Redeeming the Redheaded Child of Black Culture

Image found on Google images

Image found on Google images

Redeeming the Redheaded Child of Black Culture

(creatively presenting theory, practice, & views through a fictional tale)

The estate lies behind iron gates and pointed pine trees. In the dining hall, the cadence of the tarp-covered drums collides with the harp.  Each instrument forces each other’s notes inside its staffs. The contact yields a composition of cacophony. It produces pidgin notes that later evolve into creoles, a living language raising the ire of the majority, yet validating the other.

If only the harp would invoke Clotho to spin a thread of life for the wayward drum-child to coexist, Lachesis to measure enough string to accommodate, and Atropos to angle away her shears.

If only the Fates could determine the destiny of Black English, the redheaded stepchild of Black culture hidden in the estate’s basement.

Instead, the bastard child of the English language is the centerpiece of the family’s conversation.

One side declares that Black English, aka BE, overturns the building blocks of “proper” language into a disarray of incomprehensible slang and butchered sentences.

Her speech must function as a silk slip and conceal her underlying background. She is pure gibberish that should be locked up. Her language isolates her in the classroom, drawing the focus on how she speaks instead of what she has to say.

Grandpère James Baldwin taps out ashes to a jazz tune that only he hears. He laments how his ma chérie cannot be free.  Her syllables expose truth. Her grandmère, Barbara Christian, cautions that literature has allowed BE to play in Hurston’s yard. She flits around her characters and collects colloquialisms like butterflies. BE is a narrative of survival and a lens for meaning-making. Her identity should not be dictated by a group of critics.

One of the guests, Shelly Ellis, author of the Gibbons Gold Digger series, suggests that Hurston’s sole literary purpose for BE is to authenticate the region in which her characters reside.  Hurston keeps her literary yard neat with all of the writing elements in their rightful places.

Diamond Drake, author of Love’s Fool, worries about how others may misunderstand BE.  When international fans read her novel, the stepchild causes them to miss some of its meaning.  She welcomes BE, only when the storyline and the characters demand it.

Keisha Rogers-Rucker, a poet and photographer, believes BE should come out when friends clink wine glasses around plates of shrimp kabobs–not when she enters the cubicles of the corporate world. The problem is not if BE can master the standards of English; the problem is if people want to understand who she is.

The other side makes a decision.  If writers can invite Black English into their worlds, then she can exist in certain social contexts. She is an intricate part of the culture. BE can serve as a text for language inquiry.  Literature has now redeemed her.

Both sides remain at a standstill as BE hopscotches out of the basement.  Grandpère retreats back to Giovanni’s Room while Grandmère chuckles out loud, “Oh, let the child BE.”

Teaching Implication:

Studying different dialects in the context of literature gives teachers the opportunity to teach inquiry and critical reading.  By examining the use of language in classic & contemporary literature and young adult literature, students can move beyond the surface of a text and learn its deeper shades of meaning. Students can also examine the representation of language in any culture.

Teaching Resources:

Baldwin, James. “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me What Is? “http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/29/specials/baldwin-english.html

Christian, Barbara. “The Race for Theory”  (a suggestion for a way to read literature critically through the social constructs of language, gender, race/culture, class, and power structures instead of traditional literary theory)

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/isoke001/black_feminism/race%20for%20theory.pdf

5 Components of a Language-

http://www.oup.com/us/companion.websites/9780195189766/student_resources/Supp_chap_mats/Chap10/Components_of_Language/

Fecho, Bob.  “Critical Inquiries into Language in an Urban Classroom”  http://www.devonfralston.com/eng304b/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/fecho.pdf

Webquest:  “Cultural Connections:  From Senegal  and West Africa to Your Classroom”  http://www.cultureconnections.org/resources/curriculum-artifact-boxes/02-language-policy-literacy/web-quests/language-policy-web-quest.html

Webquest: “Exploring Dialect”  http://zunal.com/webquest.php?w=109776

Wolfram, Walt.  “Social Identity”  PBS segment.  http://www.pbs.org/speak/speech/sociolinguistics/socialbehavior/

Authors Who Have Used Dialect in Their YAL or Literature for Teens

Sharon Flake

Nikki Grimes

Nini Simone

Kelli London

Mildred Taylor

Walter Dean Myers

Rita Williams-Garcia

Lori Aurelia Williams

Kelli London

Virginia Euwer Wolff

Angela Johnson

Christopher Paul Curtis

Earl Sewell

Coe Booth

Janet McDonald

Kalisha Buckhanon

Learn More about Shelly Ellis & Diamond Drake:

Shelly Ellis   http://shellyellisbooks.com/

Diamond Drake  http://www.diamonddrakebooks.com/

Let me hear from you!

How do you encourage language inquiry in your classroom? 

Writers, what role does language play in character development and your writing?

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Great Educational Sites for Adolescents & Adults

Black Girl Nerds Badge     Black Girl Nerds: A Site for Teens & Adults Who Embrace Their Quirkiness—-Let Black teens know that it is cooler to let their quirkiness show instead of hiding it behind the cliques of the in-crowd. It can also be a wonderful tool to bring popular culture into the classroom for study and inquiry. Click on the image and check out the site!

*Proud Blerd since I learned how to read and write 🙂

Suggested Websites for Educators Shared at ALA 2013 Conference

Some of the sites are also helpful for writers, especially for the purpose of helping them to generate ideas or come up with another perspective of their current piece as they revise it.  Some of the sites can also encourage students to be writers. If a student feels like his or her voice is heard, then the learning experience becomes more relevant.

http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards-guidelines/best-websites/2013

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When Variables Unbalance the Equations of Teenage Love & Life: My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson

Image courtesy of Google Images

Image courtesy of Google Images

If I could only rearrange and eliminate

the variables of hit-and-miss relationships

to achieve the perfect balance.

–By Alexandra Caselle

Image courtesy of Google Images

Image courtesy of Google Images

Like a moth to a flame

Burned by the fire

My love is blind

Can’t you see my desire?

That’s the way love goes

–“That’s the Way Love Goes” by Janet Jackson

Image Courtesy of Google Images

Image Courtesy of Google Images

First love is like a Goody’s powder:

All that ails you goes away,

giddiness bubbles up inside,

the calm before the storm.

Then the effects wear off.

–By Alexandra Caselle

 

rhombus 2     My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson. 2007, Woodbury, MN:  Flux. ISBN13:  978-0-7387-1160-7.

Teen angst involves Mother Nature’s cruel joke of puberty:

Gangly arms grazing against the ground.  Boys’ voices echoing in alternating crescendos of thunder booming and frogs croaking after a summer rain. Fitting rooms brimming over with World War III battles of the hems between mothers and daughters.

Then Mother Nature wanted to add hormones to the mix.

Falling in love for the first time derails and disrupts.

If adolescents only knew that the first relationship creates a lens in which they will view every future, intimate connection.  It will propel them like caterpillars into a cocoon where they will eventually break out and transform into a monarch butterfly—each tear, each experience, each emotional, mental, and spiritual scar imprinted on the mosaic of their wings.

The next significant other bound by the coordinates on the x(ex)-y axis.

With Rhonda, she chooses to rely on the “comfort in the exactness of math and the precision of science (pg. 33)” to prevent future heartbreaks.  The whirlwind of fun, fumbling sex and the flowing legato of game ends when Rhonda gets pregnant.  Christopher’s choir boy image risks the chance of being marred not only socially, but physically by his father’s pummeling fists.

Rhonda’s dad decides to take her to Atlanta to end her pregnancy.  Rhonda returns home to focus her energies on studying and tutoring in the local college’s program. It isn’t until one of the most popular girls waltzes in with trig problems and baby issues of her own that Rhonda realizes that she may not have been totally sure of her father’s decision.

So the overlapping of Sarah’s problems into Rhonda’s life blurs the lines of order. Having a crush on Sarah’s brother, David, does not help the situation.

David is the inverse of Christopher, but Rhonda continuously wants to label him as a jerk like her ex, Christopher. She can’t deny the way she feels.  She soon realizes that she must see herself through a different angle before she can explore all of the contours of real love that David can offer.

There is an element of surprise when the father of Sarah’s baby is revealed. This climactic event also places David in conflict with Christopher.

Johnson’s writing style really draws the reader in. Throughout my reading of the novel, I thought Varian Johnson was a female.  He depicts each character with such deft detail, especially the way he is able to place himself inside the thoughts and emotions of a teenage girl in a predicament like Rhonda’s.  The reader can actually feel the steely personality of Rhonda and Christopher’s mother, Judge Gamble.  Forget about Miranda on The Devil Wears Prada and the mother in Mommie Dearest.

Dare I say, that this writer who has always been plagued by math anxiety thoroughly enjoyed the blend of math and literature.  Some areas of his book helped me, the mathematically challenged, understand some concepts through his writing.

And those adolescents who love numbers like writers love words (those extraordinary individuals affectionately dubbed as “blerds” or “nerds” by today’s social media communities) will enjoy Johnson’s use of word problems, graphs, Venn diagrams, geometry, and other mathematic functions to describe the complexities of Rhonda’s, Sarah’s, and David’s lives as the plot advances.

Johnson also dispels the stereotype that boys excel in math and sciences. Here, he portrays a young, African American girl who loves these subjects and plans to study a major.  Adolescent girls need to read about Rhonda so they can be motivated to enter those fields.

Through the language of mathematics, Rhonda breaks down the language of recovery: healing from the past, manipulating the variables of relationships between parents and children, and discovering new postulates of friendship and romance through Sarah and David Gamble.  She draws new boundaries of intersecting life lines.

The rhombus also becomes a significant symbol because of the way Rhonda negatively boxes her identity into it, but she inverts its meaning into something more defining and beautiful.

This book would be a great read-aloud for English/ reading classes and all levels of math classes.  It provides many opportunities for interdisciplinary teaching. Math teachers could also use the problems in the book to simplify the concepts behind the actual mathematical functions.  English teachers can show how mathematics can be used to tell stories mathematically and figuratively. It also will fit nicely into a Southern literature unit, high school or college-level, since Johnson sets the story in South Carolina.  Teachers can discuss how the characters and the themes/topics challenge or confirm Southern mores and how they compare to today’s Southern culture.

Since My Life as a Rhombus deals with handling different types of math, people and situations, teachers can bring the kinesthetic into the classroom and make the reading of this novel more concrete by participating in “The Marshmallow Challenge:”http://www.productivemindset.com/problem-solving/team-building-with-the-marshmallow-challenge/.

I participated in this activity in a team-building training. It challenged my perspective on how our imagination and thinking processes change as we progress from kindergarteners to adults.

My Life as a Rhombus will also challenge readers’ perceptions of mathematics, romance, and tough decisions.

Text-to-Text Connections— Romance & Relationships in African American Young Adult Literature (YAL)

jason and kyra   Jason & Kyra by Dana Davidson

played   Played by Dana Davidson

a teenage love affair  Teenage Love Affair  by Ni-Ni Simone

boyfriend diaries  The Break-Up Diaries by Ni-Ni Simone and Kelli London

breakup diaries   The Break-Up Diaries Vol. 2  by Nikki Carter & Kevin Elliott

chasing romeo  Chasing Romeo  by A. J. Byrd

kelli london  Boyfriend Season by Kelli London

love on 145th street  What They Found on 145th Street  by Walter Dean Myers

romietteRomiette and Julio by Sharon Draper

born Born Blue by Han Nolan

woodsonIf You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Can you suggest any other YAL romances that can be paired with this book?

COMING UP IN BOOK REVIEWS (Yes, Virginia, there are African-American YAL paranormal books. They do exist!):  Ninth Ward  by Jewel Parker Rhodes, Asleep by Wendy Raven McNair, & Orleans by Sherri L. Smith


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A Thank You & An Apology to My Followers

Picture courtesy of Google Images

Picture courtesy of Google Images

 

 

Thank you to my followers for not unfollowing me during my MIA status for the last couple of months.  Life and circumstances had blocked the writing and drained the creative juices.  I apologize for the creative absence.

Unlike the boy that cried wolf, the writer cries that the blog posts are coming soon later on today.  🙂

First post up— a book review of an awesome YAL book that blends love and mathematics, My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson.

 

Stay tuned!

 

 

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Pubslush’s Women on Wednesday Feature

I am deeply humbled and honored to be asked to participate in Pubslush’s Women on Wednesday feature.  I am just a little old writer who likes to share her imagination with everyone.  I greatly appreciated it. 🙂

http://blog.pubslush.com/

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New Posts Available by 3/31

I am a little behind with my writing and blog posts. But I will have some new posts up by 3/31/13.   🙂

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These Boundaries, Boxes, and Traditions Can’t Hold Me Back: Labryrinth’s Door–Anyia “Dream of a Warrior” by Jacquitta A. McManus

box

Image taken from Google Images

“I Get Out”  by Lauryn Hill

I get out, I get out of all your boxes
I get out, you can’t hold me in these chains
I’ll get out
Father free me from this bondage
Knowin’ my condition
Is the reason I must change

To keep me in this box
Psychological locks
Repressin’ true expression
Cementin’ this repression
Promotin’ mass deception
So that no one can be healed
I don’t respect your system
I won’t protect your system
When you talk I don’t listen

And just get out
Oh, just get out of all this bondage
Just get out
Oh, you can’t hold me in these chains
Just get out
All these traditions killin’ freedom
Knowin’ my condition
Is the reason I must change

labyrinth's door McManus, Jacquitta A. and Illustrator Toujour Byrd. Labyrinth’s Door—Anyia “Dream of a Warrior.” Worlds to Discover, LLC: 2010. http://www.worldstodiscover.com/

In our digital, 21st century world, among the interactive worlds, Xbox games, and the plethora of apps, there is still a need for story, a mythical tale to take our imagination to a world of fantasy, a narrative that pulls back the layers of adventure and exposes the true gems of wisdom underneath.

In  Labyrinth’s Door—Anyia “Dream of a Warrior,” McManus does just that.  She sheds light on the traditions that hold women back in Anyia’s village. Anyia is a determined daughter of royalty.  The royal tradition is for women to remain behind the battle lines and bear no responsibility for defending the land.  Anyia feels confined in this box.  She knows there has been a woman warrior, Amoonda.  Many people laugh at her ramblings about a “mere woman” being such a mighty warrior. Anyia is very determined to have the last laugh and to prove everyone, including her father, wrong.

As Anyia plans her escape to find Amoonda, she encounters Thor warriors, who are under Empress Zarina’s rule and pose a threat to her people, and magical beings like Pepo bugs and Erow trees.  She begins her journey of becoming the heroine that her people need.

This book has several educational implications in middle school language arts or reading classes and in world literature courses.  It highlights the art of the story, specifically the fairytale, an art form many cultures use to teach morals and traditions.  It also provides a basis for rich classroom discussion on the portrayal of women in different cultures and their struggles with different traditions and expectations.

A great culminating assignment that could be done after reading this book, along with others suggested below, in a thematic unit on gender roles would be a multigenre research paper.

The multigenre research paper breaks boundaries and traditions on its own.  Traditionally, students have written ten page research papers with annotated bibliographies and index cards as a class assignment.  The multigenre research paper allows students to use different genres, such as poetry, short stories, articles, emails, art, etc. to convey the information they have learned from their research.

I have implemented this idea twice, once in a high school classroom and the other in a freshmen composition course at a community college.  I think the most profound multigenre research paper was done one of my high school students.  The class assignment was to take a social construct or an abstract term such as gender, race, love, hate, justice, freedom, etc., research how others have portrayed or defined the term, create their own definition of the term, and represent their definition through at least three different genres.

This particular student chose to define femininity.  It was a profound representation that broke the often portrayed images of women in society/popular culture.  Students could do the same with Labyrinth’s Door.

Students can even break womanhood into different strands:  marriage, career, etc.

For information on and examples of multigenre projects, please visit these sites:

http://www.users.muohio.edu/romanots/

http://writing.colostate.edu/gallery/multigenre/introduction.htm

IMG_Jacquitta2_md 

Five Questions for Jacquitta A. McManus

How did you come up with the idea for Labyrinth’s Door?

It was a daydream that led to the idea of Labyrinth’s Door; a dream that would allow me to
tell stories I myself would have loved to have read growing up. Stories
full of characters that would go on exciting adventures in fantasy lands,
where magic was real and anything could happen. There are four books planned in the series.

Why would Anyia’s character appeal to middle school girls?

Middle school girls are at an age where they are coming of age just like Anyia. They’re
not living in a village and having to follow the traditions of an old
culture, but they are trying to figure out the path they want to take in
life, and if that path differs from what is expect they too will have to
fight for what they know to be true for themselves.

In the book, Anyia expresses her thoughts about the village’s traditions
regarding a woman’s place. What messages do you think young girls receive
from today’s pop culture?

Today’s culture has a lot of emphasis on beauty,money and popularity, from how many Facebook

and  Twitter followers you have to how many YouTube views you get, which emphasizes superficial
assets. Anyia is faced with respecting the traditions of community, where
everyone works as one for the better good of all. It’s very much a
community mentality, which is the opposite of pop culture. Pop culture is
sending out a message that everyone should be about himself or herself
unless helping others is a benefit to the one giving the help, it’s very
much a self-mentality.

What other books have you written?

I’ve written Talee and the Fallen Object, which is a great fantasy adventure series for elementary
school-aged children. It will transport kids to another world through the
description given by the protagonist, Talee.

Talee_Cover_web Synopsis of Talee and the Fallen Object:

One early Saturday morning, Talee had nothing to do. I mean nothing at
all. So she ate a puffy muffin and decided to read one of her favorite
books, Captain Jewel and the Lost City Treasure. Just when she was about
to start chapter three, out of the corner of her eye she saw a mail flyer
drop something from a bag. It fell through the air and landed on one of
the smaller floating landmasses. A bag of treasure, she thought as she
looked out the window. But is it a bag of treasure?

What advice would you give to other authors interested in creating their
own digital illustrated series for children?

Pre-production, productions, post-production and marketing are the same as a printed series. Where
things differ is the distribution aspect. And in order to effectively
distribute you have to know where you want to distribute and through what
means so that you can prepare the correct files. And you should know that
before you start production.

How did you come up with the idea for Labyrinth’s Door?

It was a daydream that led to the idea of Labyrinth’s Door; a dream that would allow me to
tell stories I myself would have loved to have read growing up. Stories
full of characters that would go on exciting adventures in fantasy lands,
where magic was real and anything could happen.

Why would Anyia’s character appeal to middle school girls?

Middle school girls are at an age where they are coming of age just like Anyia. They’re
not living in a village and having to follow the traditions of an old
culture, but they are trying to figure out the path they want to take in
life, and if that path differs from what is expect they too will have to
fight for what they know to be true for themselves.

In the book, Anyia expresses her thoughts about the village’s traditions
regarding a woman’s place. What messages do you think young girls receive
from today’s pop culture?

Today’s culture has a lot of emphasis on beauty,money and popularity.

From how many Facebook and Twitter followers you have to how many

YouTube views you get, which emphasizes superficial
assets. Anyia is faced with respecting the traditions of community, where
everyone works as one for the better good of all. It’s very much a
community mentality, which is the opposite of pop culture. Pop culture is
sending out a message that everyone should be about himself or herself
unless helping others is a benefit to the one giving the help, it’s very
much a self-mentality.

What other books have you written?

I’ve written Talee and the Fallen Object, which is a great fantasy adventure series for elementary
school-aged children. It will transport kids to another world through the
description given by the protagonist, Talee.
Talee_Cover_webSynopsis of Talee and the Fallen Object:

One early Saturday morning, Talee had nothing to do. I mean nothing at
all. So she ate a puffy muffin and decided to read one of her favorite
books, Captain Jewel and the Lost City Treasure. Just when she was about
to start chapter three, out of the corner of her eye she saw a mail flyer
drop something from a bag. It fell through the air and landed on one of
the smaller floating landmasses. A bag of treasure, she thought as she
looked out the window. But is it a bag of treasure?

What advice would you give to other authors interested in creating their
own digital illustrated series for children?

Pre-production, productions, post-production and marketing are the same as a printed series. Where
things differ is the distribution aspect. And in order to effectively
distribute you have to know where you want to distribute and through what
means so that you can prepare the correct files. And you should know that
before you start production.

Author Bio:

“All my life, I’ve gravitated to fantasy stories. Stories I felt I could
be a part of and completely immerse myself in … in my imagination.”

Jacquitta A. McManus, a little girl from Kentucky and author of two
fantasy adventure children’s books, Labyrinth’s Door – Anyia “Dream of a
Warrior” and Talee and the Fallen Object, was always drawn to fantasy
stories. It was a way for her to immerse herself into exciting adventures
in faraway lands that she otherwise wouldn’t experience. As she got older
she would find that immersing herself into those fantasy stories, as a
little girl, was just the beginning of a journey that would lead her to
writing her own fantasy adventure children’s books.

Websites & Blogs:

WorldsToDiscover.com

Talee’s World (WorldsToDiscover.com/Talee)

Journey of a Storyteller (WorldsToDiscover.com/Journey)

Social Media Links

Facebook.com/WTDiscover / Facebook.com/LabyrinthsDoor

Twitter.com/WTDiscover / Facebook.com/LabyrinthsDoor

Text-to Text Connections
*****These books are great additions to a thematic unit revolving around this book.  This list addresses a plethora of issues connected to Labyrinth’s Door–Anyia “Dream of a Warrior.”  Some of them deal with traditions, boundaries, and expectations that different women face in different cultures.  Some of them reinvent the classic fairytale of Cinderella, a story that not only captivates young girls, but if examined more closely, it also perpetuates those traditions, boundaries, and expectations.  Some of the short stories and poems examine what it means to be a woman. One of them, Shizuko’s Daughter, deals with the impact of mother-daughter relationships on a girl’s development into a woman. Of course, no examination of womanhood would not be complete without bringing in Hester Prynne’s struggle in The Scarlet Letter.  McManus’ book, paired with these texts, opens the door to critically conscious discussions about social issues and expectations.  What a wonderful way to celebrate Women’s History month! Enjoy!

mufaro's beautiful daughters Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters:  An African Tale by John Steptoe

beauty Beauty:  A Retelling of the Story of Beauty & the Beast by Robin McKinley

green angelGreen Angel by Alice Hoffman

rough face girl The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin

shizuko's daughter Shizuko’s Daughter by Kyoko Mori

woman warrior The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

the foretelling The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman

adichieThe Thing Around Your Neck  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

a step from heaven A Step from Heaven by An Na

achebe Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

aint i a womanAin’t I Woman:  A Book of Women’s Poetry From Around the World  Edited by Illona Lithwaite

efuruEfuru by Flora Nwapa

cisnerosWoman Hollering Creek & Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros

bride priceThe Bride Price by Buchi Emecheta

scarlet letter The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

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