Getting published is a real be-yatch! Hear about my ups, downs and a few random rants in between.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Ol School, Nu School, No School Rules

Everything is either old school (rooted in the traditional) or new school (a contemporary take). But, now hear this! Often they can peacefully co-exist without one having to be better than the other.

I don't know if it's the old schoolers refusing to acknowledge that some change is good - indoor plumbing, anyone? Or if it's cocky new jacks always thinking progress equals better. Have you looked at kids' handwriting these days? Penmenship's gone to hell thanks in large part to all that time on the PC.

Progress is good. But nothing, I mean nothing, is wrong with keeping some things rooted in tradition.

So, P, you're saying, what the hell are you ranting about now?

Well, I recently read Sharon G. Flake's Begging For Change. Really good book about a young girl who is no stranger to hard times. It's a story about redemption and friendship.

Wait...aren't most stories?

Nevermind. It's a good book. It's also the type of book that many stories revolved around African American characters are modeled: urban family + struggle = cha-ching and/or Coretta Scott King or Caldecott Awards.

The other traditonal formula is sharecroppers (or slaves) + struggle = cha-ching and/or Coretta Scott King or Caldecott Awards.

Seeing a pattern here?

Ahh, thought you would.

Old school YA's with black characters are almost always inspirational stories, message-based.

Though Begging For Change has a more contemporary twist - it isn't heavily saturated with message like most old school African American YA's are - the use of the "formula" makes it an ol' school/nu school hybrid of sorts.

And you know what? I'm cool with that.

A little message and inspiration never heart anyone. But neither did a fun, escape from the serious.

Sometimes you've gotta feed your mind, other times your funny bone. Neither book is better than the other.

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry series. Gushed like a girl being asked out by her crush, this past spring, when talking to my daughter's teacher about the fact that she'd chosen it for the class to read. But when I was my daughter's age, those were the only type of stories that had black characters.

A girl can only read so many stories set in the 1930's.

When I looked up a few years ago, I realized that in addition to the proud, sharecropper family, there were also the hard-luck inner city stories growing in popularity. Great.

Come one, come all but...about seven decades and a more diverse portrayal of African Americans remained missing from YA lit.

As I read, Begging for Change, a thought - not so new - coursed through my head. Will my book, in it's bubble gum outlook on life, be embraced by the faceless, nameless pundits that speak for the black community?

Without a message, will it fall flat? Not among readers, but among educators, judges for lit awards - you know, people who help get your book placed in libraries and such.

I don't know. And I'm not losing sleep over it.

But, before March 2007, I would like for the old school and new school to bury the hatchet.

Let's agree to disagree on whether the original bell bottoms or today's flared leg jeans are sexier; if classic soul is more relevant than Hip Hop; if Denzel Washington has made greater strides than Sidney Poitier and if books with black characters absolutely must teach a lesson or uplift the race.


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