Children’s literature has always been messy and complex for me, partly because my identity has changed over time. My identity has become more understood as truth, as I can recognize it, is spoken, yet remaining messy and tangled like the mop of curls that lays upon my head. In the simplest sense, I am an urban mixed-race afro-indigenous woman. My knowledge thus far of my lineage is that my mom is Irish, Welsh and Scottish with blonde hair and blue eyes just like most of her family. My dad is Metis, Mi’kmaq, with ties to the Kalinago people of St.Kitts hailing from the strong black and native community of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. I was born and raised in the large urban centre of Toronto, Ontario in a predominately white neighborhood and did not identify as being Indigenous until I was about 18, growing up mixed black-white had been complication enough. Since then I have come to understand and explore my identity and engage in cultural teachings by being involved with both black and indigenous communities, although being in both worlds has come with its own unique challenges.
The vivid memories I have about children’s literature as a child comes from going with my mom to a store in Toronto called “ One of a Kind Book Shop”. The store was not a very large bookshop, just one floor. I remember that my mother bought Chicken Sunday there, which I must have read a million times. One of a Kind Book Shop was the first place I learned about the slave trade and the complexities of being black. I remember titles like “ Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt” and how excited I was to lend my books to my teacher during black history month, how I yearned for my classmates to know these stories, my history. Later in life, my adult self learned Canada was not as great as those books depicted, but there was still something about those books that created a connection between me and the country in which I live.
My undergraduate degree is in Women’s Studies and Art History, and while completing my final project for my women’s studies degree, I explored the ways that transracial identity operates in children literature. I wrote a paper looking at a handful of books and then drafted a poetry book from my mixed-race child perspective. It was the hardest project I ever did. The poems brought up a lot of feelings of what it means to be mixed-race in a mono-racially conceived world. Two of my favorite, although challenging topics, was being asked where I am from and the complexity of showcasing how hard that is to explain when you are a child and the first time I was called the n-word on my walk to school when I was about 8. Now I can look back at these experiences as ones of healing.
During my masters I have not specifically explored children’s and youth literature, I have focused mainly on academic librarianship and indigenous systems of knowledge in services, education, and the building of community and cultural protocols. In my teachings as an indigenous woman, youth are whom we must hold up, and I am hoping to explore how literature can care and support youth and what other resources are out there for our young people.
**Originally Written for the University of Washington LIS 564: Multicultural Resources for Youth**