Monday, January 20, 2014

I Have A Dream Susan J. Berger

When I was young I didn't know there was prejudice in the world. No one told me. I thought my father and mother went to different country clubs because they were divorced. No one mentioned the Jews weren't allowed at the Buffalo country club. That the Jews had to start their own.

When I was in second grade, my best friend was black. Neither her parents or mine commented on our color differences.

In 1954 we moved to Cape Town and I got my first view of racial hatred. My mom said I should feel sorry for people who could only see a person's color and not their real selves because those people missed so much. I comforted myself with the thought that such a thing could not happen in America.

Our next move was to Westport, Connecticut where Mom divorced her second husband and married her third. My mom's best friends were poets and painters and MAD Men.  Two of the couples in our circle of friends were bi-racial. No-one cared. Certainly not me  I was too busy being thirteen and suffering agonies in Junior High.

I went to high school in Atlanta during the bus desegregation. My mother and second stepfather belonged to H.O.P.E -Help Our Public Education and I belonged to S.O.S Students For Open Schools. These organizations were committed to peacefully desegregating the schools. The majority of the members of these groups were white because - well - because we didn't have desegregation yet. We moved away in 1960, but I came back in 1961 to attend the University of Georgia. One year after Charlene and Walter became the first two black students there.

I am a child of the sixties. My friends and I shared the dream. We wanted a world where no one was looked down upon because of race or religion or nationality. We wanted to see it on television, in films, in books and in our every day lives.

We've come a long way. In my personal life my friends are a bouquet of colors, nationalities and faiths. I even have friends that are Republican.

I started this post with the intention of mentioning books for young people that had black protagonists. I did lots of research.

Then I thought Why am I doing this? Why do I still have to search for books that have people of color. Why aren't all of us writing them?

I think we are at one of those periods in our history where we need to take a bit more care. All of us who are writing and illustration can add flavors to our worlds. My dream is that stories will, as a matter of course, contain characters of different racial make-up and that the race, religion and nationality of the authors and illustrators will not be a matter for remark. It's already happening.
   Lisa Yee writes about people. Some of them are Chinese. Some of them are Caucasian. All her books are satisfying because it's the people who are important. Not their racial make up.
Millicent Min, Girl Genius

Tamora Pierce's The Circle of Magic books
feature four protagonists. Daja is black, Briar is mixed race, Tris is Caucasian and I am not sure what race Sandry is. Who they are inside and the magic they possess define them.

                           Jerry Pinkney's wonderful illustrations are not only of black people.

Nancy Stewart's Bella series feature best friends who are Caucasian and African American. Pelican at a Time
Margot Finke is a transplant from Australia. Her hero in Taconi and Claude and her new book, Trial by Walkabout is an Aboriginal Boy.

I'm still revising Tasha, The Magnificent. Tasha was inspired by a trio of friends who stayed with me one summer: They were of different races. Their commonality was the dreams in their eyes and their belief in magic. I love the story. One day I'll get the plot right and send it out again.
Lupe and Hilde are both working on books that have Mexican and Cuban characters.

I know all of you readers could give me lots more examples. I believe we all share the same dream. And I know it's coming true. 

All of the pictures in this post link to books on Amazon or Goodreads. Here are some of the other books I looked up.


  1. Growing up in South Africa in the seventies and eighties, a lot of what you said resonated for me

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Sarah. I hoped as Africa was getting better by the eighties. But when I did a bit of research for a line in my book, I realized it was still very bad.

  2. Susan, you have written an awesome post. So many writers of a certain age (like us) have experienced the same things, yet in different parts of the globe. My experiences were in Australia. The books you list are representative of a great deal of cultures - lovely to see. And I was thrilled to find my two Aussie books listed as well. My dad taught me to choose my friends by what they do, and how they treat me - not by the color of their skin or their religion. Thanks Dad.

    Books for Kids - Skype Author Visits

    1. And thank you, Margot for adding fun books to our literature.

  3. Excellent post, Susan! Thanks for sharing all those wonderful titles.

  4. Susan,
    Love, love your post. Thanks for sharing it.

    1. Thanks, Nicole. Wish I had remembered to mention My Sister Is My Best Friend. Just thought of it.

  5. Like the Lady of Justice, we should all be color-blind. I was raised mostly in California where we didn't have blacks and Hispanics didn't live in our neighborhood. So I didn't know about prejudice until I read about it in high school I later found out that both my parents were prejudiced, My mother from her Oklahoma and Missouri rearing and my dad from working with different ethnic groups. I'm glad they raised us kids to be "free thinkers" and didn't impose their prejudices on us. I'm happy to see different racial and ethnic groups in children's stories.


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