Reimagining the Wooded “White Space”: Picture Book Colloquia with Dr. Michelle Martin

Join us for a colloquium talk with Dr. Michelle Martin from University of Washington.

Reimagining the Wooded “White Space”: Picture Book Representations of Children of Color in Nature

In September 2018, the late Anne Rockwell published Hiking Day, a picture book illustrated by her daughter, Lizzy. While not an #OWNVOICES story, this “quiet story… positively portrays a black family spending time in nature. While this shouldn’t be a news flash in 2018, it is” (Kirkus). Childhood obesity experts urge us to get kids outside and active, but many African Americans don’t because, for too long, “the woods” have been dangerous places for black people. Dogs tracked, attacked and mangled slaves in the woods, where some became “strange fruit,” dangling from trees after lynching. Given this history, African Americans have few incentives to venture onto wilderness trails or even into urban forests.

An emerging body of work that depicts black and brown children and their families having positive experiences in nature might signal a change in what scholar Elijah Anderson terms “The White Space.” Anderson theorizes the urban ghetto as the quintessential “black space,” while “the white space” represents places people of color have not been welcome and in which they must prove they belong—repeatedly. “While white people avoid black space, black people are required to navigate white space as a condition of their existence” (Anderson 11)*.  This presentation will use the work of Anderson and African American Forestry Professor Drew Lanham to explore how picture books like Hiking Day and Where’s Rodney position children of color as activists in transforming the white space of the woods into welcoming spaces where they can not only survive but thrive.

Dr. Michelle H. Martin is the Beverly Cleary Professor for Children and Youth Services, and MLIS Program Chair at the University of Washington iSchool.


Location: Chilcotin Room (256), Irving K. Barber Learning Centre


*Works Cited

  • Anderson, Elijah. “The White Space.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 1.1 (2015): 10-21.
  • Bogan, Carmen and Floyd Cooper. Where’s Rodney? Yosemite National Park, CA: Yosemite Conservancy, 2017.
  • Kirkus. Review of Hiking Day, by anonymous. Kirkus Reviews, 25 June 2018, published online.
  • Lanham, Drew. Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature. Minneapolis: Milkweed, 2017.
  • Rockwell, Anne and Lizzie Rockwell. Hiking Day. New York: Aladdin, 2018.