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Slavery on Their Minds: Representing the Institution in Children's Picture Books

This study examines how slavery is represented in contemporary children’s picture books. Given that many primary and secondary school teachers are committed to using picture book fiction to teach students about slavery, it is necessary to explore how slavery is depicted in these texts. One of the goals of this study is to contribute to the discussion about how the featured picture books engage with and respond to the early historiography of slavery, which asserted that Black slave were content and docile and that slave owners were kind and paternalistic. This study seeks to analyze how the picture books that make up my text collection respond to these claims. Another goal of this study is to present a rich analysis of how race, gender, and class are rendered in these texts using the theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches that draw on critical race theory, critical race feminism, critical multicultural analysis, and intertextuality. The findings show that the picture books in my text collection recast racial violence to reject proslavery stereotypes and counter historical claims of slave contentment by representing Black resistance against slavery. These texts complicate the slave experience by showing the various ways that race, gender, and class shaped the experiences of those who lived during the antebellum period. These reconstructed representations of slavery showcase multiple perspectives and complicate power relations of this social institution. This study also offers a new approach for reading neo-slave narratives for children, which can inform classroom teaching of these texts, encourage readers to reconsider issues connected to noteworthy debates in the historiography of slavery, and show how class, gender, and race work together in these children’s books. Furthermore, this study demonstrates that children’s literature about slavery continues to perform important cultural work.