I just read Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. It took only about 15 minutes – it’s a graphic novel, sure, but it’s also a really compelling true-life story. Robert “Yummy” Sandifer was 11 in 1994, when he shot and killed a 14-year-old neighbor girl in the Roseland section of Chicago. The book shows how Yummy got involved with the Black Disciples, how this all happened to him, and how his gang brothers got rid of him when he became too much of a liability.
The kid was eleven. Let that sink in for a minute. A fifth-grader, if he lived in a different part of the city with different influences. Eleven.
So this is a good book, and (I think) an important one. G. Neri beautifully shows the complexity of the situation, and the depth of content in the illustrations makes this skinny little book really worthy of deep discussion and analysis. We will add it to our collection, and there’s a cohort of kids to whom I’ll recommend it.
But here’s the problem: I hate the fact that this is the only kind of story that publishers want to tell about (or to) young men of color. I don’t know any young men who live this life (though maybe they struggle with it); the kids I see are dealing with sports and school and girls and parents, just like any suburban kid. And the books that tell their stories don’t have characters that look like them.
There are, of course, some exceptions. Walter Dean Myers does a great job of telling a multifaceted story about young black men. Angela Johnson is great. There’s a newish book called DJ Rising that I like, specifically because it tells the story of a kid with an interest, some goals, some successes and failures, and a real experience. It’s not a flat story, and it’s a different story than drugs and gangland violence.
I don’t fault anyone for creating or publishing Yummy. It’s an important story. But I wish there were more everyday-life stories featuring kids of color. I wish that literature were better at acknowledging the fact that gangbanging isn’t the story of every young man who is black. And if I can see a gap there – as a white 30mumble mom – what must these guys think when they walk into my library?