The Future of the Jelly Bean

Hello folks!

First of all, I’d like to thank you for still being here despite me being very quiet over the last year or two. There has been a lot of upheaval in my life, what with the accidental creation of not one, but TWO ridiculously active online communities (Critter Gifting and Wolfenoot). They have taken up a lot of my time and energy.

I have rather a soft spot for the Jellybean, though, and would like to get back to it. But I kind of want to give it a facelift. So I am giving that some thought.

My original plan of working through a list that (more or less) represented the “western canon” of kiddielit was based heavily in a data kind of way of thinking. It was about the individual stories to a degree, but it was also about analysing the canon as a whole, seeing patterns, that kind of thing. While I still think there is value in that, I’m not sure it’s the best approach for this particular thing.

I am now thinking perhaps the Jellybean would be better served by me working with our kids and reviewing books they read and enjoy. I could still do occasional nerdy essays on canon books, but I think other parents may be more interested in the recommendations of kids?

I would definitely like to punctuate that with longer form, more in-depth, academically leaning pieces on kids books – to be honest, the academic side of my brain would enjoy the exercise, and I do actually have that expertise, so that might be fun, and possibly of interest to other people?

With all that in mind, what direction would YOU like the Jellybean to take? Is there anything in particular you would like to see?

Let me know!

Apologies

My dear patient readers.

I know, I know, the Jelly Bean has been sorely neglected in recent weeks. I have a pile of books waiting for reviews, but alas my attention has been very much focused elsewhere as we (over at The Patchwork Raven) launch our first book.

If you’re in withdrawal from my general awesomeness, perhaps consider popping on over to our Pledgeme page and buying our book. It’s not a children’s book. But it is pretty nifty.

I’ll be back to regular posts soon, I promise – I may even manage one today. Just please bear with me as book marketing eats my brain for one more week.

Of Postcards and Patreon

Hey did you know that the Bookish Jellybean has a Patreon that you can subscribe to in order to support what I’m doing here? You can drop as little as $1 a week into a tip jar that accumulates and lets me go in search of all the books on my list that I do not have access to via the library.

Also, if you’re one of the early adopters, you can get a hand-drawn postcard sent to you anywhere in the world as a thank you. I’m only offering five of these, and two have already been taken, so if you’d like one, pop over now and hit the “Become a Patron” button.

Here are pictures (shared with the permission of the recipients) of the ones I’ve sent off so far:

 

If you’ve never used Patreon, essentially what it is is a way of becoming a patron of what I am doing. The first post I do each week I put in as a paid post, even though everything on the Jellybean is freely available to everyone. That means you’ll never get charged for more than one a week. You can set your own level of patronage, and even put a cap on it, I believe.

It’s an awesome way to support the time that goes into this, and to help me widen the range of books I can review.

The Jellybean is a labour of love, and I don’t really ever expect it to become an income or anything like that, but support is still always appreciated. 🙂

There’s also a list of all the books I haven’t been able to find. If you’d like to support me by sending me a book, that’s another amazing way to help.

A New Feature – Christopher’s choice

I’m introducing a new feature here at the Jellybean. Every week we go to the library and I pick up a pile of books for this blog. But C also picks four or five books out of the general collection that he wants to read. He’s fairly non-discriminatory. There are a lot of pirates and dinosaurs involved, but sometimes it seems like he just reaches out and pulls any five books of the shelf.

In any case, over the course of the week, as we read the books for this, we also work our way through the ones he has chosen.  I have discovered some really wonderful books as a result of my son’s scattershot approach. So I have decided to introduce a weekly(ish) feature where I review one book from that pile – the one he decides is his favourite for that week. I’ll hold it up to the same standards as all the others, but of course it will be guaranteed at least one point, by virtue of being the one C has chosen. First one incoming shortly. 🙂

A note

Just a note to let you know that I have hit the point now where some of the books are getting quite long and may take more than a day to read with C. I am going to do my best to keep up, and fill in the gaps with “More in the series” and maybe even the occasional request, but if things slow down that is probably why.

Thanks for reading!

A pause for announcements and a moment of reflection

Well, last week I got to the end of the first section (0-3) of the 1001 Books list I am using as the basis for this blog, and so I took the weekend off. Not only because I needed the break, but I thought it was a good time for some reflection on the process and perhaps a bit of tweaking.

The first thing that surprised me was how many books I couldn’t get through the library. I own a pretty good percentage of the books on the list, and the library has a lot more, as you would expect, but there are still a lot I couldn’t easily get. My plan is to procure them gradually via the money that comes in from my Patreon page, but in the meantime it means I am getting through the list at a much rapider rate than I initially expected.

As a result, as of this week I am only going to post on weekdays. So instead of seven posts a week (plus whatever extras I get around to), I’ll only be posting five. I still intend to supplement these with the “More in the Series” posts, and, eventually, with some requests, but it’s probably a good idea to mitigate my habit of over-committing and burning out sooner rather than later. 😉

For now I’m going to keep the scoring much the way it is. I’m not entirely happy with it, but I haven’t been able to work out a way to make it better yet, so I shall leave it as is for now. I’m open to suggestions though.

Now, on to a couple of things you may (or may not) have noticed:

Patreon

The Bookish Jelly Bean has a Patreon page. It is totally secondary to the point of this blog, but supporting me there means I can do things like buy the books I can’t get through the library, pay for the bookishjellybean.com domain, and generally spend a little more time doing this than I can currently afford to. (I’m a freelancer, so every hour I spend doing something I’m not being paid for pretty much literally comes out of my paycheque.) You can start at $1 a post (and I will only ever charge for two posts per week), and you can set a maximum so that you are never charged more than you’re willing to pay in any given month. There is a very limited reward level where I’ll send you a handmade postcard to say thanks, which is only a $1 reward, and is really just there to thank the people who support me early on. So, please, if you like what I’m doing here and think you can spare a few dollars a month, hop on over and become a patron. Once I start doing requests, patrons will get first dibs on that, so if you like telling people what to do, there’s some incentive. Become my boss. 😉 Or one of them at least.

Missing Books

As I’ve mentioned, some of the books in the list are hard to come by. I have made a list of all the books I haven’t been able to get yet, and there is even an Amazon wishlist of the ones I could find on Amazon. If you want to support me in a once off, more tangible way, sending me a copy of one of those books would be an awesome way to do it. If you prefer, I will even donate it to a library once I have reviewed it.

Alternatively, if you’re localish to me and have a copy of one of those books, it would be incredibly helpful if I could borrow it. 🙂

Facebook

The Bookish Jelly Bean is also on Facebook, now. There has been some discussion about books happening over there, so if you’re inclined, please like the page and join in. 🙂

===

I have been keeping a spreadsheet of the ways things have been scoring, and so over the next little while will rustle up some stats on the first section for those of you who like that sort of thing. 🙂

Apart from that, I just want to thank everyone who has read and commented and liked the Jelly Bean on Facebook, and generally shown interest. A huge thanks to the people who have jumped in on Patreon to support me there, and to the amazing folk at the Wellington libraries without whom this would be totally impossible (or at least, very much slower). Support your libraries, people! For reals.

 

 

 

So why bother with all this?

I’ve had a commenter show up with (the almost inevitable) “What’s the point? Why should western literature have to be diverse? Do you expect reciprocity from other cultures?” argument. Apparently my “naive liberalism” offends them enough to make them call into question the entire project.

So for the sake of this commenter, and the inevitable other ones that will no doubt follow, here is why I think this kind of project is important. I’m going to say it once, and then I’m not to engage with it any more. I have more important things to do than fight with people who are wrong on the internet.

The thing I have begun to realise as I go through this list is that the really interesting thing about this may not be in the individual books. If you’ve been reading, you will have seen that there are books that have failed miserably by the metrics I have set up that I have gone on to recommend anyway. And there has been (at the time of my writing this) one which passed beautifully yet left me fairly unimpressed. This is definitely as much an art as a science, and not an easy thing to measure. Yet I think it’s an important exercise because of what it shows us across the board.

At the time of writing, I have only reviewed 21 books. Out of those, only 3 have passed the Bechdel, and at least one of those was on a technicality. Only 2 have had characters of colour in them. I am still waiting for my first queer character (though since I started with the 0-3 age-range, that’s not too surprising). I think what is going to become more and more interesting as I go is how badly our canon as a whole does in this regard. And that, really, is the point.

Talking about reciprocity is a nonsense. A white middle-class family can very, very easily read hundreds of books to their children without ever having to encounter a book that doesn’t show characters just like them. Not only that, they won’t have to go in search of such books. They won’t have to even think about it. In fact, if, like me, they prefer to expose their kids to other cultures, or even the idea that there are people in the world who look and act and think and pray differently to them, that becomes something they have to actively pursue.

So to ask whether other cultures are likely to reciprocate is to miss the point so thoroughly it is almost heart-breaking. A black family who wants to read books to their children containing characters just like them, or even stories from their own cultural heritage (whatever that may be) has to actively seek those books out, and perhaps even write them into existence. The books in public libraries, school libraries and book shops are still, overwhelmingly, mostly about white cis straight characters. This is changing, absolutely, as it should be, but there is still a massive skew. I don’t need Sleeping Beauty to be black, really (though I wouldn’t object), and I don’t need Japanese cultural stories to have white people in the illustrations, but what I do think should happen is that those two cultures should be equally represented in the canon. And that is not currently the case by any stretch of the imagination.

My hope for this blog is that it will give parents a reference point for picking out the books that do show the wondrous variety in human experience. Eventually, I hope to be able to provide alternatives to the established canon (represented, in this case, by the 1001 Books list from which I am working). I had to start somewhere, and it is a long-term project.

I am absolutely certain this is not the last time someone is going to pop up to ask me why children’s books should “have to” measure up to my metrics. The simple answer, of course, is that they don’t have to. The simple answer is that if you’re not interested in exposing your children to a variety of worldviews, or discussing these issues with them, then this project is not for you. Assuming you’re white (which, if you have this attitude, let’s face it, you probably are) all you have to do is ignore me and go to the library and pick any one of hundreds of books with characters just like you and never even think about it. That’s what us “naive liberals” call “privilege”. In the meantime, those of us who care about everyone having a voice, those of us who care about our children becoming empathetic towards all humans, not just the ones who look like us, those of us who are part of those underrepresented groups of people, will be over here, paying attention to the skew in the canon until we don’t need to any more.