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

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.

Professional Book Review: Collection Development for School Librarians

In her book, An Introduction to Collection Development for School Librarians (ALA 2019), Mona Kerby offers school librarians a solid text with which to guide collection development to achieve the maximum benefit for the students, educators, and families they serve.

The ways school librarians select, provide access, promote, and integrate resources is an expression of social justice, a core value of librarianship.

Twelve Tasks for the First Weeks of  School (2-4)
Every new school librarian or librarian who is new to a building or district will want to follow Kerby’s guidelines in this section. I especially appreciate her insistence that “all learners must check out books and materials the first week. Teach lessons that are simple, memorable, and positive” (3). Note: She uses the term “lessons” not “orientations.”

One of the tasks Kerby recommends is skimming the district’s school librarian handbook. She gives a list of 14 subtopics that should be found in that resource. I don’t know how many times librarians have posted to our distribution lists asking people to share their administrative handbooks or at least the topics within it. When I taught School Library Media Center at Texas Woman’s University, students in my course created a handbook as a way to learn about school library administration. So, if you are one of those librarians who does not have access to one, this section in Kerby’s book can help you create one that is useful in your practice.

Selection and Reconsideration Policies
Selection criteria are at the heart of collection development. Kerby offers a list of criteria that could and should be included in a district selection policy (24-25). She also provides the bread crumbs to access ALA’s Selection and Reconsideration Policy Toolkit and summarizes it (25-26). Endorsed by the Intellectual Freedom Committee in 2018, this is a must-read and follow guideline for that section of a library administrative handbook.

The chapter entitled “How Do I Turn a Complaint into a Positive?” is must-reading (and re-reading) for novice and seasoned librarians alike (69-72). Building relationships, active listening, and modeling respect are essential in remaining true to library values while valuing the perspectives of all members of the learning community. I especially appreciate this word of caution: “Please don’t censor your collection because you’re afraid that a complaint might happen” (italics preserved 72).

Aligning Resources with the Curriculum
In the book, Kerby provides two sample curriculum charts—one at the elementary and one at the high school level (20-23). She describes how these charts could be created in terms of grade levels, topics, and length of units of study for each. “You can make a questionnaire asking these same questions—what, how many, and when—and then tabulate the responses, but not only are you creating more work, you’re also missing any opportunity. Talking to the educators gives you the opportunity to listen, plan, and collaborate” (24). I totally agree with her recommendation to actually sit down with colleagues to create or confirm and elaborate on a curriculum map for the entire school.

Labeling Books with Reading Levels
Kerby reminds school librarians that the ALA document “Labeling Systems: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” warns against the use of labeling systems that violate the privacy and choice of readers. “Prejudicial labels are designed to restrict access, based on a value judgment that the content, language, or themes of the resource, or the background or views of the creator(s) of the resource, render it inappropriate or offensive for all or certain groups of users” (ALA 2015). Reading-level labeling in school libraries violates the privacy and may restrict readers’ choices and should not be used. (One alternative for the elementary grades is to place reading levels inside of books where readers can privately access them as needed.)

Quotes and Examples from the Field
One of the strengths of An Introduction to Collection Development for School Librarians is that Kerby weaves quotes and examples from practicing school librarians throughout the book. District-level school librarian supervisor Jennifer Sturge, Calvert County, Maryland, encourages school librarians to develop engaging first lessons followed by book checkout from the very first day of the school year (5). Gail Dickinson, Old Dominion University, Virginia, offers an analogy between weeding the collection and curdled milk (49), Margaret Gaudino, Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland, offers a list of the twelve databases she provides for students and educators at her elementary school (63).

The book also includes writing prompts and reflection questions with pages where readers can record their practices, thoughts, and questions within the book itself.

I highly recommend Mona Kerby’s thoughtful and practical introduction to collection development to all. .

Work Cited

Kerby, Mona. 2019. An Introduction to Collection Development for School Librarians. 2nd ed. Chicago: ALA.

Gifts of Windows and Mirrors

“Humans don’t make our stories, it’s stories that make us human (paraphrasing Amiri Baraka). It’s not until we know the stories of each other that we embrace our humanity. When I know the stories of my people and my culture, that’s when I become human myself” (Hyland 2016).

I was fortunate to publish my first book written for children in 1997. After three years in the submission-rejection cycle, the contract for Sing Down the Rain seemed like a miraculous gift. Kiva publisher/owner Steve Hill mentored me through the publishing process, and I, in turn, mentored our illustrator Tohono O’odham artist Michael Chiago through the illustration process. I had the critical and additional blessing of being mentored by respected Tohono O’odham elder Danny Lopez who ensured cultural accuracy in my poem.

This collaboration resulted in a book that shares the saguaro fruit harvest and rainmaking ceremony of the Tohono O’odham (Desert People) in the context of the ecology of the Sonoran Desert, where I’ve now lived for thirty years. The book is dedicated to the children of the Tohono O’odham Nation for whom it provides a mirror of their cultural traditions and the beauty of our desert home. The book also offers a window into a culture that is little-known outside of the Southwest.

Sing Down the Rain was in print for fifteen years. During that time, O’odham students performed the choral reading of the poem on and off the reservation. Some of their audiences were family and tribal members; some of their audiences were non-O’odham people. Non-O’odham students also performed the poem in schools and communities. Michael and/or I attended these performances, signed books, and celebrated with choral readers and their families. When publisher Steve Hill retired, the book went out of print in 2012.

The Window: Walden School, Louisville, Kentucky
Last spring, I received an email from an art teacher in Louisville, Kentucky. The Walden School is an independent K-12 school. A first-grade student and his mom had selected Sing Down the Rain as a read-aloud to share with his class. The art teacher followed up the reading with a weaving art activity. She sent me photos of the reading and students’ artwork. As it happened, I was planning to be in Louisville in November to attend a conference. I asked if the Walden School would be interested in an author visit.

On November 12, I had the gift of sharing Sing Down the Rain and oral storytelling with K-4 Walden students. I met Ben and his mom and learned that he had repeatedly requested she read the book at bedtime; he described it as a lullaby. Sing Down the Rain offered Walden students who had never met an O’odham child a window into O’odham culture. They had the opportunity to “see” another culture and a desert environment through Michael’s illustrations and the words in my poem.


The Mirror: Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School, Tucson, Arizona
Just a few weeks later, I had an email from two high school teachers who asked me to meet with their students who were preparing to perform Sing Down the Rain. The Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School is a bicultural, community-based school that infuses elements of Tohono O’odham language, traditions, and Native history in the curriculum. I was able to share with the teachers that Regina Siquieros and Angie Saraficio published a version of the poem with O’odham words.

On December 12, one month after the visit to Walden School, I had the gift of sharing with Ha:san students how Sing Down the Rain came to be—the process of writing, publishing, and sharing the book. I shared how I worked with Tohono O’odham artist Michael Chiago to design the illustrations. I gave examples of how Danny Lopez helped me correct errors in my understanding of O’odham cultural traditions in order to portray the rainmaking ceremony as authentically as possible.

The students asked me questions, including why I wrote the book. I showed them the books that had been on our library shelves in 1991 when children were bused from the San Xavier District of their reservation to an elementary school where I served as the librarian—books written by anthropologists or books that perpetuated stereotypes of Native peoples. The poem I wrote and later the book we created was intended to offer all O’odham youth a positive reflection of their culture.

“Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books” (Bishop 1990, ix).”

#OwnVoices
Sing Down the Rain was intended to be a seed. At the time it was published, I hoped that other books would be written and illustrated by Tohono O’odham and traditionally published. Then, these windows could help O’odham youth see their culture reflected in many books. And children living in other parts of the country and around world would learn about the O’odham and their culture.

When families, librarians, other educators, and publishers are considering the critical importance of mirrors and windows, I hope they will support the #ownvoices movement and infuse children’s worlds with the grand diversity of humanity—written and illustrated by people who have first-hand knowledge of the culture and experiences being described.

As the author of four books for children and families, I am grateful for the mysterious and miraculous ways my writing can touch the hearts and minds of others. At Ha:san, one student asked me why I didn’t write about his experience as an O’odham teen living in Tucson today. In all of my author visits with middle and high school students, I invite future published authors and illustrators to pursue writing and drawing—specifically for children. I hope this is the story this young man will write.

I have faith that more books will be published until one glorious day all voices are heard—and all people are seen as essential to our shared human experience.

Works Cited

Bishop, Rudine Sims. 1990. “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Perspectives 1 (3): ix–xi.

Hyland, Ezra. 2016. The African American Read in from NCTE: Podcast, https://www.blogtalkradio.com/edutalk/2016/01/27/the-african-american-read-in-from-ncte

Photographs of Author Visits Used with Permission

Students’ Rights to Literacy Instruction

The International Literacy Association (ILA) recently released a position statement titled: “Children’s Rights to Excellent Literacy Instruction.”

As you read, you will note that librarians and libraries are not mentioned in this document. Many of us who are school librarians and long-time members of ILA have struggled in the past to make sure school librarians and libraries were included in ILA’s position statements.

I am sorry to say that, this time, we dropped the ball…

Does this mean that the members of ILA who drafted and the board who approved this statement do not view school librarians and libraries as stakeholders in students’ literacy instruction?

I certainly hope not…

That said, there is a great deal for school librarians to consider in this document. The document is organized around four value statements. I have quoted a bit from each one and added my “School Librarians” comments.

Children Have the Right to Knowledgeable and Qualified Literacy Educators
In my worldview, school librarians would be included in the list of literacy educators mentioned in this section along with “principals, reading/literacy specialists, literacy coaches, and literacy coordinators.” The varied roles of literacy educators include designing “literacy learning environments, both face-to-face and virtual, that meet the needs of all students.” These educators are also charged with “dismantling” forces that marginalize any student.

School Librarians: Equity of access and opportunity are cornerstones of school librarianship.

Children Have the Right to Integrated Support Systems
In the position statement, integrated support systems depend upon the “successful alignment of a complex system of stakeholders working cooperatively to strengthen teaching and learning practices and knowledge-building framework.” Educators, who take a systems thinking approach, can help ensure that the “overlapping spheres of influence” support positive progress toward shared goals.

School Librarians: Coteaching and working alongside principals and teacher leaders, school librarians can be key contributors in cocreating a vital system of support for all stakeholders in the learning community.

Children Have the Right to Supportive Learning Environments and High-Quality Resources
For me, this section is ALL about school libraries and the work of school librarians. These are a few quotes. Supportive learning environments with high-quality resources are “accessible learning environments that provide opportunity for robust, literacy-rich experiences, interactivity, and exploration of thought.” Resources and practices within this environment must be audited “to ensure they are bias free, culturally responsive, and student centered.”

School Librarians: In both physical and virtual spaces, school librarians, who are stewards of the school library’s print and digital resources, align the collection and the literacy learning experiences that weave through the library program with the teaching and learning needs of all students, classroom teachers, specialists, families, and the community.

Children Have the Right to Policies That Ensure Equitable Literacy Instruction
From the position statement: “Policymakers should recognize the professionalism and autonomy of teachers to implement curriculum in well-resourced classrooms. Every child, everywhere, benefits from policies that safeguard not only their welfare but also their educational potential.”

School Librarians: School library policies that provide for open, equitable access to resources and protect students’ (and educators’) privacy and intellectual freedom ensure safe learning spaces that support all stakeholders in reaching their capacity.

ILA’s position statement ends on this call to action: “Excellent literacy instruction builds a strong foundation for learning and, in turn, equips children to develop their potential, growing into adults who participate fully in their communities and society, enjoying the fullness that continuous learning brings to their lives.

It is our collective responsibility to advocate for, ensure, and protect these rights for every child, everywhere.”

School Librarians: In our daily practice, I hope that all school librarians are advocating for students’ rights to excellent literacy instruction. When school librarians can articulate the intersection of library resources, reading development, information literacy, and inquiry learning, their work as instructional partners alongside their colleagues can contribute to equitable, effective literacy instruction.

As reading researcher Dr. Nell Duke writes: “Learning to read without books is like learning to swim without water” (2019, 11). I hope everyone involved in education and educational policymakers remember critical importance of access to reading materials in students’ reading development.  I want our ILA colleagues to know exemplary school librarians serve as partners alongside other educators to collectively close the gaps between access and opportunity for all of our students.

Work Cited

Duke, Nell. 2019. “Learning to Read by Third Grade: How Policy Makers Can Foster Early Literacy.” National Association of State School Boards of Education. http://www.nasbe.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Duke_May-2019-Standard.pdf

Image Credit:
Created at Tagxedo.com

New Edition: Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook

It is my pleasure to review the newest edition of Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook. When I was serving in K-12 schools and classrooms, I always had the latest edition at hand for my personal reference as well as for the classroom teachers and families whom I served. First published in 1982, this 8th edition includes updates, new chapters, and additional sub-sections in the “giant treasury of great read-aloud books,” which is the heart of this book.

Co-author and editor Dr. Cyndi Giorgis, professor of children’s and young adult literature at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, has updated the statistics found in previous editions. In her introduction, Cyndi includes references to research that provides evidence for the critical importance of frequent regular reading and the benefits of reading aloud. She cites current stats for the consequences for youth, particularly those living in poverty, who lack literacy skills that can lead to them dropping out of school. She convincingly makes the case that illiteracy hurts individuals, families, and communities.

Informational Chapters
In addition to the introduction, there are ten powerful chapters that support reading aloud as a pathway to literacy as well as family, classroom, and school community building. Some of the chapter titles are familiar and some are new. Cyndi revised the chapter related to media and writes about digital books and Internet resources in “The Impact of Electronic Media on Reading.” She has added two new chapters: “Visual Literacy and Reading Aloud” and “The Significance of the Read-Aloud Experience.”

In the “Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) and Reading for Pleasure” chapter, Cyndi addresses many questions that have plagued school librarians for many years, such as the efficacy of reading incentive programs, Lexile levels, and enlisting administrators’ support for SSR. One section that especially caught my attention, “How Did Oprah So Successfully Get People Reading?” It is Cyndi includes some thoughts about how the word “club” and literature discussions were keys to Oprah’s success. If you are starting a student, educator, and/or family book discussion group, you may find some inspiration in that section. It was notable to me that Cyndi moved the chapter about dads reading to children to the fifth chapter (up from chapter nine in the previous edition). In “The Importance of Dads,” Cyndi provides strategies for getting dads involved in family reading.

The Treasury
The updated “giant treasury of great read-aloud books” includes the classic literature you will expect to find as well as books with publication dates as recent as 2019. There are two new sub-sections: “Stories with Rhyming Verse” and “Nonfiction.” These two sections are particularly important and show that the co-author/editor has aligned the treasury with the needs/preferences of young children and storytime providers as well as with those of school-age children and educators.

Throughout the treasury, Cyndi includes pull-outs with thematic, topical, and genre-specific collections such as “Cyndi’s Favorite Picture Books About Self-identity,” “Cyndi’s Favorite Sports Picture Books,” and “Cyndi’s Favorite Biographies.” These are particularly useful to address classroom needs and make it easier for parents, classroom teachers, and librarians to respond to read-aloud requests.

Professional Collection for Educators and Families
School librarians will, of course, agree that all stakeholders—children, families, students, classroom teachers, administrators, and public librarians, too—have a shared responsibility to create the conditions in which youth will be eager and effective readers who are motivated to become lifelong readers and learners.

If you are a school librarian who no longer purchases print resources for a professional collection for colleagues and families, please make an exception. Display a copy on the circulation desk. Start conversations about the importance and long-term impact of books read aloud. Invite students, classroom teachers, administrators, and families to share their favorite read-aloud books and check to see if their favorites are listed in the treasury. Take “write-ins” and add them on sticky notes.

The revised and edited 8th edition of Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook is available now. Purchase one for your own use, one for your library collection, and if your of my generation, one for your adult children to share with your grandchildren to ensure the young people in your care are hearing the best of the best in children’s and middle-grade literature.

Work Cited

Trelease, Jim, and Cyndi Giorgis. 2019. Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook, 8th ed. New York: Penguin.

The Stories We Share: A Guide to PreK-12 Books on the Experience of Immigrant Children and Teens in the United States

In the month of August, I am blogging on WOW Currents. You can access today’s post “Guided Inquiry Design: Explore and Identify Phases.”

The first three August School Librarian Leadership posts are focused on professional books related to the posts on WOW Currents.

I did not have a copy of Ladislava N. Khailova’s book The Stories We Share: A Guide to PreK-12 Books on the Experience of Immigrant Children and Teens in the United States as I prepared the Inquiry into Prejudice and Discrimination Explore Pathfinder of nonfiction and informational books and resources for IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth. I requested it through interlibrary loan and it arrived near the end of the summer semester.

Since prejudice and discrimination based on culture, race, and documentation was a subsection of the pathfinder, Ladislava N. Khailova’s book would have been helpful to me. In “Chapter 1: Why Share Books on Immigrants?” she makes a strong case sharing immigrant youth-centered titles as a way to challenge intercultural misunderstandings that lead to unsubstantiated bias (4). The author cites political economic and social psychology research that describes how stereotypes and prejudice are formed and reinforced in individuals and in society, particularly as applied to the immigrant “Other.”

With references to Rudine Simms Bishops mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors metaphor for multicultural literature, Khailova emphasizes the power of story to offer immigrant youth positive reflections of their heritage cultures and communicates that they are welcome in the U.S. For dominant culture youth, multicultural literature can dispel the myth of superiority and contest ethnocentrism, particularly during times of nationalistic fervor. When young people of diverse backgrounds read and discuss pro-diversity multicultural literature in classrooms and libraries, educators and librarians (and parents) create opportunities for cross-cultural understanding that conquers prejudice.

Using award-winning book lists, Ladislava N. Khailova annotated 101 preK-12 books centered on first- and second-generation U.S. child or teen immigrants. She used two major sources to identify these titles: Lisa R. Bartle’s Database of Award-Winning Children’s Literature which is a free online database, and a subscription database: Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database.  The author has created a free online database of The Stories We Share titles included in the book. It is searchable by national/ethnic/religious affiliation; first-/second-generation; male/female protagonists; genre; reader grade-level bands; and historical period.

The annotations/chapters are organized by geographic regions: Asia (37 titles); Latin American and the Caribbean (31 titles); Europe (20 titles). Khailova combines Africa (8 titles) and the Middle East (5 titles) in the final chapter. (She notes that Oceania and non-Hispanic North America are not represented in these 101 titles.) She draws connections between the percentage of immigrants from various regions with the numbers of books published based on immigration stories from each region and the dominant cultures relative level of acceptance of immigrants from each area. In her annotations, she both summarizes and evaluates these books and offers discussion questions for readers. The author introduces each chapter with background on the U.S. immigration histories of subgroups from each geographic region. She includes extensive endnotes, a bibliography, and a comprehensive index as well.

Since the Latin American and Caribbean chapter is focused on contemporary immigrants, I focused my search for nonfiction titles in that chapter. I was specifically looking for Mexican and Central American immigration books that would further develop my pathfinder. The online database made it easy to find the few titles focused on Mexican immigrants. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of books that have earned awards that meet my criteria for nonfiction from this region.

I recommend The Stories We Share: A Guide to PreK-12 Books on the Experience of Immigrant Children and Teens in the United State for educators/librarians who are developing collections, curriculum, and programs. While the inclusion of “award-winning” titles only limits the number of titles identified and annotated, it does offer vetted books while it points to the lack of representation of immigrant experience literature in mainstream U.S. publishing for children and young adults. I would venture to say that many other worthy titles have been published that have not earned awards… but not nearly enough to approach the percentage of children and teens who are first- and second-generation immigrants to the U.S.

Going beyond multicultural literature to include international books is also challenging for educators/librarians. Even award-winning titles from non-U.S. publishers may take time (years!) before they are available for distribution in the U.S., if ever. These books are so infrequently purchased by public libraries (which are my current sources for these titles).

In that context, I recently had the opportunity to experience the international “Visual Narratives: Connecting Across Languages and Cultures” on display at the Worlds of Words International Collection of Children’s and Adolescent Literature housed at the University of Arizona. These “wordless books” tell stories from the perspectives of children/authors/illustrators from around the world. The visual narratives are rich with cultural markers and show how book creators and publishers in other countries offer worldviews different from those of mainstream U.S. creators and publishing houses. The exhibit is on loan from the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) “Silent Books” collection.

If you live in Tucson or visit our city before January, 2020, please make time to browse/read/view “The Visual Narratives:Connecting Across Languages and Cultures” exhibit. It is open during Worlds of Words open reading hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Work Cited

Khailova, Ladislava N. 2018. The Stories We Share: A Guide to PreK-12 Books on the Experience of Immigrant Children and Teens in the United States. Chicago: ALA.

Explore Phase: Annotated Bibliography Pathfinder

The Explore Pathfinder is an essential feature of the Guided Inquiry Design (GID). This can be in the form of a hands-on text set or annotated bibliography. A text set is “a set of materials that is provided by educators or created by students that helps learners investigate a topic, theme, problem, or dilemma. A text set is usually comprised of hard-copy printed materials and can be effectively combined with a web-based pathfinder of electronic resources” (Moreillon 2018, 178). These resources are selected by educators to invite learners to “dip in” and explore a sampling of resources that support the overarching inquiry question.

The goal of these resources is to prepare and support students before they develop their own inquiry questions. Their questions will be based on the overarching essential (inquiry) question for the learning experience. Learners skim and scan these resources for ideas that connect with their interests or information that sparks their desire to know more. Purposeful skimming and scanning are essential reading strategies, particularly online. In an information-rich environment, the ability to weed out the extraneous and identify promising resources is essential.

Annotated Bibliography
The annotated bibliography was a staple of librarians’ work long before the dawn of the Web. (Way back in the Dark Ages) I can remember my high school librarian providing students with printed bibliographies comprised of print-only resources and reminders to access the printed Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. (If you are too young to remember it, Google it. Of course, now there is an online database version.) I believe my approach to using those bibliographies was that they were the “final” word on the topic and I need not look any further.

By contrast, the Explore pathfinder/annotated bibliography is intended to be a jumping off place for students. As they “dip in,” they will uncover other resources mentioned in the text or in the books’ bibliographies or source notes. They will discover names, places, events, and subtopics that may not be included in the pathfinder resources that they will want to pursue. They may also realize there are human resources that can support their inquiry and take their learning far beyond the starting place of the pathfinder.

Types of Informational Books
The image above shows four types of nonfiction/informational books we are exploring in IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth. We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Youth by Susan Kuklin (Candlewick 2019) is shelved in the 300s social science section of a Dewey library. Andrea Warren’s book Enemy Child: The Story of Norman Mineta, a Boy Imprisoned in a Japanese American Internment Camp During World War II (Holiday House 2019) is a biography found in the 92s. Racism and Intolerance from the Children in Our World Series (Barron’s 2017) and written by Louise Spilsbury and Hanane Kai is an expository informational book, also shelved in the social sciences. And Don Brown’s The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2018) is an informational book presented in a graphic novel format, which is shelved in the 900s history section of the library.

Each of these types of informational resources may be more or less accessible to individual skimming and scanning inquirers. Some readers may gravitate toward narrative nonfiction titles that pay attention to literary elements, such as characters, settings, plot, themes, and the like. Others may appreciate the primary source documents in a well-written, well-researched biography. While others may be more inclined to reach for expository books with tables of contents, glossaries, indexes, bolded keywords, and more. Still others may gravitate toward non-traditional formats—graphic novels, ebooks, audiobooks, and more. Others will go straight to the computer and out on the free Web. Providing a wide array of types of books and other resources organized around subtopics of the overarching inquiry (essential) question may help students avoid frustration and can support them in achieving success.

Coteaching the Explore Pathfinder
Learners’ hands-on, minds-on interaction with an Explore pathfinder/annotated bibliography gives educators opportunities to monitor students’ comprehension strategies. Educators can also probe students for connections to the inquiry topic and push their thinking deeper. They can help individual students use resources effectively and efficiently. When classroom teachers and school librarians collaboratively facilitate the inquiry process, students will receive more individualized attention than one educator working alone could provide. “Guiding students through the Explore phase leads them to form a meaningful inquiry question (of their own making)” (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012, 3).

Works Cited

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.

Moreillon, Judi. 2018. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy. Chicago: ALA.

#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