Busy-Busy Little Chick: A Response to that Slate Article from a Million Years Ago

I know that, in internet-land, waiting almost three weeks to respond to an article is basically like bringing a horse and buggy to a drag race, but, I both loved this article and also (sort of) have a life, so, the timeline is what it is.

Rumaan Alam loves The Snowy Day for many of the same reasons I love it. More than an ode to an old fave, however, his article is specifically a call for writers and publishers not to forget about what makes The Snowy Day so great, and not to forget to continue to aspire to what Keats’s book achieved in 1962. From the article:

Wishing there were more children’s books like The Snowy Day is a bit like wishing there were more grownup books like Anna Karenina. There are only so many masterpieces out there. But when I look at the library we’ve built for our kids, I do wish for more books for children that followed Keats’ lead, books that use children who look like mine to capture the magic in the mundane, as the best books for children do. Because what I’ve learned—and what I hear often from other parents of children of color—is that all too often the books that do contain kids who look like mine are, alas, not that fun to read.

(emphasis mine)

Here, Alam really smartly brings together the greatness of The Snowy Day with the issues I found with The Book Itch: even very well-done books about nonwhite life and culture can end up feeling like literary broccoli—-good for you, but not that satisfying. And there are consequences, too, to offering an array of stories to white kids but mostly broccoli to nonwhite kids, as Alam states:

It’s imperative to inculcate self-esteem and say, in no uncertain terms, that black is, indeed, beautiful. But these are books that are more concerned with reality, a state in which children only sometimes dwell. Must every book featuring black faces force our children to confront the tortures of our past and the troubles of our present? These are important things that our black and brown children must learn—but they must also learn the pleasure of reading a story in the relaxed, quiet moments before bed, reading not to learn but to feel safe, feel loved, laugh, wonder. That’s a fundamental privilege of childhood and should not be reserved for only one set of children.

It’s not just that we need more The Snowy Day because The Snowy Day is great. We need more The Snowy Day because The Snowy Day is important.

The whole article is well worth reading—-I’m loving Slate‘s August “pop-up blog” of children’s book reviews in general—-and I have nothing to add or argue with.

But I do have a book!

Busy-Busy Little Chick, by Janice Harrington; illust. Brian Pinkney. Farrar, 2013. 9780374347468

Dr. V’s take: Busy-Busy Little Chick, by Janice Harrington, answers Alam’s call for books that celebrate blackness and black culture with imagination and warmth. In it, Harrington adapts a Central African folktale with the help of gorgeous impressionist illustrations by Brian Pinkney. The protagonists are a mother hen and her chicks, rather than people, but Harrington’s is a story whose beauty is, like Alam says of The Snowy Day, inextricable from its source material.

The story has a lilting, slant-rhyming cadence, featuring a handful of Lonkundo words, that’s fun to read and fun to listen to. Even the moral of Busy-Busy Little Chick feels like more than broccoli. Its central character—-the busy-busy little chick—-makes his own comfort and happiness through both work and play, yet his story isn’t about some gross bootstrap concept of success or upward mobility. Rather, it’s about how Little Chick finds joy and restfulness in not only the dream of a new, snug ilombe but the process of building it; once it’s built, he doesn’t waste time dwelling on the fact that he has it but instead gets down to chasing some “cricky-cracky crickets,” not particularly caring who comes with him or what anybody else is doing. Like Peter in The Snowy Day, Little Chick models the quiet pursuit of happiness in the small moments of life.

TL;DR: Busy-Busy Little Chick is the actual cutest book ever. And if such stories are what you seek, you could do a lot worse that Janice Harrington’s bibliography.

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