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Writers Against Racism: Am I a NERD?

When I was a little girl, reading The Diary of Anne Frank,

saw myself as Anne.  

I did not see her color, nor did I see mine. What I saw was a little girl who was JUST like ME. 

Anne was a dreamer, and so was I. Anne was a reporter, and so was I. Anne never spoke of her "color." Nor did I. We were both, GIRLS, living our lives as they unfolded.

Fast forward to today…should we see ourselves as "cultural images," or should we see ourselves as people, living out similar experiences, as characters in books?

That said…

I received an e-mail today from the RHAPSODYINBOOKS’S WEBLOG, written by two bloggers who are  investigating cultural images in books through a recent blog post, I Don’t Know How To Rate This! Review of NERDS by Michael Buckley – Ages 8 – 12

"How are little girls of color supposed to love themselves, when every cultural image from the overt to the subtle tells them they are not the same as what is defined as attractive? How are they supposed to grow up to be self-actualizing, confident women who value themselves?"

I read the e-mail and wondered if this was something I overlooked because I wasn’t taught to analyze books in such way, or if this was an issue that was a subliminal, racism issue, that I wasn’t taught to appreciate.

Intellectually, I guess I need help with this one.
But first you should start by reading the post, I Don’t Know How To Rate This! Review of NERDS by Michael Buckley – Ages 8 – 12,  then leave a comment.


  1. George Edward Stanley says:

    Well, this isn’t fair! How can you not like Michael Buckley? He’s just a funny writer. It seems everything he touches is golden – and I applaud what he’s doing here. Sometimes the best messages can be understood better through humor. Stereotyping to a point can’t be helped, I think. We all belong to one stereotype or another. I still think the best approach is the one you’ve started here, Amy, which is to bring to everyone’s attention writers of color who are writing about young people of color and whose books should be on the reading lists of the nation’s public schools. Good grief! We’ve seen some incredible books – fantastic literature featuring characters of all colors living lives that young people of all colors can identify with. And, Amy, as far as Anne Frank is concerned, you became her. She spoke to you through the pages of her diary and you listened. Today, young people of all colors really can be what they want to be, I do believe, Amy, but the secret is something you’ve really known all along: DO NOT PAY ANY ATTENTION WHATSOEVER TO PEOPLE ALONG THE WAY WHO KEEP TELLING YOU THAT YOU CAN’T BE WHAT YOU WANT TO BE!

  2. Amy Bowllan says:

    You are so right! We can continue to bring attention and teach “through” these books. I will NEVER stop saying that. For example, I can relate to the characters in NIGHT FIRES AND in doing so, develop sympathy and understanding to lets say, the Grand Dragon – even though I don’t agree with his ways.

    Your input and support for this series is also teaching me a lesson about life and good friends.

  3. George Edward Stanley says:

    The feeling is mutual, Amy, and one more thing: After I commented, I later thought of something else – another way of looking at what happened to you after you read Anne Frank’s diary. She spoke directly to you through her writing and she could have been asking you (and other young girls) to fulfill her wish to become a journalist. She probably knew the chances of that ever happening to her were quite slim, given the family’s situation when the Netherlands was occupied by the Nazis, but that maybe she could fulfill her dreams through other young girls. She could continue to live through them. Obviously, she was correct in thinking that, because you did just what she wanted. That’s the wonderful thing about good literature. The characters quite often say things to the readers that the readers aren’t hearing from anyone else -and what they’re saying gives the readers a road map to their future. I do believe in this with all my heart.

  4. Amy Bowllan says:

    George, I think you are right, and what is amazing is that I had never made the connection. As a little girl, I thought Anne was my age. I didn’t know the book was written earlier. I am so glad you made that analogy — I now have something to think about that will bring me back to my youth to continue to unlock the clues that you already revealed. Thank you! :)

  5. rhapsodyinbooks says:

    I believe Anne Frank and NERDS are not comparable. Anne Frank is about a little girl who suffered discrimination because of a societal definition rather than who she was inside. NERDS actually valorizes that definition (Caucasion and in particular blonde = beauty).

    Little girls can identify with Anne because many little girls suffer from looking or being different. In NERDS, the author seems to say, that difference is unfair but yeah, I buy into it too.

    I think to say that “stereotyping to a point can’t be helped” is a cop-out. Yes it can! Self-examination and fore-thought would serve greatly to eliminate the inclusion of these subtle messages in books for children.

  6. Paula Chase says:

    Amy, as a kid, I read like you. I inhaled Sweet Valley High books even though the twin MC’s were ultra white, as was the entire world of Sweet Valley. I don’t think they had a brown person in the series (not the early part of it, anyway). But I read those books and loved them because I escaped into the soap operish world Francine Pascal created. At the time I didn’t question why none of the characters looked like me, I was too caught up in the drama.

    I believe that most voracious readers find their way into books by allowing themselves to get lost in them. They don’t over analyze, they just go with it. While reluctant readers must, absolutely MUST find a connection to the character in more tangible ways (race, culture, etc…)

    That being said, it’s no secret how I feel about the lack of diversity in books.

    I applaud Michael Buckley for making his cast multi-cultural. That’s a start. And step two is revolving the main character in the series, as he’s said he’ll do – so that readers of the series will see a variety of characters take center stage.

    As for the characterization of “beauty?” I never tire of the standard society has set. But as a fellow author, I can’t be too hard on Buckley. We see characters ,in our head, a certain way and sometimes it’s a stereotypical way. I’m neither apologizing or making excuses, that’s just how creating characters can be.

    I’d like to think that Mr. Buckley’s dedication to keeping his casts diverse will outweigh some of the stereotypical/mainstream descriptions. They’ll likely get lost in the shuffle with readers, who will only glom onto the drama.

    Having such books available and having them sell, can only be a notch in the belt for those of us trying to prove these books are commercially viable.

  7. Paula Chase says:

    As for the characterization of “beauty?” I never tire of the standard society has set.

    Oops. Meant to say, I’m tired of the standard society has set. Gah!

  8. Amy Bowllan says:

    Rhapsodyinbooks- I agree with you that stereotyping can be and should be helped/solved. It takes CONSTANT discussing, though. I just wonder if young people understand the message being delivered in NERDS.

    Paula, as a kid, I never knew what standards of beauty were, and rarely saw “myself” (if ever) in literature. So I am not entirely convinced that there’s not a market. I do believe teachers should be expected to incorporate new reading lists that include as many new genres as possible. This would “force” the issue and enlighten our students now, instead when they are adults like me. :)

  9. George Edward Stanley says:

    Well, like it or not, we all belong to somebody’s stereotype – and if an author creates a character who is totally unlike anyone alive today, then who’s going to identify with that character? What we’re trying to do, I think, is get these great books by the W.A.R. authors to young people. They’re full of characters young people of all colors can identify with. And they’re going to identify with these characters because of stereotyping. Most people can probably make a list of characteristics they want their friends to have – and this is stereotying. It’s not a bad thing, because the characteristics listed by each individual will shift from individual to individual. Stereotyping only become negative when the characteristics don’t shift, when they become immutable, and when people think an entire group possesses all the same characteristics.