Black History and Women’s History All Year Long

Core Values in School Librarianship Book Cover and Quote#AASLchat organizers and I are on the same wave length when it comes to celebrating Black History, Women’s History, and all of the “months.” Diversity in resources, teaching, and programming are most effective when diversity is essential to the classroom/library curriculum all year long.

The AASL February chat will be held tonight, 2/22/21, beginning at 7:30 EST. You can read about it in an article by Chelsea Brantley and the AASL School Library Event Promotion Committee on the KQ Blog.

For me, “providing students with equitable access to relevant, engaging, and culturally responsive curriculum, resources, and programming must be essential to our mission” (Moreillon 2021, 150). Coplanning instruction with classroom teachers gives school librarians the opportunity to privilege diverse voices, cultures, and contributions throughout the curriculum.

These are the #AASLchat questions followed by my tweets and comments.

Q1 Black History Month is in February, but why not celebrate all year? What are some practical ways librarians can differentiate instruction to support learners’ understanding of cultural relevancy and placement within the global learning community? #AASLchat

Book CoversA1 Conducting #diversity audits, not only for the library collection but also for lessons and unit plans and programming, is essential. These sample resources span the content areas and grade levels. #AASLchat #Kidlit #MGlit #YAlit

Math and Science: Hidden Women: The African-American Mathematicians of NASA Who Helped America Win the Space Race (Encounter: Narrative Nonfiction Stories) by Rebecca Rissman (Capstone 2018).

History and Civic Education: Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Laura Freeman (Atheneum 2020)

Music and Culture: R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford (Atheneum 2020) with stunning illustrations by Frank Morrison

Q2 Libraries share stories of people from all walks of life. What books do you share with students to celebrate diversity? #AASLchat

Book CoversA2 American Indians’ experiences/contributions often left out of curriculum. Connect current events w/ #diverse resources. Ex: NM U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland, Pueblo woman & candidate 4 Secretary of Interior. What cultural values will she bring to this position? #AASLchat

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids by Cynthia Leitch Smith (Heartdrum 2021)

Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (Roaring Brook 2020)

Nibi Emosaawdang / The Water Walker (Ojibwa / English Edition) (Ojibwa) by Joanne Robertson, translators Shirley Williams and Isadore Toulouse (Second Story Press 2018)

Q3 Thinking ahead to March and Women’s History Month, let’s curate some resources to share with our students in the coming weeks. Identify a resource or two and how you might integrate it in your library program. #AASLchat

Book CoversA3 Feature #OwnVoices of Black (& other) women during Women’s History Month. Ex: Make these connections w/social studies curriculum or biography/autobiography unit. Compare first-hand accounts w/textbook/informational book content. #AASLchat

Child of the Dream (Memoir of 1963) by Sharon Robinson (Scholastic 2020)

My Life with Rosie: A Bond Between Cousins by Angela Sadler Williamson and Chloe Helms (Kate Butler Books 2020)

Ruby Bridges: This Is Your Time by Ruby Bridges (Delacourt Press 2020)

An additional word or two about Ruby Bridges: This Is Your Time: This small book is a love and grace letter from Ruby Bridges to young children, in particular. On left-hand pages, Ms. Bridges begins the book with a paragraph or two about her six-year-old experience of integrating a White school in New Orleans (1960) and continues with how the commitment to civil rights has impacted her/our lives. Primary source black and white photographs on the right-hand pages illustrate her text. All are cited. I can imagine an elementary educator using each double page in this book as a discussion/writing prompt in and of itself. Powerful.

Thank you to Chelsea and the School Library Event Promotion Committee for organizing the 2/22/21 chat around questions that focus on how to expand our spotlights on Black History and Women’s History, not solely during the months of February and March respectively, but all year long. We appreciate you for publicizing and publishing the questions in advance so that participants can think about our responses and organize the resources we want to share.

Then we can truly listen and learn from one another during the chat!

See you there!

Work Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2021. Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Teaching and Re-Teaching Black History

Book Cover: A Black Men's History of the United StatesAlthough I think spotlighting the people, literature, culture, and life experiences of specific groups has a place in our academic programs, I always hope that the “months” do not prevent us from addressing the diversity of human experience at every grade level in every content area throughout the school year.

For example, we know our history textbooks lack the perspectives and first-hand experiences of diverse voices–even when studying a historical event such as post-Civil War Reconstruction that should be centered on the lives of freed slaves. In these cases whenever they occur, it is up to librarians and other educators to engage students with primary sources and literature that share Black experiences and perspectives that are all too often missing in the textbook.

That said, and since I am no longer teaching, I have made Black History Month a time to deepen my own knowledge and understanding of Black history and culture. Last Friday on the PBS NewsHour, historian Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, who chairs the history department at the University of Texas at Austin, offered her “Brief but Spectacular Take on Understanding the Past to Live a Better Future.”

Dr. Berry is dedicated to rethinking the way we teach American history to all students. Her latest book, which she co-authored with Dr. Kali Gross. is titled A Black Women’s History of the United States (Beacon Press 2020). (I have requested the book from our public library; the following information is based on reviews.) The book includes diverse and complex voices from the first African women who arrived on the land that became the United States through to today’s Black women. The authors showcase enslaved women, freedwomen, religious leaders, artists, queer women, activists, and women who lived outside the law. Reviews indicate A Black Women’s History of the United States would be useful for high school as well as for adult readers.

Using Primary Source Documents to Teach and ReTeach History
Not only did I learn about their book in Dr. Berry’s Brief but Spectacular, I also learned about the Teaching Texas Slavery project. Dr. Berry serves as an advisor on the project. From the website: “The Teaching Texas Slavery Project seeks to help teachers rethink the teaching of slavery and race within the context of the K-12 Texas history curriculum… This project involves a two-part process for disseminating content and instruction on how to teach race and slavery. The first part offers an open-access website for using primary source documents on this topic. The second provides workshops on how to use the materials housed on the website. The overall goal is to transform the teaching of slavery and race across the K-12 social studies curriculum.”

The site includes:

  1. Background information, maps from contact (1528) through Texas statehood (1865);
  2. Concepts related to race and racism;
  3. A pedagogical framework for studying race and racism; and
  4. primary source records and documents (for students to study).

While the site is particularly valuable for educators teaching in Texas, the framework and documents could be used by educators in other parts of the country as well.

This work made a connection for me to a Guided Inquiry Design® inquiry unit I developed for middle school students designed to be cotaught by school librarians and classroom teachers in Denton, Texas. Denton County Before, During, and After the Civil War (2014) focused on using primary source documents to interrogate history prompted by the Confederate monument that stood on the Denton town square until June, 2020).

Literature Connection
Book Cover: The UndefeatedI would definitely invite students, educators, or anyone to begin any inquiry into Black history with Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson’s powerful, award-winning picturebook The Undefeated (Houghton Mifflin 2019). Framing teaching and re-teaching Black history in the United States in terms of the strength, perseverance, and resilience of Black people can help all students begin to understand the past and start to appreciate how far our country has come and how far we have yet to go in actualizing “liberty and justice for all.”

Reference

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. (2012). Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival, Part 2

Image: Latinx Kidlit Book Festival - book with flowersThe 2020 Latinx Kidlit Book Festival was officially held last Friday, December 4th and Saturday, December 5th. I took advantage of the fact that all of the #LKBF2020 video sessions are available on YouTube and will continue to be available indefinitely.

This past week, I viewed three more sessions: Picture Books in the Age of Activism, Elizabeth Acevedo in Conversation with NCTE President Alfredo Celedón Luján, and Frontera Lands: Immigrant Stories About the US-Mexico Border.

Below are my thoughts and connections to the panelists who spoke during these three sessions.

Picture Books in the Age of Activism
Image: Headshots of Moderator and PanelistsAs a picturebook author, reader, and social justice activist, the title of this session jumped off the screen. Although I no longer collect books for a school library, I have a home collection that is now geared more and more toward the early childhood and future young child reading of my grandchildren.

This panel included authors Diana López (Lucky Luna), who also moderated the session, Jackie Azúa Kramer (The Boy and the Gorilla), Eric Velasquez (Octopus Stew), Silvia López (Queen of Tejano Music: Selena), and Magdalena Mora (Equality’s Call). In their session, these authors shared connections between their picture books and supporting young people as they build empathy and strive for social justice as change agents of change in kids.

By way of introduction, moderator Diana López mentioned student activists who protested in Tucson against the ban on Mexican-American Ethnic Studies, including the resources that were used in the program (see the PBS documentary Precious Knowledge).

During the session, each panelist shared how social justice inspires or frames their books (paraphrases). Jackie Azúa Kramer noted that activism starts with a question and invites us to respond with empathy and compassion. Jackie held up an article published last fall in the Washington Post that testifies to the fact that young people activists “12 Kids Who Are Changing Their Communities and Our World.”

Eric Velasquez talked about is Afro-Latino heritage and how his first book Grandma’s Records (2004) was a breakthrough picturebook of validation for children who had not previously seen themselves in print. Eric’s goal is to “subversively” bring social justice messages to readers of his books.

Silvia López, a former librarian, talked about librarians are agents of change who serve as change agents through promoting diverse tools, A refugee from Cuba, Silvia wants her books to increase readers’ consciousness of injustice and to illustrate how injustice shapes lives.

Illustrator Magdalena Mora noted her book Equity’s Call, written by Deborah Diesen, spotlights who voting rights leaders spread enfranchisement to non-White male voters and includes the fact that more work is still to be done to eliminate voter suppression.

Elizabeth Acevedo in Conversation with NCTE President Alfredo Celedón Luján
Image: Headshot of Moderator and PanelistModerator Alfredo Celedón Luján, President of The National Council of Teachers of English. Luján, and dean of students and teacher of English and study skills at Monte del Sol Charter School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, introduced Elizabeth Acevedo and her award-winning books: The Poet X, With the Fire on High, and Clap When You Land. Then Elizabeth launched the session by performing one of her poems.

For the remainder of the session, Elizabeth responded to kids’ questions. In the process, she shared bits of her growing up in Morningside Heights, a section of New York City, and how she recognized herself as a poet at the age of ten. She entered her first poetry slam contest at fourteen and experienced how other kids’ poems affected her. “A poem can be carried in the body even when it wasn’t your own (poem).”

Her comments about craft were inspiring for all writers—young and more seasoned. She noted that poems seem to arise organically; poetry is personal. Prose, on the other hand, requires authors to show up for the characters so the characters can tell their story. When asked about writer’s block, Elizabeth shared that she doesn’t believe in it. Rather she has given herself permission to jump ahead in the story or pick up another project for a while… but to never stop writing. (Great advice!)

The showed a video at the end of the session that took viewers backstage to see Elizabeth’s home and family and community connections to her books. If you only have a short time, enjoy her poem at the beginning and the video at the end of this session.

Frontera Lands: Immigrant Stories About the US-Mexico Border
Image: Headshots of Moderator and PanelistsThe US-Mexico Border is sixty miles from our home. Immigrant and southern U.S. border stories are essential reading for the youth in Arizona, their families and communities. The panel members for this session were Yuyi Morales (Dreamers), Francisco Stork (Illegal), Alexandra Diaz (Santiago’s Road Home), and Reyna Grande (The Distance Between Us). Author Aida Salazar (Land of Cranes and The Moon Within) founding member of Las Musas Books moderated this conversation about experiences and issues related to the borderland regions of the U.S. and Mexico.

The following comments by the panelists were the most noteworthy to me.

Yuyi Morales said immigration is an “act of love.” In her books, she wants readers to see people and animals as beautiful beings who can us learn and grow. Readers should come away from her books encouraged to care for others.

Francisco Stork, who suffered feelings of inferiority as a nine-year-old immigrant, wants his readers to find heroism in the acts of characters who overcome all obstacles when confronted with evil.

In her work, Alexandra Diaz hopes readers will increase their understanding of the immigrant experience—an experience that is a valued and valuable part of who she is. She hopes that understanding will extend to immigrants all across the globe.

Reyna Grande noted that we, as a country, haven’t yet learned to celebrate immigrants and the immigrant experience. She wants to educate readers about that experience while authoring human stories with universal themes of pursing dreams with hope.

For me, Yuyi’s comment sums up my take-away from this session. “Books can be an invitation to every child to tell their own story.” Immigrant/immigration stories celebrate voices “that have not yet been heard.”

Promoting Latinx Authors and Illustrators
I think this bears repeating from last week’s post.

For the thirty-plus years I have been involved in the library and larger education worlds, we have been asking publishers for more diverse books for the children, teens, and families we serve. The underrepresentation of Latinx authors and illustrators has been alarming as the Latinx student population in our schools and country continue to grow at a faster rate than some other demographic groups.

This festival demonstrates that Latinx book creators come from a wide range of cultures and countries. They remind us that there is no monolithic “Latinx” or “Hispanic” experience and that all voices are needed and welcome in order to represent and best serve readers.

Note: As I was listening, I looked up all of the authors and illustrators most recent books in our public library catalogue, requested the ones I could find, and suggested purchases of the others.

Thank you to the #LKBF2020 sponsors for supporting these authors and illustrators. Let’s do our best as librarians to get these books into the hands of all young people and particularly those whose life experiences appear less often in children’s and young adult literature.

It’s a matter of equity and social justice.

Image Credit
Latinx Kidlit Book Festival Logo

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival Recap

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival Logo: Book with FlowersThe 2020 Latinx Kidlit Book Festival was officially held last Friday, December 4th and Saturday, December 5th. However, all of the #LKBF2020 video sessions are available on YouTube and will continue to be available indefinitely. Thank you to the festival organizers and sponsors!

The videos are organized by topics that will appeal to youth, educators, librarians, and readers of all ages. These are the sessions I have viewed so far: Español, Spanglish or Bilingual: The Use of Spanish in Latinx Kidlit; No Words: Storytelling Through Pictures; Magical Realism and Beyond; and Stronger Together: Social Justice in Young Adult Literature.

All of the sessions I’ve viewed have ended with questions submitted from young people. I appreciate this reader-centered addition to a virtual literature conference.

Español, Spanglish or Bilingual: The Use of Spanish in Latinx Kidlit

Photos and Names of Authors: Español, Spanglish or BilingualThis is an important session for all librarians in terms of cultural insider perspectives on bilingual and single-language books for children and teens. These were the guiding questions for the session: Is there a “universal” Spanish? Is there an audience in the USA for Spanish-only books published in America? When does blending Spanish and English work? Is it ever hindering or confusing? What about italics for Spanish in an English text? Is there a time that is best to do dual versions, rather than having a bilingual book?

Author and educator Monica Brown (Lola Levine Is Not Mean) moderated the panel and contributed many insights from her professional and personal experience. Monica, whose mother was born in Peru, shared her connections to Peruvian culture, history, and language. She talked about working collaboratively with translators because her own Spanish is not quite proficient enough to support her writing in both languages. (The country/culture of origin of Spanish language translators is an important conversation for the future.)

Lulu Delacre (Luci Soars) is originally from Puerto Rico and has been writing in both English and Spanish for many years; she is also an illustrator. Lulu noted that when both languages are included side by side in a picturebook, it equalizes Spanish language and creates opportunities for speakers/readers of both languages to share the text.

René Colato Laínez (Telegramas) who came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1985 talked about his experience as an immigrant without papers and how crossing borders influences his writing. He is also an educator of young children and considers their social-emotional needs in his books.

Mariana Llanos (Eunice and Kate) who was born in Peru shared the critical importance of bilingualism in her work and life. She noted that some adults who don’t speak a second language shy away from purchasing bilingual books because they can only read one of the languages in the book.

Natalia Sylvester (Running) who was also born in Peru associates Spanish language with “home” because her mother only allowed Spanish to be spoken in their U.S. home. Natalia talked about how there are commonalities among Spanish speakers and also how the language is different for each country or cultural group. She uses Spanglish in her young adult book because code switching captures the feelings of the characters and accurately represents the way people living in dual cultures talk. She wants to make readers feel “at home” in her books and in the beauty of language.

I learned from their discussion that there is no one opinion about whether or not to italicize non-English words and phrases in their books.

No Words: Storytelling Through Pictures
Photos and Names of Illustrators: No WordsI was able to attend this session live. Wow! This group of illustrators had such fun sharing their work, their favorite art-making tools, and their illustration processes: Juana Medina (Juana & Lucas), Raúl the Third (Lowriders), Axur Eneas (Student Ambassador: The Missing Dragon), Carlos Aponte (Across the Bay) and Adriana Hernandez Bergstrom (Abuelita and I Make Flan).

Readers are lucky to have their creativity and expertise in making visual media to tell stories.

I especially loved the portion of this session where the moderator Adriana Hernandez Bergstrom read thoughtful questions kids submitted for these illustrators. Thank you to the children for their questions and the illustrators for their personal and often humorous responses!

Magical Realism and Beyond
Photos and Names of Authors: Magical Realism and BeyondIn my reading of adult books, I have connected to magical realism, particularly in the works of Isabel Allende, Gabriel García Márquez, and Toni Morrison. This session attracted me because I am not as familiar with this literary style in books for children and young adults. Michelle Ruiz Keil (All of Us with Wings) moderated this session with Samantha Mabry (Tigers, Not Daughters), Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Shame the Stars), Daniel José Older (Shadowshaper Legacy), and Julio Anta (Frontera).

One thing I appreciated in this conversation was the distinction the authors made between magical realism and the supernatural. Their connections to family experiences of magical realism are not supernatural but rather the magic of “what is” (real). I resonate with that feeling and belief and look forward to reading the works of these authors.

Stronger Together: Social Justice in Young Adult Literature
Photos and Names of the Stronger Together AuthorsSocial justice and societal change in YA lit is a timely topic. This session was moderated by author and educator Jennifer De Leon (Don’t Ask Me When I’m From). The panel included Yamile Saied Méndez (Furia), Lilliam Rivera (Never Look Back), Lucas Rocha (Where We Go From Here), and Jenny Torres Sanchez (We Are Not From Here). Each author shared their inspirations for writing their most recent book.

One commonality among the intentions of these authors is to show the humanity of individuals and their struggles and to provide readers hope. As moderator-author Jenn De Leon noted, these authors dive deep into broad societal issues. They create stories that bring the power of being inside individual characters’ experiences to consider and wrestle with universal themes, feelings, hopes, and dreams – and to take action.

Promoting Latinx Authors and Illustrators
For the thirty-plus years I have been involved in the library and larger education worlds, we have been asking publishers for more diverse books for the children, teens, and families we serve. The underrepresentation of Latinx authors and illustrators has been alarming as the Latinx student population in our schools and country continue to grow at a faster rate than some other demographic groups.

The participants in the festival give those of us who share Latinx literature with young people hope that the future of publishing is bright for them–our readers and these authors and illustrators.

This festival demonstrates that Latinx book creators come from a wide range of cultures and countries. They remind us that there is no monolithic “Latinx” or “Hispanic” experience and that all voices are needed and welcome in order to represent and best serve readers.

Note: As I was listening, I looked up all of the authors’ and illustrators’ most recent books in our public library catalogue, requested the ones I could find, and suggested purchases of the others.

Thank you to the #LKBF2020 sponsors for supporting and promoting the work of these authors and illustrators. Let’s do our best as librarians to get their books into the hands of all young people and particularly to our youth whose life experiences appear less often in children’s and young adult literature.

It’s a matter of equity and social justice.

Image Credit
Latinx KidLit Book Festival Logo

Antiracist Early Childhood Book Audit

Book Cover: Antiracist BabyEarlier in the pandemic, I spent seven months with my infant and toddler grandchildren. In March, their family came to Tucson from California to shelter in place. At the time, the public libraries were closed and the books I had given the kids were in storage out of state. This meant we had to rely on my own collection of baby and preschool-age books… and I found it lacking.

Conducting a diversity audit of my early childhood books was a wake-up call for me. It seems I had a few board, paperback, and hardcover books for this age group on my shelves but the majority of them had animal and inanimate object characters. Although I had a few with diverse human characters, I definitely needed to expand our reading choices.

Book Jackets: More, More, More, Said the Baby; The Big Book of Famiies, Everywhere Babies, Ten, Nine, Eight, and Whoever You Are

I should add at this point that I had received some publicity regarding Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s board book Antiracist Baby illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky (2020). I immediately ordered it and then it took four months to arrive!

In the meantime, I turned first to Star Bright Books, publisher of my board book Read to Me (2004) also available in Spanish/English, Vietnamese, Vietnamese/English, and Haitian Creole/English. Star Bright is known for publishing early childhood books with diverse characters and many of their titles are bilingual or offered in diverse languages.

Due to pandemic safety measures, our infant granddaughter had not seen other babies, and our toddler grandson had not played with other children. The books below are the Star Bright Books I added to our home collection. Book Jackets: Babies, Babies!; Big Box for Ben; Clean Up, Up, Up; Eating the Rainbow; My Face Book

Next, I consulted the list of board books offered on the Social Justice Books website. I was happy to see that several of the books I owned or had recently purchased were on their list.

At some point along the way, I found the Leo and Lola series by Anna McQuinn that engaged our two-year-old grandson in seeing, hearing, and talking about babies and young children involved in everyday childhood activities. Thankfully, the public library re-opened for requests and pick-up and had these titles in their collection.

Book Jackets: Lola Plants a Garden; Leo Can Swim; Leo Loves Baby Time; Lola Loves Stories; Lola Reads to Leo

Last week, our family’s copy of Antiracist Baby arrived. At the time, I was immersed in the Racial Justice Challenge (RJC). One thing I had shared was the lack of diverse representation in the early childhood selections in our home book collection. Kendi’s book was the perfect reminder of how families, and White families in particular, can positively influence the young children in their lives with regard to normalizing diversity in books for infants and preschool children.

In his book, Kendi offers nine steps to make equity a reality. The first step is to “open your eyes to all skin colors.” During the RCJ, I also shared how my own awareness of race came later in my childhood; to the best of my recollection, I was around eight years old. It is important to me that my grandchildren not experience any delay in acknowledging and affirming difference.

Similar to my book Read to Me, the print in Kendi’s book is directed to the adult readers of his board book. While Ashley Lukashevsky’s bright, bold illustrations will catch the eyes of young children, the message and strategies Kendi offers for overcoming racism are for parents, grandparents, caregivers, and all older children and adults. Kendi invites readers to believe we can transform society and overcome racism and charges us with beginning that process with the very young.

For the foreseeable future, Antiracist Baby and Read to Me will be our family’s baby shower book selections.

Censorship versus Selection and Alternatives to American Dirt

If a book includes stereotypes, misrepresentations, and misinformation, the decision to not purchase it is selection. That decision is NOT censorship, self- or otherwise.

There has long been confusion and tension in librarianship over the distinction between censorship and selection. School librarians, according the 2016 Controversial Books Survey conducted by School Library Journal, are prone to self-censorship. Of the 573 U.S.–based school librarians who participated “9 out of 10 elementary and middle school librarians have not bought a book recently because of the potential for controversy.” If you haven’t already, please make time to read the SLJ survey data provided in three areas: weighing subject matter, age appropriateness, and general comments.

Although, to my knowledge, there is no similar survey of public library youth librarians, I would argue there are reasons this practice may be more prevalent in K-12 schools. Public libraries often have central purchasing. Youth librarians may recommend books but they are not directly “responsible” for the books on their library shelves. Their selection and censorship issues likely come at the point of selecting library resources to spotlight in displays and programming.

When there is a book challenge in a K-12 school, if librarians are lucky, the challenge will be made directly to them. Of course, a reconsideration policy must be in place. The librarian will explain the process to the patron, provide the forms, and follow up. Sometimes school library patrons, most often parents, go directly to higher-ups, including principals, school board members, and superintendents. In these cases, it is often the librarian’s role to explain the process to their supervisors and then facilitate the proper review of a complaint. In public libraries, even if the complaint goes directly to the youth librarian, challenges are most often handled by branch managers, the collection development department, or library administrators,

Budgets and Core Values
It is important to remember that the vast majority of school librarians do not have budgets that allow them to purchase every children’s or YA book published in any given year—not even close. There are far too many examples of school libraries with small budgets that will not allow them to purchase even one new title every year for every child they serve. (Consecutive years with zero budgets are not unheard of.) Most school librarians, therefore, must make careful selections in order to use their funds wisely to support the school’s curriculum and meet the independent reading needs of students.

That said, the prevalence of (self-)censorship in K-12 school libraries should be of concern to the profession since this practice flies in the face of our core values: intellectual freedom and the right to read (see ALA’s Access to Resources and Services in the School Library: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.)

Censorship versus Selection
“Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons — individuals, groups, or government officials — find objectionable or dangerous” (ALA 2017). The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of individuals to speak, publish, read and view what they wish. Young people’s access to “objectionable” materials has long been contentious. School library resources are at the center of these controversies; some of which are ultimately settled in the courts (see my review of Reading Dangerously published by ALA’s Freedom to Read Foundation).

The difference between censorship and selection lies in the reasons behind a decision to purchase or not purchase a book or other resource. Most school librarians do not have access to advance review copies; they rely on book reviews. According to the SLJ survey, librarians read multiple reviews (as most often required by their selection policies) and use the age range and Lexile information as guidelines. Age “appropriateness” and connection to curriculum and community needs come into play.

In the case of “controversial” titles, the author’s treatment of sex and violence and word choice are often cited as reasons to tread carefully. Stereotypes are also mentioned. Some school librarians check out a controversial book from their public library and read it before purchasing. However, due to time constraints, it is likely that most decisions regarding whether or not to purchase these titles are based on book reviews, social media posts, and recommendations from colleagues.

Reliance on Book Reviews
Accuracy and authenticity come into play as well. Book reviewers’ cultural competence, their willingness to conduct research, their personal backgrounds and experiences, and more affect the quality of their reviews and their ability to determine accuracy and authenticity, in particular when reviewing books that are outside their cultural backgrounds. “Book reviewers are charged with documenting the merits as well as the flaws, if there are any, in the books they review. Reviewers who do not feel qualified to review particular books can seek further information from cultural insiders, the book review source, publisher, author or illustrator, or return the book unreviewed as appropriate” (Moreillon 2019, 7).

Choosing not to purchase or promote a book simply because it is controversial is (self-) censorship. However, if a book includes misinformation, stereotypes, and misrepresentations, the decision to not purchase or promote it is selection.

Reading American Dirt
I live in Tucson, Arizona, sixty miles from the U.S.-Mexican border. I have crossed the border at Nogales and Tijuana. I have traveled to Mexican resort towns on the Baja and western coast of the country and have visited cultural sites on the Yucatán Peninsula. I have some knowledge of Mexican culture and history, but I am assuredly a cultural outsider.

I borrowed American Dirt from the public library and read it as a personal challenge. I heard about the controversy in an NPR interview with author Luis Alberto Urrea and American Dirt author Jeanine Cummins. I had read a few blog posts and reviews—pro and con. I wanted to determine whether or not I could identify the stereotypes and misrepresentations in this book. I wondered if I, as a cultural outsider, could confidently review this book if it were under consideration for purchase for a high school library.

This is what I learned: I don’t have sufficient cultural knowledge to determine the accuracy and authenticity of American Dirt. I did not “see” all of the cultural stereotypes that insiders have recognized in the book. I did not make time to research aspects of the book that others have questioned. I did not catch all of the situations that echoed scenes found in previously published fiction and nonfiction books centered on the border and immigration.

As a reader, I didn’t find American Dirt well written. There were inconsistencies that appeared within paragraphs of each other (see pp. 266-267 regarding Beto’s life on el dompe in Tijuana.) There were long sentences and paragraphs in which the omniscient narrator’s voice seemed confused. The sprinkling of Spanish words and phrases didn’t authenticate the text for me.

As one reviewer noted, “Once one cuts through the noise and actually reads the book, what becomes clear is that the problem isn’t that Cummins wrote a story that wasn’t hers to tell, but that she told it poorly – in all the classic ways a story is badly told. Two-dimensional characters, tortured sentences, an attempt to cover the saga of a migrant without even addressing the wider context of migration or inequality” (Malik 2020).

That said, I have to admit that I was drawn into the story in terms of the will, determination, perseverance, humanity, and courage of Lydia, Luca, and their fellow migrants. I strongly disagree with one reviewer’s criticism that Lydia, a privileged woman, should NOT be surprised by the hardships and inhumane conditions of the poor, immigrants, and asylum seekers depicted in the story. I believe all of us who are privileged would lack this understanding. We may read, hear, and see images in the media about the struggles of those who are less privileged, but until we actually live in the conditions of their lives, we cannot know them.

Alternatives to American Dirt

Collage of Luis Alberto Urrea’s “Border” Books: Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border (Anchor, 1993), By the Lake of Sleeping Children: The Secret Life of the Mexican Border (Anchor, 1996), The Devil’s Highway: A True Story (Little Brown, 2004), Into the Beautiful North: A Novel (Little Brown, 2009),

 

I would not select American Dirt for a high school library based on the poor writing, inaccuracies, stereotypes, and a lack of authenticity, as pointed out by “insider” readers. “Authors and illustrators who create literature from outside their own culture must be vigilant as they write and illustrate books for children and teens (and adults, too, for that matter). In addition to research, consulting with cultural experts is a more effective way to ensure that their texts are culturally authentic, accurate, and free of stereotypes” (Moreillon 2019, 7).

I have not read that Jeanine Cummins shared her manuscript with one or more cultural insiders before submitting it to her editor, who is also a cultural outsider. It appears likely that her editor did not share the manuscript with anyone who could have helped Ms. Cummins improve her writing and make corrections in her representation of Mexican culture.

In her author’s note, Ms. Cummins wrote, “I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it” (382). As this author clearly knows, there are others much “browner” than she who have written novels and nonfiction about the border and immigration. (Ms. Cummins’ grandmother migrated from Puerto Rico to the U.S. in the 1940s.) Others have told this story, including Luis Alberto Urrea. In the NPR interview, Ms. Cummins talked about the impact Urrea’s work has had on her.

The collage above shows four of Urrea’s titles that I would select for high school students rather than American Dirt. Three books are nonfiction; one is a novel. And I would further explore the writing of other Latinx writers who accurately and authentically portray present-day Mexican culture, including the “Real Dirt – Works by Latinx Authors” List recommended by Pima County Public Library.

I share this reviewer’s perspective. “If English-speaking readers assume that this novel (American Dirt) accurately depicts the realities of Mexico and migration, it will only further the cause of disinformation and prejudice. And in this day and age, we can’t afford any more of that” (Schmidt 2020).

Works Cited

American Library Association. 2017. “First Amendment and Censorship.” ALA.org. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/censorship

Malik, Nesrine. 2020. “American Dirt’s Problem is Bad Writing, Not Cultural Appropriation.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/feb/03/american-dirt-problem-bad-writing-cultural-appropriation-mexico

Moreillon, Judi. (2019). “Does Cultural Competence Matter? Book Reviewers as Mediators of Children’s Literature.” Children and Libraries 17 (1): 3-8.

Schmidt, David J. 2020. “A Poor Imitation: American Dirt and Misrepresentations of Mexico.” The Blue Nib Literary Magazine. https://thebluenib.com/a-poor-imitation-american-dirt-and-misrepresentations-of-mexico

School Library Journal. 2016. “Self-Censorship.” SLJ.com. https://www.slj.com/?page=features-self-censorship

2020 Sibert Awards and the Edwards Award

 “Nonfiction should not suggest nonfeeling.
Nonfiction offers us the chance to learn not only about the world and the people in it,
but about ourselves” (Beers and Probst 2017, 49).

This spring graduate students in IS445: Information Books and Resources are exploring nonfiction and informational books and resources in the context of inquiry learning. That said, it is important for all librarians (and other educators and parents) to pay attention to the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards (YMA), which were announced last Monday, January 27, 2020. The first Sibert Awards were given in 2001.

Robert F. Sibert Award
In the context of our class, the Sibert Medal and Honor Books may be the most notable awards for our reading and discussions. The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal is given annually to “the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year.” Mr. Sibert was the long-time President of Bound to Stay Bound Books. The Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) administers the award.

Among the 2020 award and honor winners there is a narrative nonfiction story told in verse, two memoirs (one in verse, one a poetry collection), a biography, and what I consider a multigenre text. For me, the Sibert Awards show for how members of this committee have taken up the charge to embrace positive trends in publishing, including increasing diversity in authorship, genre, topics, and themes.

2020 Winner and Honor Books
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story earned the 2020 Sibert Medal. It was written by Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Maillard, who was born in Oklahoma, is an enrolled citizen of the Seminole Nation; Martinez-Neal was born in Lima, Peru. This concept book is told in verse and shares this American Indian food tradition through the experience of a present-day family. The multiracial illustrations are child-friendly charming and connect the importance of fry bread in native homes and communities. (In Arizona, the Tohono O’odham are makers of the best bread I’ve ever tasted.) The book includes extensive back matter.

There were four Sibert honor books this year.

All in a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World was written by Lori Alexander and illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger. (Lori happens to be a colleague and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators, Arizona, and a Tucsonan.) This chapter book biography, written for an elementary- and intermediate-level readership, tells the amazing discoveries of van Leeuwenhoek who invented the microscope and is known as the Father of Microbiology. (Note: Search Amazon to hear a recording of a segment of the book.)

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality, written by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy, is a memoir told in verse. It tells of Ann Boyce’s school desegregation experiences in Tennessee. (I have not yet read this book.) From reading reviews, I believe the power of this book is the primary sources and research used to document Boyce’s experiences as one of the “Clinton 12.” See the National Education Association video published on YouTube.

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir is a collection of poems written by Nikki Grimes. Grimes is known for her poignant and powerful poetry and this collection is especially moving for a young adult readership. (Full disclosure: I am a long-time Nikki Grimes reader and fan.) I appreciate the way she introduces this collection: “Memoir: a work of imperfect memory in which you meticulously capture all that you can recall, and use informed imagination to fill in what remains.” In Ordinary Hazards, Grimes relates the people, places, and experiences that shaped her growing up to how they have affected her adult life. The storied quality of these poems will capture the hearts and minds of her readers who are living their present circumstances and looking forward to their futures.

Hey, Water! was written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis. In her narrative (multigenre?) nonfiction/informational book, a young girl talks directly to and about water. She plays “hide and seek” as she learns and tells readers about how water is everywhere, changes throughout the seasons, and is an essential part of her body. Young children are fascinated by things they can experience through their senses. They will enjoy the child-friendly (and beautiful figurative) language, written at their level of understanding, with labels and clear illustrations. The book includes diagrams, information on the water cycle, conservation, and experiments using water. For me, the innovation in this book for young children is the combination of narrative and the features of expository texts.

Margaret A. Edwards Award
The Margaret A. Edwards Award is given to the author whose body of work has made a “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.” The award was established in 1988 and is administered by the Young Adult Library Services Association, YALSA, and is sponsored by School Library Journal. In addition, the award “recognizes an author’s work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world.”

Steve Sheinkin earned the 2020 Edwards Award based on these three titles: Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights, and The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery. I have read both Bomb and the Benedict Arnold book and concur that Sheinkin’s research is impeccable and his storytelling is captivating.

However, from my perspective, another of Sheinkin’s titles could/should have been mentioned, particularly in light of librarians’ efforts to reach young adults who are interested in sports. Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team (2017) is, in my opinion, one of Sheinkin’s most compelling narrative nonfiction reads… and I am not a football fan.

I am, however, a student of American Indian peoples and their history, and this book is an astounding true story of the impact Thorpe and his teammates made on college football. With the Super Bowl having been played yesterday, I am wondering how many fans realize that college football spawned professional ball and that the Carlisle Indian School players arguably made the greatest impact on this sport.

The other significance of Sheinkin’s award is that from my reading of past Edwards Award winners, he and Jim Murphy, who earned the award in 2010, are the only recipients in the history of this award who write nonfiction/informational books for young adults.

I wholeheartedly agree with Kylene Beers and Robert Probst: “Nonfiction should not suggest nonfeeling. Nonfiction offers us the chance to learn not only about the world and the people in it, but about ourselves” (2017, 49).

Work Cited

Beers, Kylene, and Robert E. Probst. 2017. Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters. New York: Scholastic.

#AASLslm School Library Month: Global Connections

April is… School Library Month (SLM). “Every April school librarians are encouraged to host activities to help their school and local community celebrate the essential role that strong school library programs play in transforming learning.”

This year the American Association of School Librarian (AASL) chose this theme: “Making Connections at Your School Library.” The official hashtag is #AASLslm.

AASL’s SLM Committee curated an outstanding selection of resources organized into four buckets—one for each week of the month of April.
• Making Learner Connections
• Making Educator Connections
• Making Community Connections
• Making Global Connections

Congratulations Jillian Ehlers (Chair), Cynthia Alaniz, Michelle Cooper, Shannon DeSantis, Hattie Garrow, Cathy Pope, and Denise Tabscott for your fine work.

While all four of these subthemes are essential aspects of future-ready school librarianship, I want to share a new resource and an additional idea for the “making global connections” subtheme.

Worlds of Words: Globalizing the Common Core Reading Lists 

The Worlds of Words (WOW) has created global book lists that pair classic children’s and young adult literature with global books that reflect the cultural diversity of our students and our world. These fiction and informational books, organized by grade level, can support librarians’ global collection development as well as provide critically reviewed texts that can be integrated into the curriculum.

I will be spotlighting this resource in my “Intercultural Understanding through Global Literature” session at the Texas Library Association Conference on Wednesday, April 4th. During the session we will discuss the importance of critical book reviews for competent collection development and integrating global literature into our coteaching in order to help students broaden their perspectives, develop empathy, and prepare to learn, work, and live in a global society.

Antonio S. Pedreira Elementary School Library in Puerto Rico

Immersing students in another culture through global literature is one way to increase their intercultural understanding. This example connects with students who may be studying weather or natural disasters as well as those learning more about life in Puerto Rico. When Hurricane María hit landfall in September, 2017, all of the books and other resources were stored in the Antonio S. Pedreira Elementary School Library. They lost everything.

My colleague and fellow WOW Board member Carmen Martínez-Roldán, an associate professor of bilingual/bicultural education, is supporting the rebuilding efforts of the Antonio S. Pedreira Elementary School Library in San Juan, Puerto Rico. These students, educators, and families must rebuild their school library from the ground up. Carmen recently launched a GoFundMe.com campaign to support students, educators, and families in recreating their vital resources for learning.

One way to launch an inquiry and engage students in making global connections is to read books about Puerto Rico. (See the list of books in the comment section below.) If yours is a school library of plenty, reaching out to help rebuild a school library for the benefit of global classmates is a way to make global connections and a most worthwhile way to celebrate School Library Month 2018.

Wishing you the best for #AASLslm 2018!

Image Credit: Original Photograph by Judi Moreillon

Harmony in Difference

tt54-coverSaturday, December 10th, was the United Nations’ Human Rights Day. Making the connection between human rights and finding “harmony in difference” feels like a timely post for me.

In 1992, when I was serving in my first school librarian position, my father-in-law gave me a copy of the Southern Poverty Law Center magazine Teaching Tolerance.  Founded in 1971, SPLC is a U.S. non-profit organization monitors the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists.

Shortly after reading my first issue of Teaching Tolerance, I became a card-carrying SPLC member and have religiously renewed my membership every year since. Over the years, Teaching Tolerance has given me inspiration, encouragement, and teaching tips to make social justice a central component of my service as a school librarian and school librarian educator.

On their “about” page, Teaching Tolerance notes that their definition of “tolerance” aligns closely with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Declaration of Principles on Tolerance: “Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference” (UNESCO).

The Fall 2016 issue of the magazine (cover above) was published before the election. (It is downloadable.)  Read or review this issue and think about the fact that SPLC counted 867 incidents of hateful harassment in the ten days after the U.S. election. How can educators, and school librarians in particular, teach young people to find “harmony in difference?”

Read the latest from Teaching Tolerance: “New Report: School Climate Worsens in Wake of Election.” More than 10,000 educators took the survey; 90% of respondents reported that their school climate has been negatively affected by the election.

These are some tips for school librarians who serve as information specialists, instructional partners, and leaders in their schools:

1.    If you don’t already have a free Teaching Tolerance subscription, sign up for one or read the magazine online. Sign up for the weekly newsletter.
2.    If you receive a print copy of the magazine, share it among your colleagues or send the link to the .pdf version to them. Encourage your colleagues to subscribe to the magazine and newsletter.
3.    Engage students and colleagues in discussions related to the articles in the magazine and newsletter.
4.    Reflect on your own practice of teaching tolerance.
5.    Reach out to colleagues to coteach lessons and units of instruction that affirm diversity.
6.    Consider following Teaching Tolerance on Twitter and Facebook.

As we approach the winter holiday season, it is especially important that our nation’s “public spaces,” including our school libraries, honor the traditions of all of our citizens and library users. Even in homogeneous communities, and maybe most especially in religiously homogeneous schools, the season for caring and giving is a time to acknowledge that diversity is, thankfully, an essential and laudable aspect of U.S. society.

Cover art by Nigel Buchanan
Magazine cover reprinted with permission of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. www.tolerance.org