Lindsey Gispert, sophomore film major, and Naomi Pepper, sophomore English major, were among the top 10 finalists in the 2022 National Public Radio podcast challenge, which urges college students across America to explore topics of interest through podcast storytelling.
The duo’s seven minute episode, recorded under a blanket fort in their dorm room at 3 a.m., tackles the need for diversity in children’s literature. Their inspiration came from a conversation they’d had with a group of their friends about their American Girl dolls growing up. Each girl discussed their favorite dolls that looked like them. They noticed a discrepancy in violent content between the stories of Pepper’s favorite doll, Kit Kittredge, a young white girl, and Gispert’s favorite doll, Addy Walker, a young black girl.
“For context. I’m black,” says Gispert in the podcast. “And those of you who know, know that the only black American Girl Doll who is one of the special historical dolls was Addy, at the time.”
Understanding the nature of historical fiction, Gispert and Pepper are not concerned by the American Girl books including an accurate age-appropriate depiction of what life for Addy Walker would have been. Instead, they are concerned by the fact that many white children aren’t exposed to literature that tells the black experience.
“I’m reading about a girl who looks like me, and I’m all inspired like ‘Oh my goodness! A writer. A journalist. Look at her solving this crime. You’re reading about a girl literally being tortured and watching her family being tortured,” said Pepper. Later she adds, “None of my books that I read for fun had anything to do with [black history].”
“I remember reading about [black history] a lot actually as a kid and loving the stories,” responds Gispert. She later added, “I think maybe there’s a fear of having kids read stuff that is more historical or factual or telling these larger stories. But again, authors are tailoring it to children where it is consumable and understandable. If I got it as a little black kid, anyone can get it as a little kid. It doesn’t make a difference.”
Gispert and Pepper end the episode with a call to action for parents to diversify their children’s library as well as a shoutout to American Girl for improving the diversity in their doll collection. “Kids are so impressionable. Build empathy while you can,” said Pepper.
Lindsey submitted this episode to the 2022 NPR Podcast Challenge after creating it for class assignment for her audio production class taught by Jerry Hartman, professor of communication. The class was required to record their own individual podcast episodes. Hartman highly encouraged each student to submit their episodes to the NPR podcast challenge, but he did not require it.
To listen to Gispert and Pepper’s podcast episode click here.
Posted May 19, 2022