Mitali Perkins launched a new great discussion about diversity in children’s books, here, and here. I was glad to see one question address the issue of the lack of diversity in the characters’ names. I ranted enough about this (well, I had Amadi do it, actually) when it was decided that I had to find him a new name; Ifeanyi (his original name) was deemed too strange, too difficult to read. I could understand the publisher’s and editor’s concerns and I know they had the book’s best interest at heart. This is not so much about them, as it is revealing of a general, mainstream approach to all things considered even mildly different, therefore possibly threatening, at the very least difficult — and who has time for difficult, right?
As a sidenote, I shared the name anecdote with the children at the Vidyaranya High School, here, in Hyderabad. I wrote Ifeanyi on the black board, without having said it, and asked them to read it. They all did, flawlessly. Of course, these children are all at least bilingual (English and Hindi, and/or Telugu, and/or Tamil, and/or Urdu, and/or Bengali… etc, etc.) Maybe one answer to that particular problem would be to put more emphasis on the need for American children to learn at least one other language (and when I say learn, I mean as in being able to actually speak it, really, not just playing around with a few strange or funny-sounding words here and there, words forgotten almost as soon as they’ve been heard.)