Pride From the Beginning and All Year Long

A Hand Print with Rainbow ColorsI believe that children’s sense of pride is instilled in their families right from the start. It is up to parents, caregivers, and educators to work together to help all children bring their self-esteem to their interactions with others and to feel a sense of belonging, safety, and security in our communities.

Librarians who share literature with children and youth may be guided at times by the concept of “bibliotherapy.” We often read and discuss books with children and young adults that touch on issues of social and emotional health. We are not trained therapists and most of us are not trained in responding in a clinical way to mental health issues; we do not “treat” book listeners/readers as patients. Still, we often recognize when a particular book will speak to an individual student or group of students in our care.

Self-Esteem Titles
A focus on positive self-esteem messages is a place to begin for young children. Books that celebrate the self and difference create in children a feeling that they are worthy and an expectation that people are different and all are worthy of our friendship.

To build self-esteem and caring for others, we read books like Karen Beaumont and David Catrow’s book I Like Myself (Harcourt 2004), Giraffes Can’t Dance written by Giles Andreae and illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees (Cartwheel 2012), Red: A Crayon’s Story written and illustrated by Michael Hall (HarperCollins/Greenwillow 2015), I’m New Here by author/illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien (Charlesbridge 2015), and I Like Being Me: Poems About Kindness, Friendship, and Making Good Choices by Judy Lalli (Free Spirit 2016).

LGBTQIA+ Books from the Beginning
For me, there are two types of Pride books that set children’s expectations for diversity and inclusion. Diverse books with LGBTQIA+ and gender fluid protagonists such as Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick 2018), When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (Candlewick 2019), and My Rainbow by DeShanna and Trinity Neal, illustrated by Art Twink (Kokila 2020).

Inclusion titles communicate a matter-of-fact stance with regard to diversity that can influence children’s expectations for differences in gender identity and family structure. My favorite books for young children in this category are The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Ros Asquith (Dial/Penguin 2010), Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender and Friendship written by Jessica Walton, illustrated by Dougal MacPherson (Bloomsbury 2016), and Sam Is My Sister by Ashley Rhodes-Courter, illustrated by MacKenzie Haley (Whitman 2021).

Resources for Library Collection Development
As you conduct an audit and select new titles, please consider the critical importance of #ownvoices titles as you build your Pride collection and look for opportunities to integrate these books into the classroom curriculum as well as in book club and independent reading selections.

American Library Association: Rainbow Book List

School Library Journal offers several lists and recent articles for your review.

26 LGBTQIA Titles for Teens

LGBTQIA Graphic Novels for Young Readers

People of Pride

Pride for Tweens

I also appreciate this list from Chicago Parent: 29 LGBTQ Children’s Books for Families to Read.

Check your local public library to compare the books they are promoting during Pride Month with the titles in your own library collection. Pima County Public Library, where I live in Tucson, has an excellent list for preK through grades 8 and up list titled “Hope Will Never Be Silent” (in homage to Harvey Milk) and another list for teens and adults (with an unfortunate title) called “Gay Best Friends.”

Pride Month All Year Long
Here in Arizona the regular school year ended in May. If students are still in school in June in other schools across the country, the opportunity to spotlight Pride Month may be compromised by the end-of-the-year rush.

School librarians and classroom teachers absolutely MUST celebrate the literature that shines a spotlight on LGBTQIA+ perspectives and experiences. Just as Black Lives Matter is a social justice issue so are the rights and lives of our LGBTQIA+ students, colleagues, and neighbors.

Perhaps this presents the opportunity for a new “month” at your school.

Social Justice Month is an idea whose time has come.

Image Credit
Mjimages. “Pride LGBTQ.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/vectors/pride-lgbtq-symbol-sign-action-6056043/

 

Bibliotherapy Note: Anita Cellucci, school librarian, librarian educator, and contributor to Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021), writes about and offers resources for bibliotherapy on her website.

Point of Privilege about Eric Carle’s Passing: I attended my first Arizona Library Association conference when I was a newly minted school librarian, circa 1991. Eric Carle was a guest author at the conference. When I arrived dressed in my everyday school clothing (a simple dress and VERY sensible shoes), I noticed that every other person around me was wearing a suit and all the women were sporting heels! (It was a different time.) Who knew?

I went up to the table to ask Mr. Carle to sign The Very Quiet Cricket (1990). He recognized that I was shy and noticed I was feeling uncomfortable. A twinkle in his eyes, he said, “I really like your dress.” We shared a conspiratorial smile and exchanged further kindnesses. I still have my cricket book (that no longer chirps) with his distinctive signature.

In 2016 after the Midwinter Meeting in Boston, I visited the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, with long-time ALA/AASL friend Connie Champlin. You can read a lovely tribute to Mr. Carle on the museum site.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit the museum, do so to experience the profound impact Eric Carle has had on the world of children’s literature—both in writing and illustration. (Another children’s literature great David Wiesner gave a presentation focused on his book Mr. Wuffles the day Connie and I visited the museum.)

Black History and Women’s History All Year Long

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you there!

Work Cited

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

Professional Book Review: Intellectual Freedom Issues in School Libraries

Book Cover: Intellectual Freedom Issues in School LibrariesWhen school librarians consider our unique set of core values, we must include intellectual freedom along with equity, diversity, and inclusion. Intellectual freedom is a bedrock of our practice. It impacts our work in so many overt and covert ways as we serve the literacy and learning needs of our students, colleagues, administrators, families, and communities.

Intellectual Freedom Issues in School Libraries (Libraries Unlimited 2021) edited by April M. Dawkins is a collection of 57 previously published articles that address this topic in variety of contexts. Readers may be surprised by the many ways the contributors frame our work as school library professionals in terms of intellectual freedom.

In our forthcoming book, the co-authors of the intellectual freedom chapter defined intellectual freedom in this way. It “is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. Rooted in U.S. law, intellectual freedom is further supported through library professional standards and guidance, and involves protecting the rights of access, choice, privacy, and confidentiality” (Moreillon 2021, in press).

From 2012 through 2015, I was privileged to contribute to a column for School Library Monthly. Four of the articles in Dawkins’ book are from those columns: “Leadership: Filtering and Social Media,” “Policy Challenge: Closed for Conducting Inventory,” “Policy Challenge: Consequences of Restricting Borrowing,” and “Policy Challenge: Leveling the Library Collection.” My fifth contribution, “Progressive Collection Development = A Foundation for Differentiated Instruction,” which was originally published in 2017 in School Library Connection, is the last article in the book.

Although each of these articles speak to the commitment it takes to remain true to the core value of intellectual freedom, the most recent “Progressive Collection Development…” has an important place in today’s conversations about racial and social justice.

“Collaborating librarians cannot overestimate the importance of their work as literacy stewards who provide the resource foundation for DI [differentiated instruction]. With their knowledge of literature, librarians can support teachers’ teaching and help motivate students to engage in deep and meaningful learning. Providing multiple sources that serve as mirrors and windows can make DI a reality.

Diverse resources are an essential first step in opening doors for all students to succeed” (Dawkins 2021, 197).

Other contributors to the book are school librarianship’s long-time staunch intellectual freedom leader Helen R. Adams, April M. Dawkins, Elizabeth Burns, Chad Heck, Maria Cahill, Lucy Santos Green, Michelle Maniaci Folk, and more.

Contributing to this book was important to me because the First Amendment applied to the rights of library users was my initial pathway into developing a passion for librarianship. Ensuring that K-12 students had those rights has always been part of my mission as a school librarian and school librarian educator. Intellectual freedom can position our values and work in sharp contrast to outdated school policies and practices. It can cause us to consider and reconsider the distinctions between selection and censorship. And in the case of book or resource challenges, intellectual freedom can require that we show courage to stand up for the rights of youth, authors, and illustrators.

I know readers of Dawkins’ book will want to add Chapter 4: Intellectual Freedom by Suzanne Sannwald, high school teacher librarian, and Dan McDowell, Director of Learning and Innovation, Grossmont Union High School District, San Diego County, California, to their essential readings on intellectual freedom (Moreillon 2021, in press).

In their chapter, Suzanne and Dan explore intellectual freedom from access to print and digital resources to students’ opportunities to exercise agency. The co-authors make a strong case that intellectual freedom is a mindset for students and for educators. It includes seeking and receiving information, securing privacy and confidentiality, and fostering democracy. Suzanne and Dan note that when school librarians collaborate with other educators to design pedagogy, they can make a shared commitment and practice of honoring students’ rights to lead their own learning.

And isn’t that the ultimate goal of intellectual freedom?

Works Cited

Dawkins, April. Ed. 2021. Intellectual Freedom Issues in School Libraries. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

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

 

 

Antiracist Early Childhood Book Audit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books and Resources about the Current and Past Pandemics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe and well.

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

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

Work Cited

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

Image Credit

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

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. All multicultural children’s literature has the potential to serve as mirrors and windows (Bishop 1990).

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 6 (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