The 2020 Latinx Kidlit Book Festival was officially held last Friday, December 4th and Saturday, December 5th. I took advantage of the fact that all of the #LKBF2020 video sessions are available on YouTube and will continue to be available indefinitely.
This past week, I viewed three more sessions: Picture Books in the Age of Activism, Elizabeth Acevedo in Conversation with NCTE President Alfredo Celedón Luján, and Frontera Lands: Immigrant Stories About the US-Mexico Border.
Below are my thoughts and connections to the panelists who spoke during these three sessions.
Picture Books in the Age of Activism
As a picturebook author, reader, and social justice activist, the title of this session jumped off the screen. Although I no longer collect books for a school library, I have a home collection that is now geared more and more toward the early childhood and future young child reading of my grandchildren.
This panel included authors Diana López (Lucky Luna), who also moderated the session, Jackie Azúa Kramer (The Boy and the Gorilla), Eric Velasquez (Octopus Stew), Silvia López (Queen of Tejano Music: Selena), and Magdalena Mora (Equality’s Call). In their session, these authors shared connections between their picture books and supporting young people as they build empathy and strive for social justice as change agents of change in kids.
By way of introduction, moderator Diana López mentioned student activists who protested in Tucson against the ban on Mexican-American Ethnic Studies, including the resources that were used in the program (see the PBS documentary Precious Knowledge).
During the session, each panelist shared how social justice inspires or frames their books (paraphrases). Jackie Azúa Kramer noted that activism starts with a question and invites us to respond with empathy and compassion. Jackie held up an article published last fall in the Washington Post that testifies to the fact that young people activists “12 Kids Who Are Changing Their Communities and Our World.”
Eric Velasquez talked about is Afro-Latino heritage and how his first book Grandma’s Records (2004) was a breakthrough picturebook of validation for children who had not previously seen themselves in print. Eric’s goal is to “subversively” bring social justice messages to readers of his books.
Silvia López, a former librarian, talked about librarians are agents of change who serve as change agents through promoting diverse tools, A refugee from Cuba, Silvia wants her books to increase readers’ consciousness of injustice and to illustrate how injustice shapes lives.
Illustrator Magdalena Mora noted her book Equity’s Call, written by Deborah Diesen, spotlights who voting rights leaders spread enfranchisement to non-White male voters and includes the fact that more work is still to be done to eliminate voter suppression.
Elizabeth Acevedo in Conversation with NCTE President Alfredo Celedón Luján
Moderator Alfredo Celedón Luján, President of The National Council of Teachers of English. Luján, and dean of students and teacher of English and study skills at Monte del Sol Charter School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, introduced Elizabeth Acevedo and her award-winning books: The Poet X, With the Fire on High, and Clap When You Land. Then Elizabeth launched the session by performing one of her poems.
For the remainder of the session, Elizabeth responded to kids’ questions. In the process, she shared bits of her growing up in Morningside Heights, a section of New York City, and how she recognized herself as a poet at the age of ten. She entered her first poetry slam contest at fourteen and experienced how other kids’ poems affected her. “A poem can be carried in the body even when it wasn’t your own (poem).”
Her comments about craft were inspiring for all writers—young and more seasoned. She noted that poems seem to arise organically; poetry is personal. Prose, on the other hand, requires authors to show up for the characters so the characters can tell their story. When asked about writer’s block, Elizabeth shared that she doesn’t believe in it. Rather she has given herself permission to jump ahead in the story or pick up another project for a while… but to never stop writing. (Great advice!)
The showed a video at the end of the session that took viewers backstage to see Elizabeth’s home and family and community connections to her books. If you only have a short time, enjoy her poem at the beginning and the video at the end of this session.
Frontera Lands: Immigrant Stories About the US-Mexico Border
The US-Mexico Border is sixty miles from our home. Immigrant and southern U.S. border stories are essential reading for the youth in Arizona, their families and communities. The panel members for this session were Yuyi Morales (Dreamers), Francisco Stork (Illegal), Alexandra Diaz (Santiago’s Road Home), and Reyna Grande (The Distance Between Us). Author Aida Salazar (Land of Cranes and The Moon Within) founding member of Las Musas Books moderated this conversation about experiences and issues related to the borderland regions of the U.S. and Mexico.
The following comments by the panelists were the most noteworthy to me.
Yuyi Morales said immigration is an “act of love.” In her books, she wants readers to see people and animals as beautiful beings who can us learn and grow. Readers should come away from her books encouraged to care for others.
Francisco Stork, who suffered feelings of inferiority as a nine-year-old immigrant, wants his readers to find heroism in the acts of characters who overcome all obstacles when confronted with evil.
In her work, Alexandra Diaz hopes readers will increase their understanding of the immigrant experience—an experience that is a valued and valuable part of who she is. She hopes that understanding will extend to immigrants all across the globe.
Reyna Grande noted that we, as a country, haven’t yet learned to celebrate immigrants and the immigrant experience. She wants to educate readers about that experience while authoring human stories with universal themes of pursing dreams with hope.
For me, Yuyi’s comment sums up my take-away from this session. “Books can be an invitation to every child to tell their own story.” Immigrant/immigration stories celebrate voices “that have not yet been heard.”
Promoting Latinx Authors and Illustrators
I think this bears repeating from last week’s post.
For the thirty-plus years I have been involved in the library and larger education worlds, we have been asking publishers for more diverse books for the children, teens, and families we serve. The underrepresentation of Latinx authors and illustrators has been alarming as the Latinx student population in our schools and country continue to grow at a faster rate than some other demographic groups.
This festival demonstrates that Latinx book creators come from a wide range of cultures and countries. They remind us that there is no monolithic “Latinx” or “Hispanic” experience and that all voices are needed and welcome in order to represent and best serve readers.
Note: As I was listening, I looked up all of the authors and illustrators most recent books in our public library catalogue, requested the ones I could find, and suggested purchases of the others.
Thank you to the #LKBF2020 sponsors for supporting these authors and illustrators. Let’s do our best as librarians to get these books into the hands of all young people and particularly those whose life experiences appear less often in children’s and young adult literature.
It’s a matter of equity and social justice.
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