Fifty years ago, this sweet, simple picture book got us in trouble.
Three states boycotted Albert Whitman & Company for publishing a book portraying a black child playing with white children. We published Fun for Chris by Blossom E. Randall in 1956, at a time when racial segregation was being challenged in the southern U.S. The introduction, written by influential librarian Charlemae Rollins, reads in part:
Parents and teachers…. often ask for books which they can use in order to help children understand and accept all kinds of people. Chris’ mother answers his first questions with honest simplicity.
By the time Fun for Chris went out of print 30 years later, children’s books reflected far more diversity, to the extent that it’s easy to forget that a scene like the one above could be so controversial. But we were reminded of this book’s significance this morning when we discovered Mark McCormick’s recent article about Blossom Randall in the Witchita Eagle. We were thrilled to learn that Blossom Randall is alive and well in Kansas (she’s 90!), and she remembers how she was motivated to write the book:
She said she couldn’t help it. Seeing the nation’s smoldering racial conflict upset her so.
“Everything I read, it was just such an upheaval,” she said. “The hate and the prejudice was so bad. I couldn’t understand a youngster growing up in that kind of situation.”
So the woman who had been voted “loudest” in her high school class sat down and wrote the true story that had been in her head since she and her husband and children lived in Lawrence.
We’re grateful to both Mrs. Randall and Mark McCormick for reacquainting us with this piece of history. It’s also worth mentioning that we found this wonderful story via the news alert feature on JacketFlap’s profile page for Albert Whitman, so thank you, JacketFlap! And while Fun for Chris has passed on into the land of Alibris and vintage book collectors, we have three recent picture books about the Civil Rights Movement—Grandmama’s Pride, White Socks Only, and A Bus of Our Own—as well as a great many award-winning multicultural books, as we continue with a commitment to diversity that goes back more than fifty years.