Saturday, October 31, 2015
On Letting Go
It's never easy discovering a serious fault with a book I originally appreciated greatly.
It's never easy, and yet...what do I have to lose, really? What am I giving up when I can admit something may not be as wonderful as I originally thought?
And so it is with A Fine Desert: Four Centuries, Four Families, and One Delicious Desert. I liked so much about it from the outset when I read and discussed it with colleagues last spring. I still like so much about it: The small details, the big arc, the way it looks at continuity and change from such a child-friendly perspective.
As for the much-debated way it handles the blackberry fool made in 1810 by an enslaved woman and child? I confess I glossed over much of it. The only image that gave me pause initially was the one in which the mother and child are closeted away eating the treat together. I remember asking, "How is a child reader going to make sense of that scene without any explanation?" This idea of an unmediated experience with that part of the book was particularly worrisome to me. But while I did think briefly of children of color, of Black children, and wondered if it would generate a sense of shame or confusion, I read the author's and illustrator's notes, and let my vague sense of discomfort go.
After all, there is so much wonderful in the book, in both the writing and the art. That contemporary family and community at the end brought it all home for me. Yes, this is the world we live in, and I love it. So I've enthusiastically featured A Fine Desert in several talks to Wisconsin librarians.
Fast forward to now. I've had ample opportunities to read various articulate opinions on the depiction of this enslaved woman and child. I've had ample opportunities to think. To consider. To learn.
And I've changed my mind.
I cannot ignore the voices of those who have helped me understand something I didn't consider before: No matter how thoughtful the intent was in depicting this mother and child, the end result is that it can be seen as perpetuating painful imagery of "happy" slaves.
Am I ashamed I didn't see this myself? Yes. Because it's the kind of thing I'd like to think I wouldn't miss.
But I'm not so ashamed that I'm going to dig in my heels.
I can let go of A Fine Desert.
Did I come to this decision easily? No. Am I sad about letting go of the book? Yes.
But it's a small sadness.
Yes, I still appreciate many other things about A Fine Dessert, but I can also accept that this is a fault it cannot overcome for me when it comes to recommending it to librarians and teachers.