'How Did I Get to Sesame Street?' Sonia Manzano Speaks to the CBCpublishersweekly.com
Presenting to a full house of CBC members and industry professionals, Sonia Manzano spoke about her pioneering role on ‘Sesame Street,’ the future of children’s television, and about her new memoir, Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx. sesamestreet
Well, this is good timing, I thought to myself when Caitlyn Jenner (then presenting as Bruce and using the pronoun he) popped up on our TV set this past April following the Diane Sawyer interview.
“Honey,” I said to my four-year-old daughter, who was playing nearby, “you remember Ashley, your babysitter from last summer? Well, Ashley’s going to watch you again this summer. But we’re going to call Ashley he now, because he’s a boy.”
My daughter stared at me blankly, and I didn’t blame her, since the last time we’d seen Ashley we’d called him a she. I took a breath, struggling to find the words to explain gender identity in terms she could grasp. “Sometimes someone knows in their heart that they are a boy, even though people have called them a girl since they were born. And that man on the TV is telling us now that he’s really a girl, because that’s how he feels inside.”
“OK,” she said, and went back to her puzzle.
When we hired Ashley, we loved his ability to connect with our daughter and his obvious passion for childcare and education. But Ashley didn’t make a lot of eye contact with adults, and he seemed a little shy or uncomfortable around us. So when I got in touch with Ashley this past April to inquire about summer sitting, I noticed a difference in the communication immediately, even just through our texting. There were lots of exclamation points, and the overall tone was upbeat and chatty. He explained about transitioning, and we became Facebook friends. His posts were full of energy, joy, and excitement. It felt like Ashley was finally free to be Ashley, and from my adult perspective, it was inspiring. (See Ashley’s story in the New York Times’s Transgender Today project)
But how would my daughter experience the shift? I had a sneaking suspicion it wouldn’t be that big a deal, but being an overthinking, protective parent, I went into prep mode.
I’m no dummy about the power of books as discussion starters, so I turned to our Unitarian Universalist church and was pointed toward 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Rex Ray (Seven Stories, 2008). The protagonist, Bailey, is a transgender girl (assigned male at birth) who just wants to make and wear beautiful dresses. Her family isn’t terribly tolerant of this behavior, and Bailey is sad until she finds an ally in a dressmaker down the street.
My daughter and I read the book several times at the beginning of the summer, and we talked about Ashley.
Many organizations, CBC Diversity among them, have done a fantastic job raising awareness of diversity in children’s literature. We’re at the point where we can easily fill a convention’s diversity panel. But how do we know if we’re making a difference? Is anyone listening to us? I often hear from supporters of diversity that they don’t feel like they have a loud enough voice to make an impact. Not everyone is a publisher or book buyer, after all. So what can we do?
Here are my practical tips for members of the publishing community, and anyone with a love of children’s books:
1. Listen. Keep an open mind about others’ experiences. I say this as a Chinese-American woman; I do not know what it’s like to be black, disabled, or an author.
We Need Diverse Books Announces Winner of Short Story Contestcbcbooks.org
We Need Diverse Books,™ the non-profit organization dedicated to
promoting diversity in literature for young people, has announced the
winner of its inaugural short story contest. In memory of the late author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Walter Dean Myers, the contest was open to unpublished writers of all backgrounds.
Please tell us about the most recent diverse book you published.
Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane W. Evans is coming out this fall. It’s the story of a mixed-race boy— a subject both Taye and Shane know well. I like Mixed Me! as a companion to Taye and Shane’s first book together, Chocolate Me! (which we just published in paperback on the Square Fish list), but the two books are meant to stand alone.