Historical Injustices Revisited: New Stories for Young Readers

 by Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM

dependency-62283_640December has always been my month to contribute to WOW Currents. In many ways, it has become a special month for me since it is at the end of the year and offers me, like everyone else, an opportunity to reflect on the past twelve months. As we mentally “write our stories” at years end, our reflections often lead us to revise what some of these recurring and evolving “stories” might look like in the next year. We share and connect through these stories. They are an important medium that enriches the many facets of our lives.

As I surveyed new historically based titles, some of those “old” histories have taken on a new patina. Old nuances of historical facts were recreated in ways that those unfamiliar with them might find that these “new” stories are as powerful as a number of current dystopian fantasies. Many of these relate narratives from countries and histories unfamiliar to younger U. S. readers. Hence, my themes for this December revolve around “finding hidden pictures and stories” of global politics in the midst of the chaos of history.

First, I will look at Russia as an emerging and rich source of information for global children’s literature. In the next two weeks I will look at four books that range through two distinctly different time periods: an Imperial Russia leading to the emergence of the soviet communist state and then a wartime Russia that plays a critical role in World War II.  The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming (2014), Breaking Stalin’s Nose (2011) and Arcady’s Goal (2014) by Eugene Yelchin, and The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr (2014) are all texts that encourage readers to envision a childhood that is first enveloped in political chaos and then followed by remarkable individual transformations.

Next, I will look two brand new books about the Berlin Wall and the human ramifications of the division of Germany into East and West. Going Over (2014) by Beth Kephart and Wall (2014) by Tom Clohosy Cole make us think about how two nations can coexist within the historical dynamics of one.

The following week, I will present books with a fresh perspective to conventional stories that move in different directions from the usual socially expected or traditional “global” stories. These encompass the Armenian Genocide of 1914, a chronicle of Spanish orphans exiled to Brazil in 1600s, and a young Indian dancer with a disability. They are recent publications that, unfortunately, did not earn widespread recognitions.

Finally, I will discuss the hierarchical structures imposed by citizenship that are under-appreciated or dismissed because of the subtlety of legal and cultural differences where nationality itself serves as either a “golden privilege” card or a societal constraint for powerless and underprivileged victims. Children here are innocently caught up in the baggage of ethnicity, enigmatic accents, and divisive political backgrounds – a baggage not of their making.

As you journey with me through this December’s WOW Currents, I’d like to share some of these untold global histories and invite you to think about the range of labels we, as human beings, cannot help but use. We all have different citizenships, nationalities, ethnicities, memberships, tribes etc. All of the books, then, are stories of human beings grappling with dynamic, and sometimes not fully understood, human interactions and diverse histories.

Please visit wowlit.org to browse or search our growing database of books, to read one of our two on-line journals, or to learn more about our mission.

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