Linguistically Diverse White Folks at Christmas

The Christmas Blizzard

On Linguistic Diversity:

I love the diversity of voices in children’s literature. But when educators utter the D word, they don’t generally mean rural white southerners from the 50s. For this blog, I’m going to include any marginalized voice that strikes my fancy. (So, they’re in too.)

Cue Maynard Jenkins, who narrates this tall tale with a slew of folk language: “Whippersnapper”, “Don’t be all-fired anxious”, “warm as Grandma’s gravy” and  “slipperier than a weasel in a grease pit” to mention a few. Maynard’s southern seems authentic to my ears (eyes?). Since Helen Ketteman spent her formative years in Georgia; I’ll call it legit.

In mass media a there’s long standing tradition of intellectually challenged rural southern characters: Mater from Pixar/Disney Cars for example. So Ketteman’s choice of a witty main character sporting Southern lingo seems like a good counterpoint.

About the Book:

This story is more than another voice in Bakhtin’s heteroglossia. It’s a wonderfully wild tale of Santa moving the North Pole operations to southern Indiana, a creepy backwoods witch, wind tossing cows four miles across the countryside, and a snow storm that had Maynard scrambling out of a chimney to escape his own house.

Outside of the traditional favorites I’ve already highlighted, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Night Before Christmas, this is my favorite Christmas story to read aloud because it captivates the little ears within my circle of influence.


Don’t Stop the Poetry

Yesterday I had the Blues

There is beauty and poetry in spoken language. Yesterday I Had the Blues celebrates language… (and color words that depicts moods).  But I really selected this book because Jeron Ashford Frame drops a little AAVE (African American Vernacular English) within this celebration of family.

Linguistic Tangent Below: You have been warned.

Some scholars believe that if you write a dialect phonetically like, “lookin” instead of “looking” that it’s bad form… really bad form. Especially if you only do it for traditionally marginalized groups and no one else. There is a valid point here. But there is also this…

When you write “non-standard” dialects in traditional print English, the beauty of the different ways of speaking becomes invisible on the page. Plus, it reads like someone swapped the character’s voice with a newscaster. Yesterday I Had the Blues takes a step away from that kind of homogeneity toward the poetry of language.

What up? Dis Book!

Yo! Yes?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m pretty committed to discussing race relations with children.  Yo! Yes? Is another entry point by which I attempt to pull this off.  It also affirms so called “non-standard” English.  (More on that at the bottom).

But even if you could decontextualize the racial and linguistic elements in this story (as if that was possible), it’s well worth the read.

Sometimes an entire dialog can be reduced to one and two word sentence exchanges. Chris Raschka tells an entire story through these nearly monosyllabic exchanges.  It’s beautiful.  It’s different.  It’s so worth reading.

About “non-standard” English : No one holds the “Master version” of English.

Sometimes I hear teachers giving their students grief for speaking AAVE (African American Vernacular English) as if it is “wrong” and the teacher has the “Gold Standard Version”.  But that notion doesn’t have a linguistic leg to stand on.

English is in constant evolution. It varies over time; Shakespeare’s English is hardly like “our” English.  It’s predecessor (Saxon English) is a quantum leap away.

It varies based on location; English in Australia, Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the U.S. are all measurably different. Even within the U.S. you have distinct “accents” regionally: Boston, the South, the Midwest,..  Going one step further, different groups have their own variety of English.  Some of the better known examples are AAVE, Boston Italian, Surfer and Yooper (Upper Peninsula of Michigan).

This isn’t to say that one doesn’t hear linguistic error within a variety of English. (Young children especially make hilarious errors.) But that’s not normally what I see get “corrected” in school.  What is “corrected” is not linguistic error.  It’s linguistic variation; and variation doesn’t need correction.

So who’s “standard”?  It really depends are where you are in time and space.  No one has “the goods” all to themselves.

If you are totally into this sort of thing, Dialects in Schools and Communities and Children Language and Literacy are good places to start.

Dialects in Schools and Communities                                   Children Language and Literacy

Tornado Slim

Tornado Slim

There’s a new sheriff in town: plus a fire, a flood, bandits, a wedding and an unlikely hero named Tornado Slim.

In the spirit of the tall tale Bryan Langdo spun a Texas sized Tornado yarn with a life lesson along the way.  The wild west is well worth the visit.

Flossie be Chillin’

Flossie & the Fox

It’s extremely difficult to write so called “non-standard” dialects.  But let’s say you are a master writer of a dialect.  It’s still up to your readers to “hear” the voice you are recreating.  It’s a hard row to hoe.  Nevertheless Patricia McKissack penned a classic.  (Yes, being published in 1986 relegates you to “classic” status.)

Flossie is impressively believable; and the banter between the unflinching Flossie and the smug fox she encounters on the way through the forest makes this a brilliant read aloud.

Flossie be chillin’.  (I’m just sayin’.)