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Memorial Day weekend is upon us and we can’t think of a better way to remember and celebrate than with some of our award-winning books!
Teachers- Looking for a way to talk to your students about war this Memorial Day?
Parents- Trying to make your kids understand the importance of remembering those who gave their lives for our country?
We have some great titles that will get your kids interested and help them understand the great sacrifices made by our men and women at arms, what really makes someone a hero, and the impact of war on a level they can relate to.
Set during the ’60s with the Vietnam war going on and World War II popular in the media, Japanese American Donnie Okada always has to be the “bad guy” when he and his friends play war because he looks like the enemy portrayed in the media. When he finally has had enough, Donnie enlists the aid of his 442nd veteran father and Korean War veteran uncle to prove to his friends and schoolmates that those of Asian descent did serve in the U.S. military.
A biography of Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian who was one of the six soldiers to raise the United States flag on Iwo Jima during World War II, an event immortalized by Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph.
Through rhythmic words, photos, and original art, this collection of poems about children throughout history focuses on their perceptions of war and how war affects their lives. A great way to introduce the topic of war into discussion with your children and the ramifications they may not have considered.
For some insight from the author, take a look at this interview with Eloise Greenfield. Purchase the book here.
Be sure to leave comments below on how discussions about war went in your classroom or with your own children; we’d love to hear from you!
Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that's all his own.
Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn't mean he wants to be Little Thunder. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he's done, like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder. But just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name...a name that is sure to light up the sky. National Book Award-winner Sherman Alexie's lyrical text and Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales's striking and beautiful illustrations celebrate the special relationship between father and son.
We can hardly believe how fast the year is flying by! Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner, which means summer is officially here. We’re looking forward to nice weather, beaches, and of course, our new titles out this month!
We’re very excited to introduce our new May releases – there’s sure to be something for everyone!
By Sylvia Liu, illus. by Christina Forshay
Hardcover, 32 pages
Ages 5 to 8
A curious and active Chinese American girl spends the day learning tai chi from her grandfather, and in turn tries to teach him how to do yoga. Winner of our New Voices Award.
“Debut author Liu scores with a sweet story about the joys of intergenerational relationships. The love between the two shines through in both text and illustrations. A fine example of contemporary multicultural literature.” —Kirkus Reviews
By Gwendolyn Hooks, illus. by Colin Bootman
Hardcover, 32 pages
Ages 7 to 12
The life story of Vivien Thomas, an African American surgical technician who developed the first procedure used to perform open-heart surgery on children.
“Beyond the crucial message of perseverance and spotlight on prejudiced attitudes that still resonate today, this middle-grade picture book illuminates the life of little-known man whose innovations continue to be essential to modern medicine.” —Booklist, starred review
By Kimberly Reid
Hardcover, 384 pages
Ages 12 and up
Andrea Faraday, a society girl with a sketchy past, leads a crew of juvie kids in using their criminal skills for good.
“Crime, intrigue, and deceit abound in this novel about a biracial teen embracing her criminal instincts in order to thwart a treacherous plot. Gripping, suspenseful, and refreshingly diverse.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Sometimes to save the day, a good girl’s gotta be bad.
White Collar meets Oceans 11 in our new YA novel, Perfect Liars. We interviewed author Kimberly Reid on how to craft the perfect heist novel, her writing tips, and breaking stereotypes.
Why was it important to you to depict an interracial relationship in your story?
In the real world, interracial relationships exist. I’ve been in one with my Korean husband since college. Teen readers may not think this is a big deal, but when we met in the late 1980s, long before K-pop, K-dramas, and Korean fusion food trucks made the culture more accessible to Americans, it was kind of a big deal. Back then, as Koreans immigrated and settled into traditionally black neighborhoods of large cities, relations between our communities were tense. I wasn’t quite as young as the characters in Perfect Liars, but I remember what it was like to be young and in a relationship for which I had no model, one that was seen as “exotic” at best and flat-out wrong at worst. The world has shifted a lot in thirty years, and kids have more models now but it’s still important to me that my books reflect the real world. And unfortunately, we’re often reminded how little shift there has been. Just last week, people lost their minds over an interracial Old Navy ad.
What research did you do to create a convincing heist novel?
That aspect of the book probably took the least research since the heist isn’t a huge player in the story, though I had to do a lot of Googling on the high-end antiques business. I didn’t want the target of the thieves to be the usual things—money, jewelry, art—though that’s in there, too. So I decided to go with fine antiques. The legal aspects took up most of my research time. Luckily, I come from a law enforcement family so it was fairly easy to ask any question that popped into my head. When I was writing the book, my much younger sister had recently passed the bar exam and she’d also been an English major in undergrad, so she was the perfect person to help. The law was really fresh for her, and she didn’t get bored with all my writerly talk of plot and motivation.
Who are your favorite heist writers? What are some of your favorite heist movies or shows?
I don’t really have a favorite heist writer, but I have watched many heist movies, like The Italian Job and Ocean’s Eleven (the original and the newer versions), Rififi, The Score, and Inside Man. But it was actually a TV show called Leverage that gave me part of the inspiration for Perfect Liars. The main premise came from an alternative school in my town that is run by a juvie court judge and was once housed in our city’s justice center, along with courtrooms and the sheriff’s office. But I needed to turn that into a story and decided to have former juvie kids use their criminal skills for good. In Leverage, a band of criminals, led by a former investigator, use their various talents to help people in need.
How is writing fiction different than writing a memoir (No Place Safe)?
The biggest difference is telling the truth versus making stuff up. With fiction, you can make the story go the way you want. Writing memoir is all about the truth and sometimes the truth hurts. No Place Safe is the story of growing up during the two-year-long Atlanta Missing and Murdered Children investigation, on which my mother was a lead investigator. I was thirteen when the murders began, and I wrote the story from my thirteen-year-old’s perspective, but with the insight of an adult looking back on that time. It was my first published book, and writing it helped me figure out what I wanted to do from that point on. I like writing from a teen point of view (but I find it more difficult than writing for adults!). Though I write crime fiction, I prefer using humor in my stories rather than a darker voice. Most importantly, I’d much rather invent stories than tell the truth.
What advice would you give to writers that want to write heist novels?
In a heist novel, the entire book is about the planning and execution of a heist, and then how the characters deal with the fallout. There is some of that in Perfect Liars, but it isn’t really a heist novel. Publishers Weekly calls it “a socially conscious crime thriller” and I like that description. The heist more or less sets up the story; it isn’t the story. If I had to give it a subgenre, it’s probably more con artist than heist. But I’d give the same advice I’d give a writer of any genre: do your research. I do lots of research and still miss something every time. And your readers will call you on it every time. I can be a little Type A and used to think, “Oh, no! How did I miss that?” Now, I realize I can’t change the book once it is out in the world, so I view it as, “I have some really smart and observant readers. They’ll keep me on my toes as I research the next book.”
A few months ago, LEE & LOW released the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that a significant percentage of publishing staff is comprised of white women. Were you shocked by these numbers? What is a way publishing might be able to improve these numbers?
I’ve been black all my life, and a traditionally published writer for nearly a decade, so no, I wasn’t surprised. More surprising—and heartening—was the response to the survey from the participants. I was glad to see Big Five publishers participate. As sad as the numbers are, I think being truthful about them and willing to contribute honest data is a good start. As far as improving the numbers, I think decision-makers need to make an aggressive effort to recruit diverse employees. I don’t mean run job ads on sites focused on minorities or maybe participate in diversity job fairs for new college grads. I mean start early, show marginalized high school students the possibility of publishing as a career through education and internships. The science disciplines are doing this through STEM program education and recruitment as early as middle school. Another suggestion is to let go of the idea that everyone must work in Manhattan, which puts a publishing career out of economic reach for most. The film industry has figured that out. While Hollywood may always be the headquarters, lots of movies are being made in studios in lower cost cities like Atlanta and Vancouver, and using local production talent. Maybe have self-contained imprints, from acquisitions to sales reps, as field offices. I think this would also help publishing become less New York-centric and keep publishers in closer touch with what’s going on in the rest of the country in terms of demographics, cultural trends, and social movements. And to loop back to my first suggestion, publishing needs more decision-makers from marginalized backgrounds. It’s hard to acknowledge there’s a problem when you’ve never experienced the problem, and you can’t fix what you don’t perceive as broken, or at least, fully understand how broken the thing is.
Many of the juvenile delinquents that Drea works with challenge her assumptions about what they are truly like. Why is it important to challenge Drea’s (and the reader’s) assumptions about these characters?
I won’t lie—I can be judgey. A big part of being a writer is watching the world and trying to understand people, and hopefully, attempting to empathize with some of what we see. It’s hard to do that if you aren’t willing to see there’s more than one perspective. So I brought a lot of that to Drea’s character. I also wanted to show that we are not monolithic. Of the relatively few books that are published with brown or black leads, the odds favor us being depicted as broke, oppressed, undereducated, and in need of salvation. Drea is the opposite of these things despite being a racial minority. And also despite that, she views the world from a place of privilege. Part of her evolution is seeing that she has obtained her privilege in a questionable way, and also that, when it comes down to it, some people will always see her the way they want, no matter her money, class, or education. She learns this by seeing how others like her are treated and eventually realizes she has the means to help correct some of that.
The push for more diverse books has increased in the past two years. What do you hope to see from forthcoming books?
I’d like to see more fun books with racially marginalized characters. While these things are huge aspects of our past and, unfortunately, what still lies ahead, we aren’t always trying to throw off the yoke of oppression, dealing with the legacy of slavery or the marginalization that comes with being immigrants. Books from white writers with white leads don’t carry this burden. They can be fun for entertainment’s sake, and that’s just fine. Historically, publishing hasn’t given the same freedom to writers of color. We have had to come with the deep and profound, or not come at all. Kids of color should have a variety to choose from, should be able to walk into a library or store and pick the thing they’re dying to read, not the thing an adult (publishers, teachers, librarians, parents) has deemed they should read because of what they look like or where they came from. That choice can include a history of their people, but let them also have a fun mystery, an interracial romance, a fantasy in which a kid who looks like them is the slayer of dragons. Every young reader deserves that.
What’s one of your favorite sentences, either from your own writing or from someone else’s?
Can I give a few? I love this description of a season’s change from Toni Morrison’s Sula:
“Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; iris curling and browning at the edges far away from their purple hearts; ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down to their stalks. And the boys. The beautiful, beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field, and thickened the river with their shining wet backs. Even their footsteps left a smell of smoke behind.”
I bow to Ms. Morrison.
If you were putting together your own team to pull off a heist, who would be on it and why?
I’d need a computer genius. I once worked in the tech world—which is increasingly becoming the world—and computer geeks make it go round. I’d want a great con artists or two because I wouldn’t want to use brute force. If I’m going to be a criminal, I’d rather manipulate people into giving me what I want rather than physically hurting them into doing it. They’re both bad, but for some reason, the con seems less bad than the violence. Certainly I’d want someone who could break into anything, probably two thieves—one high tech, one old school because you never know if you’re going to run into an antique safe or something. Those would be the minimal requirements. Nice-to-have additions would be a chemist, physicist, and an engineer. They are like the MacGyvers of the world. Between them, when all else fails, they could probably figure a way out of any jam.
The title is our first collaboration and Jeffery's publication debut. The book, which includes a detailed timeline and links to primary sources, connects to both the language arts and social studies curricula.
You Can Fly had a long incubation period. The egg may have been laid during a family trip to Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. The earliest version of the text was for a picture book written in second person.
After I was unable to sell that manuscript, I sat on the egg for a few more years. Then I began re-envisioning and reshaping the manuscript as a poetry collection for middle grades-up. I switched the point of view to first person under the title "The Last Tuskegee Airmen Tells All." Still not satisfied, I changed to third person. Finally, I settled on second person.
Around that time, Jeffery came on board. During a summer internship in children's book illustration, he created digital art to accompany my poems. We sold the package, but just before the book was about to hatch, the flight got cancelled.
Carole & Jeffery in 2000
I began to wonder if the book would ever leave the nest. I continued to revise the manuscript and to add poems. Jeffery and I decided to scrap the digital art in favor of scratchboard illustrations.
Armed with a revised manuscript and sample drawings, we sold the package to Atheneum.
In the subsequent year, Jeffery completed the illustrations and I added a few new poems.
In mid-April, Jeffery and I received our comp copies.
Our first book together finally has wings.
Fly, little book, fly!
Author & Illustrator Interview
Jeffery and I recently interviewed each other about You Can Fly.
Jeffery: Why did you want to write this book?
Carole: The Tuskegee Airmen's saga moved me personally. It is powerful—historically, politically and emotionally. I thought the story begged for a poetic treatment.
Carole: You were a serious gamer growing up. Did gaming influence how you illustrated the battle scenes?
Jeffery: Yes, absolutely. I had lots of residual visual references from battles across galaxies. I played everything from Halo to Call of Duty.
Jeffery: When did you first notice my artistic talent?
Carole: Your kindergarten teacher prodded you to finish coloring and work up to potential. By third grade, I was concerned that you were doodling planes, cars, weapons and anime characters in your notebook rather than paying attention.
Around middle school, I realized that your drawings were good. I put you in studio art classes, starting with cartooning. By high school, you were taking private art lessons with the assistant principal who became a mentor.
Carole: What is your favorite illustration from the book?
Jeffery: My favorite is of the boxers Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. It's a closeup scene from their historic rematch.
Jeffery: What's yours?
Carole: The one where two planes on a mission have bombed an enemy aircraft. The explosion is so animated; like a comic book.
Jeffery: What is your favorite poem from the book?
Carole: It's "Head to the Sky," the first poem in the book and also the first that I wrote—early on when the project was envisioned as a picture book. "Head to the Sky" reflects the power of a dream fueled by self-determination.
Carole: Tell me about your first flight.
Jeffery: I had a window seat and was looking outside. As the plane sped down the runway, I said, "We're blasting off!"
Carole: That was hilarious. Well, your career as a children's book illustrator is off to a flying start. How did it feel when you first saw the printed book?
Jeffery: Like a child at Christmas.
From the promotional copy: I WANT YOU! says the poster of Uncle Sam. But if you’re a young black man in 1940, he doesn’t want you in the cockpit of a war plane. Yet you are determined not to let that stop your dream of flying. So when you hear of a civilian pilot training program at Tuskegee Institute, you leap at the chance. Soon you are learning engineering and mechanics, how to communicate in code, how to read a map. At last the day you’ve longed for is here: you are flying! From training days in Alabama to combat on the front lines in Europe, this is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the groundbreaking African-American pilots of World War II.
"What your child reads sets the path for their own self-worth as well as how they see others. Grace Lin is a children's book author/illustrator whose book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little, Brown), received the Newbery Book Honor. She shows how the books that are not on your child's bookshelf are just as important as those that are.
"Grace is an author and illustrator of books for children and teens. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was a NY Times Bestseller and a Newbery Honor Book. Ling & Ting, was honored with the Theodor Geisel Honor.
"Grace's books typically focus on the Asian-American experience. She believes, 'Books erase bias, they make the uncommon every day, and the mundane exotic. A book makes all cultures universal.'"
They navigate awkward questions, tricky social situations, and hetero-normative language on a daily basis.
My wife Bonnie Jackman and I shared sparks for inspiration as well as seeds of conflict for writers in "Re-imagining Families: Writing about Characters with LGBTQ Parents" at the New England SCBWI Conference on May 1.
Here are a few points from our presentation:
Kids of LGBTQ parents have to explain their existence all the time. Who's your real mom? Where's your dad? What do you mean your dad’s a she? There are many dissonant moments our kids deal with as a matter of course in their daily lives. How does this affect their character, their quest, their relationships, their resilience? This is rich material for character development.
In a diverse country such as ours, with LGBTQ rights and protections shifting in real time, geographical setting is critical to any story with LGBTQ characters. Setting can be an antagonist, a support, a mix of the two. Think about where your character/family lives and consider the political/social climate for LGBTQ people there. There are wide variations, and it will have an impact on the landscape of your character and his/her family.
How “out” is the family? Are the parents activists, or do they tend to be more low-key? Where are their children on this spectrum? Age is critical here. A kindergartner may delight in having her two moms come into the classroom for a celebration; an older kid might ask to be dropped off two blocks from school.
Writing about LGBTQ-parented families gives us the opportunity to portray socio-economic diversity. Not all “gay families” have furniture from Pottery Barn and lots of disposable income, as often portrayed in mass media. Consider widely-known statistics about women’s earning power in the U.S. in relation to men’s, and then think about the impact of that on families parented by two moms. Trans adults are at a greater risk of discrimination at the workplace; this may impact a family greatly.
School is a place where kids of LGBTQ parents may experience all kinds of dissonance. Mother-daughter book clubs, father-daughter dances, forms with mother/father blanks on them, questions and misunderstandings from teachers, administrators, the school nurse… this is rich territory to explore in character development. How does your character respond to these “micro-aggressions,” when the world around them seems to constantly make hetero-normative assumptions?
Statistics have shown that same-sex couples (with or without children) are much more likely to be interracial or inter-ethnic. This presents writers/illustrators with the opportunity to portray very diverse families and to consider the concept of intersectionality.
Our New England SCBWI session was dynamic, punctuated by great questions, comments, and resource sharing.
Bonnie is a seasoned therapist and school counselor with lots of anecdotes, developmental info, and insights to share. I brought the craft perspective to the conversation.
It was a fun and lively session, and I’m happy to share the high points with Cynsations readers.
For more insights, Mary recommends:
COLAGE: an organization for children of GLBTQ parents.
As with a lot of aspects of creative media these days, Disney movies have been criticized for their lack of diversity.
While such criticism is necessary, I think it’s important as well to give praise where it’s due and acknowledge things done right.
So I want to hand it to Disney for featuring resonant Asian-white characters in several of its recent animated movies, something you rarely see in any media.
The characters Hiro and Tadashi from "Big Hero Six;" Wilbur Robinson from "Meet the Robinsons;" and Russell from "Up" are all Asian-white (this in a field that's largely #whitewashedOUT, and note that all of these films were financially successful).
One of the things about these portrayals that I particularly liked, too, was that while the characters are clearly the products of their backgrounds, their ethnicities were not the be all and end all of their existences.
In other words, they are fully developed characters – persons – with individual wants and needs that have nothing to do with their heritage.
Being of German and Japanese descent myself, I tend to notice this sort of thing.
Portraying Asian mixed-race characters as mainstream with idiosyncratic wants and needs is something I've striven for in my books.
My first novel, Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo, pokes some fun at the “caught between two worlds” motif: Shohei O’Leary (one of three co-protagonists) is of wholly Japanese descent and has been adopted by parents of Irish descent. Still, he is first and foremost a kid who has to deal with his specific wacky parents.
By Blake Henry from Chronal Engine
In Tofu and T.rex, the protagonist, Hans-Peter Yamada (whose family owns a German delicatessen and butcher shop), has to deal with a vegan cousin who comes to live with them.
Although both Shohei and Hans-Peter are Japanese American, their ethnicity informs their background rather than wholly defines it (like their being Chicagoans informs their backgrounds rather than wholly defining them).
Similarly, the protagonist, Max Takahashi-Pierson, and his siblings in Chronal Engine and Borrowed Time (both Clarion) are, like Hans-Peter, hapa. They're Asian and white. (Their friend Petra is Mexican-German American.)
Max is focused on surviving encounters with Tyrannosaurus rex and surviving being caught between the contemporary world and the world of dinosaurs (literally), as opposed to being "caught between two [ethnic] worlds."
This is all to say, when it comes to animated hapa boys: Good job, Disney.
Now about live-action kids, other identities-intersections, and hapa girls...
"I thought you might sleep through it." The creature smiled. Saki's voice was little more than a whisper. "Sleep through what?" It leaned over. She stared into its will-o'-the-wisp eyes. "The Night Parade, of course."
The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother's village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family's ancestral shrine on a malicious dare. But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked...and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth-or say goodbye to the world of the living forever...
In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach "edgy" behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?
Though my protagonist certainly isn’t the most “edgy” in terms of behavior, she does start the story with a pretty big chip on her shoulder.
Saki’s act of rebellion is the catalyst that sets off the main events of the plot, so it had to be significant enough to provoke consequences without losing too much sympathy for her character.
To find this balance, her motivation was the key. From the beginning, Saki is a flawed hero with a lot of internal conflict; she’s trying to manage a toxic adolescent social life and her own need for acceptance from her peers, so it’s understandable when she caves to some of that pressure and makes a few bad decisions.
Making a big mistake may seem like the end of the world to a lot of people—and Saki certainly thinks so in the story—but I decided right from the concept stage that I wanted to deconstruct that idea. A lot of the books I read growing up had a protagonist with a very strong sense of self, but Saki doesn’t have that yet. Her weaknesses are very human, and sometimes even a little petty. She’s still getting to know the person she’s becoming and that’s okay. Another key theme of the story is forgiveness, and Saki’s journey is all about second chances.
As a fantasy writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?
Writing longhand in Osaka
The theme certainly evolved as the characters found their voices, but a sense of duality was there from the very beginning: city and country, young and old, modern and traditional, humans and spirits.
Anytime these things are put side-by-side there’s a tendency to pit them against one another. Go one step further and people start to separate themselves based on these perceived qualities.
One of the major themes of Saki’s story is finding the balance. Part of her journey towards self-discovery is recognizing that she can be dynamic and adaptable, and that she can inhabit more than one world at a time. In a world that seems increasingly divided in its thinking, I believe that’s a quality we should all aspire toward.
On a more concrete level, the story speaks to the issues of age, multi-generational families and tradition. Saki understands on some level why some of the rituals her family performs during the Obon holidays are important, but until she has an experience of her own she doesn’t feel as connected to the tradition.
Younger generations worldwide are facing similar experience gaps. The world we live in now is simply not the same as the world our parents and grandparents grew up in, so unless we invest some of our time in communication there is a lot we risk losing. Fittingly, this was one of the themes that took the longest to mature.
In both fantasy and reality, understanding the past is usually the surest way to help prepare for a brighter future.
In this interview with The Open Book, guest blogger Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, Director of Not in Our School, shares the organization’s latest video release about families and family structures. Not in Our School is part of the larger organization of Not in Our Town and focuses on empowering students to create safe, inclusive, and empathetic communities.
“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”—from “Human Family” by Maya Angelou (listen to Maya Angelou read the poem here)
At Not In Our Town, we are extremely pleased to be sharing our film, “Our Family,” with the Lee & Low Open Book Blog community. Our hope is for our film to become part of the growing collection of resources that educators are using to create identity safe classrooms where children of all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging. These classrooms should not be colorblind spaces, where differences are ignored or where students must leave their identities, stories, and experiences at the door. It is our belief that belonging is created through drawing on the diversity in every classroom as a resource for learning. And quickly, we learn that, as Maya Angelou so aptly pointed out, we are more alike than different.
LEE & LOW: What inspired you and your team to create this video focusing on family configuration and family diversity? Put another way: Why create a film about family configuration and diversity from an organization that fights prejudice, bullying, and discrimination?
Part of fostering a sense of belonging for children is creating an environment where they feel fully accepted for who they are. Even from a young age, children are aware of and have many aspects that make up their social identities. That includes: how they look, the language(s) they speak and the way they express themselves, as well as their culture, religion, race, and gender identity. Their families, a huge part of their lives, form a crucial part of their identities.
Children need to see themselves reflected in the curriculum, on the walls, and throughout their school life. They need to see others like them and they need to learn to appreciate those who are not like them. That does not always happen. My daughter announced at age four that she wanted a sex change operation to become a boy. At that time, we had no idea where she heard about this (she is now 33) because nobody was talking about transgender issues and back then. She did get strange reactions at preschool when she told people she was a boy. I remember she loved doing Mexican dancing, but when they insisted she wear the girl’s outfit, that was the end of her preschool dancing career. As she grew up we did not counter her feelings or ideas. However, now, married and openly a lesbian, she says she does not feel that way anymore, but that she always knew she was different in some way.
Some children grow up and never see a family like theirs celebrated in any way. They may be teased for being adopted, for having two moms or two dads, or for having a mixed-race family. A child whose mother has different color skin than he or she does may experience rude comments or stares. I raised my oldest daughter, who was from my husband’s first marriage. She had dark skin and we got many stares and she heard some rude remarks as people looked from her dark skin to my light skin and asked, “Is that your mother?”
We are approaching Mother’s Day. I wonder about all the children who don’t have mothers. How do they feel when their classrooms are making gifts for their mothers? (At Not In Our Town, we suggest that you celebrate Caregiver’s Day and children can honor those who care for them.)
We made this film for elementary students to see themselves reflected and hear the voices of children like themselves, and to see validation of those who might be different. They also can see how all these families can join together and be friends, and have fun. We kept the film short so teachers can show the film and then open a discussion with the students. We also have our Lesson Guide with activities for students at different grade levels to celebrate their families.
Our organization features communities of all backgrounds who come together to stand up to bullying, hate, prejudice and intolerance. We have always been proactive in seeking to create safety, acceptance, and inclusion. For this film, we partnered with a wonderful organization, Our Family Coalition, which focuses on supporting schools and communities to create acceptance for LGBTQ families. Our shared goal with the film is to support children from all kinds of families.
The best way to address hate and prejudice is by creating identity safety, and preventing hate and prejudice before they rear their ugly heads. Researchers have known for a long time that getting to know people who are different from you will reduce prejudice. New research has shown that it also will reduce implicit biases—the unconscious attitudes we all pick up from living in a society that has much underlying racial bias. According to the article, “Long-term Reduction in Implicit Race Bias,” fostering empathy is another way to reduce prejudice and implicit bias. Children can learn to be empathetic, but it will only stick if they also see empathy and acceptance expressed and modeled by all the adults in their world on a regular basis.
LEE & LOW: How can schools encourage children to appreciate their own family’s configuration and diversity?
The best way to celebrate families is to open the doors of the school and invite all the families in. Other activities include times where students invite their caregivers to volunteer or share expertise in one area or another. Also, students can write about their families, read books (like the excellent collection from Lee & Low), and use family diversity lesson plans and materials from the organizations Welcoming Schools and Teaching Tolerance. In our Lesson Guide we suggest having a Family Diversity Extravaganza where students organize an event and everyone gets involved and has fun together. When students experience acceptance of all kinds of families, they feel pride in their own families and their awareness is built for others.
LEE & LOW: What is at stake if parents, educators, and administrators do not purposely model tolerance and inclusion for children?
We are at a frightening moment in our nation’s history. While many gains have been made to promote equity in our country, our current climate and electoral process is rife with hate rhetoric. In a recent online survey by Teaching Tolerance, educators shared that many of their students—especially immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election. Educators also reported they have witnessed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment in their schools.
Much is at stake for all of us if we do not make it a priority to teach empathy, and model positive attitudes towards those who are different from ourselves. We need to openly discuss and work together to find ways to address all forms of intolerance. We made our film freely accessible on Youtube in hopes that it goes viral and the voices of children are shared. PLEASE SHARE WIDELY! I close with the wise words of young Nathan, a student in our film:
“It is important to have diverse children, to have diverse families in a school so you know how to include everyone… you don’t just go to the people who are like you, you reach out and embrace everyone.” —Nathan, student, Peralta Elementary School, Oakland, CA in “Our Family”
Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas is the co-author, with Dorothy Steele of Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn published by Corwin Press. Currently as director of Not In Our School, she designs curriculum, coaches schools and produces films on models for creating safe and inclusive schools, free of bullying and intolerance at the national non-profit, the Working Group. She presents internationally at conferences and provides professional development in schools and districts. Dr. Cohn-Vargas began her 35-year career in early childhood education at the Multicultural Center in Sonoma County, California. She did community service in the Guatemalan Highlands and produced educational films for the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education. She returned to California and worked as a teacher and principal in Oakland, a Curriculum Director in Palo Alto, and as Superintendent in San Jose. In each setting, she focuses on educational equity and effective strategies for diverse populations. Dr. Cohn-Vargas and her husband live in El Sobrante, California and have three adult children. With her husband, she is developing an environmental research center on their private reserve in the Nicaraguan rain forest.
Further reading and learning from Not in Our School:
Celebrate International Jazz Day with these seven books about Jazz from LEE & LOW BOOKS:
Rent Party Jazz, written by William Miller and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb – Sonny Comeaux has to work in order to help his mother make ends meet. Mama loses her job, and Sonny is worried: How will they make the rent? A jazz musician named Smilin’ Jack helps Sonny have the world’s best party, and raise the rent money in the process. Buy here.
i see the rhythm, written by Toyomi Igus and illustrated by Michele Wood – This book is a visual and poetic introduction to the history of African American music, including Jazz music. Buy here.
Jazz Baby, written by Carole Boston and illustrated by Laura Freeman – This book is a celebration of music and movement. This story in verse is inspired by the riffs, rhythms, and freedom of jazz. Buy here.
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison – This award-winning biography follows the life of legendary jazz trombonist, composer, and arranger Melba Liston. At the age of 7, Melba fell in love with the trombone. Later, she broke racial and gender barriers tobecome a famed trombone player and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the twentieth century: Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few. Buy here.
Sweet Music in Harlem, written by Debbie Taylor and illustrated by Frank Morrison – C.J. needs to act fast. A photographer from Highnote magazine is on his way to take a picture of his Uncle Click, a well-known jazz musician. But Uncle Click’s signature hat is missing! C.J. must find it before the photo shoot. Buy here.
Rainbow Joe and Me, by Maria Diaz Strom – Eloise likes colors and so does her friend, Rainbow Joe. Since Rainbow Joe is blind, Eloise tells him about the colors she mixes and the fantastic animals she paints. Rainbow Joe tells Eloise that he can also mix and paint colors. Buy here.
Ray Charles, written by Sharon Bell Mathis and illustrated by George Ford – This award-winning biography follows the life of world-renowned jazz and blues musician Ray Charles. It includes a new introduction by author Sharon Bell Mathis and updates his life to the present day. Buy here.
I am so very happy to welcome back Sylvia Liu onto Miss Marple’s Musings as part of the blog tour for her debut picture book, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA. This manuscript won the 2013 Lee and Low New Voices Award … Continue reading →
Title: I Am J
Written by: Cris Beam
Published by: Little Brown, 2011
Themes/Topics: Diversity, LGBTQIA, transgender teens, coming of age, New York, cutting, friendship, emotional problems
Suitable for ages: 14+
J could smell the hostility, the pretense, the utter fake-ness of it all before they even climbed the … Continue reading →
I have made some good-looking flowcharts in my time. This is not one of them. But the concept for this one — a flowchart for anyone assembling a children’s literature list of any sort — has been on my mind for a long time, and I finally decided to put together a draft to share. […]
Over the past couple of weeks, children's-yA author Cynthia Leitich Smith put out a call for questions from readers on Cynsations and Twitter. Here are those she elected to tackle and her responses. A few questions were condensed for space and/or clarity.
See also a previous Cynsations reader-interview post from November 2010. Cyn Note: It's interesting how the question topics shifted, both with my career growth and changes in publishing. Back then, readers were most interested in the future of the picture book market and online author marketing.
What’s the one piece of advice you think would most benefit children’s-YA writers?
Read model books across age levels, genres, and formats. For example, a novelist who studies picture books will benefit in terms of innovation, economy and lyricism of language.
Writing across formats has its benefits, too. No, you won't be as narrowly branded. But you will have more options within age-defined markets that rise and fall with birth rates. You will acquire transferable skills, and, incidentally, you'll be a more marketable public speaker and writing teacher.
Are you in a critique group? Do you think they’re important?
Not right now, but I have been in the past.
These days, I carry a full formal teaching load. Each year I also tend to lead one additional manuscript-driven workshop and offer critiques at a couple of conferences. That leaves no time for regular group meetings or the preparation that goes into them—my loss.
For me, participation offered insights (by receiving and giving feedback) as well as mutual support related both to craft and career.
From a more global perspective, considerations include: whether the group is hard-working, social or both; the range of experience and expertise; the compatibility of productivity levels; and the personality mix.
The right combination of those ingredients can enhance the writing life and fuel success. A wrong one can be a serious detriment. If you need to make a change, do it with kindness. But do it.
Beyond that, I improved my children’s writing at various independent workshops, most notably those led by Kathi Appelt in Texas.
That said, you will likely develop your craft more quickly and acquire a wider range of knowledge and transferable skills through formal study.
My own writing has benefited by working side-by-side with distinguished author-teachers. Only this week, I heard Tim Wynne-Jones’s voice in my mind—the echo of a lecture that lit the way.
You’ll want to research which program is best suited to your needs.
Your questions may include:
Do you want a full- or low-residency experience?
What will be the tuition and travel/lodging costs?
What financial aid is available?
Are you an author-illustrator? (If so, Hollins may be a fit.)
Are you looking for a well-established program or an intimate start-up?
What is the faculty publication history?
How extensive is the faculty's teaching experience?
How diverse is the faculty and student body?
How impressive is the alumni publication record?
How many alumni go on to teach?
How cohesive--active and supportive--is the alumni community?
Talk to students and alumni about the school’s culture, faculty-student relationships, creature comforts and hidden expenses.
Across the board, for children's-YA MFA programs, the most substantial negative factor is cost. Career
In terms of marketing, what's one thing authors could do better?
Provide the name of your publisher and, if applicable, the book's illustrator in all of your promotional materials, online and off. If you're published by, say, Lee & Low or FSG, that carries with it a certain reputation and credibility. Also, readers will know which publisher website to seek for more information and which marketing department to contact to request you for a sponsored event.
Granted, picture book authors usually post cover art, which includes their illustrators' names. But we're talking about the books' co-creators, and they bring their own reader base with them. Include their bylines with yours and the synopsis of the book whenever possible. It's respectful, appreciative and smart business.
What’s new with your writing?
I’ve sold two poems this year, one of which I wrote when I was 11. How cool is that?
I'm also working steadily on a massive update and relaunch of my official author site, hopefully to go live for the back-to-school season.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing a contemporary realistic, upper young adult novel. It’s due out from Candlewick in fall 2017.
Like my tween debut, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), the upcoming book features a Muscogee (Creek)/Native American girl protagonist, is set in Kansas and Oklahoma, and is loosely inspired by my own adolescence.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to take a look at my recent contemporary realism, check out the chapter “All’s Well” from Violent Ends, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse, 2015). What’s next for your Tantalize-Feral books?
For those unfamiliar with them, the Tantalize series and Feral trilogy are set in the same universe and share characters, settings and mythologies. These upper YA books are genre benders, blending adventure, fantasy, the paranormal, science fiction, mystery, suspense, romance and humor.
Feral Pride, the cap to the Feral trilogy, was released last spring. It unites characters from all nine books, including Tantalize protagonists.
I don't have immediate plans for more stories in the universe, but it's vast and multi-layered. While I'm focusing on realistic fiction now, I'll return to speculative in the future.
How do I make sure that no one will go public with a problem about my diverse book?
First, you can't (and neither can I).
Second, this has become a too-popular question.
To fully depict today's diverse world, we all have to stretch--those who don't with regard to protagonists will still be writing secondary characters different from themselves.
Writers of color, Native writers and those who identify along economic-ability-size-health-cultural-orientation spectra are not exempt from the responsibilities that come with that.
I'm hearing a lot of anxiety from a lot folks concerned about being criticized or minimized for writing across identity elements. I'm also hearing a lot of anxiety from a lot of folks concerned with "getting it right."
For the health of my head space, the latter is the way to go. My philosophy: Focus on doing your homework and offering your most thoughtful, respectful writing.
Focus on advocating for quality children's-YA literature about a wide variety characters (and their metaphorical stand-ins) by a wide range of talented storytellers.
I make every effort to assume the best.
By that, I mean:
Assume that when people in power say that they're committed to a more diverse industry and body of literature, they mean it and will act accordingly.
Assume they'll eventually overcome those who resist.
Assume that your colleagues writing or illustrating outside their immediate familiarity connect with their character(s) on other meaningful levels.
Assume that you'll have to keep stretching and connecting, too.
Assume that #ownvoices offer important insights inherent in their lived experiences.
Assume that being exposed to identity elements and literary traditions outside your own is a opportunity for personal growth.
Assume that a wider array of representations will invite in and nurture more young readers.
Assume that your voice and vision can make a difference, not only as a writer but signal booster, advocate and ambassador.
If only in the short term, you risk being proven wrong. You risk being disappointed. At times, you probably will be. I've experienced both, but I'd rather go through all that again than to try to effect positive change in an industry, in a community, I don't believe in.
I've been a member of the children's-YA writing community for 18 years. Experience has taught me that I'm happier and more productive when I err on the side of optimism, hope and faith.
I can't promise that every children's-YA literary agent prioritizes or, in their heart of hearts, considers themselves fully open to your query. But those who don't aren't a fit for you anyway.
When you’re identifying agents to query, consider whether they have indicated an openness to diverse submissions and/or take a look at who’s on their client rosters. This shouldn't be the only factor of course, but one of many that you weigh.
On your blog, you feature a lot of trendy type books (gay) we didn’t have in the past.
Not a question, but let’s go for it. If I’m deciphering you as intended, I disagree with the premise. Books with gay characters aren’t merely a trend or, for that matter, new in YA literature.
Cynsations coverage is inclusive of books with LGBTQIA characters. In addition, gay and lesbian secondary characters appear in my own writing.
The blog was launched in 2004. Over time, I've noticed fluctuations in social media whenever I post LGBTQIA related content. I lose some followers and gain others. Increasingly, I lose fewer and gain more. My most enthusiastic welcome to those new followers!
(Incidentally, I used to see the same thing with regard to books/posts about authors and titles featuring interracial families or multi-racial characters.)
You sometimes tweet about TV shows. What do you watch?
Enter to win signed books by Cynthia Leitich Smith -- the young adult Feral trilogy (Candlewick) and/or three Native American children's titles (HarperCollins). Scroll to two entry forms, one for each set.
Broadway’s hit show Hamiltonis nothing short of a cultural phenomenon: sold out until January 2017, its cast album just became a gold record, meaning it has sold more than 500,000 copies; meanwhile the cast recently performed live at the Grammy Awards and at the White House. For those not yet obsessed with the show, Hamilton mixes hip-hop with show tunes to tell the story of America’s “ten dollar Founding Father/without a father.” The cast is stunningly talented and diverse, and young people (and their friendly neighborhood librarians) across America are obsessed.
So how can we capitalize on this Hamilton hunger in the children’s library? True, the musical is based on a book, but not many 10 year-olds are wiling to haul an 800+ page, Pulitzer-prize winning behemoth to school. Prior to his recent fame, Hamilton was an oft-ignored Founding Father. In fact, Chernov’s book bills itself as the “first” full-length biography of the man, written nearly 200 years after he died. So what can we offer Hamilton‘s younger fans?
Luckily, offerings for the young reader are not as slim as you might think. The following books are in-print, well-reviewed, and fun to read:
At the end of the panel discussion, all attendees will receive a FREE, ready-to-go toolkit with tips and strategies from American Immigration Council, MommyMaestra, Spanish Playground, and LEE & LOW. Additionally, proof of attendance and participation is available for professional development credit.
Title: Celebrating Día at School
Date: Thursday, April 14, 2016
Time: 04:00pm Eastern Daylight Time
Duration: 1 hour
Recommended for: Educators, Caregivers, and Community Coordinators teaching K-5 students in traditional and non-traditional classroom settings
Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language for second through sixth grade in Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in the Bay Area, CA where she became passionate about best practices for supporting English Language Learners and parent engagement. In her column for Lee & Low’s The Open Book blog, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
Rochester (MN) Public Library’s core values focus on being a welcoming and inclusive environment. A few years ago we started to hear from adults and teens in the community that there were not a lot of safe spaces for LGBTQIA teens to hang out, so in our 2015 Action Plans we included “Develop programming to specifically meet the needs of Rainbow Families and LGBTQIA teens” and got started.
Before we share our ideas for serving LGBTQIA kids and families, let’s talk about “LGBTQIA”. LGBTQIA stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual or Ally. Without including the word “queer”, this alphabet soup is not inclusive of the entire spectrum of sexual and gender identities out there. But as you can imagine, when we use the word queer in our program descriptions or trainings, people have a lot of questions.
Queer is a word with a terrible history, a confusing present, and a bright future. It was used negatively for many years, but over the last 30 years or so has had a comeback as a word that is embraced by many people as an identity, and is used regularly as a positive umbrella term for the LGBTQIA community (think: “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”).
Like any word, it can still be used negatively. It is all in how it is used and delivered. We would not label someone as queer who had not self-identified, nor would we refer to someone as “a queer” – those would be negative and inappropriate uses of the word. Our use is to be inclusive of the many teens and grown-ups in our community who self-identify as queer or under the queer umbrella. Embracing their choice of word further proves our commitment to creating a safe space for them. If you would like to read more try this website, this article, or this.
Why are we focusing on serving LGBTQIA kids & families?
Youth Services at RPL started undergoing changes in 2011 that included things as small as purchasing and displaying more books with LGBTQIA content. Once these books were on display and available in the library catalog, we started to hear from customers who appreciated having access to them. We also started regularly printing and keeping on display a Booklist for Rainbow Families which received a lot of positive attention. The conversations that we had around the books and booklists brought to light a need in the community: LGBTQIA kids and families needed safe spaces, they needed to see themselves represented in the library collection, and they needed to feel welcomed!
We also have bigger reasons for wanting to provide a safe space for LGBTQIA youth and families. The Human Rights Campaign study “Growing up LGBT in America” reports that 4 in 10 LGBTQIA youth say the community in which they live is not accepting of LGBT people, and and only 21% say there is a place where LGBTQIA youth can go in their community and get help or be accepted. LGBTQIA youth face higher rates of bullying, homelessness, substance abuse and suicide, but teens who have supportive families and friends or safe spaces in their community are better equipped to deal with these additional challenges.
So what can libraries do to serve LGBTQIA kids & families?
Create a Safe Space
The most important step a library can take to create a safe space for LGBTQIA patrons is to train staff to be LGBTQIA allies and hold staff accountable. It is important that you have buy-in from the library administration, and that the people at the top understand why safe spaces are important, but it isn’t necessary to start there. Start with yourself and the staff around you, sometimes change has to trickle upwards. If you don’t have resources in your community such as an LGBTQ Community Center or a local college Gay/Straight Alliance which can provide you with training, there are plenty of options online to get started:
There are easy things you or your staff can start today to be good allies. Being inclusive with your language doesn’t hurt anything, and can go a long way to making everyone feel more comfortable. For example, when talking to kids about their parents, use “grown-ups” or “adults” or another neutral term that feels natural to you. Not every kid has a “mom” and/or a “dad”. You can also choose to use gender neutral terms to refer to individual kids or groups of kids. Use “people” or “friend(s)” instead of “guys” or “ladies”.
Another easy change is to wear a pronoun name badge. Even if you have never been mis-gendered, wearing a name badge with your pronouns on it sends a message to everyone who sees you that you accepting and welcome conversations about pronouns. It also opens up opportunities to talk about how and why your library is a safe space or the LGBTQIA programs you offer.
Once your staff is better equipped to be allies, you’ll need to make sure you have policies in place to protect your LGBTQIA kids and families, and train staff on how to handle issues that may arise. For example, does your written code of conduct include a statement about harassment? Are staff ready to step in with words connecting back to your code of conduct if they overhear teens saying, “That’s so gay!” or “No homo.”? For example: “The library doesn’t allow abusive language and your words are not inclusive or nice.”
All staff should pay attention to what is happening in your space (bullying). Some bullying can be subtle; watch the way teens are interacting in your teen space. When a certain group arrives, does another group always leave? Talk to your teens and make sure you know what is going on. Some bullying that starts at school may continue at the library after school.
Your library may also have business practices and procedures that need to be updated in order to be inclusive to your LGBTQIA community. Does your library card application ask for a person’s gender? Does it need to? Do you allow a patron to use a preferred name on their library card in addition to or instead of their legal name? What about your bathrooms – do you have single stall restrooms that you could convert to gender neutral spaces?
The next step is to start the safe space conversation with the rest of the community. Meet with other youth workers in your community to talk about LGBTQIA services and creating safe spaces. The library can be a great neutral ground for offering training that is open to community youth workers.
Create LGBTQIA Inclusive Collections & Displays
It’s important for LGBTQIA youth to see themselves reflected in the books they read. According to GLSEN’s 2013 National School Climate Survey, only 19% of LGBTQIA students report that positive representations of LGBTQIA people are included in their school curriculum.
There are a lot of really great books (fiction and nonfiction) available with LGBTQIA content, with more and more books coming out (get it?) every year. Not all of them are published by big houses, and not all get picked up for reviews, but it’s worth the time to seek out the titles to make sure your collection is representative of the full spectrum of gender/sexual identities. To get started, check out the ALA GLBT Round Table’s Rainbow Booklist. The Rainbow Booklist Committee reads hundreds of books with LGBTQIA content and publishes its best-of list for kids and teens annually. In addition, ALA’s Stonewall Award and the LAMBDA Literary Awards both have categories honoring Children’s and Young Adult Literature.
Once you’ve got the books in your collection, you want your patrons to know they are there! While special displays highlighting LGBTQIA materials are great, it’s important to include LGBTQIA materials in all of your displays and booklists.
Offer LGBTQIA Programs
Once you have created a safe space and opened dialogues with LGBTQIA customers and community members, you will start to hear about programs and resources that people would like to see in your community.
Our first program focusing on LGBTQIA teens was q club. q club began in September 2014 with just one teen; it now boasts regular attendance of over twenty at each meeting, and is hands down our highest attended teen program. Like all of our teen programs, we let the teens decide what activities we plan and what topics we discuss. Last summer, in partnership with Gay/Lesbian Community Services of Southeast Minnesota (http://www.glcsmn.org/), we hosted the first ever Pride Prom “Smells Like Pride Spirit” in Rochester. Forty-four teens attended and afterwards some called it the best night of their lives! We are currently in the early planning stages of our 2nd Annual Pride Prom.
q club teens are interested having the chance to just hang out and be themselves, and they are also embrace opportunities to have their voices heard in the larger community. They have created zines to celebrate Pride, National Coming Out Day, and Transgender Day of Remembrance which they distributed at the library and at local businesses. q club teens were a large voice in our October National Coming Out Day celebration, and will soon be participating in a community health needs assessment.
In addition to q club and in response to community requests we currently offer:
Parents Empower Pride: a meet up for parents of LGBTQIA kids to talk about how to support their kids on their journey.
Pride Prom: An annual a safe & welcoming after-hours party for LGBTQIA teens and allies in grades 7-12 held during Rochester’s Pride Fest.
Rainbow Family Storytime: During Rochester Pride we offer Rainbow Family Storytimes for preschool children and families.
Just in the last month we have received two more requests: one to offer a q club for tweens and the other to offer a meet-up group for kids of LGBTQIA parents. As staffing and space allows, we will make these programs happen. Even without special programming just for LGBTQIA youth, you can ge started by integrating inclusive LGBTQIA materials into your regular programs, such as storytime or book clubs. The possibilities for inclusion are endless. We would love to hear what you are doing to serve LGBTQIA kids and families at your library!
Heather Acerro is Head of Youth Services at Rochester (MN) Public Library.
Sarah Joynt is Teen Librarian at Rochester (MN) Public Library.
Heather and Sarah use the pronouns she/her/hers, but they are okay with they/them too, even when you are just talking about one of them.
Over the last few years, we have seen the number of panels about diversity skyrocket. It wasn’t long ago that an all-white BookCon lineup inspired the creation of We Need Diverse Books; now, a few years later, we constantly come across conference lineups with multiple diversity-focused panels (take the upcoming YALSA Symposium for young adult librarians, as just one example). Many regional and national conferences have adopted diversity as a conference theme, and we have been invited to speak at multiple Diversity Summits, Diversity Days, and more.
This is a terrific thing. Panels are an important way to keep the focus on this topic and to educate the movers and shakers within all different industries about why diversity matters. The high number of panels focused on diversity is a good indicator that more people are thinking about these issues than ever before.
But here’s the thing about panels: just putting the word “diversity” on a panel and hoping it does the job isn’t enough. In fact, when diversity-focused panels are put together carelessly, they can do more harm than good. As in all other situations, diversity on panel programming must be approached in a nuanced and thoughtful way. Here are a few things to consider before you put together diverse programming for a panel:
Do you have any diverse people on your Diversity Panel? This seems like a no-brainer, but I have on more than one occasion seen panels focused on diversity that feature only white speakers (in fact, all-white panels are still so common that they inspired this hilarious satire, Rent A Minority). If your panel has a specific focus, such as LGBTQ diversity or racial diversity, you should aim to have multiple people on the panel who can speak with
authority on that topic. If your panel is more general, you should still aim to populate it with people who can offer a diverse array of perspectives. When marginalized people are in the minority – or missing completely – even on panels that focus on them, it sends a poor message about whose voice matters.
Have you only invited diverse people to be on your Diversity Panel, or are they also part of other programming? If your panel on diversity has a great lineup of authors of color but the rest of your programming is totally white, you have a problem. This pigeonholes authors of color and reduces them to tools for understanding without allowing them to promote themselves or their work. It also goes against the idea that diverse books are for everyone. For every author of color you put on a diversity panel, try to find several others to put on panels that are not focused on diversity. A mantra I saw recently on Twitter put it best: “Diversity on panels, not diversity panels.”
Who should your panelists be? Accept that not every diverse author will want to represent his/her community on a panel.For some, the issue may feel too private or personal. For others, this simply may not be their area of interest or expertise. Don’t simply assume all authors of color are interested in being on panels about diversity; not every person of color needs or wants to be an expert in diversity issues in publishing, and the same goes for people from other marginalized groups. Seek out authors who have made this conversation a part of their professional life, spoken about it publicly, and positioned themselves as leaders in the movement.
Do you actually need a “diversity panel”? Because so many groups have put together so many panels on diversity in the last few years, the topic can begin to feel redundant–in fact, some argue that even the word diversity itself is starting to lose its meaning. Questions like “Why is diversity in books important?” don’t necessarily move the conversation forward. This great article argues that it’s time to move on from Diversity Panels completely. One thing is certain: your audience will get more out of your panel if you can focus it on a specific topic that will resonate with your audience instead of just sticking with “Diversity 101.” Consider what your goals are beyond just general awareness and build a panel around that.
What do you want people to leave with? Leave time for concrete suggestions and takeaways.Panels are a great way to broaden the conversation, but they can only do so much. In order for real change to occur, people must leave panels inspired to take action. Often the idea of concrete takeaways is left for the very end of panels, as a last question. But by building in time for it and asking panelists to come up with concrete suggestions beforehand to share, you can help ensure that the panel will serve as a building block for the movement.
Here are a few thoughtful articles on the topic for further reading:
Thank you to everyone who has already expressed thoughts, concerns, support, and questions regarding this extremely important situation.
This is not an abstract issue. In addition to this law’s conflict with ALSC’s core values, purpose, and diversity work, in the past week ALSC leadership has heard from members who are personally affected by it in a very real way. During this time we have been consulting with ALA management and President Sari Feldman; ALA Conference Services; the ALA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT); the ALA Public Awareness Office; the Institute Planning Task Force; the North Carolina Library Association; the Charlotte Marriott City Center; and, most importantly, as I mentioned, ALSC members on ALSC-L and via e-mail and social media.
With the Institute less than six months away and an ALSC calendar scheduled literally years in advance, unfortunately moving the event to another state is not a viable alternative even with a change of date. The alternative to moving forward with the Institute as scheduled in Charlotte is to cancel it.
We are working with GLBTRT on a continuing course of action and to prepare should the Institute proceed in Charlotte, a city with a culture of inclusiveness and library support. Indeed, it was Charlotte’s transgender-inclusive, nondiscrimination ordinance which was subsequently and egregiously reversed by the state’s HB2 legislation. We have already sent a letter to Governor McCrory urging him to support a swift repeal of HB2, however please be aware that we are a 501(c)(3) organization and must be very conscious that actions such as calls for boycotts and electioneering may put ALA at risk.
The Institute schedule does include programs specifically on equity and inclusion for all and we are actively looking to develop further programmatic content to help raise awareness and share resources. We have begun speaking with local LGBTQIA organizations in Charlotte on how we can actively support their work, and welcome suggestions of any of which you’re aware.
We continue to monitor and assess the situation closely and want to hear from you as your immediate feedback will help us plot our course moving forward and make a decision regarding the Institute within the next two weeks. To respond, please leave a comment below. If you would like to reach out to me privately, please feel free to do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Synopsis: If you keep up with Finding Wonderland, you'll know I already have plenty of awe and amazement for graphic novelist Faith Erin Hicks. (See reviews here, here, and here, and interview here.) Her latest contribution—officially to be... Read the rest of this post
Today is Wangari Maathai’s birthday! Wangari Maathai was the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Seeds Of Change: Planting a Path to Peace, which tells Wangari’s story, continues to be one of the most popular books that we publish!
In honor of Wangari Maathai’s birthday and upcoming Earth Day later this month, here’s a list of the many fantastic resources and ideas available to educators who are teaching about Wangari Maathai’s legacy and using Seeds Of Change: Planting a Path to Peace:
Seeds Of Change won the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustration in 2011. The Committee Chair and Book Jury have prepared activities and discussion questions for Seeds Of Change in the 2011 Discussion Guide for Coretta Scott King Book Awards, P. 20-21.
Have students read and discuss author Jen Cullerton Johnson and illustrator Sonia Lynn Sadler’s joint interview with Lee & Low, which covers the environment, their travels, and Wangari Maathai’s achievements.
After introducing Wangari Maathai with Seeds Of Change, delve deeper with the Speak Truth To Power human rights education curriculum, a project of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. They present an in-depth exploration on Wangari Maathai, the Green Belt Movement, and sustainability issues.
In teaching standard 7 of the ELA Common Core, have students evaluate how Wangari Maathai is presented in a documentary compared to the Seeds Of Change biography. PBS’s documentary on Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, contains a classroom section full of video modules, handouts, and lesson plans.
What did we miss? Let us know how you are using Seeds Of Change in your classroom!
Jill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
The Heart of It: Creating Children’s Books that Matter is an online course for aspiring and emerging children’s book writers and illustrators who want to create powerful books for kids while simultaneously coming more fully into their own power as storyteller and artist.
I combine my passion as an educator and activist along with 20 years of experience in creating award-winning multicultural children’s books to craft a course that is a journey of self as much as a practical guide to creating children’s books.
The six-week course offers writing exercises, hands-on art projects, in-depth book reviews, community interviews, Q&A webinars with special guests, and more all designed to offer a holistic approach to creating children’s books and provide opportunities for students to hone their craft, strengthen the power of their own voice and unique way of expressing through art and word, and be in community with other like-minded children’s book makers.
At the end of the program, students are invited to put what they’ve learned to practical use through creating one full spread of text and art to be included in The Heart of It Anthology, a picture book that incorporates student’s work into the story; written and illustrated by me and published by the independent press I co-founded. The first edition is Whaleheart, the second is By The Light Of The Rabbit Moon. and the third anthology will be drawn from this Spring 2016 class.
The Heart of It eCourse is a class I long dreamed of offering out of a desire to support communities to change the still dismal statistics in relation to diversity in children’s books.
As a queer Chicana children’s book author and artist, I know the effects of living in an unequal society and how it can leave many of us feeling as if we don’t get to have a voice especially a voice in children’s books.
This class is not just about learning technical skills. It’s also about how to transform limiting beliefs and ideas that we have inside of ourselves and in the world that hold us back from getting these kinds of stories out.
I center on people of color, American Indians, the LGBTQI+ community and communities still misrepresented and underrepresented in the current children’s publishing industry.
I also highlight the work of authors and illustrators pioneering alternative routes into publishing, including self-publishing, creating their own presses, crowdsourcing funds as well as reclaiming traditional routes.
The Spring 2016 community interviews and book reviews will focus on Native American children’s literature and will be in addition to the African American and LGBTQI+ materials from past courses as well as the core class materials.
I believe that something very powerful happens when we see others in our community tell stories and create images that reflect who we are and our experience in the world.
This course is about finding our voice, allowing our hearts to speak, and knowing that our books belong in the hands of children.
For kids out wanting to learn how to create picture books, Maya also offers a free online video series called Write Now! Make Books, inspired by The Heart of It Anthologies.
Through direct learning, the Write Now! Make Books materials teach how to make books from story through art all the way to book creation in many of the same ways a professional artist/author does.
It includes two hours of instructional videos, a field guide, a complete sample story with art to color and make into a practice book. It also uses a social justice frame to support kids and teens in understanding and reclaiming the power of story and how we can use it to strengthen ourselves today and change our world.