Recently I was approached by a thoughtful teacher librarian who questioned the addition of this book on my Muslim booklist:

Image result for tilt your head rosie the red

The teacher librarian wrote:

“I am a public school librarian in a diverse, growing community. We have recently seen an increase in our immigrant/refugee population, particularly of students whose families are from Arab or Middle Eastern countries. One of my passions and goals is to ensure that all of our students have accurate representation in our library collection. I strive to provide books that act as the “windows and mirrors” for our students. I already have two of your books in the library, Big Red Lollipop and King for a Day. With the advocacy efforts of a book foundation, my school library is raising funds to support building a diverse collection.

…One of the books you listed on there is “Tilt Your Head, Rosie the Red.” I have not seen or read the book, but did read a few reviews. The Horn Book review said that it seemed to push Fadimata’s story and culture to the background as Rosie comes to her rescue. The Kirkus Review said that Rosie seemed to get all the attention and is shown as larger than everyone else (though I understand she is the main character, hence the book title). It sounded, to me, like a “white savior” type of story. While I want to have books that show acceptance and standing up for others, I’m not sure I want to promote a story that uses the “white savior” type of character.

I would love to have your insight on this since you recommended it on your list. Am I wrong in my assumption based on the reviews? Do the lessons of acceptance and standing up for others outweigh the potentially negative aspects? I don’t want to add books with more diverse characters that don’t show them as the strong people they are.”

First of all, I am thrilled that this teacher librarian reached out to me like she did. And also that she realized the problems with the book as ‘diverse’ literature.

When I first began compiling my Muslim booklist there were so few books about Muslims that I could recommend, that I basically added any book that dealt even remotely with Muslims and/or Islam. Many of the books were didactic and clunky, but there was nothing ‘wrong’ with them. No inaccuracies, no misrepresentations, so I felt I had to include them or it would be a very short list indeed.

In terms of this Rosie book, I did have second thoughts on including it. The main character is definitely Rosie, not the Muslim girl, but the Muslim girl features prominently enough that I thought it should be included.

The thing is, I keep remembering what this principal of one of my old alma maters once said to me.

Back in 2000 I had a grant subsidy that would enable me to work in schools with students on a literacy program for five days and the school only had to pay $300 for the whole five days. One of the projects had to be done at a school outside the greater Toronto area so I approached my old school in Dundas, Pleasant Valley School and offered them this opportunity telling them that I’d graduated from there.

The principal got back to me saying, “No thank you. We don’t need that multicultural stuff here.”

The funny thing is I’m beginning to think that having a diverse author like me come to a homogenous school like that is almost more important than going to a diverse school as those kids will grow up in a diverse world, they will come in contact with diverse people, and meeting a diverse author can help ease that transition.

I included Tilt Your Head Rosie the Red for principals and teachers like him. And also for Muslim kids.

These are teachers who might NOT have diverse classrooms.

The book is avowedly didactic. It’s meant to teach a lesson. To encourage students to stick up for people they see who are being marginalized. Nothing wrong with that. So this is a book for mainstream white kids, not really for Muslim kids, although that said, I thought the tentative manner in which they portrayed the Muslim girl in the story was quite accurate.

I remember feeling that tentative when I was growing up, even though I didn’t wear hijab at the time, so I related to that aspect of the story too.

And I also thought it might be encouraging for Muslim girls to read this book so that they know there are people like Rosie out there, who will in fact help stick up for them–that they’re not alone.

It is the reality.

Growing up marginalized it’s so easy to focus on the bullies and the bigots. We tend to forget all the allies we come across and I think this book can remind Muslim kids of that.

So that’s why I included it on my booklist.

Plus, in the interest of full disclosure, I have a soft spot for the editor of this book.

She was my very first editor and is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet! By recommending this and other books she edited it was my way of helping to promote the work she’s done. I included a lot of Second Story books because they were pretty good and because of this editor.

So yeah, even though there is a ‘white savior’ aspect to this book, I still think it belongs on school bookshelves.