Monthly Archives: March 2016

Time to Listen Tuesday:

Creative Commons image via clipartist.net

Creative Commons image via clipartist.net

If the only images of brown people you saw in the books you read as a child were of the Gingerbread Man (a character always on the run and destined to be eaten), how would that affect your self-image, sense of identity, and understanding of the world? Six luminaries in the field of publishing for children reflect on how the availability of diverse books affected them as children and what changes they recommend in the field.

“All hands on deck! Teachers. Parents. Editors, Writers. Reviewers. Distributors. Bookstores. Literacy organizations. Youth organizations. All hands on deck!” – Wade Hudson

We Need Diverse Books NOW!

I’ll be spending the next few weeks reading and rereading this important round table discussion about diversifying children’s literature, hosted by the PEN Equity Project. Here are some thoughts from the participants to get you started. Link to full article here.

“I didn’t need to read a book to understand that I should be worried about my position in America. But I did need books to neutralize the feeling.” –Fatima Shaik

“I acquired what I now think of as the cheerful privilege of the white reader—the belief that all books existed purely for my enjoyment, with the easy pleasure of reading and judging them based on emotional reaction rather than representation.” – Cheryl Klein

“I remember how angry I was…when I was first exposed to Black writers such as Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ralph Ellison, and Langston Hughes. I should have known about these important cultural carriers and witnesses [before college].” – Wade Hudson

“That journey of loss and recovery—a kind of reclamation which was both emotional and political—is something I carry with me every day I sit down to write and as I move through the publishing world. It informs my outspokenness, my determination to bring radical change to an industry that remains entrenched in a very particular white cultural mindset toward the creation of literature.” – Daniel José Older

“As our nation continues to become even more diverse and the world becomes even more interconnected, what we write just might help children embrace this diversity so that as they become older, they can become informed, responsible, and active citizens in our democracy, and participants in the larger world in which we live.”  – Robie Harris

“There’s something that’s so magical and important about seeing yourself in a more specific way, whether it be race, or religion, or sexual orientation, or geography, or socioeconomic background, or disability, especially when you don’t often/ever see yourself represented anywhere else.” – Alvina Ling

“My question to you and to all those reading this discussion: What does it mean to be courageous in this time of change?”  – Daniel José Older

 

Windows and Mirrors Book Review: The Lost Celt

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

“The Celt relaxes his fists. Something changes because his eyes aren’t fierce anymore. They’re a warm, bright blue like two penny-sized chunks of sky stuck in a face as weathered as our redwood deck, and he looks like he wants to cry.”

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The Lost Celt
, by A.E. ConranGosling Press, an imprint of Goosebottom Books, 2016

Fourth Graders Mikey and Kyler are convinced that they’ve seen a real live Celtic warrior transported to the present as part of a secret defense project. If they track him down, they’re sure to reveal the secrets of time-travel once and for all, and write the best Veteran’s Day report in the history of fourth grade while they’re at it. Instead, they discover a different secret: the invisible effects of war on veterans of all generations and their families and the transcendent power of friendship.

Read this book because of its complex exploration of what it means to be a warrior for young boys obsessed with “war games.” A. E. Conran, who grew up in England listening to the stories of older generations who lived through the World Wars on home soil, both honors the contribution warriors make to our world and also illuminates the burdens they bear on our behalf. Rich with family relationships across the generations, real with mixed-race families and absent parents, this book elevates the allure of a mystery (the cover is printed in Hardy Boys blue and yellow) with the diversity and depth of its world.

Writers will enjoy the way Conran perfectly crafts her middle grade voice. The central role of Mikey’s relationships—with his mom who requires that he “breathe toothpaste on her” to prove he’s brushed his teeth, and his Grandpa who makes him ”chocolate-spread sandwich[es] the size of [his] military history book”—ring true for a fourth grade boy still connected to his family but old enough to sneak out after dark for the adventure of a lifetime. Conran gets every detail of voice right, from Mikey’s gullibility to his desire to impress a kind teacher with his Veteran’s Day report to his confusion about a class bully.

Add this book to your collection because there are not many books for children on post-traumatic stress that tell soldiers’ stories with so much compassion and depth. Conran delivers a sensitive examination of this intergenerational and societal problem in a gripping adventure story.

Read more about debut author A. E. Conran here:

Buy the book here:

“It’s a hard battle to get back to normal.”

Time to Listen Tuesday: Relando Thompkins-Jones

Photo by durera_toujours, Creative Commons via Flickr

Photo by durera_toujours, Creative Commons via Flickr

Every once in a while I stumble on a blog so thought-provoking and essential that it renews my gratitude for the age of information in which we live. This article by Relando Thompkins-Jones from his blog Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian, perfectly continues the dialogue Ellen Oh and Libby Bray began, about how critical it is for each and every one of us to make space to listen to those less privileged than ourselves.

On Power & Privilege Denial, and “Hurt Feelings” in Social Justice Work

“Denying the power and privilege we hold can be a way of protecting ourselves from internalizing the reality and gravity of our active and passive participation in oppressive systems…”

“Instead of actively focusing on how we participate in oppression, responding defensively can be an attempt at manipulating marginalized people into making us feel better about ourselves and taking care of our feelings first before we’re able to listen; ultimately derailing any critical dialogue that would have taken place.”

“Feeling “attacked” or “hurt” in the moment from our place of privilege, whatever that may be, fails to compare to the everyday lived experiences of the people who are on the receiving end of the oppression we benefit from.”

Read on! Link to the full article here.

Windows and Mirrors Book Review: Watch the Sky

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

“Jory’s stepfather “was fickle with explanations. Sometimes he shared them. Sometimes he didn’t. But he had no problem giving orders, mostly camouflaged as suggestions.”

Watch the SkyWatch the Sky, by Kirsten Hubbard, Disney-Hyperion, 2015

“Remember: you can’t trust anyone but your family.” Caleb rescued Jory’s agoraphobic mom from an ugly confrontation in the restaurant where she was forced to work after his dad left them. For a while, Caleb offers a sense of safety to the entire family. But now that Jory’s in the fifth grade, he’s starting to doubt the direction of his stepdad’s leadership. Especially since the “signs” have initiated a secretive night-time schedule of digging for the entire family. Worried that the Officials will find out about the little sister he’s not supposed to have, confused about the friendship offered by his peers, Jory’s questions threaten the foundation of trust that has anchored his family for the last few years. But when he realizes what loyalty to his family will really mean, he’s faced with hard truths and new choices.

Read this book because the spare language leads straight into the characters’ inner lives, revealing their fears and doubts as well as their strengths and loyalties. Hubbard flawlessly filters the story through Jory’s ten-year old perspective, illuminating the world as he sees and understands it, creating page-turning tension as his awareness unfolds.

Add this book to your collection because “Jory’s family was a different kind of different.” Middle-grade children are busy building perspective on their families. Developing healthy boundaries depends on the kind of insight that Jory earns in his story; readers puzzling over their own family dynamics will learn from him.

Other books by Kirsten Hubbard include:

Trust. Jory tried to hang on to it—trust in one hand, son in the other–even after he glimpsed the chain saw.”

Time to Listen Tuesday: Daniel José Older

Photo by Philippe Gillotte, via Creative Commons

Photo by Philippe Gillotte, via Creative Commons

“Nuances of codeswitching, racial microaggressions, the emotional reality of surviving white supremacy, self-translation – these are all layers of the non-white experience that rarely make it into mainstream literature, even when the characters look like us.” – Daniel José Older

If you haven’t yet read Daniel José Older’s BuzzFeed article, Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing, here’s the link.

Some provocative thoughts:

“White supremacy in children’s literature,” Larrick writes, “will be abolished when authors, editors, publishers, and booksellers decide that they need not submit to bigots.” -Nancy Larrick

“Lack of racial diversity is a symptom. The underlying illness is institutional racism. It walks hand in hand with sexism, cissexism, homophobia, and classism.” -Daniel José Older

“Maybe the word hasn’t been invented yet – that thing beyond diversity.” Daniel José Older