Griot: New & Noteworthy Books For, By and About African Americans

Terri Schlichenmeyer | 7/15/2010, 8:50 a.m.

"Trouble in Troublesome Creek" by Nancy Kelly Allen, illustrated by K. Michael Crawford

Where is your favorite place to play? Maybe you have a playhouse out in the back yard, or a secret spot where adults are not so welcome. Perhaps there's a basketball court or set of swings that you'd visit every day if you could. Or maybe you like your room best, or a certain spot on the sofa.
No matter where it is, nobody better mess with your spot.

In the new book "Trouble in Troublesome Creek" by Nancy Kelly Allen, illustrated by K. Michael Crawford, somebody was killing fish in the Gang's best summertime play spot, and James and his friends needed to make it stop.

Every day during summer vacation, James and his friends Liz, Dean, Sallie, and Carolyn went to Troublesome Creek to ride on the ooh-ah rope that swung over the creek and to splash in the icy cool water. Troublesome Creek was their favorite place to play. But one morning - eeeuuuwww - the creek was full of dead fish. Gross. Who could have done such an awful thing?

Aunt Pearl, who always seemed to be gardening nearby, said it was a mystery. So did every other adult in town, when the Gang went around asking.
Since it wasn't a good idea to swim in a creek filled with icky dead fish, James decided one day to take a dry ride on the ooh-ah rope. He swung out and yelled "Ooooooohhh!" and let go. The gang hollered, "Ahhhhh" as he landed on the other side of the creek and right near a big pile of rocks. The rocks spilled into the creek and as they did, James spotted an old cave.

He peeked inside. And after Carolyn found a flashlight, the kids entered...

Eeeeeeuuuuwww, the cave was filled with bats, and they flew all around and sent shivers down James' spine. But there was something else in the cave that interested the Gang very much: nearly covering the floor of the cave were hundreds of strange old metal rocks. The kids took some of the rocks to the Troublesome Creek Museum, where they learned an amazing, historical surprise that solved the mystery and made their summer even better.

Got a kid who loves the season? Of course you do, and that kid is going to love this perfect summertime book, too.

Author Nancy Kelly Allen's words and the colorful drawings by K. Michael Crawford both evoke a wonderful, carefree time when kids could wander freely, and a swimmin' hole and a strong rope swinging over the water were all they needed to enjoy a perfectly gorgeous day. With that in mind, a lot of grown-ups will be awfully nostalgic when reading this book aloud or just for a look-see, even though "Trouble in Troublesome Creek" is very definitely a book for 6-to-9-year-olds.

If your child believes that summer vacation isn't long enough and the school year comes too soon, then having this book on your shelf can extend the season. For them, the fun in "Trouble in Troublesome Creek" is spot-on.

"Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority" by Tom Burrell

It's enough to make you want to bury your head. You read about a young black man, killed by another young black man over tennis shoes. On TV is a silky-haired sistah shaking her stuff at a hate-spouting rapper. Click, and see a fight over baby daddies. Click again, and there's a sitcom with a black man acting the fool. What's going on?

Author Tom Burrell blames it on something that started over 200 years ago. He says that African-Americans have been taught to believe negative things about themselves, and in his new book "Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority", he explains.

In his years in advertising, Burrell says that he had reason to study the way African- Americans are portrayed in culture, and it usually wasn't good. He began to think about all the negativity, and the reasoning behind it became chillingly clear.

Ever since black people were enslaved, certain beliefs were told to them as truth, repeated, and reinforced. African-Americans were, and continue to be, brainwashed, Burrell says. Cultural riches were stolen, and critical thinking is discouraged. And in many cases, though whites started the cycle, today's black people accept it as reality and perpetuate it.

Why, for instance, do African-Americans tolerate daytime TV that promotes baby mama drama and public paternity testing? Why is it assumed that "black women are supposed to have a slew of children with multiple men who will eventually abandon them"? Burrell blames black family dysfunction squarely on slavery and he says change must come within the African-American community.

Furthermore, he says, African-American children need to be taught to accept their natural appearance (including hair), they need to be ingrained with worth, they need to know how to save money, and they need to be empowered to show their intelligence and reach for an education. Sexual stereotypes and disrespect disguised as humor can be stopped by ceasing to purchase, attend, or watch anything that perpetuates either.

"African Americans have been conditioned to see themselves as powerless," writes Burrell. "Yet, if only a fraction of the 39 million of us in the United States decide we want to stop... believe me, this... would end - quickly."

Burrell writes with the experience of someone who's thoughtfully studied what he believes are 200-year-old beliefs that are perpetuated even today, but shouldn't be. He gives examples to support his points, draws parallels between the problem's origin and the myth that endures, and he explains what can be done to combat the situation.

Without a doubt, "Brainwashed" is going to be a springboard for a lot of conversation and reflection, and maybe a few movements that are long overdue. It's been a long time, in fact, since I've read a book so provocative or so well-researched.

Not a quick read by far, "Brainwashed" is one of those books that demands attention and thought before you move to the next chapter. If you're ready for a few brutal truths, though, this is a book to dig up.