from The Guardian report
In the months since the book has been published, objections to its depiction of the slave characters have emerged. In August, one librarian pointed to its “misleading depiction of slavery”.
“It’s clear that the creators had noble goals, and a criticism of their work is just that – a criticism of the book (not them),” wrote Elisa Gall, an elementary school librarian from Illinois. “But despite the best of intentions, the result is a narrative in which readers see slavery as unpleasant, but not horrendous.”
The criticism has since swelled, prompting Jenkins to issue an apology on the Reading While White blog, a site run by white librarians with the intention of confronting racism in children’s literature. The site had said that “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”.
In a note in the book, Jenkins says that she included slaves “even though there is by no means space to explore the topic of slavery fully” because “I wanted to represent American life in 1810 without ignoring that part of our history”. But she wrote on the Reading While White blog this weekend that she had read the discussions about her book “with care and attention”, and that “I have come to understand that my book, while intended to be inclusive and truthful and hopeful, is racially insensitive”.
“I own that and am very sorry,” wrote the author. “For lack of a better way to make reparations, I donated the fee I earned for writing the book to We Need Diverse Books.”
This despite the following very reasonable commentary on her own book:
“In the first scene, the mother and girl are picking blackberries. I imagined this as a rare moment where they were engaged in a task together, out of doors, away from the house and supervision, where the mother is talking to her child. It is a tender moment, but the mother is not smiling,” she wrote. “The girl has a gentle smile. She is, in this moment, not unhappy. I believe oppressed people throughout history have found solace and even joy in small moments.”
Serving at the dinner table, meanwhile, the scene is “set up to show the deep injustice of the situation”, and the mother and child are “sombre and downcast”, while children have responded “most viscerally” to the image in which the mother and daughter hide in the cupboard to lick the bowl.
“They are horrified at how unfair it is. There is nothing whimsical about hiding in the cupboard. It conveys a complete lack of freedom,” she writes. “I have shown isolated moments of their day which may appear pleasurable, but I don’t think I have made slavery out to seem pleasurable or fun.”