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Milo teaches kids to look for what is missing in a story.
How can we talk with kids about something so nebulous? How can we help kids watch for those tiny invisible ways we tell targeted kids that their stories don’t matter.
We’re not trained to pay attention to who is missing in our stories. We don’t walk through museums talking about the exhibits curators dismissed. We don’t read the stories kept outside by cultural gatekeepers.
Representation matters. We choose whose to amplify. We choose who selects, screens, and curates the stories we share with our kids. We decide whether to read stories from the source, or fall back in easy, sanitized, appropriated stories stripped of their original meaning.
So how do we help our kids understand the power of curating our own stories, protecting them, and sharing them with the world?
How we erase, relegate & limit #OwnVoices narratives
The trouble with erasure is that when we’re the ones in power – we don’t even know we’re doing it.
If the world caters to you, is designed for your comfort and success, there’s just no need to step outside your bubble. You might not even realize you’re in a bubble. But to navigate life as a targeted or marginalized person – your survival will depend on understanding the dominant culture, so you can navigate through.
So when we curate our kids’ bookshelves – it’s hard to understand whose story is missing.
We should be asking – with every single story: Which of my ‘diverse’ books (oh gosh I hate it when people call non-white stories ‘diverse’) are actually just appropriated by powerful folks – tokenizing targeted identities, sanitizing and twisting cultural messages, and feeding into harmful stereotypes?
I mean – look at that huge wave of new picture books featuring Black girl protagonists published since 2017. Notice how most of them are written by white women.
Black Stories Deserve More than 28 Days
How many Black stories are we reading outside February?
How many of these stories highlight the Black identity beyond slavery, basketball, civil rights?
How many of these books highlight white accomplices and saviors, relegating Black folks to the background – implying they are too incompetent to create their own liberation?
How many of these books focus on reclaiming dignity, Black identity beyond the victim – and Black joy?
Underneath this simple story
[Video description: Zetta Elliott explains the genesis and significance of Milo’s Museum. Why she wrote it, what she hopes readers take away from it, and how to use it as a tool to discuss responsible representation.]
How are you recognizing Black Lives Matter @ School in your community?
Black Lives Matter at School is a national coalition organizing for racial justice in education, originating in Seattle in 2016. The starter kit can get you up and running to implement the BLM@School week of action (the first week in February), and there are oodles of resources created and shared freely by educators across the country.
But we’re still getting resistance from school systems run by and for white students only. From folks who are still concerned with offending anyone who disagrees with the simple fact that Black Lives Matter.
That’s why Milo’s Museum is powerful – while the story resonates deeply with the 13 guiding principles of BLM@School, any teacher or parent can read this to a classroom without setting off any ‘all lives matter’ whataboutism. Milo creates tiny, powerful cracks in a broken system.
From there, it’s up to you to keep amplifying Black voices in white-dominated & non-Black POC spaces. But this definitely gets the ball rolling.
Unpack this book in rotation with…
- No White Saviors: Kids Books About Black Women in US History
- Kids Books Centering Black Futures
- Why Young Activists Depend On The Fight For Elder Rights
- Unapologetically Kickass Girls
- Subverting Racist Gatekeeping in Kidlit
- Creating An Anti-Racist Manifesto With Zetta Elliott
- Exploring Black Futures with ‘Freedom, We Sing’
More books about responsible representation
More books for Black Lives Matter @ School
Is this #OwnVoices?
Author: Zetta Elliott (she/her) is an Afro-Caribbean Black author and activist. (So yes – this is an #OwnVoices story)
Illustrator: Purple Wong (she/her) is a graphic designer based in Hong Kong.
How we calculate the overall awesomeness score of books.
Transparency & Cahoots!
I’ve purchased Milo’s Museum in both electronic and print for discussing with kids in my local community. Zetta Elliott is a member of the Raising Luminaries Patreon community. But I’ve been gushing about her books since long before we met.
Stay Curious, Stand Brave, and Represent
if you find my work helpful and want to keep it free & accessible for all – join our Patreon community so I can do my thing. But if your resources are limited – support The Colored Girls Museum first. Elliot was inspired by this community-based project founded by Vashti DuBois for the story of Milo’s Museum.
“We use the word colored to draw attention to the ways in which ‘the girl’ is literally colored by others too loud too angry too independent the list is long — it is the Girls Museum because it is the girl the black and brown girl we must honor and protect. She has been unprotected uncelebrated for so long.”