There’s been a lot of talk about A Fine Dessert, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. I won’t rehash everything–you can check out posts at American Indians in Children’s Literature and Reading While White to learn more.
A lot of people are upset about the book.
I am not.
Some background–in many ways, I see myself as the ideal purchaser of this book. I am African-American, with two picture-book age daughters. I grew up in South Carolina, about 120 miles from Charleston. I am descended from slaves from South Carolina (at least as far back as we can tell; history is not kind in that regard.) Most importantly, I love blackberries. (I even featured them in a YA novel, which is sadly out of print….)
So I was extremely excited when I first heard about this picture book. I was especially happy that the author and illustrator showcased a diverse set of people in the book. And then, very quickly, I learned of the book’s troubling content. What reviewers were saying made sense, but I wanted to read the book for myself before passing judgement.
I finally purchased A Fine Dessert. I read it. And read it again. And again. And studied each illustration.
And you know–it works. For me. What especially makes it work is the Author and Illustrator’s notes at the end. This book was made for discussion; more so, the creators seem to be urging for that discussion to take place. (I wonder–should the creator notes be considered part of the “book”? A discussion for another day.)
I see why many people view the book as insensitive. The illustrations of the slave girl certainly made me pause. But I also see the illustrations of the slave family as a gateway for meaningful conversations with my daughters–about slavery, artistic choice, and finding joy in the midst of great sorrow. That being said, I don’t know if the book works for young readers without an adult there to facilitate discussion–which perhaps is a fatal flaw.
I understand why many people are upset about the book. And I don’t want (or have the right) to invalidate another reader’s feelings about the book.
But for me, A Fine Dessert works.