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Author Grace Lin reflects on worldview granted by children's books

Published on April 13, 2023

Author Grace Lin reflects on worldview granted by children's books

Award-winning author graces Visiting Writers Series

Grace Lin, award-winning children’s author and illustrator, visited Eastern Connecticut State University on April 5 to give a talk titled “Windows and Mirrors of your Child’s Bookshelf.” The Student Center Theatre was full for Lin, a Caldecott and Newbery honoree who is renowned for promoting the inclusivity and representation of people of color in children’s literature. Her lecture reflected several social themes, including the alienating effects of an imbalanced racial dynamic, the difficulties associated with transcending stereotypes and the importance of reclaiming pride in one’s identity.

“Books erase bias, they make the uncommon everyday and the mundane exotic,” said Lin, whose career as an author and illustrator was spurred by her yearning "to see someone who looked like myself" in the books she read.

Lin is a native of upstate New York and a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. During her adolescence, Lin developed an a appreciation for illustrating and writing fantasy, realistic fiction, Chinese fairy tales and mythologies inspired by her culture and traditions. Lin has been a National Book Award finalist, recipient of the Children’s Literature Legacy Award and received the Newbery and Caldecott honors.

Grace Lin and attendees of her presentation.
Students and fans of Grace Lin (center) gather with the acclaimed author-illustrator for a group photo. 

Lin’s lecture discussed the tribulations associated with overcoming racial barriers and garnering respect, attention and acceptance as a first-generation Chinese American. She said these impediments were heightened during her adolescence, because she never understood her heritage or identity.

“You should be an artist, because you have a vision to share with the world,” Lin said as she chronicled the phases of her identity crisis. “I realized I was not an artist, because I did not have a vision to share with the world. How could I have a vision to share with the world if I never looked at myself?”

Lin’s overwhelming feeling of isolation forced her to recognize the adverse methods society has enacted to perpetuate racism, prejudice, bigotry and oppression — not just in American literature or the education system, but in society at large.

“A lack of diverse books did not just affect me, it affected everyone,” Lin said before sharing an anecdote about a former classmate who said, “we don’t need any more immigrants sucking off the system.”

“Ignoring race does not create kids who don’t see color, instead it creates kids who don’t see people of color,” Lin said.

Grace Lin speaking on her work as a childrens author and illustrator. The overarching theme of her presentation was evident in recurring metaphors of windows and glasses. “The first thing you probably all did this morning was look out the windows, but what we were really doing was looking out the window and seeing the world.” Lin said. “That’s just like a book. When you read a book, it can show you the world.”

Lin said that when you look out a window from the correct angle, you can see yourself reflected in the world around you. She said this metaphor also applies to books.

"In a world that has become selectively blind toward the existence and impact of racism, prejudice, oppression and inequity, people need to reflect on the state of the world and how we may contribute to the intensification of racial inequality, insensitivity and ignorance," Lin said. She believes that every book has the innate power to make its reader reflect on the current state of the world or even reconsider their own ideologies and beliefs.

“These books help readers and children look into their community and see every human,” Lin said. “These books, when read and shared, are like glasses; they can give kids a clear, true view of the world all around them.”

Lin’s presentation included a seminar on how to draw a traditional Chinese dragon. The final stage included drawing a pair of glasses for the mythical creature. Grace said this element was the most important, because “just like us, he can now see the world clearly.”

Lin's lecture was part of the Eastern Visiting Writers Series, a forum for writers of national standing to share their work, which is supported by a Quick Grant from Connecticut Humanities. Additional funding was provided by the Kalber Family and Eastern's Office of Equity and Diversity/Faculty JEDI.

Earlier this spring the series featured Marilyn Nelson, former poet laureate of Connecticut and three-time National Book Award finalist. The final presentation in the writers series will be April 27 when Teresa Messineo, author of "The Fire by Night" and "What We May Become," will speak at 4 p.m. at the Smith Library's Johnson Room.

Written by Jack Jones