Susan Tan's Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire

Me on the Inside: Art is dead.

Me on the Outside: [in a very small, quiet voice] Okay. She got a cookie, and then because she was very full and tired, she took a nap.

Can't wait for my niblings to be old enough to start longer books because this will be one of the first I'll shove into their hands.


Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan
Roaring Brook Press, 2017
Copy from public library
Read Harder challenge


One of the Read Harder challenges this year is to read "A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009" -- not typically something I'd read so I'm grateful for being nudged outside my usual lanes.

Tan's novel is charming, amusing, sobering, and fun. Our heroine, Cilla, wants very much to be a bestselling author and she's living her best life to do so. But life conspires to challenge her -- there's a new sibling on the way, and her classmates and teacher don't quite have the imaginative vision she has. She faces the kinds of challenges adults find bemusing, but are deadly serious for kids, and Tan articulates those feelings with an honest tenderness that made them real and not silly. There's no minimizing, either, of the reality Cilla faces as a biracial child, and that was really the breathtaking thing for me.

Every since becoming a mother, I've been aware of the ways in my kneejerk response is to try to hide, minimize, or disguise racism, especially when it comes to my kid. I'm not unique in that; I'd say it's close to a crisis the way white parents teach colorblindness to their kids, thus perpetuating the more dangerous and insidious aspects of racism.

More than once, Tan has Cilla note racism in her own life, and it was revealing to me that I was shocked each time. Then it drove home for me how privileged I am and how important it is to note and discuss this reality rather than ignore it. It has also made me appreciate that there's kid fic out there for children like Cilla with characters that experience what they experience, giving them a chance to be centered rather than an outlier.

Comments

  1. I love middle grade books, especially those geared to the older end of that bracket. They often deal with very real contemporary issues and are minus all the teenage angst.

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