Young Adult Novel Addresses Use of Ebonics

Posted: May 24, 2010 by bigced in The Hip Hop Cosign
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Detroit, MI ( –- The young adult novel, The Magic Pencil, explores the nuances of language many African Americans may use when communicating within varying situations. This practice — known as code-switching — is not unique to African Americans but it has attracted much attention and discussion in the academic world of late.

Karen E. Dabney has taken this subject and crafted a compelling and entertaining story revolving around an inquisitive boy, a mysterious girl and a magic pencil.

In the story the children speak naturally to one another using Standard English, when necessary or desired, while demonstrating their ability to switch back and forth with little effort. The result is a gentle education for those who have preconceived notions regarding the users of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), also known as “Ebonics”.

AAVE has a long history that began when the first enslaved Africans were brought to the United States. They had to develop ways to communicate verbally with each other due to speaking differing dialects and languages. This task, coupled with learning how to communicate with the white slave owners, required skill and patience. The result of the style with which the average enslaved person spoke displayed a new language complete with its own rules and consistencies.

The AAVE one hears today around the country is basically the same as its roots.

Readers of The Magic Pencil will come to understand that the characters who continually use AAVE are not any less intelligent than those who speak Standard English. This discovery is important in that it lifts the self-esteem of youth who may struggle with the latter’s correct usage.

They will find vindication while reading about others who live full lives and verbally share their feelings in what may be the reader’s home/first language.

Important lessons are also to be found in The Magic Pencil. The story imparts means and methods youth may employ to successfully navigate through the pitfalls they may encounter in life. Self-determination and reliance are fostered. The attainment of knowledge is lauded.

Ms. Dabney has created an important and magnetically didactic read!

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