessed demonstrations of all kinds from the very nonviolence type thing the peace march in Washington in 1963 through to the very violent riots of the summer of 1967. And I think publishers are aware now that there is a tremendous need for all kinds of books books which betrayed the Negro is the Negro is books which provide the Church of the negro child was a good self-concept of self and also books which will acquaint our whites children our white readers with a knowledge of the negro as a person and as an individual. And we've seen great strides in the past in the 60s and books I think as were Jack Keats book The Snowy Day which won the Caldicott award in 1963 was the beginning of a whole new wave of books for young children up until that time there were relatively very few
books which portrayed Negro children. And the snowy day naturally he followed up with his whistle for Willie and Peter's chair and his new one coming out a letter to me. We've seen other authors and author illustrators. Use this casual approach in books for very young children. Yes and this is I think becoming a widespread movement among publishers. You mention the fact that has very little or no discussion in children's books particularly in social studies books about those negroes who had become as you put it white collar workers or who were successful in one field or another. In fact it was perhaps unknown even to the white community. What negroes had succeeded in one way or another. And is there any attempt being made now to somehow bring to the attention of the young Jew not audience some of the outstanding people in Negro
history and so on. Yes there is a great attempt to do this in two ways. One many individual biographies of Negroes have been written. Franklin Watts has a series called The picture story series The picture story of Martin Luther King for example is out the picture story of Dr. bunch is out. And then again other publishers have done many individual biographies about living contemporary people and many people in the past such as Matthew Henson the Explorer or some of your famous scientists people in the arts and sciences. These are the kind of things that have been done. And then there's an attempt to do a lot of anthologies of famous negroes and this had been done as early as the late 40s and 50s also Charlemagne Rawlins books have added greatly to this kind of thing. And we have a new book called The First Book of the American Negro by Margaret Young also published by Franklin Watts
which goes into all fields of people in all kinds of situations in the field of employment in the field of education in the field of civil rights movements in the field of arts and the humanities. So there is an attempt to put out a great deal of books biographical studies of famous negroes both contemporary and past. What about some of the heroes of. Say the black nationalist movement in second person like Malcolm X who obviously is thought of by any number of people in the in the Negro community as somebody who's terribly important. Now is any any attempt ever made in a children's book to mention such a person as Malcolm X. Not that I know well I haven't seen any mention of someone like Malcolm X in any of our new books for children in the high school years there is a great deal of material which high school students can read and enjoy. For
example the autobiography of Malcolm X is used in many high schools by not by teachers but by children who are interested in reading such a biography. Yes but. Some of your people include people like Martin Luther King Ralph Bunch these are the people who are written about. Not your borderline borderline are people who are inciting to type things that are not mentioned their use in terms of that type of thing. As far as where there are emotions on both sides of the fence. What about the patrol say of the of the whole integration school integration thing particularly in the South do we ever find in children's literature of betrayals of what it was really like to be a child particularly negro child say during the integration periods in the South little. Yes this seems to be a very popular trend in books for children there's a number of books which identify the problems of prejudice and prejudice and integration particularly emphasizing
school acceptance among the negro child. And there have been a host of titles written about this. One of the earliest is bright April by Mark reading actually all of these books that I mention are in regard to this and this topic the topic of integrating into a school situation. New boy in school which was written in early 60s the empty school house again call me Charlie. A classmate's by request and one of the I feel one of the classic books in this area is Mary Jane by Dorothy Starling of beautifully sensitively written book about Mary Jane a negro who was in an all white community and who really doesn't understand why these problems exist why people are not accepting her as an individual only as a Negro. How forceful is the writing though. Well I think it's quite forceful and as I said it's sensitively written and it's a book which really gives us a good look at the kind of conversation that would go
on in a community. I have the book with me should I please I reassign absolutely this paragraph that already just clearly describes the feeling of Mary Jane who was among the first Negro to enroll in a segregated school. And through the character Mary Jane the child the child was reading the book and feel the surprise and tension here as she walks between two policemen and. Past a group of strangers in the street and I'm quoting now from the book on the school sidewalk two policemen joined them. The policeman went first clearing a path through the crowd leading the way. It was if they were marching in a parade. Heads up Eyes front. One two three four. Only instead of drums to keep time there were screams. A man angry. Go back to Africa. Mary Jane turned her head trying to see who it was. What did he mean. A woman high pitched. Could it have been a woman pull out
her black curls. A group of boys chanting for all the world as if they were at a football game. Two four six eight we ain't going to integrate and I think that language is powerful and does an awful lot to tell us about how this child exactly. Exactly. What about say the more recent riots. Is anything being done to either talk about this or explain it. I mean obviously this is you know an area which has has reached national and national interest and I don't think it's probably any child who is not aware of these things. But I was wondering what in terms of children's literature is being given to children as far as something that deals with this aspect of the history of this country. Well again this is a relatively new phenomenon in American history. The riots and as you know publishers are always so far ahead of their schedule. Yes there's very little now the design out in children's books about this kind of thing. But again and I hate to keep
referring to one book but the first book of the American Negroes does have a short chapter on the organizations and the nonviolent organizations and who are. Doing something in terms of civil rights yes they mention things like the S C L C which were an incident with Mrs Rosa Parks where she boarded the bus in Montgomery and how Mrs. Parks was arrested because of this daring to defy the law. They talk about the snick the SNCC and the things that have been going on there the student on violating Coordinating Committee how it was formed and what it has done and what kind of movements it's taking. So there is I think I think this shows a trend that may be perpetuated against the children yes. Now this is this gets into this whole area which you and I have discussed a little bit before the program but I'd like to sort of move into it just just briefly although it's a topic which obviously
needs a great deal of discussion and with. Children I work with. We have a variety of children from very different backgrounds and the Negro children who live in up in East Harlem will come into the class occasionally and say something that will obviously give us a clue that they're seeing things that are very difficult to either understand to comprehend they're seeing life so to speak in perhaps it's tragedy and in its in its more painful aspect. What I'm curious to know is are there any attempts to bring in things that a child from a slum area would see. Automatically see when he walks out of his door walks out of school. Such things as drug addiction or
such things as grown goodness of one type or another will he be able to in any way find anything that crude recreates in children's literature. Part of the environment that he must live through as a child. Well no there isn't really anything specific specific as that but then again there isn't even any material. If you want to go to our white child there are not books for white children about drunkenness and dope addiction. You know I don't think we can stereotype the negro as having all these problems because this is a problem in America. And then again I don't know if a child in second or third grade although he may know what's going on around him I don't know if he'd want to be presented with this in a children's book it's not the most. Sad thing to read about here. I feel that the children do know about all these things naturally they're living in this environment and they do know about it and a lot of children come to class and they write about it so the shop teacher takes some of this
material that the children write about and they share it with other children and they do discuss it. Things are very open and I think a marvelous reference would be her Cole's new book Thirty six children we're kind of material that he's developed. And I was in a classroom just over Christmas time where a child wrote a four line poem which I think is beautiful which tells about his environment which will be in the book that I'm doing the citation the child rights Twas the Night Before Christmas and all through the house everyone was stirring even the mouse the stockings were hung by the incinerator in hopes that the heat would come sooner or later. Now this is a beautiful poem you already on the night before Christmas and although this you would not want to make a children's book out of this it's something that the child wrote in The teacher can share this and talk about it. And writing like reading is a means of a wonderful means of expression. And children do get these things out.
Are there any any particular books that deal specifically with a child. In a setting which is for many Negro children it's a situation like Harlem. Do you have anything like that that. Yes there is a sense of the environ there are several titles that are that have come out in regard to this line Richard. One excellent example is a book called Evans corner which is about a little negro boy living in Harlem who wants to live in a crowded tenement house who wants a corner of his very own someplace that he can hang a picture that he did in school or just go and sit and be alone. Beautifully sensitive story. And this is the kind of thing that is being published. There's a book by Thomas by Kroll company just came out. Well it didn't just come out it's a few years back called Becky which is the story of a working class family the little child gets $2 for her birthday and sees a doll which costs more than that a toy store and her mother doesn't let her have it because she can't afford it. That's the CI has the $2 that's treated. She can't
afford any more. We have a book really one that's becoming classic in the field of children's literature Roosevelt Grady which cites the problems of a negro migrant child and the things that he experiences with family and friends and the constant moving around the country. There is the new book Zealot a book which doesn't have to do really with the negro it's just a GTR happens to be a Negro girl and she's growing up and the problems that she has in adolescence and it's a beautiful story and one which paints the picture of of the of a Negro but this could be you know any child yes and I think that's the trend that we're getting at in these books that I mentioned such as Becky. Also the only way you would know that the child is a negro is through the illustrations it's not made a point of and this is an experience that could happen with any child a child who gets money for his birthday and children always want more than what you get. Right right. Now what about the very rich fund
of Negro poetry. What's happening there. Well I find that the really the only place that negro poetry is being used as in really is the wonderful strides done in Harlem with negro poets. I don't know why this should be. When you get into the suburbs very few people have heard. In this day and age of Langston Hughes Gwendolyn Brooks of Paul Laurence Dunbar of Margaret Walker these people are known and I can't understand it I can't imagine anyone in this day and age not knowing about Lang at least knowing about Langston who was recently out did a session in Westside High School in Newark New Jersey. And I was talking with students in the seniors honor honors class a group of very interesting boys and girls. The population of this school was 85 percent Negro. And during the course of our talking we talked about poetry and I said to them raise your hands if you've heard of three of these poets. Carl Sandburg. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Robert
Frost every hand in the classroom went up and then I said only raise your hand if you've heard of these three poets. And I mention Langston Hughes Gwendolyn Brooks and Paul and Stan Barr. There were only three in this class of 25 who had heard of all three. The majority of these children being negro. And to think that someone like Langston Hughes who has been so famous and so important in American letters and Gwendolyn Brooks the first Negro to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 that these children got through high school through 12th grade not knowing about 60 people such as this. I think it's curious. Example and one which I think everyone should keep in mind that we should introduce some of these you know poets to all children. Yes while you're mentioning Gwendolyn Brooks. I know her book was it brought Brownsville boys and girls boys and girls right. Which to me is a beautiful book of poetry really remarkable and I'm not sure whether this is correct but. Would you say this is one of the first books that
deals poetically with a particular section of the community. Yes which in this case happens to be a Negro community. Yes this is one of the first and almost funny. Oh yeah I don't think there's another book of the sort in the field of children's No I don't think so. There are a lot of anthologies now of Negro poets and a lot of anthologies about the lives of Negro poets but quantum Brooks this is one of the unique books in the field of children's literature and it was written in 1950 so yes it's a remarkable really quite quite a really fascinating sort of. Sense of the environment and everything else wonderful. Lee You mentioned again before the program that you had done a survey with the paperback publishers which I thought was in some way very revealing of what still has to be done as far as patrolling the Negro in literature. Well for many reasons one the paperback is inexpensive and it can reach a lot of people. But I'm doing a composite just finished compiling a bibliography of books about
Negro life for children which appear in paperback editions. I contacted 37 major paperback companies throughout the United States and I got not only their lists but sample copies of each one of the books for review purposes to be included in this bibliography out of the 37 publishing houses I received thirty two such books. Now these are books which would be geared to children in grades K through six. And in regard to books portraying Negro children for very young children there's only one company that does publish this kind of material. Picture book form and that's colostomy book services. It's probably the first and at this point it's the only one that has done things like reprinted the snowy day and whistle for Willie has reprinted a book about a negro girl what Mary Jo shared. And I think this is very interesting to see that of all these companies out of 37 companies I only got thirty two titles.
Yes. Well I think perhaps it almost reveals something that despite the fact that there have been great advances since 19 60 or so that there's still an awfully long way to go before the whole portrayal of the Negro is put on the level that he's simply a human being and not something special in quotes. I don't know. In the few minutes we have left I wonder if you could just sort of sum up your feeling about the future of the patrol of the Negro in terms of children's future. Well I don't think there's any question as to the great need for material relating to the Negro in his place in society today. And as we talked Richard we we've not had books in this area are appearing rapidly on the American scene. They certainly have been long overdue in the field of children's literature. There's also this movement to portray urban life and its problems the working a middle class family the societal pressures the children endure and honest pictures of civil rights
struggles including housing schooling and total integration are also appearing in books for children and needless to say the need for this continuation of this movement is of utmost importance for we all know that books lead to international understanding and they do play a tremendous role in development of self-understanding both for the negro child and as we said for the white child who must know about these problems that the race needs and those that they experience in day to day life. Thank you Lee Hopkins. And I'm very sure that our listening audience will agree with you 100 percent that that the road towards the future of in making literate your children's literature more vital will certainly depend on how much we can bring in not only the Negro but certainly older different ethnic groups that for one reason or another have been
suppressed literally suppressed in terms of literature for children. Thank you again. You've been listening to a discussion on the role of the Negro in children's literature with Richard Lewis and Lee Hopkins a senior consultant at New York's Bank Street College of Education. Mr. This is the author of four volumes of poetry recent miracles a collection of poetry by children published by Simon and Schuster. And out of the earth I sing poetry of primitive peoples issued by W. W. Norton and company. This is being directions in children's literature at the sixth in a series of 12 programs with Richard Lewis and leading authorities in the field of children's literature at this time next week. Robert Cole teacher and author of the controversial book 36 children a study of His teaching experiences in Harlem will discuss teaching the unteachable for a free summary of this program. Write to Devon you have a art department B New
York New York 1 0 0 2 7 please enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope directions and children's literature is produced by Richard there is and Cyril Peters for Devaney Ravi on the FM station of the Riverside Church in New York City. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
Directions in children's literature
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Chicago: “Directions in children's literature; 6,” 1969-01-21, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 20, 2024,
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