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.

 

 

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival, Part 2

Image: Latinx Kidlit Book Festival - book with flowersThe 2020 Latinx Kidlit Book Festival was officially held last Friday, December 4th and Saturday, December 5th. I took advantage of the fact that all of the #LKBF2020 video sessions are available on YouTube and will continue to be available indefinitely.

This past week, I viewed three more sessions: Picture Books in the Age of Activism, Elizabeth Acevedo in Conversation with NCTE President Alfredo Celedón Luján, and Frontera Lands: Immigrant Stories About the US-Mexico Border.

Below are my thoughts and connections to the panelists who spoke during these three sessions.

Picture Books in the Age of Activism
Image: Headshots of Moderator and PanelistsAs a picturebook author, reader, and social justice activist, the title of this session jumped off the screen. Although I no longer collect books for a school library, I have a home collection that is now geared more and more toward the early childhood and future young child reading of my grandchildren.

This panel included authors Diana López (Lucky Luna), who also moderated the session, Jackie Azúa Kramer (The Boy and the Gorilla), Eric Velasquez (Octopus Stew), Silvia López (Queen of Tejano Music: Selena), and Magdalena Mora (Equality’s Call). In their session, these authors shared connections between their picture books and supporting young people as they build empathy and strive for social justice as change agents of change in kids.

By way of introduction, moderator Diana López mentioned student activists who protested in Tucson against the ban on Mexican-American Ethnic Studies, including the resources that were used in the program (see the PBS documentary Precious Knowledge).

During the session, each panelist shared how social justice inspires or frames their books (paraphrases). Jackie Azúa Kramer noted that activism starts with a question and invites us to respond with empathy and compassion. Jackie held up an article published last fall in the Washington Post that testifies to the fact that young people activists “12 Kids Who Are Changing Their Communities and Our World.”

Eric Velasquez talked about is Afro-Latino heritage and how his first book Grandma’s Records (2004) was a breakthrough picturebook of validation for children who had not previously seen themselves in print. Eric’s goal is to “subversively” bring social justice messages to readers of his books.

Silvia López, a former librarian, talked about librarians are agents of change who serve as change agents through promoting diverse tools, A refugee from Cuba, Silvia wants her books to increase readers’ consciousness of injustice and to illustrate how injustice shapes lives.

Illustrator Magdalena Mora noted her book Equity’s Call, written by Deborah Diesen, spotlights who voting rights leaders spread enfranchisement to non-White male voters and includes the fact that more work is still to be done to eliminate voter suppression.

Elizabeth Acevedo in Conversation with NCTE President Alfredo Celedón Luján
Image: Headshot of Moderator and PanelistModerator Alfredo Celedón Luján, President of The National Council of Teachers of English. Luján, and dean of students and teacher of English and study skills at Monte del Sol Charter School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, introduced Elizabeth Acevedo and her award-winning books: The Poet X, With the Fire on High, and Clap When You Land. Then Elizabeth launched the session by performing one of her poems.

For the remainder of the session, Elizabeth responded to kids’ questions. In the process, she shared bits of her growing up in Morningside Heights, a section of New York City, and how she recognized herself as a poet at the age of ten. She entered her first poetry slam contest at fourteen and experienced how other kids’ poems affected her. “A poem can be carried in the body even when it wasn’t your own (poem).”

Her comments about craft were inspiring for all writers—young and more seasoned. She noted that poems seem to arise organically; poetry is personal. Prose, on the other hand, requires authors to show up for the characters so the characters can tell their story. When asked about writer’s block, Elizabeth shared that she doesn’t believe in it. Rather she has given herself permission to jump ahead in the story or pick up another project for a while… but to never stop writing. (Great advice!)

The showed a video at the end of the session that took viewers backstage to see Elizabeth’s home and family and community connections to her books. If you only have a short time, enjoy her poem at the beginning and the video at the end of this session.

Frontera Lands: Immigrant Stories About the US-Mexico Border
Image: Headshots of Moderator and PanelistsThe US-Mexico Border is sixty miles from our home. Immigrant and southern U.S. border stories are essential reading for the youth in Arizona, their families and communities. The panel members for this session were Yuyi Morales (Dreamers), Francisco Stork (Illegal), Alexandra Diaz (Santiago’s Road Home), and Reyna Grande (The Distance Between Us). Author Aida Salazar (Land of Cranes and The Moon Within) founding member of Las Musas Books moderated this conversation about experiences and issues related to the borderland regions of the U.S. and Mexico.

The following comments by the panelists were the most noteworthy to me.

Yuyi Morales said immigration is an “act of love.” In her books, she wants readers to see people and animals as beautiful beings who can us learn and grow. Readers should come away from her books encouraged to care for others.

Francisco Stork, who suffered feelings of inferiority as a nine-year-old immigrant, wants his readers to find heroism in the acts of characters who overcome all obstacles when confronted with evil.

In her work, Alexandra Diaz hopes readers will increase their understanding of the immigrant experience—an experience that is a valued and valuable part of who she is. She hopes that understanding will extend to immigrants all across the globe.

Reyna Grande noted that we, as a country, haven’t yet learned to celebrate immigrants and the immigrant experience. She wants to educate readers about that experience while authoring human stories with universal themes of pursing dreams with hope.

For me, Yuyi’s comment sums up my take-away from this session. “Books can be an invitation to every child to tell their own story.” Immigrant/immigration stories celebrate voices “that have not yet been heard.”

Promoting Latinx Authors and Illustrators
I think this bears repeating from last week’s post.

For the thirty-plus years I have been involved in the library and larger education worlds, we have been asking publishers for more diverse books for the children, teens, and families we serve. The underrepresentation of Latinx authors and illustrators has been alarming as the Latinx student population in our schools and country continue to grow at a faster rate than some other demographic groups.

This festival demonstrates that Latinx book creators come from a wide range of cultures and countries. They remind us that there is no monolithic “Latinx” or “Hispanic” experience and that all voices are needed and welcome in order to represent and best serve readers.

Note: As I was listening, I looked up all of the authors and illustrators most recent books in our public library catalogue, requested the ones I could find, and suggested purchases of the others.

Thank you to the #LKBF2020 sponsors for supporting these authors and illustrators. Let’s do our best as librarians to get these books into the hands of all young people and particularly those whose life experiences appear less often in children’s and young adult literature.

It’s a matter of equity and social justice.

Image Credit
Latinx Kidlit Book Festival Logo

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival Recap

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival Logo: Book with FlowersThe 2020 Latinx Kidlit Book Festival was officially held last Friday, December 4th and Saturday, December 5th. However, all of the #LKBF2020 video sessions are available on YouTube and will continue to be available indefinitely. Thank you to the festival organizers and sponsors!

The videos are organized by topics that will appeal to youth, educators, librarians, and readers of all ages. These are the sessions I have viewed so far: Español, Spanglish or Bilingual: The Use of Spanish in Latinx Kidlit; No Words: Storytelling Through Pictures; Magical Realism and Beyond; and Stronger Together: Social Justice in Young Adult Literature.

All of the sessions I’ve viewed have ended with questions submitted from young people. I appreciate this reader-centered addition to a virtual literature conference.

Español, Spanglish or Bilingual: The Use of Spanish in Latinx Kidlit

Photos and Names of Authors: Español, Spanglish or BilingualThis is an important session for all librarians in terms of cultural insider perspectives on bilingual and single-language books for children and teens. These were the guiding questions for the session: Is there a “universal” Spanish? Is there an audience in the USA for Spanish-only books published in America? When does blending Spanish and English work? Is it ever hindering or confusing? What about italics for Spanish in an English text? Is there a time that is best to do dual versions, rather than having a bilingual book?

Author and educator Monica Brown (Lola Levine Is Not Mean) moderated the panel and contributed many insights from her professional and personal experience. Monica, whose mother was born in Peru, shared her connections to Peruvian culture, history, and language. She talked about working collaboratively with translators because her own Spanish is not quite proficient enough to support her writing in both languages. (The country/culture of origin of Spanish language translators is an important conversation for the future.)

Lulu Delacre (Luci Soars) is originally from Puerto Rico and has been writing in both English and Spanish for many years; she is also an illustrator. Lulu noted that when both languages are included side by side in a picturebook, it equalizes Spanish language and creates opportunities for speakers/readers of both languages to share the text.

René Colato Laínez (Telegramas) who came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1985 talked about his experience as an immigrant without papers and how crossing borders influences his writing. He is also an educator of young children and considers their social-emotional needs in his books.

Mariana Llanos (Eunice and Kate) who was born in Peru shared the critical importance of bilingualism in her work and life. She noted that some adults who don’t speak a second language shy away from purchasing bilingual books because they can only read one of the languages in the book.

Natalia Sylvester (Running) who was also born in Peru associates Spanish language with “home” because her mother only allowed Spanish to be spoken in their U.S. home. Natalia talked about how there are commonalities among Spanish speakers and also how the language is different for each country or cultural group. She uses Spanglish in her young adult book because code switching captures the feelings of the characters and accurately represents the way people living in dual cultures talk. She wants to make readers feel “at home” in her books and in the beauty of language.

I learned from their discussion that there is no one opinion about whether or not to italicize non-English words and phrases in their books.

No Words: Storytelling Through Pictures
Photos and Names of Illustrators: No WordsI was able to attend this session live. Wow! This group of illustrators had such fun sharing their work, their favorite art-making tools, and their illustration processes: Juana Medina (Juana & Lucas), Raúl the Third (Lowriders), Axur Eneas (Student Ambassador: The Missing Dragon), Carlos Aponte (Across the Bay) and Adriana Hernandez Bergstrom (Abuelita and I Make Flan).

Readers are lucky to have their creativity and expertise in making visual media to tell stories.

I especially loved the portion of this session where the moderator Adriana Hernandez Bergstrom read thoughtful questions kids submitted for these illustrators. Thank you to the children for their questions and the illustrators for their personal and often humorous responses!

Magical Realism and Beyond
Photos and Names of Authors: Magical Realism and BeyondIn my reading of adult books, I have connected to magical realism, particularly in the works of Isabel Allende, Gabriel García Márquez, and Toni Morrison. This session attracted me because I am not as familiar with this literary style in books for children and young adults. Michelle Ruiz Keil (All of Us with Wings) moderated this session with Samantha Mabry (Tigers, Not Daughters), Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Shame the Stars), Daniel José Older (Shadowshaper Legacy), and Julio Anta (Frontera).

One thing I appreciated in this conversation was the distinction the authors made between magical realism and the supernatural. Their connections to family experiences of magical realism are not supernatural but rather the magic of “what is” (real). I resonate with that feeling and belief and look forward to reading the works of these authors.

Stronger Together: Social Justice in Young Adult Literature
Photos and Names of the Stronger Together AuthorsSocial justice and societal change in YA lit is a timely topic. This session was moderated by author and educator Jennifer De Leon (Don’t Ask Me When I’m From). The panel included Yamile Saied Méndez (Furia), Lilliam Rivera (Never Look Back), Lucas Rocha (Where We Go From Here), and Jenny Torres Sanchez (We Are Not From Here). Each author shared their inspirations for writing their most recent book.

One commonality among the intentions of these authors is to show the humanity of individuals and their struggles and to provide readers hope. As moderator-author Jenn De Leon noted, these authors dive deep into broad societal issues. They create stories that bring the power of being inside individual characters’ experiences to consider and wrestle with universal themes, feelings, hopes, and dreams – and to take action.

Promoting Latinx Authors and Illustrators
For the thirty-plus years I have been involved in the library and larger education worlds, we have been asking publishers for more diverse books for the children, teens, and families we serve. The underrepresentation of Latinx authors and illustrators has been alarming as the Latinx student population in our schools and country continue to grow at a faster rate than some other demographic groups.

The participants in the festival give those of us who share Latinx literature with young people hope that the future of publishing is bright for them–our readers and these authors and illustrators.

This festival demonstrates that Latinx book creators come from a wide range of cultures and countries. They remind us that there is no monolithic “Latinx” or “Hispanic” experience and that all voices are needed and welcome in order to represent and best serve readers.

Note: As I was listening, I looked up all of the authors’ and illustrators’ most recent books in our public library catalogue, requested the ones I could find, and suggested purchases of the others.

Thank you to the #LKBF2020 sponsors for supporting and promoting the work of these authors and illustrators. Let’s do our best as librarians to get their books into the hands of all young people and particularly to our youth whose life experiences appear less often in children’s and young adult literature.

It’s a matter of equity and social justice.

Image Credit
Latinx KidLit Book Festival Logo

SLJ Summit Recap

Image of Laptop with Bookshelves on the ScreenI appreciate School Library Journal for organizing a purely virtual 2020 Summit. The line-up of content was outstanding with many familiar as well as new (to me) and diverse voices represented. The interface was easy to use. My only regret is that my schedule did not allow me to attend all of the live sessions in real time, which were not recorded for later access.

CORRECTION: The live session recordings are now available! Please don’t miss the recording of “In Conversation with Patrisse Cullors” moderated by Erika Long!

Reimagining School
After a Zoom social and welcome remarks, the opening session “Reimagining School” was a perfect way to launch the day-long conversation about challenges faced and solved for successful remote learning, equitable access to resources, and serving underserved students and families.

The presenters were Susan Gauthier, Director, Library Services, East Baton Rouge Parish School District, Dr. Jacqueline Perez, Assistant Superintendent, Equity, Access & Community Engagement, Riverside (CA) Unified School District, Brian Schilpp, STEM Supervisor, Garrett County (MD) Schools, Marlon Styles, Jr., Superintendent, Middletown City (OH) Schools; the session was capably moderated by Kara Yorio, SLJ News Editor.

Each of these presenters shared their unique teaching and learning environments and highlighted that a one-size-fits-all response to remote, hybrid, or in-person learning during a pandemic is not recommended or even possible.

Susan Gauthier expertly presented the pandemic worldview from the school librarianship perspective in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. With over 41,000 students, Susan and her librarians’ biggest challenge was scaling their digital collections to meet the needs of all students, educators, and families. She wisely started planning for the closure this fall with a stakeholder survey; the results showed that no one wanted physical book checkouts and all resources would be delivered electronically. Here are the highlights of what Susan shared:

  • Promoting and using e-resources exclusively meant the district had to rethink their reading culture, including orientations to the virtual library, reader’s advisory, and reading challenges.
  • Expanding adoption of e-resources from broad acceptance at middle school to the entire K-12 community was essential and a leadership opportunity to school librarians.
  • The district had benefited from FEMA hurricane funds and built on their “weather resistant” collections, including expanding into nonfiction and titles in Spanish.
  • District librarians made a concerted effort to collaborate with the public library to ensure all students had e-cards that provided access to the public library’s digital collection.

Susan thanked the vendors who provided their district with free e-resources, including MackinVia, TeachingBooks, ABDO, and Follett’s Lightbox.

Here’s one takeaway from each of the other presenters:

Jacqueline Perez stressed the critical importance of taking an asset-based view of each individual student in terms of addressing their needs and engaging them in learning. (Another asset-based view in Riverside district involves the community and volunteers in organizing and staffing learning hubs particularly for homeless or other students who lack adult support.)

Brian Schilpp noted that “aggressive” professional development for educators must be individualized—meeting educators “where they are” is essential. (The district’s drive-in movie theater set-up for sharing information with families is brilliant.)

While all of the presenters talked about the importance of building on the relationships they had formed with students, families, and community, Marlon Styles, Jr. reinforced this truth in all of his comments. His best quote: “Creativity is free!” (Co-creating individual reading plans with students and families is an outstanding way to gain support for youth from the adults in their homes.)

After the session there was a post-panel discussion in Zoom where participants crowdsourced ideas and resources.

I have watched two previously recorded sessions so far.

Nick Glass, founder of TeachingBooks, spotlighted the amazing digital resources offered on the site—232,000+ and rising! In addition to the TeachingBooks search tools, the site offers a Diverse Books Toolkit, Reader’s Advisory, and Library Programming. As an added benefit, particularly during remote learning, sharing tools allow librarians and other educators to connect TeachingBooks resources to their learning management systems.

Watching this resource evolve over the past twenty years has been amazing. If you don’t know and use TeachingBooks, be sure to sign-up for the free trial offered to SLJ Summit attendees.

I also viewed “Vote Woke: Empower Students to Vote with Books and Community Support” by Cicely Lewis, 2020 School Librarian of the Year and founder of Read Woke. (To learn more about Read Woke, connect with Cicely’s blog). In this session, Cicely shared how she engaged high school students in registering themselves and their friends to vote. She stressed how students took the lead in all of the voting initiatives launched at her school. Cicely recommended The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert (2020) as a must-read title for engaging youth in discussions around voting. She earned a $5,000 MTV Virtual Program Grant and her students had the distinct pleasure of a private Zoom call with former First Lady Michelle Obama and Jenna Bush Hagar.

Cicely was joined by Ron Gauthier, Branch Manager of the Grayson Public Library in Gwinnett County, Georgia. He shared how he and his team have partnered with public schools and the community to provide supplemental materials and programs tailored to their needs. This public library – school library collaboration is admirable and should be replicated across the county.

Sadly, for me, I was unable to attend the final live session of the Summit: “In Conversation with Patrisse Cullors.” Patrisse is an artist, activist, and educator; she co-founded Black Lives Matter in 2013. The movement, now an international organization with dozens of chapters around the world, campaigns against anti-black racism. Patrisse’s memoir When They Call You a Terrorist was a New York Times bestseller. Tennessee school librarian Erika Long moderated the conversation. Erika was part of the ALA Presidential Initiative: Fight for School Libraries, AASL Presidential Initiative Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and is a co-contributor to the “Equity” chapter in the forthcoming book Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021).

I turned to Twitter colleagues to get their takeaways from their session (with thanks to them):

Lindsey Kimery @LindsKAnderson Loved the conversation btw @erikaslong & @OsopePatrisse -Young people need to know they have the capability to be leaders right now. Educators need to be on the front lines of supporting the voice and vision of young people- Patrisse Cullors. #blm #sljsummit #mnpslibhack #tasltn

Jennifer Sharp @JenniferSharpTN – “Young people need to know that they have the ability to be leaders right now.” “There is a vibrancy to this moment that is very different than 2016 and everybody feels it.” Loving these thoughts about the activism of young people, @OsopePatrisse and @erikaslong Raising hands Clapping hands sign #sljsummit

Sara Kelly Johns @skjohns Just watched a powerful session at the @SLJ Summit with @erikaslong facilitating a conversation with Patrice Cullors, author of When They Call You a Terrorist. Whew! I am going back for another listen. #sljsummit #BlackLivesMatter

Kathy Ishizuka @kishizuka – An inspired and hopeful note to end on. @erikaslong @OsopePatrisse Peace, and remember to #vote #sljsummit #thankyou

Thank you again, SLJ, for this fine learning opportunity. I intend to make time this week for taking greater advantage of what you have generously offered.

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

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