{the apple of the unblushing cheek}

A few weeks ago, Charlesbridge editor Yolanda Scott shared on the Children’s Book Council Diversity blog (CBC Diversity) about working with author Mitali Perkins on her 2010 novel, BAMBOO PEOPLE. At one point, she recalls advising Mitali that her Burmese-born character should blush, when he was embarrassed.

“Mitali gently informed me that the character’s brown skin just wouldn’t redden up like a white person’s would. I felt horrible, stammered something in reply, and let the floor under my desk open and swallow me up. My own cheeks flamed red in ironic retribution.”

It was REALLY brave of Yolanda Scott to share this moment with the world on a diversity website, #1. But, she’s not the only one who occasionally goofs or gaffes and makes gauche statements and social blunders on race and ethnicity. Writers do it too — and it’s sometimes hard to refresh tired body language stereotypes in writing, so good writers are always seeking new ways to get into the topic. Recently, I came across Body Language Success, a website that is all about teaching people tells and cues of body language… and analyzing the body language of public figures.

Can I tell you how much I LOVE this stuff? I have always been a reader of people — and having NAMES for some of the things I observe is just really, super, nerd-tingling-ly cool. (Okay. I’m fine now.) While this April Fool’s prank is my FAVORITE video on the site at the moment — watching people who CAN blush is high entertainment, let me tell you — I find a lot of really good stuff here that works well with writing.

A minor character in my novel just shouted over a loud noise — which had abruptly shut off mid-word. She’s not going to blush — even if she could, not everyone with fair skin even does that.

The girl mouthed something incomprehensible through the roar.

“What?” Zora leaned forward.

Raising her voice, the girl screeched, “I SAID, WHAT’S YOUR NAME?” The last word was unnecessarily loud, as the blower, which had sounded like a jet engine, cut off unexpectedly. “Sorry,” the girl said, ducking her head. She gave a weak smile. “I’m Kayla, and that’s Jasmine. Are you a freshman?”

Even without that hint of blush, I think embarrassment is pretty well clear, no? Hope so. Until then, I keep hoping for the perfect turn of body-language phrase…

2 Replies to “{the apple of the unblushing cheek}”

  1. brooding about it more, I think the closest word to what I would do is grimace (in a self-depricating way). Isn’t interesting how we give some facial exressions but not others? You can give a grimace or a smile, but not give a frown. Why?

  2. I will check out Body Language Success! I just spent some time being Kayla, and figure that in her case I personally would do that sort of scrunchy squirming of checks and lips–that sort of twisted half smile with squinched eyes that slides away into head hanging, but hopes to elicit a smile in response. Possibly accompanied with bring the hand to the face in some form, and with hunching of the shoulders. Is there a word for that???? I guess that head ducking and weak smile is pretty much the same idea!

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