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

World Kindness Day, Love, and Justice

Image of two hands surrounding a heart with the scales of justice in the centerThis coming Friday, November 13, 2020 is World Kindness Day. The mission of Inspire Kindness.com is to “inspire the world’s greatest kindness movement.” World Kindness Day “has the purpose is to help everyone understand that compassion for others is what binds us all together. This understanding has the power to bridge the gap between nations.” The Inspire Kindness website offers posters and other printables, a video, and ideas for celebrating World Kindness Day at school.

Quote to Teach and Live By
During the presidential campaign, I was introduced to this quote from author, scholar, and activist Dr. Cornel West:

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

World Kindness Day seems to me to be an appropriate time to consider the connection between love and justice. I believe a wise thought such as this one can be our guide as we, school librarians and other educators, negotiate our place in today’s and tomorrow’s civic and education conversations.

During this season of misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, and bold-face lies, we have renewed our commitment to teaching students to be critical thinkers who learn and practice news/media literacy. This is essential work.

See Lia Fisher-Janosz’ 11/03/20 Knowledge Quest post: “We Hold These Truths to Be Self Evident: Learning and Discerning in 2020 and Beyond” and my own 11/02/20 post “News Literacy and Democracy.”

Public Education and Justice
Last week, Arizona voters passed Prop. 208! For students who attend K-12 district public schools, serve in and advocate for public education in Arizona, this hard-won outcome is cause for great celebration. Working toward providing every young person with a high-quality education guided by better-paid educators is both an expression of love and an act of social justice.

This measure includes funding for hiring and retaining state-certified school librarian positions in Arizona district public schools. I was just one among the many who dedicated time and energy to promoting this initiative. My personal thanks go out to all who worked on this effort, including members of the Arizona Library Association and EveryLibrary executive director John Chrastka.

When we resume the Tucson Unified School District School Librarian Restoration Project, we will be meeting with newly elected TUSD board members: Natalie Luna Rose, Sadie Shaw, and Ravi Grivois-Shah. Having the Prop. 208 funds in the bank will definitely make those conversations “sweeter.” (This win is important because it reflects Arizonans’ frustration with the inability of our governor and state legislature to restore public school funding to pre-2008 recession levels.)

Developing Hearts
As we serve young people, school librarians have the opportunity and the charge to guide students in developing their hearts as well as their minds. We have the dual charge to both teach and coteach our school’s curriculum with a focus on information literacy and critical thinking AND to develop students as lifelong readers who develop understanding, compassion, and empathy through reading and interacting with literature.

In order to serve our learning communities in both of these ways, we must practice our core values of equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom. As Metro Nashville school librarian Erika Long states: “Librarians must commit to being radical change and equity warriors to ensure no one is omitted” (2020, 13).

The reading materials and learning opportunities we provide through our libraries must reflect our values, reach and speak to all students, and support all educators in guiding students to success. We must collaborate with other educators to engage students with literature, to invite them to discuss diverse literature with their peers and guides—to use literature as a springboard for personal growth and societial change.

SEL = Human(e)
I appreciate this “formula” that Steve Tetreault proposed in his 11/6/20 Knowledge Quest blog post “Finding Moments of Joy.” Whether or not we consider this an “academic” formula, it is true that social-emotional learning helps us develop as whole human beings—as humane humans.

Diverse, inclusive literature can be a large part of a “heart” curriculum because it helps us connect with others people’s experiences. Readers can develop our compassion and empathy, and can grow our human-ness through story.

Living with uncertainty, as we are today, is difficult for many of us, including our students, colleagues, and families. Let’s be sure to practice kindness every day and make a commitment to connect, to educate hearts as well as minds as we move forward into a more just future—together.

Works Cited

Inspire Kindness. 2020. “World Kindness Day.” https://inspirekindness.com

Long, Erika. 2020. “Radical Change Agents and Equity Warriors.” School Library Connection, October, 12-14.

Tetreault, Steve, 2020. “Finding Moments of Joy.” Knowledge Quest (blog), November 6, https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/finding-joyful-moments/

Image Credit:

GJD. “Heart Love Passion Peace Sign.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/vectors/heart-love-passion-peace-sign-2028061

Online Literature Teaching and Learning

In recent weeks, several national and state-level organizations have suggested various roles and activities for school librarians and other educators in face-to-face, hybrid, and remote learning contexts.

Image: Laptop with book shelves on the screenIn my opinion, there are roles and activities around children’s and young adult literature teaching and learning that have not been prominent or fully promoted in these documents. These are some possibilities:

  • Facilitating online book clubs for students and other educators;
  • Coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing online literature circle discussions in collaboration with classroom teachers;
  • Curating and guiding technology creation/productivity tools use and integration for students and other educators during literature studies;
  • Supporting individual readers through remote reader’s advisory for both personal and academic books and other resources.

Both as a practicing school librarian and a university-level preservice classroom teacher and librarian educator, I have been integrating technology tools into children’s and YA literature teaching for twenty years. The experiences I’m sharing in this post were hybrid, including both face-to-face and electronic communication (not necessarily in equal parts), or totally online.

What Does Technology Have to Do with It?
In spring 2000, I was a doctoral student teaching a face-to-face undergraduate children’s lit course for preservice classroom teachers at the University of Arizona (UofA). In the article cited below (which is no longer readily available online), I shared the students’ Southwest Literature website book review publications and our long-distance book discussion with preservice educators attending Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) in Traverse City, Michigan.

Then:
Each student wrote their review of a Southwest-themed children’s book and submitted them to me as Word documents; I offered the students feedback. Using my personal computer, students met with me to transfer/design their work and publish their pages and images, including book jackets and students’ artwork, on the website.

Reading and discussing in small groups, the UofA class, 60 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, and NMC students, a couple hundred miles from the U.S.-Canada border, shared our responses to and questions about Esperanza Rising (Ryan). We communicated via email. We also exchanged paper print artifacts. The geographically distant perspectives of Arizona and Michigan undergraduate students enriched our conversations around the book and issues related to immigration and migrant labor.

Now:
I believe it is important for preservice classroom teachers and school librarians to read book reviews and compose and possibly publish book reviews. The combination of reading and writing helps educators become more critical of what is included and what is left out of some book reviews. Doing professional work, such as writing/publishing book reviews, during their preservice education, can help develop the skills necessary and a commitment to share professional knowledge and experience with colleagues.

Rather than exchanging paper print artifacts–our personal photographs and photos and information about our local communities–we would exchange Google Slides or create a collaborative website or blog for sharing.

If I were teaching college-level or 4th-12th grade students today, I would still reach out for long-distance literature discussions. I believe bringing together learners from different locations (even within the same city) can bring new perspectives into the online classroom. I have not much success with this in higher education since the AZ-MI collaboration with Barb Tatarchuk, but I made several good faith 7th/8th-grade students-and-preservice classroom teacher attempts in a hybrid model while teaching at Texas Woman’s University.

Additionally, knowing that all learners had high-speed Internet access, I would support the whole class or student small groups in holding online meetings within the learning management system (LMS) or outside of it, if appropriate. I would rotate among small groups as a solo educator or as a coteacher and serve as a listener or questioner in breakout group meetings.

**Whether school is taught face-to-face, in a hybrid model, or totally online, offering both asynchronous and synchronous options is critical. Knowing the resources available to students and any other life situation-learning constraints is critical.

Learning and Teaching in WANDA Wiki Wonderland (focused on 8th-graders)
In the 2008-2009 academic year, I served as the school librarian in a combined middle and high school library facility for Emily Gray Junior High (EGJH) and Tanque Verde High School. That year, I had the pleasure of co-planning, co-implementing, and co-assessing a year-long hybrid literature circle unit of study with 8th-grade English language arts teacher Jenni Hunt.

The unit involved students in one literature circle activity each quarter. In the fall of 2008, I was also teaching Children’s and Young Adult Literature in a Multicultural Society in the School of Information and Library Science at the University of Arizona (UofA). (The article I wrote related to our collaboration is available through databases.) Unfortunately, most of the EGJH students’ responses to the books are no longer available (since Wikispaces left the Web). I have summarized two of the four circles.

Then:
First Quarter: The EGJH students who co-read and discussed books with UofA grade students selected one of ten books with Southwest settings: Hole in the Sky (Hautman), Ghost Fever/Mal de fantasma (Hayes), Downriver (Hobbs), Walker of Time (Vick), Canyons (Paulsen), Weedflower (Kodahata), The Big Wonder (Hobbs), Crossing the Wire (Hobbs), Becoming Naomi León (Ryan), and Esperanza Rising (Ryan).

The 8th-graders and grad student used the discussion feature on Wikispaces to share their responses and questions regarding the books. The UofA graduate students preserved some of the EGJH students’ responses on the Southwest Children’s and Young Adult Literature Web Site. (See the “students’ voices section of each of the EGJH titles reviewed.)

Now:
Fortunately, there are many other “Southwest” novels from which to choose today. For remote teaching, it is essential to ensure that that all students will have access to downloadable ebooks from their school or local public libraries. (In my opinion, some of the online platforms that are currently offering free ebooks lack diverse and #ownvoices titles as well as sufficient user privacy.) I would still create small groups around a particular theme or learning objective to offer choice within a framework.

Then:
Fourth Quarter: The EGJH students read one of six titles by Jacqueline Woodson. Still using the Wikispaces discussion feature, they discussed the books with members of their small groups. They also invited the twelve high school library aides to join in their discussions. 8th-graders created final projects related to their Woodson author study. Their projects were linked to their wikipages and includes tools such as: VoiceThread.com, Wordle.net, Newspaper Clipping Generator (available from Fodey.com), and other Apple and Microsoft software that was available at the time.

Now:
This year-long classroom-library collaboration literature circles unit could have been co-taught totally online. Using the discussion feature of any LMS, including Google Classroom, 8th-grade students, high school library aides, and children’s and YA lit undergrad or grad students can conduct literature circles totally in the only environment.

**I, personally, would require all students who had cameras to turn them on (the bandwidth willing). I think it is important for students to see one another in the online environment. Audio and posting in the chat or elsewhere are an option, but in my opinion, maintaining some traditions of the classroom is essential if we are to create virtual learning communities.

I believe author studies are central to literature teaching. Authors with five or more ebook titles are good candidates for online literature discussion choices. There are a number of platforms and authors who stepped up and reached out to share during the school closures of 2020. These are just a few highlights:

Companies, Organizations, and Publishers

Book Trust (United Kingdom)

Candlewick Press

Lee & Low Books

Teaching Books, especially Read-Along Audiobook Performances Collection

Authors:

Kwame Alexander (illustrations by Kadir Nelson): The Undefeated

Monica Brown: Marisol MacDonald Doesn’t Match

Grace Lin, a generous selection of her work on her YouTube channel

Jason Reynolds: from Ghosts

**I would use all of the tools students used in 2008-2009, especially VoiceThread.com which was especially effective for students’ presentations. To these, I would add any number of creativity/productivity tools spotlighted for iSchool graduate students (spring 2020), especially infographic generators, Mentimeter.com polling/word cloud generator, and brainstorming/mindmapping tools, such as Padlet.com.

I would also use Flipgrid.com for introductions, community building, and selected lit response/booktalk activities. I would use the entire Google Classroom suite or other LMS features with which students and classroom teachers are familiar.

Inquiry into Nonfiction and Informational Global Literature Focused on Prejudice and Discrimination against Children and Teens
In summer 2019 and spring 2020, I taught a fully online graduate course focused on children’s and YA nonfiction and informational books and resources. The iSchool graduate students were preservice school or public librarians.

Then and Now:
Graduate students used Flipgrid for course introductions and book or resource talks. They engaged in an author study with narrative nonfiction author and photographer Susan Kuklin. Kuklin’s body of work offered both picturebook and YA nonfiction allowing for student choice and relevance to their practice. They participated in a Zoom meeting with Ms. Kuklin and engaged in a Twitter chat focused on their reading and response to her work before and after our class meeting with her.

Library science students studied and practiced the Guided Inquiry Design framework (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012). After engaging in a whole class example, students formed small interest groups around an inquiry question. They collaborated, curated books and digital resources, and published their work on Google docs. They presented their work to the class using combinations of the spotlighted tools on the IS445 course wiki as well as their own favorite and effective tools. (I would keep adding to these tools as students bring them to my attention.)

Students also engaged in three additional Twitter chats focused on their reading. After the author study, their reading was focused predominantly on their small group inquiry questions and their final course project choice.

As one possible final project, students had the option of composing and submitting critical book reviews with the potential of publication in WOW Review. (I’m disappointed that a few of the summer 2019 students did not submit or were not published in the nonfiction and autobiographies issue.)

**With planning and preparation, author-illustrator studies and inquiry learning can be effective in the virtual environment can be successful. Identifying authors for author study takes a good amount of preparation time searching, selecting, and communication—and is so worth it.

Identifying ebooks and resources is time-consuming; collaborate with your librarian! (Side note: Finding author-created or publisher-promoted recordings of fiction genres seem to me easier to locate than nonfiction and informational book recordings, particularly international titles or those created by diverse, #ownvoices authors.)

School Librarians
With students and educators, I would also stress Applying Fair Use AND Honoring Copyright During a Crisis (or at any other time for that matter).

As national-, state-, and district-level advocacy tools are proliferating in the school librarianship world, it is clear that school librarians know their work will be tested and evaluated, especially in the upcoming school year. During this time, it is more important than ever to create access points and procedures for responding to individual students’ and classroom educators’ reader’s advisory requests. Making ourselves available via email, social media, and other messaging services is essential.

Whether we are teaching face to face in the physical library, using a hybrid model, or teaching totally online, we must show our value added and document the outcomes of our work in terms of student learning, educators’ teaching, and support for families (not addressed directly in this post). Let’s not forget that teaching literature with the support of digital tools has been and is central to our work then and now.

References

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

Moreillon, Judi. 2001. “What Does Technology Have to Do with It? Integrating Technology Tools into a Children’s Literature Course.” Reading Online 5 (2). (No longer available online)

_____. 2009. “Learning and Teaching in WANDA Wiki Wonderland: Literature Circles in the Digital Commons. Teacher Librarian 37 (2): 23-28.

_____. 2019. “Inquiry into Nonfiction and Informational Global Literature Focused on Prejudice and Discrimination against Children and Teens,” 4-part Series. WOW Currents. Available from https://wowlit.org/blog/tag/judi-moreillon/

Image Credit
kalhh. “Learn Media Internet.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/learn-media-internet-medium-977543/

Spotlight on the ALA Book Award Celebration

Four Book Jackets of Titles that earned 2020 Coretta Scott King AwardsDear School Librarian Leadership Readers,

It seems most appropriate that we celebrate children’s and young adult literature by watching the YouTube videos the American Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children have posted online.

Check out the Book Award Celebration!

I started my listening feast with the 2020 Coretta Scott King Award videos. I highly recommend listening to all of the speeches of these amazing award-winning authors and illustrators. That said, you should definitely not miss the award speeches by Jerry Craft for his graphic novel The New Kid and Kadir Nelson for the illustrations in The Undefeated. Mildred D. Taylor, who earned the Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award, was unable to participate. (Her slim and powerful stories The Friendship and The Gold Cadillac engendered deep meaningful conversations among the fifth-grade students in my classroom over thirty years ago. I deeply appreciate her work.)

Although I sorely missed dining with friends at the 2020 Newbery-Caldecott-Legacy Award Banquet, I believe giving association members and everyone (!) across the globe access to these inspiring speeches is a gift we should not pass up. I will treat myself to all of the speeches throughout this week.

If you haven’t already, I hope you will make time to tune in and experience the joy and hope expressed by the creators of children’s and young adult literature and re-experience the call to share the love with the youth and educators in your care.

Image: Selected 2020 Coretta Scott King Award Winners

 

Books and Resources about the Current and Past Pandemics

Image: Global NetworkOn distribution lists, blog posts, and social media, librarians and other educators in the U.S. and around the globe have been sharing free ebook and online resources that explain the coronavirus and the current and past pandemics. Nonfiction and informational books as well as fiction can reach readers’ hearts and minds and change our emotional responses and behaviors, too.

Using literature to provide information at this time is critical. Knowing the facts about the current situation and historical parallels can help reduce the fears and concerns that many young people are experiencing. Bibliotherapy originally applied in psychotherapy to treat depression or other mood disorders, may be what many children and teens need at this point in time.

In this post, I am highlighting a few of COVID-19 resources with special thanks to Patricia Sarles, Library Operations and Instructional Coordinator, Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York City Department of Education, for her LibGuide of free ebook sources and the Worlds of Worlds (WOW) Executive Board for their collection of “Resources Around Epidemics and Pandemics,” which includes both fiction and informational books.

From Patricia Sarles’ LibGuide
Patricia’s curation is illustrated with e-book jackets. This helps parents and educators get an idea of the target age level for the information in each title. The books show animal as well as human characters, and all help adults assure children that the grown-ups in their lives are doing all they can to keep people safe and healthy. A number of the ebooks ask for donations that will be used to support others in particular need during this crisis.

The House We Sheltered In” is a well-written and beautifully illustrated poem by Freeman Ng. The poem is a free download available from his website with either color and black and white illustrations. I found hearing the poem read aloud and seeing the multicultural illustrations via the YouTube video very moving.

Since COVID-19 is a pandemic affecting people around the globe, I especially appreciate the work of Christine Borst, Ph.D., who is a therapist (LMFT) and university professor living in Colorado. She wrote and illustrated her nonfiction book What Is Coronavirus? with her own two-, four-, and six-year-old children in mind. Her mother voice shines through in the text. Additionally, she provides .pdf files of her book in Farsi, French, Spanish, and Turkish as well as English. You can access a recording of her book in English and in Farsi from her website. Donations via PayPal are earmarked for families and small businesses in need.

From Worlds of Words
The annotated bibliography “Resources Around Epidemics and Pandemics” on the WOW website includes intermediate and YA historical fiction and science fiction titles as well as informational books. I have not read most of these titles, but I can highly recommend Susan Bartoletti Campbell’s book Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2015). This informational book reads like narrative nonfiction or as the annotator notes, “a crime novel.” This book will appeal to many readers who will connect with the historical, social, and political aspects of Mary Mallon’s life and times.

From this page, WOW also linked “Catching a Bug: Reading about Pandemics, Epidemics, and Outbreaks” posted in 2013 on the WOW Currents blog by T. Gail Pritchard, PhD, College of Medicine, University of Arizona. One of the videos she offers is a TED-ed video called “How pandemics spread.” I believe these three blog posts and the resources Gail highlights could be of particular use now and in the future to those currently teaching upper grade students.

Global Perspectives: Empathy
It is logical and critical that librarians and other educators take a global view of the current COVID-19 pandemic. It is arguable that at this current time in our human history we should be aware of our global interconnectedness more than ever before. Our shared realization and understanding of the impact of this virus and the measures needed to contain its spread should be heightened and spotlighted from a global perspective in the resources we share. This is especially important in the U.S. where our information sources have historically taken a U.S.-centric perspective.

If there is a brighter spot in this crisis, it could be the opportunity to develop compassionate empathy for the way daily lives have changed for people all around the globe. Compassionate empathy is an understanding of another’s pain plus the desire to act and somehow mitigate that pain (Skills You Need). Today, we are experiencing the many ways global citizens are acknowledging and responding to the needs of others: sheltering in place, wearing masks and making masks to share, donating and delivering food to those in need, and caring for the emotional and physical needs of our families, friends, students, colleagues, and neighbors–near and far.

Stay safe and well.

Side Note (but no less important): Thank you to the Arizona Daily Star Opinion editor Sarah Garrecht Gassen for your 4/25/20 op-ed: “How we decide which COVID-19 letters to publish, and which we won’t.” As Ms. Gassen wrote: “Our obligation is to the truth, to the facts, and to our shared safety.”

The same could be said to be true for librarians and other educators, children’s and YA book authors and illustrators—at this time and always.

Work Cited

“Interpersonal Skills: Empathy Types.” SkillsYouNeed.com, https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/empathy-types.html

Image Credit

Altmann, Gerd. “Web Networking Earth Continents.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/web-networking-earth-continents-3079789

Ethically Sharing Children’s and Young Adult Literature Online

The focus of this curated list of resources is to ethically share children’s and young adult literature online. I have been an online educator for twelve years. I am a staunch defender of creators’ rights to their work and hold the graduate students in the courses I teach to a high standard. It is a violation of copyright for individuals to record and distribute read-alouds of copyrighted works. As noted in last week’s post, librarians and educators will likely not be sued by the creator(s) or the publishers if they do so, but that’s not the point. The point is to model respect for the rights of the copyright holder.)Books Read Monitor Online ImageIn “normal” times, fair use does not cover public distribution on the open Internet. Fair use can only be applied when book reading recordings are available behind password protection. In that case, the password-protected space is considered a “classroom” or “library.” School Library Journal and Kate Messner recently posted various publishers’ guidelines applicable during the pandemic. (You will note that the majority stress password protection.)

Kate Messner posted “Publisher Guidelines for Fair Use for Online Read Alouds.”

School Library Journal posted “Publishers Adapt Policies to Help Educators.”

All of the links curated below provide ethical ways to share children’s and young adult literature online. Many of these resources were collected by Worlds of Words Board members who teach undergraduate-level and graduate-level children’s and young adult literature courses. (Thank you especially to Kathleen Crawford-McKinney for her annotated list.)

I have added some additional resources that have come across my screen in the past week. All of these resources are useful to students, classroom teachers, librarians, and families.

Access© – Read Aloud Canadian Books Program provides links to resources Canadian book publishers are making available during the pandemic. (Added 4/10/20)

American Family Stories offers short retellings of oral stories by storyteller Joe McHugh. You can subscribe to his 3- to 6-minute stories or simply drop in and listen. (Added from comments section 4/6/20)

Paige Bentley-Flannery, Community Librarian, Deschutes Public Library, created a webpage “Children Authors Read Aloud and Other Facetime Events.”

Children’s Book Council curated a list of publishers who have provided links to online learning resources. “From fiction to non-fiction, STEM books to graphic novels, book publishers have created a wealth of content to support educators, librarians, booksellers, parents, and caregivers,” these resources are freely accessible on the Internet. (Added from comments section 4/6/20)

Betsy Diamant-Cohen, creator and director of Mother Goose on the Loose (MGOL) early childhood resources, has given permission to freely share MGOL resources on the open Internet. (Added 4/6/20)

Digital Children’s Book Festival: After the Tucson Festival of Books was cancelled, Ellen Oh and Christina Soontornvat organized a virtual festival, which will be held on May 1-2, 2020.

EPIC Reading offers educator registration with student sign-ups. You can find books that are read aloud, or the text that you turn the pages when ready. Educators can set up collections of books and assign them; this gives students free access to digital books, including novels.

The International Children’s Digital Library offers children’s literature from around the world written in multiple languages.

Kid Lit TV offers a read-aloud corner with authors reading their own books. They also have a section called “Storymakers” with author interviews. For Children’s Book Week, they published a section called Creator Corner, where they have authors explaining their creative process.

Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems: Mo is doing a “doodle” hour every day from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Eastern time weekdays. He will take questions on his work or look at your own doodle (available live for two more weeks). You can also access the archive of previously recorded shows. Great way to get to know this Author/Illustrator.

Make Way for Books offers an app with stories for preschool children in English and Spanish that adults or older children can read to younger ones.

Parents Magazine: U.S. children’s divisions of Penguin Random House, Penguin Young Readers and Random House Children’s Books, in partnership with Meredith/PARENTS, are launching READ TOGETHER, BE TOGETHER. It is a series of daily virtual story times with bestselling and award-winning authors and illustrators, and celebrity readers. (Added from comments section 4/6/20)

Rex Ogle: Aiden Tyler, Quaran-teen – A Webcast “Serial” with Author Rex Ogle sponsored by Junior Library Guild begins tomorrow, March 24. You must register.

School Library Journal:Kid Lit Authors Step Up to Help Educators, Students, and Parents.”

Kwame Alexander is sharing on his website.

Laurie Halse Anderson has set up a Twitter hashtag #QuarantRead book club where readers can ask her questions.

Jarrett J. Krosoczka is sharing on YouTube every weekday at 2:00 p.m.

Grace Lin is sharing on her YouTube channel.

Dav Pilkey is sharing drawing demonstrations and fun activities. (Added from comments section 4/6/20)

Simola Live
Beginning March 23, authors and illustrators are sharing their work online.

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has published a page with links to authors reading their own work.  (SCBWI is offering other types of online resources as well.)

Storyline Online publishes professionally produced children’s books read by actors.

While it is critical that school librarians provide children’s and young adult resources online for students, educator colleagues, and families, it is important we not lose sight of the ethical use of ideas and information. As noted in last week’s post, it is also critical that we keep our commitment to equitable access  foremost in our minds.

TeachingBooks.net has developed a “Book & Reading Engagement Kit: Home Edition portal with Student/Educator-Adult/Institution access. It includes a large collection of activities and resources and some read-alouds. (Added from comments section 4/6/20)

Image Credit

Geralt. “Books Read Monitor Online.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/photos/books-read-monitor-online-3659791/

Are Memoirs Informational Books?

Over the past year, I have read more young adult memoirs than in previous years. Part of the reason is that I was preparing for and am teaching a course on informational books. Now I’m wondering if more and more memoirs are being published… or is it simply that my awareness of this genre has grown? The collage shows some of the memoirs I have read in the last year.

Last month, I posted “2020 Sibert Awards and the Edwards Award.” As I noted among the 2020 Sibert award and honor winners, there were two memoirs—one in verse, one a poetry collection. Since that posting, I have had several conversations and many thoughts about memoir as a genre within nonfiction and “informational” books. This post summarizes my thinking.

And I welcome your perspectives related to memoir, especially about including it as a genre within informational books.

Nonfiction: A Definition
This is the definition of nonfiction we are using in IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth, the course I’m facilitating this semester for graduate students in the iSchool at the University of Illinois: “Nonfiction is that body of work in which the author purports to tell us about the real world, a real experience, a real person, an idea, or a belief” (Beers and Probst 2016, 21). I have bolded the word “purports” to remind us that librarians must apply critical evaluation criteria when reviewing, selecting, and using all types of books and resources, including nonfiction and informational texts.

One could ask if nonfiction and “informational” books and resources are one and the same… The Sibert Awards are for informational books. This is the definition Sibert Committee members are using: “Informational books are defined as those written and illustrated to present, organize, and interpret documentable, factual material.”  As evidenced by the 2020 (and prior years’) awards, the Sibert committees consider memoirs “informational.”

Is the information contained in memoirs documentable, factual material? Is the keyword in the Siebert Award definition “interpret”?

Memoir and Autobiography
In our course, informational books and resources include expository texts, narrative nonfiction, biography, autobiography, and… memoir. The question about whether or not memoir is nonfiction has caused me to wonder about autobiography. While memoirs present a snapshot of the author’s life, true autobiographies provide a (more) complete picture of the author’s life. Both are written in the first person; both genres purport to tell “the truth.”

That said, one can imagine that an individual’s “truth” may be more or less “documentable.” Dates, places, and events for today’s memoir and autobiography authors are easy to access and verify. What is likely not easy to document are the accompanying emotions that the authors of these texts felt during their life experiences. I suspect that in the cases of both memoir and autobiography, the “facts” that live in the authors’ memories are shaped by feelings as well as “objective” truths. Does that fact qualify as “interpretation”?

Evaluating Memoir and Autobiography
When we evaluate memoir and autobiography, we necessarily rely on the voice of the author to ascertain authenticity and accuracy. Last week, our class conducted a real-time Twitter chat regarding selection, censorship, and evaluation. This is one of my tweets from that discussion related to how I evaluated Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Shout: The True Story of a Survivor Who Refused to be Silenced. The tweet includes a link to an interview with the author.

Young adult literature advocate, former high school librarian, and book talker Naomi Bates (@yabooksandmore) recently published her review of Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha. While listening to Naomi’s book talk, I was moved by the authenticity and accuracy Naomi experienced while reading Ha’s book. Naomi made personal cultural connections to Ha’s experiences. This review increased my assessment that Almost American Girl is culturally authentic and accurate and well worth our consideration for inclusion in our libraries. I have requested it from my public library and will read it hearing both Ha’s and Bates’s voices as I do.

Memoir and autobiography are special cases in terms of documentable facts… and yet, from my way of thinking, they are informational books. 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). And to my way of thinking, memoir may provide one of the most compelling genres for building empathy and inspiring readers to take action to cocreate a more just, compassionate world.

What do you think?

Works Cited

Beers, Kylene, and Robert E. Probst. 2016. Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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

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

Speak-ing of #BannedBooksWeek

This week (September 22 – 29, 2019), classroom teachers, librarians, and libraries across the country are honoring the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom’s annual Banned (and Challenged) Books Week. When I served as a secondary school librarian, this week was one of my most treasured. For those three years, I collaborated with 8th grade (one) and high school English language arts classroom teachers to spotlight the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 2000-2009. (I look forward to the 2010-2020 list!)

I gathered as many as possible children’s and young adult books from 100 Most Frequently Challenged list from our library and interlibrary loaned through the public library. (There were a few titles that were not appropriate for the school environment such as Private Parts by Howard Stern.) We launched the lesson by helping students make connections among these three terms and books written for youth: banned, challenged, and censored. Students who had read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 made connections and often led the discussion.

The classroom teachers and I co-read one of the picture books from the list and modeled a conversation about why the book had been challenged. Then, students working in small groups were given a short stack of books and the task of discussing each one to determine why they thought the book had been challenged. Students read picture books and book jacket information for novels to guide their thinking. Their ELA-R teachers and I facilitated these discussions by monitoring students’ conversations and asking probing questions.

Each group reported to the class by selecting the most surprising book in their stack and shared their determination for the “reason” the book had been challenged. One of the biggest takeaways from this lesson was that students had read a good number of these books in the past and where annoyed or shocked that any adult would think they were incapable of thinking critically or shouldn’t have even be allowed to read the story or information.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Books
Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Speak appears as #60 on the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 2000-2009. I have been a fan ever since the book was published… and this year read both the graphic novel version and her latest book Shout. It isn’t often that readers have such a powerful example of three texts—one novel, one graphic novel, and one free verse memoir—to compare their responses to the “same” story told by the same author. Anderson has given us all a gift with Speak (1999), Speak: The Graphic Novel (2018), and Shout: The True Story of a Survivor Who Refused to Be Silenced (2019).

Speak, the Novel
I read this book when it was first published. In 2002, I facilitated a student book club at Sabino High School. (It was my first year as a high school librarian after serving in elementary school libraries for ten years.) The students in the club were freshmen and sophomores. I provided students with a stack of books for which I could secure multiple copies. They picked Speak as our first read. I sent home information to students’ families about the book club (we met once a month during lunch) and noted the list of nine books the students had chosen to read that year.

Of course, I suspected that Speak would be an important book for the young women in the group. Protagonist Melinda’s experience, silence, inner turmoil, and trauma were clearly and poignantly conveyed in the story. What surprised me, at the time, was that the young men in the group were equally affected by Melinda’s story. Anderson’s voice rang true and authenticity created an invitation for readers to relate to the story on an emotional level. Students’ discussion was open and frank. It was an outstanding beginning for building our caring and thoughtful community of readers.

Speak, the Graphic Novel
Emily Carroll’s illustrations in the graphic novel add another dimension to Anderson’s story that may help some readers relate more deeply to Melinda’s story. The black, white, and sepia tones of the illustrations portray the fear and suffering of a freshman girl who has been raped and shunned. Her isolation and depression are vividly drawn. When Melinda finally takes the opportunity to strike back at the rapist, the image of her punching him captures the emotional power of finding one’s courage, using one’s strength, and protecting one’s self from further harm.

The parallels with the acts of superheroes will not be lost on readers. Carroll, who is known for penning horror comics, was the perfect pick to illustrate Anderson’s modern classic. The graphic novel format with brief text, frames that sequence and chunk the text, and drawings that pack an emotional punch will bring many new (and returning) readers to this text.

Shout, the True Story of a Survivor Who Refused to Be Silenced
And finally, for me, Shout, the free verse memoir brings Laurie Halse Anderson’s first-hand experience with abuse, rape, and resilience into an even sharper focus. Her intimate poems about family dysfunction, microaggressions (a word I didn’t “have” when I first read Speak), and most importantly of all, ending the shame associated with sexual assault will tear at your heart. As a woman, mother, and grandmother, I wept for young women who have suffered and continue to suffer in silence and must find resilience without family or societal support.

With today’s #MeToo movement, I believe all three “versions” of Speak/Shout provide a rich literary experience for critical conversations. But from my personal perspective Shout was the most powerful of the three. For me, Anderson’s memoir presents undeniable truths from which I, the reader, could not turn away.

Thank you, Laurie Halse Anderson, for your courage in breaking the silence, for openly sharing your life experiences, and for your heartfelt truth telling.

As you honor and celebrate The Freedom to Read and The Library Bill of Rights, this week and 365 days a year, school librarians must recommit to advocating for and protecting students’ rights. Our library materials reconsideration policies are a place to begin. Please read Mona Kirby’s article that appeared in the September issue of American Libraries: “Up to the Challenge: Dealing with School Library Book Challenges Before They Happen.”