This is Your Brain on Stereotypes is officially on store shelves this week (in real life and virtually). It’s all about the ways bias works inside our brains, sometimes without us consciously realizing.
We just returned from a lovely vacation on the Sunshine Coast. We were only an hour from home, but it felt as if we’d flown to Hawaii. (You know, the part of Hawaii where the water turns you blue and shivery.)
It was the first time we’d been away since August 2019, which explains why we were all so excited. We spent our time hiking, canoeing, and kayaking. And also eating s’mores, for the sake of balance. (Or ballast?)
I came back to face some major deadlines, but I feel a thousand times better for having left the house. Now to hang on to the vacation vibes for as long as possible!
I was talking to my mom a while ago about tennis (my favourite) and golf (hers). The games have one similarity: they involve getting intensely frustrated with a small, round, inanimate object.
“But I always try to remember that I’m paying for the privilege of chasing a little white ball around a field,” Mom told me.
She’s quite clever, my mom.
Since I choose to play tennis, there’s no sense throwing my racquet at the net. (I only do that in my imagination, even at the worst of times.) Likewise, I choose to write, so there’s no sense tearing up my notebook or tearing out my hair.
I wouldn’t say this has been the easiest writing season ever. It seems like approximately a hundred years since I was last alone in the house. The world outside is on fire. It’s hard to write a scene about a group of middle-grade students cheating on a math test, and believe the scene has any purpose or worth.
I’ve taken to carrying my notebook, my coffee, and a blanket to the far corner of the back deck and closing the door behind me. If I’m lucky, no one finds me for twenty minutes or so. Then I mutter the words “choice” and “privilege” and try to fill a page or two.
Join me for a free writing workshop on July 14th, hosted by Camp Penguin! You can register here.
You can also visit one of Camp Penguin’s participating bookstores, pick up the titles from the reading list, and ask how to get your hands on a bookworm tote bag (while supplies last) and craft activity. In Vancouver, participating stores include Vancouver Kidsbooks, Black Bond, and Book Warehouse. For the entire list, click here.
You might think I’m all about serious issues these days, since I’ve been posting about Black Lives Matter and stereotypes and pandemics.
Well, rest assured, my life is just as ridiculous as ever.
About five days ago, we got a puppy. His name is Coby (short for Cobra Kyi, for those of you who are martial arts nerds like my family members). He is small, cute, and very demanding.
My house is now carpeted in pee pads and dog toys. My days are spent wrestling over sock ownership. And my nights are spent shlepping the little guy outside every few hours, whenever he starts to whine.
A couple nights ago, I carried him downstairs at 3 a.m. I pointed him toward a safe place to pee. Then I sat down — in my nightgown — on the threshold of my house.
On top of a bee.
That’s right. I sat on a bee at 3 a.m.
And it hurt! I haven’t been stung in years, and I forgot how much it… well… stings!
“What was a bee doing on your doorstep?” my friend said, when I told her the story.
Presumably, he was sleeping. Which is something I hope Coby and I manage to do, too, sometime soon.
As protests continue over systemic racism and the death of George Floyd, there has been a flurry of social media posts listing children’s books by diverse authors.
It can be easy to give these posts an eye-roll. What good can book lists do in the face of centuries of oppression?
Often, when we talk about children’s books with diverse characters, we talk about how important it is for all readers to see themselves and their lives reflected in the stories they read. I know I was always thrilled to find books with Asian protagonists, so I could share them with my Burmese-Canadian kids. I didn’t want Silence and Violence growing up feeling like books were only about white kids.
But books can do much, much more than reflect one’s own experiences. And books with diverse characters are not only for readers of colour. They’re for all of us.
First, because they keep us from repeating the mistakes of history. For a few years now, my daughter has been suggesting that schools replace their current eighth-grade English curriculum with The Hate You Give, Moxie, and Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda. (This would definitely be an improvement on The Red Pony, which is what I remember reading in high school.)
The police officers who are reacting so violently to protesters… would their reactions be different if they had spent eighth grade on a deep reading of The Hate You Give? One can certainly hope so.
The diverse books on our reading lists don’t all have to focus on big issues, either. They don’t have to be political. We should give our kids books about Black characters playing instruments, about Indigenous characters solving mysteries, about people of color falling in love for the first time.
Let me put on my science hat here.
Way back in 1954, a guy named Gordon Allport published The Nature of Prejudice. He made a suggestion: if people hang out together as equals, they discover they have things in common. They learn that everyone’s human. They grow less likely to stereotype.
Researchers have since taken Gordon’s guess and turned it into science. First, they gave it a fancy name: the contact hypothesis. Next, they designed experiments to see if it was true. They did more than 200 studies in twenty-five countries. They probed the biases and reactions of 90,000 people. What they found: 94 percent of the time, contact between groups reduced prejudice.
But maybe you live in a tiny town, with a homogeneous population. Maybe your school isn’t diverse. Well, good news. Researchers at Canada’s McGill University found that reading books about friends who have different ethnicities can also help reduce prejudice.
When my social media feeds are full of pandemic news, and my TV reflects a world on fire, and it seems impossible for any one person to make a difference, reading serves as my refuge, gives me windows to new ways of thinking, and allows me hope for the future.
I’m so happy to think of kids finding all of these things in their books. And if I were to give advice to a young person overwhelmed by the recent changes in the world, I would say, “Disappear into a book for a while. See what you discover there.”
Between us, we excluded all possible reads, and we were left with only running.
I feel a little like that failed book club, in my pandemic reading choices. I need something that will hold my attention amidst a thousand distractions, but not something too trivial because I feel as if I should be doing something useful with my time, and not something too sad because there are already a lot of sad things.
This week, I settled on comfort reading, and I’ve been churning through Emily of New Moon at bedtime.
But I’m also listening to the audiobook of My Lady Jane, which is somehow a collaboration between three authors, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. It’s an alternative history of England with the quirkiest narrative voice ever, and I’m enthralled.
Next up, and even at this moment waiting for me at the curb-side pick-up at Vancouver Kidsbooks, is The Glass Hotel by Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel. She describes it on her website as: “a ghost story that’s also about white collar crime and container shipping.” (What???)
Emily is the author of pandemic novel Station 11, another capitivating read, even (especially?) during COVID19. I have high hopes for The Glass Hotel… I’ll let you know!
What are you reading these days? And what are your rules for book choices? I’d love to hear…
We’ve launched a newsletter, and our second edition is coming out within the next few days. You can sign up here.
AND, we have an online writing workshop coming up! Kallie George will be hosting on Sunday, May 3rd, as we delve into the writing and editing of picture books. There’s still time to register, and lots more information at Ink Well Vancouver.
My friend Stacey sent me an email the other day. I know this is late, she wrote, but time is a social construct.
So true, especially these days! I always tease my husband for planning his life in eight-minute increments. Suddenly, he’s home for hours at a time. (At this moment, he’s practicing with his speedbag in the garage. Let’s blame any typos on the fact the house is shaking, shall we?)
My kids actually seem happier without the daily routine of school. Yesterday, my daughter wrote an essay, finished a project, made lemon tarts, sewed some masks, and trounced us in Settlers of Catan. My son has been doing 3D modelling tutorials. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know he turned my Me and Banksy cover into this squirrel…
… which James McCann then 3D printed for us, creating this…
I love the layers of creativity happening!
I always think I’m going to be more productive when I have acres of undistributed time, but often — as is now proving the case — I get more accomplished when my writing hours are limited. I’ve been working on a picture book, I’m almost finished a proposal, and I have a manuscript due in a couple months.
I’m assuming everything will get done, somehow. Because work, like time, is a social concept. Right? It’s just all happening a bit differently these days!