Inequitable Access During School Closures

“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

Credited to William Gibson (circa 1990-92).

When so many K-12 students and educators are not participating in face-to-face learning in schools due to the CDC’s social distancing recommendations, it seems like an opportune time to, once again, reflect and wrestle with equity… or rather with inequity of opportunity… The technology gap that has plagued schools since the 1990s is tragically still alive and well. School districts are scrambling at this time to provide remote learning opportunities; at the same time, educators know that access to online learning will be inequitable.

Charge to Provide Equitable Digital Access
Digital equity for school librarians means that all of the students. educators, and families we serve have free access to digital resources and technology devices. Access is necessary if they are to reach their capacity for learning. Digital equity is also necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.

One of the American Association of School Librarians’ common beliefs is “information technologies must be appropriately integrated and equitably available” (AASL 2018, 11.) Similarly, Future Ready Librarians® are building-level innovators who believe in “equitable learning opportunities for all students” (Future Ready Schools). And yet…

There are students who do not have access to computers or tablets in their homes. While cell phones may be adequate for consuming information or posting to social media, they are inadequate tools for writing and producing new knowledge. There are schools that lack enough devices to loan them out in order to ensure that every student has one to use. When public libraries are closed or overcrowded, students who use them will not have access.

Online Resources
School and public librarians, state libraries and advocacy groups have been using distribution lists and social media to share online resources that may be helpful to some students, families, and educators during closures. Here is a brief list of some of the ones I’ve seen (with a national rather than state-level focus).

Amazing Educational Resources, a crowd-sourced list created by people who’ve responded using a Google form.

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

(As a side note, it is a violation of copyright for individuals to record and distribute read-alouds of copyrighted works. No, you will likely not be sued by the creator(s) or the publishers if you do so, but that’s not the point. The point is to model respect for the rights of the copyright holder.)

Every Library’s webpage with an alphabetical list of links to state libraries’ online resources.

Unplugged Ideas
According to a Twitter thread started by Jennifer LaGarde, some school librarians had the opportunity to encourage students to check out books from their libraries before schools were closed to reduce the spread of the virus. Others reported they had little or no warning or were already on spring break when their school closing was enacted. Some are hoping they will be allowed to open their libraries for a brief check-out window.

School librarians who are able to communicate with students’ and families’ smart phones via social media have the opportunity to suggest activities that do not require laptops or tablets. School librarian Ashely Cooksey posted some outstanding “unplugged” ideas for students and families.

(I suggested some additional activities under her post to the Maximizing School Librarians Facebook Group.)

After the Crisis
Access to paper print reading materials during this crisis should be guaranteed, and we have learned it is not. The barriers to accessing digital information may be even more pronounced during school closures.

As we assess our service during this crisis, I believe it is critical for school librarians to stand up, give testimony, and advocate for equitable access for all K-12 students to paper print and electric information and devices not only during school hours during the regular school year… but 24/7 year-round.

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2018. National Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago: ALA. https://standards.aasl.org/

Future Ready Schools. 2018/2020. “Future Ready Librarians.” FutureReady.org. https://futureready.org/thenetwork/strands/future-ready-librarians/

Image Credit

Wokandapix. “Equity Fairness Equitable Letters.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/photos/equity-fairness-equitable-letters-2355700/

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

District-Level School Librarian Advocacy

This month I contributed an article focused on our effort to restore school librarian positions in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) to School Library Connection (SLC). If you are an SLC subscriber, you can find “We Need You! Forming Effective Advocacy Coalitions” in the “Political Literacy 101” section of the site. (The article will be publicly available until the next SLC issue is published.) If you are not a subscriber, you can always access and read other articles on the “Community” page, which is the splash page for the magazine, and consider subscribing. (I hope you will.)

Too often school librarians find themselves alone in speaking up for their work. Creating the context and conditions for library stakeholders to speak for our essential role in today’s education is a top priority for school librarian leaders. (See Chapter 8: Leadership and Advocacy in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership).

When we collaborate with classroom teachers and support the initiatives of our principals, they can (and will!) become some of our staunchest allies. When families are aware of how we are contributing to their children’s literacy learning, they, too, will join the ranks of our advocates. When central office administrators, school board members, and community members speak up for our work, we have the advocates we need to realize our goals for school library programs.

The Context: Arizona
A series of poor decisions made by the Arizona Legislature for more than a decade have denied district public schools of the necessary funding to meet the needs of K-12 students and families. School districts lacking local bond and budget override support have been in the position of making difficult decisions in terms of allocating meager resources for staffing, infrastructure maintenance and improvements, learning materials, including library resources and technology tools, and more.

In addition, the continual expansion of publicly funded charter schools has siphoned off monies that would have gone to district public schools in the past. To add insult to injury (and labeled “choice”), open enrollment has allowed parents the option of leaving their neighborhood schools to attend schools in more affluent districts. The lack of funding and support for district public schools that accept all students within their boundaries and open enrollment students, too, is dire.

The Context: Tucson Unified School District
TUSD is a high-needs, urban school district. Seventy-two percent of TUSD students are from federally identified minority families. Seventy percent receive free or reduced lunch and many are eating three meals a day at school sites across the district; most schools have clothing closets. The Educational Enrichment Foundation, which was created to provide academic support for TUSD students and educators, has responded by meeting the physical needs of students with personal hygiene products and struggles to achieve its original academic mission.

I served as an elementary school librarian in TUSD from 1992-2001 and in a high school until 2003. That year, our district-level library supervisor’s position was eliminated, and my high school second librarian position was cut to half time. (About twenty other site-level librarian positions were reduced that year.)

At the time of these cuts, there were 96 state-certified school librarians serving 59,250 students, a ratio of 1 librarian to 617 students. Today, there are 13 state-certified school librarians serving (about) 44,000 students, a ratio of 1:3,385.

It is clear TUSD students, educators, and families suffer from a lack of equitable access to the literacy opportunities of a well-resourced school library led by an effective state-certified school librarian.

Central Administration Advocates
Like many urban school districts, TUSD superintendents have not remained in their positions for sufficient time to make structural improvements in the district. Since I left the district, I have been unable to connect with a superintendent who was open to considering rehiring librarians and supporting library services as a high priority in a cash-strapped district.

That was the case until 2017 when Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo was hired. Dr. Trujillo came to TUSD having had the experience of full-time, state-certified school librarians in the Phoenix Union High School District. I met with him in the summer of 2018 to convince him it was long past time to restore TUSD school librarian positions and revitalize its libraries.

Dr. Trujillo did not need convincing. Instead, I learned that he was seeking advocates to work with him to convince the school board of the necessity of effective school librarians and library programs to students’ success. “We found common ground in focusing this effort on the district’s Middle School Improvement Plans in the area of reading. (While there was no need to conduct market research to begin our project, it was critical that we established shared goals on which to build this effort)” (Moreillon 2020).

TUSD School Librarian Restoration Project and Community Advocates
I reached out into the community to form a small but mighty advocacy group. Beginning in the fall of 2018 to the present, we met with and continue to communicate with school board members; we speak at governing board meetings during the calls to the audience. Based on a recommendation from a school board member, we connected with the TUSD School Community Partnership Council. We made presentations at the Arizona Library Association conference.

Most recently, we worked with the human resources (HR) department to revise the school librarian’s job description. Five middle school positions will be advertised this spring (2020), and our advocacy group will support HR in attracting the most qualified candidates. We have offered to meet with principals of these and other schools that are considering restoring their school librarian positions.

We are encouraged by our supporters and the progress we have made. We have been surprised by some literacy organizations that informed us they do not “do advocacy.”

We believe as past ALA President Jim Neal wrote that “libraries constitute an ecology of educational, research, and community services. In this environment of inter­dependency, we, as a family of libraries, must embrace advocacy for school libraries as foundational to the success of our collective work for students who love to read, as we prepare them for college, career, and life” (Neal 2018). And so, we carry on this work.

This Visme infographic summarizes our communication strategy and is fleshed out in the SLC article. If you are in a similar situation in terms of eliminated school librarian positions, we hope you will use what we have learned to take up the call, identify advocates through points of shared purpose, and work together to restore state-certified school librarian positions in your communities.

Works Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2020. “We Need You! Forming Effective Advocacy Coalitions.” School Library Connection (February).

Neal, Jim. 2018. “Fight for School Libraries: Student Success Depends on Them.” American Libraries Magazine (March 1). https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2018/03/01/fight-for-school-libraries/

Susan Kuklin Book Study and Author Visit

This spring graduate students in IS445: Information Books and Resources are engaged in the Guided Inquiry Design (GID) framework (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012) as they explore nonfiction and informational books and resources in the context of inquiry learning. This is our essential question for this inquiry: Is it important that students interact with global (multicultural and international) nonfiction and informational books and resources when they investigate prejudice and discrimination as it impacts the lives of young people today?

Immerse Phase of the GID
Immerse, the second phase of the GID, invites learners to explore resources to build their background knowledge, consider various perspectives on the inquiry question, and further their motivation to pursue the inquiry process. These are some possible Immerse Phase experiences: “reading a book, story, or article together; viewing a video; or visiting a museum” (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012, 3).

Last week in the Immerse Phase of the GID, students participated in a book study of Susan Kuklin’s work and participated in an author visit with her.

Preparation for Ms. Kuklin’s Visit
In addition to reading her books, students were asked to explore Ms. Kuklin’s website and read an interview with her found on the Worlds of Words website: Authors’ Corner.

Students participated in literature circles during the first hour of class. They used the BHH (Book Head Heart) strategy for literature circle discussions centered on the titles in the above collage (see my review of Beers and Probst’s book Disrupting Thinking on my blog).

After the class session in an email to me, graduate student Kristin Somers shared her experience of using this discussion strategy. “The BHH was helpful. As far as guides go, the questions posed using BHH method were incredibly personal. Our group had a great conversation because of how much information was shared and how intimate the information was. We’re closer as a result-for sure!”

Then Ms. Kuklin joined our online class for a one-hour conversation related to her work. Students came to the author visit with two prepared questions. They were asked to listen to their classmates’ questions and Ms. Kuklin’s responses in order to forward our conversation with her.

Students’ Questions for Ms. Kuklin
Although their questions may have changed during their literature circle discussions and there wasn’t time for everyone to ask their questions, these are three examples from three different literature circle groups that offer a window into students’ thinking and responses to Ms. Kuklin books.

“How has writing We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Youth affected how you think about the idea of an ‘American’ identity?” (Abbigail McWilliams) Ms. Kuklin responded from the perspective of DACA youth who have gone to school in the U.S. and have friends and (some) family here. She noted they are American in every way but for papers. Then, Ms. Kuklin asked the same question of Abbigail. (I suspect this was a reflective moment in our conversation during which we all contemplated this question.)

“What were you hoping to learn from the teens (in Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out)? Had you known much about transgender studies prior to the book’s creation? (Lily Dawson) Lily and the class learned how Ms. Kuklin builds her background knowledge first, conducts research, and identifies interviewees. We also learned that each of her most recent books takes approximately five years to craft.

“I thought your use of children’s own words in Families and How My Family Lives in America, rather than description in the third person made these books stand out as unique and particularly compelling. What, if any, challenges did you face in obtaining and settling on the final text from the children?” (Nina Reiniger). Ms. Kuklin spends hours with the children and through her recordings of those sessions draws out their message. She uses the actual words of each child and checks in with them again that what she’s written is accurate before determining the final text. She also noted that the use of the first-person honors the voice and agency of the children in her picture books.

If you want to know more about the students’ responses to Ms. Kuklin’s books and our interaction with her, search Twitter for Susan’s handle @susankuklin and  this hashtag: #is445.

Author Visits
I firmly believe in the power of the transaction between the reader, the author, and the text. This theory by Louise Rosenblatt is known as the “reader-response theory.” Rather than making inferences, author visits provide readers with powerful ways to access the intentions and meanings authors themselves ascribe to their work. Having the voice of the author in the classroom or library is an incomparable gift.

In my experience, author/illustrator visits are the most successful when learners are familiar with the author or illustrator’s work through reading and discussing their responses to the work with their peers. This allows learners to build their background knowledge in order to deepen the questions they will bring to the author visit. Their minds will be prepped to engage with the guest and their takeaways from the experience will be more meaningful and long lasting.

Susan Kuklin’s Next Book
Ms. Kuklin’s next book In Search of Safety: Voice of Refugees will be released on May 12, 2020. In the book, she shares the experiences of five individuals—refugees from Afghanistan, Northern Iraq, Myanmar, South Sudan, and Burundi. Please read about this timely book on her website.

Thank you to Ms. Kuklin for generously sharing your craft, experiences, and heart with us. Thank you to IS445 students for sharing with each other, Ms. Kuklin, and with me.

Work 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.

Note: I have used students’ comments, questions, and Ms. Kuklin’s responses with permission.

 

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.

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

Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children

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

Each of the four August School Librarian Leadership posts are focused on professional books related to the posts on WOW Currents.

There is at least one common value that educators share that leads us to our career choice. We care deeply about the lives, learning, and well-being of other people’s children. Unfortunately, in my opinion, that is not the case for far too many educational policymakers and adults living in the United States today.

In the first online class session for IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth, I read aloud For Every Child: The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Words and Pictures by Caroline Castle, illustrated by various notable children’s picture book illustrators (2000). This book beautifully and powerfully conveys the articles of the Convention. After reading, I cited information about the number of signers on the UN Convention and the fact that the United States has not signed. IS445 graduate students were surprised. I invited them to dig deeper to find out why. For me, the answer to that question is “childism.”

WOW Book Study
In our first or second meeting, a colleague in our Worlds of Words professional book study made connections to “childism.” (Our book study focused on Suzanne Choo’s book Reading the World, the Globe, and the Cosmos: Approaches to Teaching Literature for the Twenty-first Century.) “Childism” was a term with which I was previously unfamiliar. Our colleague recommended reading a book by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl: Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children (2012).

“Childism” can be defined as prejudice against children and teens based on their age and vulnerability. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl goes even further. She states that childism is “prejudice against children on the ground of a belief that they are property [of their parents and society] and can (or even should) be controlled, enslaved, or removed to serve adult needs” (37). Young-Bruehl describes how adults are failing our collective responsibility to young people by not to recognizing “childism” along with racism, sexism, ageism, and other prejudices.

“Childism could help identify as related issues child imprisonment, child exploitation and abuse, substandard schooling, high infant mortality rates, fetal alcohol syndrome, the reckless prescription of antipsychotic drugs to children, child pornography, and all other behaviors or policies not in the best interest of children” (7). (The author also makes a connection between childism and the fiscally irresponsible behavior of the U.S. Congress that mortgages our children’s futures with astronomical indebtedness.)

Young-Bruehl believes that when adults take time and learn to see the world from the perspective of a child, we can help make the world a safer, saner, happier place for all our children–our future. In her psychotherapy practice, Young-Bruehl listens to adults who retell their childhood experiences. From their experiences, she has heard shocking evidence to support statistics that show the U.S. has the highest rates of child abuse among first-world nations. The U.S. also incarcerates more children than any other country in the world; many of these children are themselves victims of abuse and neglect. Reading this book influenced the inquiry question that I used to model the Guided Inquiry Design Framework (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012) for our class.

Inquiry Question
Hearing authors Susan Kuklin and Andrea Warren speak at the Tucson Festival of Books (TFOB) in March, 2019, further ignited my passion for this topic. Kuklin’s book We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults (2019) and Warren’s book Enemy Child: The Story of Norman Mineta, a Boy Imprisoned in a Japanese American Internment Camp During World War II (2019) pushed me to think even more critically about this question.

Before reading Childism or attending the TFOB, I had a compelling interest in current issues surrounding prejudice and discrimination, specifically against immigrants and refugees. I live in Tucson, Arizona, sixty miles from the U.S./Mexico border. People crossing the southern border seeking work and a better life for themselves and their families has long been an everyday, politically charged issue in our community. This issue is currently heightened by the city’s humanitarian decision to provide safe havens for asylum-seekers.

All three combined (Childism, young adult literature, and our Tucson community’s activism) resulted in this overarching (essential) question for an Explore pathfinder of nonfiction books and information resources:

Is it important that students interact with global nonfiction and informational books and resources when they investigate prejudice and discrimination as it impacts the lives of young people today?

Childism
Reading Childism convinced me this was the inquiry question I wanted us to pursue as an example for the class. As noted by author Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, a “prejudice” is a “belief system” rather than a “knowledge system.” It is based on stereotypes that are applied generally to all members of a population. Many adults (some education policymakers included) use a child’s natural dependency as a reason to deny them rights, to undermine their agency and capacity for choice and voice as well as critical thinking.

Young-Bruehl refers to prejudices as “fantasies” that can operate at a conscious or unconscious level that lead to actions that harm others. This means to me that adults as well as children can and should be educated to recognize childism as a prejudice to be uncovered and addressed. Since our IS445 course focused on books and resources for youth, I set out to help graduate students see the world of ideas and information from a young person’s perspective—to see youth as agents in their own learning who should have the authority to make choices, express their voices, and apply critical thinking to issues that affect their lives and the lives of their global peers.

In Childism, the author shares information from The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have in Order to Grow, Learn, and Flourish (2000), a book written by T. Berry Brazelton and Stanley I. Greenspan, physicians who are staunch advocates for children. Young-Bruehl shares the seven needs and notes that the seventh puts the other six in context: “Throughout the world future generations of children and families will be much more interrelated. In order to protect the future of one child, we must protect it for all” (cited in Young-Bruehl 2012, 279).

If you read only the introduction, first chapter “Anatomy of a Prejudice,” and the last “Education and the End of Childism,” you may, like me, begin to notice the consequences of childism in many aspects of education policy and other areas of U.S. society. This book made an enormous impact on my thinking and on my planning for IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth.

Like Young-Bruehl, I believe that all children have the right to a healthy childhood and the right to be educated responsible world citizens. Do you?

Side note: If you are interested in reading about why the U.S. is the only country that has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, please read information published on the ACLU website on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Convention.

Work Cited
Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. 2012. Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

The Gift of Traditional Literacies

For the luckiest children, the gift of traditional literacies begins in their homes. “Seeing, hearing, mouthing, and touching books helps children lay down the best of multisensory and linguistic connections during the time that Piaget aptly christened the sensorimotor stage of children’s cognitive development” (Wolf 2018, 133).

Adults and older siblings read to the luckiest of children. As babies and toddlers, these children have nestled into a lap and have been held in the arms of a loving family member or caregiver who invites them into the world of story.

Reading with others creates a warm connection with language and literacy that sets young children on a path to enjoying reading. One of the most consistently important predictors of reading development has been how often parents read to their children. (In this photo, I am reading my book Read to Me to my then eight-month-old grandson.)

For other children, books and reading are not prominent features of their lives until they enter preschool or when they attend public library storytimes. When preschool teachers read to children daily, they set an expectation for connecting through books. Or when children attend storytime at their public library, they learn that books contain stories and illustrations that are fun. They begin to learn through story.

For still other children, their kindergarten and primary-grade classroom teachers and elementary school librarian are the first caring adults who model the gift and value of books and reading. Wise educators select books that offer children invitations to learn about themselves, about others, about the physical world and the world of the imagination. Young children also learn to listen attentively to and (hopefully) respond to stories. They learn to share and attend to the responses of their peers. They begin to understand the social aspects of reading with other people outside their homes.

Gatekeeper Texts
Home, preschool, and primary-grade books are often selected to support young readers developing literacy but that can change as children advance through the grades. Some students will continue to be avid readers; others will not. Some will become regular library users who seek out new books, authors, and topics; some will only read when they are required to do so for a class assignment. Some number of students will invariably wrestle with school-based reading materials and increased expectations for literacy learning, especially when they bump up against “gatekeeper” texts.

Gatekeeper texts are “various texts that permit or deny student access to educational, economic, civic, and cultural opportunities” (Schoenbach, Greenleaf, Cziko, Hurwitz. 1999, 9). Gatekeeper texts are found in all content areas. They include difficult classic texts, standardized tests, testing materials, including those used in advanced placement courses, college and career applications and forms, and more. For far too many students, these gatekeeper texts have turned them off to reading, writing, or making the required efforts to advance their lives.

It is imperative that educators help students be effective readers and writers so that these texts do not limit students’ life choices. Deep reading comprehension strategies and a problem-solving orientation toward challenging texts can help readers be successful.

Traditional Literacies in Daily Lives
It is important for students to see family members, school librarians, classroom teachers, administrators, school staff, and other important people in their lives engaged with traditional literacies. Seeing parents and educators reading their own self-selected texts is important. Engaging young people in discussions about what adults are reading, listening to, or viewing—be it a novel, the news, or information in any format—lets students know that reading and discussing what you read are essential lifelong activities.

Adults must also model writing beyond making grocery store lists. Do we still write letters and thank-you notes by hand? Or if we compose them on our computer, tablet, or phone, do we let children and teens know that is what we’re doing? Do we journal or write comments or letters to the editor of news media? Do we encourage young people to engage in these types of writing activities at home and at school?

Talking about what we are reading, writing, or thinking must also be a part of daily life in and outside of school. Far too often, we let media do the talking for us and deprive youth of understanding and practicing how discussion works. Adults need to model being respectful listeners as well as effective speakers. We need to express disagreements without demeaning other people. We need to show it’s possible and preferable to develop empathy for those who do not share our views or life experiences.

The Gifts = Empowerment
The impact of the gifts of the four foundational literacies cannot be overestimated. Literacy gives people more opportunities in life, and it also has the potential increase our understanding of and empathy for others—to make us more human. Children’s and young adult author Katherine Paterson wrote an article entitled “What Does It Mean to Be Truly Literate?” (Paterson 2003). Although I read this article many years ago, Ms. Paterson’s perspective has stuck with me because I believe she spoke directly to the heart of literacy.

In her article, Paterson talks about the importance of the “humanities,” literature, philosophy, and history. She notes that “the humanities are all those subjects that make us more human, and we cannot be fully human unless our vision includes the breadth of human culture” (8). She goes on to write about how essential it is for all young people to have access to the humanities, which she thinks of as “true literacy.”

“True literacy” helps people dispel ignorance and see the larger world more clearly. Reading does that; interacting with others through speaking and listening does that. Writing also helps us see and examine our inner and outer worlds more clearly. Knowing how to use our literacy skills to improve our communities, nation, and global society may very well be the way to ensure a more just future for all. To support young people as they develop “true literacy” is a gift that educators (and families) both give and receive.

Without a focus on traditional literacies, there can be no empowered learning culture in any school (or home).

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What is your definition of “true literacy”?
  2. How does your understanding of “true literacy” guide your work as an educator, parent, or mentor to young people?

Works Cited

Paterson, Katherine. 2003. “What Does It Mean to Be Truly Literate?” Language Arts 81 (1): 8-9.

Schoenbach, Ruth, Cynthia Greenleaf, Christine Cziko, and Lori Hurwitz. 1999. Reading for Understanding: A Guide to Improving Reading in Middle and High School Classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2018. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. New York: Harper.

Libraries and Neutrality

The June, 2018, American Libraries magazine is one of the most thought-provoking issues ever. I believe the summary and links from Jim Neal’s Midwinter President’s Program on librarianship and neutrality should be required reading for every library science graduate student and used as a discussion starter in classrooms and libraries everywhere. From serving the literacy needs of patrons in prison and those of Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program families, to using visual data to activate middle school readers, to addressing Melvil Dewey’s legacy, this issue is a treasure trove of information, knowledge, and wisdom. It’s also a rich source of topics for this blog.

ALA President Jim Neal’s session at Midwinter in Denver featured a debate with two speakers in favor of neutrality (James LaRue and Em Claire Knowles) and two speakers against neutrality (Chris Bourg and R. David Lankes). A panel of four speakers responded to the debate: Emily Drabinski, Emily Knox, Kathleen de la Peña McCook, and Kelvin Watson. The full program video is available online to Midwinter attendees at bit.ly/mw18-pres.

These are some of my takeaways beginning with the pro-neutrality debaters. James LaRue offered three dimensions for neutrality: service, access, and collections. In his view, neutrality is “enshrined in (library) values” and can be summarized as “everyone gets a seat at the table” (34). Em Claire Knowles noted that libraries/librarians have social goals but believes “an active, engaged, continually reaffirmed neutrality is just the first rung on the ladder to advocacy and social justice” (35).

On the other side of the debate, Chris Bourg noted that “neutrality, by definition, is not taking sides” (34). Operating from that definition, he notes “decisions like how much funding a library gets, who should have access to a library, and even where a library is located are not neutral decisions” (34). R. David Lankes further unpacks the “myth of neutrality” (35) and gives this example: “a poor child needs a different level of service to meet our mission than college-educated adults in terms of literacy” (36).

Emily Knox’s comment reproduced in the image above rings true for me (37).  Libraries, and school libraries in particular, cannot collect every book published for youth. In our decision-making, our goal is to provide access to all sides of issues. But with limited budgets and the charge to provide resources aligned with school curricula, school librarians must pick and choose. We do so in the displays we create, the literacy programs we offer, and the ways we collaborate with classroom teachers and specialists and involve students and families in the library program. As the article in this issue by school librarian Kelsey Cohen demonstrates (see next week’s blog post), the library cannot be neutral and simply serve the students who are eager to read.

To be honest, the decisions we make reflect our shared librarianship values, the values of our communities, and our own personal values as well. In the types of outreach and the target audiences for our outreach activities, whether in school, public, or academic libraries, librarians who adhere to our value of “access” seek to be fair rather than equal. A neutral library would simply exist and serve the patrons who come. The library/librarian that assesses the community and determines how to best help people achieve their goals will, of necessity, do more for some than for others.

As Kelvin Watson noted: “We can’t be neutral on social and political issues that impact our customers because, to be frank, those social and political issues impact us as well” (38). In schools, our English language learners and their classroom teachers may need more literacy support than our gifted and talented students and their classroom teachers. Youth living in poverty may need access to literacy and technology resources more than our affluent students who have access in their homes. Inviting an author from an underrepresented group to provide a literacy event may speak in more personally meaningful and impactful ways to some of our students and families than to others. In my opinion, the ways school librarians address academic, social. and political inequities is not a neutral stance.

Since I was unable to attend Midwinter, I especially appreciate the excerpts available in American Libraries magazine and the links to some of the presenters’ full remarks. As noted above, I believe this article can spark a lively and critical conversation in libraries across the country and around the world. I hope you will make time to seek out, read, and discuss the issue of neutrality in librarianship in your professional learning networks.

Work Cited

American Libraries 49 (6). June, 2018.

Image credits:
Quote from Emily J. M. Knox

Youngson, Nick. “Decision-making Highway Sign.” http://www.creative-commons-images.com/highway-signs/d/decision-making.html

Advocating for Authenticity and Diversity in Children’s Picturebooks

If I were in charge of this holiday, all U.S. students be would studying the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy of social justice. They would be reading, discussing, marching, or otherwise working in their communities to bring about positive change.

Students and classroom teachers would also have access to diverse library collections – and most especially school library collections – that provide students with books and resources that represent the diversity of human experience. Since most librarians do not have the opportunity to actually read the print resources they select before they purchase them, they must rely on published book reviews. This means that children’s and young adult book reviewers are mediators between readers and their literature.

During the month of December, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Margaret Mercado, Pima County Public Library children’s librarian who reviews children’s and young adult literature for two well-known review sources. Mary Margaret and I are advocates for diversity and live in a community where Latinx students and families are the majority in the largest school district. We walk and talk most weekend mornings and have often shared our concerns and frustrations with the content, quality, and quantity of books that reflect Latinx culture.

To formalize our blog interview conversation, we created a framework for evaluating the cultural components during our discussions. We adapted our framework from Critical Multicultural Analysis of Children’s Literature: Mirrors, Windows, and Doors by Maria José Botelho and Masha Kabakow Rudman and WOWLit’s “Evaluating Literature for Authenticity.”

Publication Practices
1. Who are the author, illustrator, and/or translator?
2. What are their backgrounds?
3. Who was the original publisher?

Authenticity in the Story
1. From whose perspective is the text written?
2. Are characters, plot, and setting authentic, or are stereotypes presented?
3. What do the review sources say, and how have cultural “insiders” responded to this text?

Authenticity in Visual Elements
1. How does the illustrator’s background or research influence the visual elements in this book?
2. What meanings are communicated through the images?
3. Do the visual elements authentically and accurately portray cultural information?

Authenticity in Sociopolitical and Historical Context
1. What kind of first-hand experience or research informs the text?
2. What current or historical factors shape the story or information in the text?
3. How are current or historical power relations reflected in the text?

We posted once each week in December on the WOW Currents blog. The links below lead to each week’s post. With each link, I have shared a comment and my biggest takeaway(s) or remaining question(s) from that week’s post.

Part 1: Goals and Process for Children’s Book Reviews
In the introductory post on December 4, 2017, Mary Margaret shared her background, how she got started as a children’s literature book reviewer, and her reviewing process. In reading this post, you will note that it was from giving a book review editor critical feedback on a particular review that resulted in Mary Margaret being invited to review for that source. She answered a call for reviewers for the other source for which she reviews.

For the most part, Mary Margaret reviews children’s picturebooks and Spanish language or Spanish/English bilingual books. She constructs book reviews in three parts: 1. the story or information, 2. illustrations for visual incongruities or strengths, and 3. cultural components of the book with her recommendation. She believes it’s her job to “to find any negative, inauthentic or inaccurate elements and point them out in (her) review.” Mary Margaret’s cultural insider knowledge for Mexican themed books gives her  a distinct advantage when reviewing Latinx themed books.

Part 1: Further Questions
1. When librarians read book reviews, do we notice whether or not cultural information is included in the review?

2. Do we consider or question the reviewer’s knowledge in terms of assessing cultural authenticity in the work?

Part 2: Publication Practices
In this post, Mary Margaret provides one very clear example of a book in which the author’s and illustrator’s cultural knowledge (or research) was lacking. In her review, she justified her “not recommended” rating with specifics from the story and the illustrations. She also shared information about the importance of language and translation in relationship to authenticity.

Part 2: Takeaway
This was my takeaway from her responses in this post: “Even though I am culturally competent in both Mexican culture and Spanish language as spoken in (parts of) Mexico and the U.S., I would not be a competent translator for a story situated in Cuban or Puerto Rican culture. It is not appropriate to assume that anyone who is fluent in both English and Spanish can effectively translate any story into the other language.”

Part 3: Authentic Picturebook Stories
Mary Margaret offers three recommendations for determining cultural authenticity. These are her suggestions for librarians/reviewers who are cultural outsiders:
1.     If there is humor in the story. Mary Margaret asks herself: “Am I laughing at or laughing with the character?”
2.     In addition to characterization and language use, she examines the plot. She asks: “Who has agency and power in this story? Does succeeding or failing, winning or losing, have any connection to a stereotype about which I am aware?”
3.     Is the story setting authentic?

Part 3: Takeaway
Mary Margaret’s question about publishing Mexican themed picturebooks is this: “’While a rural setting with a poor family may be ‘appropriate’ for historical fiction, I often wonder, ‘Where are the books with middle class Mexican children and families playing video games, using cell phones and flying to the U.S. to visit Disneyland?’”

Part 4: Authentic Picturebook Illustrations
Since Mary Margaret’s responses to authenticity in story were comprehensive, we decided to carry over the conversation about picturebook illustrations to week four (and did not have the opportunity to explore sociopolitical and historical authenticity on the WOW Currents blog). This post about authenticity in illustration is packed with information that cultural outsiders may find especially illuminating.

Since many errors in illustration are not caught by art editors, it seems that librarians will want to consult cultural insiders about authenticity in picturebook visuals. For many that may be after the fact of purchase. Still, books published with errors can be used in classroom-library lessons as examples for what not to do.

Part 4: Takeaways
Mary Margaret identified several author-illustrators whose work is culturally authentic and shows congruity between story and illustration.

Adriana M. Garcia, illustrator of Xelena González’s book All Around Us (Cinco Puntos, 2017). The story honors traditions while steeped in a contemporary setting.

Yuyi Morales’s magical realism illustrations are perfectly aligned with Laura Lacámara’s story Floating on Mama’s Song (Katherine Tegen Books, 2010).

Duncan Tonatiuh’s Mixtex illustration style provides the perfect blend of contemporary and historical elements in Salsa: Un poema para docinar/Salsa: A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta (Groundwood, 2015).

Continuing the Conversation

The information in this interview will be part of an article for publication that includes responses to a survey I conducted in which twenty-six children’s and young adult book reviewers participated. I will also share both the survey and this interview at the Texas Library Association Conference on April 4th in my session titled “Intercultural Understanding through Global Literature.”

And please mark your calendars. On Tuesday, January 23rd at 1:00 p.m. Central, AASL and Scholastic Books are offering a free, one-hour webinar titled: Mirror, Mirror, Who Do You See in Your Books? Reaching Diverse Readers. Read about it and consider arranging your schedule so you can participate.

References

Botelho, Maria José, and Masha Kabakow Rudman. 2009. Critical Multicultural Analysis of Children’s Literature: Mirrors, Windows, and Doors. New York: Routledge.

WOWLit.org. “Evaluating Literature for Authenticity.” http://wowlit.org/links/evaluating-global-literature/evaluating-literature-for-authenticity

Image Credits:
Collage created at Befunky.com
Word Cloud created at Wordle.net