My major goal for teachers taking my course on multicultural literature this semester was to encourage them to develop a critical lens to use in reading and evaluating literature.
We often discussed books in small group literature circles. Teachers were asked to read and respond to each book from a personal perspective. They also researched the background of the author and located book reviews to see how experts in the field evaluated the book. I wanted them to have a range of tools to use in evaluating books for cultural authenticity.
We were surprised to realize that book reviewers seldom commented on any issues of culture. Not only did reviewers not discuss cultural authenticity, they rarely commented about any cultural aspects of the books, except to note the ethnicity of the main character. For example, Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan raises issues of bicultural identity and challenges stereotypes of Mexican fathers. However, the book reviews did not comment on these aspects of the book.
After reading multiple book reviews for many different books, we concluded that book reviewers seem to go to great lengths to avoid commenting on culture in book reviews. One librarian in the course was distraught when she realized the inadequacy of reviews for books reflecting specific cultural experiences, because she has been using reviews to order books for many years.
We wondered if the reviewers are not comfortable with their knowledge of diverse cultures and so avoid any specific comments about culture for fear of being accused of inaccuracy. Is the avoidance of culture an indication that most reviewers hold mainstream views and lack knowledge about culture and cultural authenticity? Or are other factors influencing the lack of reference to culture in reviews? Is the issue the lack of diversity within the book reviewers or the standards and criteria used to write book reviews? What other issues might be affecting the lack of culture in book reviews?
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