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From time to time here on the LEE & LOW blog we like to shine a spotlight on organizations, companies, or projects that move us. Today we’re featuring a special project close to our heart: the Children in Crisis Project from REFORMA, the National Association To Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos.
Last year, over 70,000 unaccompanied children crossed the Southern border into the United States. This is a true humanitarian crisis, with many of these children ending up in detention centers, awaiting immigration processing or deportation. They have few or no personal belongings, don’t know English, and have been separated from their families with no sense of if or when they will be reunited.
Oralia Garza de Cortes, Lucía Gonzalez, and Patrick Sullivan are three longtime members of REFORMA who were moved to help. They implemented the Children in Crisis project to solicit donations, purchase, and deliver books and backpacks to the children in detention centers. In the first phase of the drive, they raised enough funds and donations to deliver 300 books to children in the McAllen Texas Centralized Processing Center, and they have since delivered several hundred more. Currently they are coordinating donations of backpacks that will contain books as well as paper, pencils, erasers, crayons and a writing journal for children to use in their journey toward their destination.
The project is a moving illustration of how librarians essentially serve as caretakers of their communities, bridging the gap between resources and the people who need them. “As the immigrant child that I was, I remember that first librarian taking me to the Spanish section with three or four Spanish books. I hope every child will find that librarian, like an oasis in a desert,” said Lucía Gonzalez.
When asked why they felt that librarians should have a role in outreach to these children, Oralia Garza de Cortes said, “We reached out as a humanitarian cause, just something so overwhelming that we really had to come together to do something.”
Patrick Sullivan added, “It’s also a counterbalance to some of those xenophobic Americans. The initial reception that some of these people received . . . was depressing and doesn’t show how we are as Americans. Librarians reach out to their communities every day and this was something we had to respond to. ”
The process for getting the books into children’s hands was a challenging one, given detention centers’ heavy regulation and policing. The group made contact with the border patrol, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and even contractors in order to find a way to deliver the books. “The books were welcome, but the problem was getting in touch with the right people,” said Sullivan. They were prohibited from entering the detention facilities themselves to deliver the books.
“This is just mega gyms full of people lying on mattresses on the floor and there’s just no space,” said Garza de Cortes. “They are in these freezing warehouses and have no idea what’s happening. If they had a good book, that would take them along on their journey.”
Although it would be an added effort, the group decided to include bookplates in each donated book, an idea that came from longtime REFORMA member Sandra Valderrama. “It was cumbersome, but to have the message in the book saying, ‘This is your book, and you’re free to take it wherever you want and it will give you light and be your companion,’ it was a very powerful message,” said Garza de Cortes.
Said Gonzalez, “For many of them this is the first book they own and it is a very unique experience.”
The group hopes the donated books will serve as the beginning, not the end, of children’s relationship with their libraries. “What we’d like to do is interject ourselves to those kids who will eventually end up in the United States,” said Sullivan. “There are contacts that can happen that go beyond just the books. We’re trying to convey the idea that libraries are these free open places with lots of information.”
“The families need guidance,” said Gonzalez. “If they don’t have a place like the public library, where are they going to go? How are they going to get this information?”
Garza de Cortes, Gonzalez, and Sullivan were named2015 Movers & Shakers by School Library Journal for their work. You can learn more about ways to help here.
In this joint guest post, librarian Jane Levitan of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Libraries and author/illustrator Lulu Delacre give their takes on a quiet event that turned into a great success.
Librarian Jane Levitan: It was the worst of times; it was the best of times. I admit it. It was my fault. Who would schedule an author visit the day before Easter? Me. When I contacted author/illustrator Lulu Delacre and she mentioned that she had a Saturday free, I jumped at the opportunity to host her in our library as part of our El Dia grant. Realizing my pre-Easter mistake, we spared no opportunity to promote the event.
We had advertisements and the FREE book provided by the grant displayed at the circulation desk (including one that literally hit the patrons in the head when checking out), we also used radio, newsletters, Facebook, websites (ours and Lulu’s), personal contacts (ours and Lulu’s again), etc. Still, when the program started it was ill attended. Lulu, undaunted, presented an engaging session filled with fun, dance, travel and music. She signed books and the young participants had their pictures taken at their dream worldwide locations via green screen technology.
Then it happened: we looked out the window and there they were—kids in the plaza across the street greeting the Easter Bunny and a few other costumed critters. Lulu launched a full-on musical parade with staff and patrons and serenaded the Bunny and his young friends with Latin instruments. She introduced herself and her FREE books, and did a surprise encore presentation. Leading the group back to the library, she sang, danced and traveled the world again for a packed audience.
She did not leave until every child received a signed book and posed with her in front of the green screen. Her favorite background was her native Puerto Rico. The hour program stretched on to four hours. An ill-fated program was now a success.
We even issued some cards to new members of our community who were coaxed into the library with the promise of diversity and fun.
The moral of the story? Check the calendar. Second moral, invite Lulu: she will deliver the best program possible, sometimes twice, including rounding up her own audience. Did I mention that she wanted the El Dia pin to wear proudly throughout the month? Third moral, DO NOT compete with the Easter Bunny!
Lulu Delacre: I believe that a good-sized enthusiastic audience has a positive influence on a presenter. I also know that public libraries are at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control. Weather, weekend sports and sudden family plans play a role in attendance to a children’s program. Often, library patrons do not feel the consequences of skipping a free event.
So, it did not catch me by surprise when I arrived the Saturday of Easter weekend at the Martingsburg downtown library to find that six librarians and a handful of children were my only audience. Waiting for latecomers, I sensed heavy disappointment in the room. Still, I delivered the liveliest session I could. What could we have done differently? To whom could we now give the free copies of my book?
After the last game-dance, one librarian suggested to go parade outdoors. I led the group up the street singing De Colores to the rhythms of güiro, maracas and palitos. At the corner I saw dozens of families hovering around the Easter Bunny. They were at the plaza right across from us! Suddenly, the thought of rounding up the kids for an encore program at the library crossed my mind. With the librarians on board to do just that we fanned out to invite all the families to the impromptu session.
How marvelous to see our efforts’ success on the smiling faces of the children as we traveled the world in my program! The kids were as thrilled with the autographed copies of How Far Do You Love Me? as I was to see the change of demeanor in the organizers.
What’s sweeter than an Easter chocolate egg? A gift from your public librarian: a beautiful book for your very own library!
Every child deserves the chance to learn and thrive in an environment that is enriched by the latest technology. Two years ago President Obama announced ConnectED, a signature initiative focused on transforming teaching and learning through digital connectivity and content. Today, building on the progress made to date, at the Anacostia Library in Washington, D.C., the President will announce two new efforts to strengthen learning opportunities by improving access to digital content and to public libraries: new eBooks commitments and the ConnectED Library Challenge. LEE & LOW BOOKS is excited to be a part of this new program!
The first is commitments from publishers to find ways to make sure their content is available to low-income youth in America. Major publishers (including LEE & LOW BOOKS) are announcing they will make over $250 million in free eBooks available to low-income students. Nonprofits and libraries are partnering with each other to create an app that can deliver this content and materials from the public domain. Complementing that effort, theConnectED Library Challengeis a commitment by more than 30 communities to put a library card into every student’s hand so they will have access to the learning resources and books they can read for pleasure, all available in America’s libraries.
These initiatives represent another way the ConnectED effort is making a real difference for students. Combined with the $2 billion in private-sector commitments, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) funding for school and library connectivity that includes $2 billion specifically for Wi-Fi, and $1.5 billion more in annual funding today’s announcement brings the total value delivered as part of this five-year transformation in American education to over $10 billion. And as a result of these commitments, we are on track to meet the President’s goal of connecting 99 percent of students to high-speed broadband in their classrooms and libraries.
As part of today’s effort, the New York Public Library is developing an e-reader app that will provide access to a universe of digital books, including contributions from publishers and hundreds of classics already in the public domain, to create a book collection for students aged 4-18 from low-income families. The New York Public Library will work with a network of top librarians volunteering their time through the Digital Public Library of America to connect young readers with books that match their reading levels and interests. New York Public Library will work with First Book, a book-donation non-profit, to help make sure eBooks reach students in low-income families.
Major publishers are committing to make available thousands of popular and award-winning titles to students over a three-year period. These contributions will create a new book collection for students aged 4-18 from low-income families. Students from all demographics will be able to access the public domain titles, whose cover art and typography will be freshly designed by world-class designers and artists.
The new commitments the President will announce today will help ensure the smartphone or tablet that is increasingly a part of students’ lives is also a teaching tool outside the classroom that encourages kids to become lifelong readers.
Hundreds of Millions of Dollars in New Private-Sector Commitments: Today, the President will highlight some of the major publishers and their authors that have pledged to donate titles to low-income students:
Macmillan: Providing unlimited access to all of the K-12 age-appropriate titles in their title catalog of approximately 2,500 books.
Simon & Schuster: Providing access to their entire e-catalog of books for children ages 4-14, comprised of 3,000 titles.
Penguin Random House: Committing to provide an extensive offering of their popular and award-winning books.
Hachette: Offering participating students access to a robust catalogue of their popular and award-winning titles.
Candlewick: Providing unlimited access to all relevant children’s and young-adult e-book titles in their catalog.
Bloomsbury: Providing unlimited access to over 1,000 of its most popular titles.
Lee & Low: The leading independent publisher of multicultural books is providing unlimited access to over 700 of its titles.
Cricket Media: Offering full digital access to all of its market-leading magazines for children and young adults, including Ladybug and Cricket.
HarperCollins: Providing a robust selection of their award-winning and popular titles.
Commitments from Government, Non-profit, and Philanthropic Institutions: Today, the President will highlight commitments supporting expanded access to free books:
The Digital Public Library of America: Their network of librarians will volunteer with the New York Public Library to help make sure popular books reach the most appropriate audience. DPLA, in conjunction with Recovering the Classics are also add age-appropriate public domain titles whose text and cover art has been redesigned by leading graphic designers and artists.
New York Public Library: New York Public Library is developing a cutting-edge e-reader app and working with industry and tech leaders to improve the experience for students.
First Book: a book donation non-profit organization has committed to work with New York Public Library and interested publishes to provide authentication and delivery services to ensure that e-books will reach students in low-income families.
President Obama recognizes the critical role that libraries play as trusted community anchors that support learning and connectivity at all times and many different paces. In fact, more than 70 percent of libraries report that they are the only providers of free public internet access in their community. Like many modern challenges, improving education for all children requires key leaders to collaborate in new and powerful ways. Libraries are uniquely positioned to continue to build programs and partnerships that bridge the divide between schools and homes and provide educational services to every person in the community.
Announcing the ConnectED Library Challenge: Today, the President will call upon library directors to work with their mayors, school leaders, and school librarians, to create or strengthen partnerships so that every child enrolled in school can receive a library card. These libraries also commit to support student learning through programming that develops their language, reading, and critical thinking; provide digital resources, such as eBooks and online collections of traditional media; and provide broadband connectivity and wireless access within library facilities. Over 30 major cities and counties have announced they are taking the challenge and will work to provide cards to all students.
Communities adopting the ConnectED Library Challenge include: Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Clinton Macomb, Columbus, Cuyahoga, D.C., Denver, Hartford, Hennepin County, Howard County, Indianapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, New Haven, Oakland, Pierce County, Pima, Pocatello, Pueblo City, Ramsey County, Columbia, Rochester Hills, Rochester, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, Skokie, and St. Louis.
Commitments in support of the ConnnectED Library Challenge: To support the implementation of the ConnectED Library Challenge, the Administration announced new commitments to action:
Urban Libraries Council: Lead an initiative that provides a forum for community, library and school leaders to work together to meet city and county education goals by leveraging resources and measuring outcomes.
American Library Association: Drive adoption of the ConnectED Library Challenge through their 55,000 members and align the challenge with existing support and technical assistance provided through their Every Child Ready to Read initiative.
We won’t be at the Texas Library Association annual conference this week, but if you’ll be there you can still connect with two fantastic Lee & Low authors!
Don Tate, author of It Jes’ Happened and illustrator of books like Summer Sun Risin’, will be a keynote speaker at the Black Caucus Roundtable (April 19, 8-10AM) and will also appear on the panel “Books, Boys, and Boxing: Motivating Minority Males to Read” (April 19, 2-3:50PM). He will also be signing copies of It Jes’ Happened with Overlooked Books at booth #2629 (April 18, 12-3PM).
Guadalupe Garcia McCall, author of Belpré winner and Morris finalist Under the Mesquite, will be reading her poetry during the 8th Annual Poetry Roundup: “Face to Face for All (April 20, 10-11:20AM). Guadalupe will also be signing Under the Mesquite at the Overlooked Books booth, #2629 (April 19, 12-3PM).
Wasn’t it *just* March? Hard to believe we’re already getting ready for ALA Annual in just a few short weeks. The best part of ALA is always meeting people face to face, and we hope many of you will come find us at Booth #2436 to say hello in person.
We’ll be giving out ARCs of Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s follow-up to her award-winning debut Under the Mesquite. We’ll also have a limited number of ARCs of Diverse Energies, our upcoming YA dystopian anthology with stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, Paolo Bacigalupi, Cindy Pon, Malinda Lo, and more.
Plus, of course, we’ll have signings with some great authors and illustrators:
In honor of the upcoming release of our new YA anthology, Diverse Energies, we thought we’d put together a list of dystopias with diversity. For the purposes of this list, our definition of diversity is: 1.) A book with a main character of color (not just secondary characters), or 2.) A book written by an author of color. Of course, all types of diversity are worth celebrating, so if you know of other diverse dystopias (with, for example, LGBT diversity) please share them in the comments as well.
Note: I have not personally read all of these books, but have tried to confirm the inclusion of diverse main characters whenever possible. However, mistakes are bound to be made, so if you’ve read something and don’t think it belongs on this list, please let us know. Likewise if we’ve missed something that should be here.
If you’re a visual learner, the whole thing is on Pinterest:
And now, onward:
Above World, by Jenn Reese: (middle grade) In this dystopia, overcrowding has led humans to adapt so that they can live under the ocean or on mountains.
The Boy at the End of the World, by Greg van Eekhout: (middle grade) In this dystopia, the last boy on earth teams up with an overprotective broken robot to survive.
Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami: (YA) This novel, first published in Japan, has the same premise as The Hunger Games, and many have wondered if that book was inspired by it in some way.
Black Hole Sun, by David Macinnis Gill: (YA) A science fiction dystopia set on a terraformed Mars.
Diverse Energies, by 11 speculative fiction authors: (YA)This anthology features dystopian stories that all feature diverse main characters. Contributing authors include Paolo Bacigalupi, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Coming in September 2012.
Dualed, by Elsie Chapman: (YA) A dystopia coming in February 2013. The author is a woman of color, but I’m not sure about the main character. If you’ve read it, feel free to comment.
Extras, by Scott Westerfeld: (YA) The fourth installment in Westerfeld’s “Uglies” series takes place in what was once Japan.
The Forgetting Curve (Memento Nora #2), by Angie Smibert: (YA) Dystopia where memories can be erased with a single pill.
For theWin, by Cory Doctorow: (YA) Science fiction dystopia focused on a group of young gamers from around the world who begin to organize.
The “Galahad” Series, by Dom Testa: (YA) In this post-apocalyptic series, a crew of teens must colonize a distant planet when a virus infects all those on Earth who are over 18.
The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer: (YA) This dystopia about the struggle between science and humanity won both a Newbery Award Honor and a Printz Award Honor when it was released in 2003.
The Immortal Rules, by Julie Kagawa: (YA) This dystopia is set in a future world where vampires reign.
Legend, by Marie Lu: (YA) In this dystopia, the western US has become the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors.
Noughts & Crosses, by Malorie Blackman: (YA) This dystopia is a look at racism and prejudice in an alternate society ruled by the Crosses, the dark-skinned ruling class.
Partials, by Dan Wells: (YA) This science fiction dystopia takes place after a weaponized virus has all but extinguished humanity. Mixed-race MC.
Rot & Ruin, by Jonathan Maberry: (YA) This post-apocalyptic zombie novel has dystopian elements, along with a main character who is half Japanese.
Shadows Cast by Stars, by Catherine Knutsson: (YA) This dystopian tale features a main character of aboriginal heritage.
Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi: (YA) Dystopia about a girl whose touch can kill. The author is a woman of color.
Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi: (YA) This Printz Award-winning dystopia is set in America’s Gulf Coast region, which has been ravaged by hurricanes.
Stormdancer, by Jay Kristoff: (YA) This novel set in an alternate Japan may be more steampunk than dystopia, but has some dystopian elements as well.
Tankborn, by Karen Sandler: (YA) This science fiction dystopia is set on the planet Loka, where a strict caste system separates trueborns from Genetically Engineered Non-humans.
What’s Left of Me, by Kat Zhang: (YA) A dystopia about two souls in one body. Coming in September 2012.
Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler: (adult) A dystopia about a society plagued by social chaos and violence.
Smoketown, by Tenea D. Johnson: (adult) This dystopian science fiction novel takes place in Appalachia, now a tropical environment in post-climate-change US.
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi: (adult) Another science fiction dystopia from the author of Ship Breaker. This one is for adults and takes place in future-Thailand.
Author Richard Wright was born on September 4, 1908 on a plantation in rural Mississippi. He attended school through the first few weeks of high school before he dropped out to work, but always maintained a deep love of reading. As a black man in the South at that time, he was not allowed to borrow books from the library, so he borrowed the library card of an Irish American co-worker to access books. He later became a respected author of such classics as Native Son and his autobiography, Black Boy. Happy birthday, Richard Wright!
In this guest post, Dr. Henrietta M. Smith, Professor Emerita and the first African-American professor at the University of South Florida, School of Information shares her memories of how the Coretta Scott King Award began:
The news of the damage sustained by the boardwalk in Atlantic City during Hurricane Sandy brought back memories of where the Coretta Scott King Award started. This writer’s mind went back to an earlier time, to an American Library Association annual meeting in Atlantic City. The year was 1969. Two librarians walking through the exhibit hall stopped by a booth where a poster of the late Martin Luther King Jr. was on display. This was the start of a genial conversation that evolved into the observation that never since the inception of the Newbery Medal in 1922 and the Caldecott Medal in 1938 had any award committee recognized the work of a person of color.
John Carroll, a publisher from a small company in New York, overheard the conversation. It was reported that he said, rather matter of factly, “Then why don’t you ladies establish your own award?” The seed was planted. Before the conference ended, in an informal meeting on the boardwalk in Atlantic City under the leadership of Glyndon Greer and Mabel McKissick, the idea of a award for African American authors was shared with a group of African American librarians, including Augusta Baker, Charlemae Rollins, Ella Mae Yates, and Virginia Lacy Jones, to name a few. At this seaside gathering, the struggle for recognition began.
The ALA questioned the need for another award. A majority of publishers informed the committee that they did not have enough children’s books by African Americans to provide for evaluation. And many librarians were skeptical of anything becoming of this fragile brainchild. Undaunted and unconvinced that this venture was fruitless, the committee moved on. In 1970, the first Coretta Scott King Awards breakfast was scheduled in a hotel that just “happened” not to be on the ALA list of official hotels. After a meager meal and short program, the first recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award was announced. A school librarian from New Jersey, Lillie Patterson, went down in history as the first winner of the award for her elementary level biography, Martin Luther King, Jr.: Man of Peace.
from Ray Charles
It was not until 1974 that the award breakfast was held in an ALA conference site, but even then, the CSK Award was not recognized as an official ALA award, nor was the award committee recognized as an official ALA body. But to the joy of all, publishers were now sending more quality books, and attendance at the 7:30 a.m. breakfast was steadily growing! Another change came in 1974 when the committee presented its first illustrator award. George Ford, who is still painting today, won for the illustrations he created for Sharon Bell Mathis’ biography Ray Charles.
In the years that followed, a major breakthrough came when E. J. Josey was elected president of the ALA. One of his first concerns was to bring the Coretta Scott King Committee into the official folds of the American Library Association. In 1980, the Coretta Scott King Committee became the Coretta Scott King Task Force, a viable part of Social Responsibilities Task Force (since 1993 a part of EMIERT), with founder Glyndon Greer as its first chair.
Growth and changes can be seen as the benchmark of this dynamic group of librarians. Artist Lev Mills designed the medal that is placed on each award-winning book. The symbols in the medal’s design each carry a special message; even the colors of the winner and honor book medals, and the more recent new talent award medal, have significance. The monetary prize for the winners was first given through the efforts of the late Basil O. Phillips of the Johnson Publishing Company, and today the encyclopedias from Britannica and World Book have moved from print into the digital age.
Following negotiations with the ALA parent body on Awards and Recognitions, and the late John Steptoe’s son, illustrator Javaka Steptoe, in 1995, the New Talent Award was established. It was named in honor of John Steptoe, whose first book, Stevie (1969), won national acclaim when the author/illustrator was only nineteen years of age.
With each meeting of the Coretta Scott King Task Force, new ideas for growth are on the docket. Among the newest is the Coretta Scott King/Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, which goes to an African American author, illustrator, author/illustrator, or practitioner (such as a librarian) for his or her body of work or contributions to reading programs involving African American literature. Changes are constantly in the works too. New ideas for creating greater visibility and wider use of Coretta Scott King Award books and materials are a part of every Task Force meeting.
To think that all this started with a meeting on the boardwalk in Atlantic City! The very spot may not be there now, but surely the news reports about Hurricane Sandy conjured up many of these same memories for those who met on the boardwalk way back in 1969.
Dr. Henrietta M. Smith, native New Yorker, received her MLS degree from Columbia University and EdD from University of Miami, Florida. She teaches in the Materials for Youth in the School of Information (University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida). Longtime member of the ALA, Smith has served on Newbery Caldecott, Wilder (Chair), and Pura Belpré Award committees for ALSC and has chaired the Coretta Scott King Task Force and the CSK Award Committee. Smith received the ALSC Distinguished Service Award in 2008 and in 2011 was the first practitioner recipient of the Coretta Scott King/Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement in Librarianship.
Amy Cheney is a librarian and advocate who currently runs the Write to Read Juvenile Hall Literacy Program in Alameda County, CA. Shehas over 20 years experience with outreach, program design, and creation to serve the underserved, including middle school non-readers, adult literacy students, adult inmates in county and federal facilities, students in juvenile halls, non-traditional library users and people of color.
Cheney was named a Mover and Shaker by Library Journal, has won two National awards for her work, the I Love My Librarian award from the Carnegie Institution and New York Times, and was honored at the White House with a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. Her six word memoir: Navigator of insanity, instigator of enlightenment. Her theme song is Short Skirt, Long Jacket by Cake.
Thank you for being with us, Amy! Let’s start with the basics: how would you describe your job, for someone who has no idea what you do?
Entrepreneur, innovator and relationship builder. But my overall job title would be Schlepper.
How did you become a librarian for incarcerated youth? Was it something you always knew you wanted to focus on, or did you begin your career with a different focus?
When I was a teen, a neighbor was friends with Maya Angelou, and they invited me to hear her speak in a church basement. I remember clearly not wanting to be there, and then as Maya Angelou spoke with such passion and intensity, I felt the hard armor around my heart begin to crack. I remember the struggle to hold onto what I thought was me, or at least my protection: the rage, indifference and sullenness. I recognized that if I was struggling with it, then I wasn’t a fundamentally hateful person. That was life changing for me. I felt such a deep connection with her as a result of this inner experience, I read every book she wrote as it was published.
It took me a long time to realize that this experience is the basis of my passion for bringing in speakers and activities to stimulate the minds and hearts of those incarcerated. From Shakespeare to Cupcake Brown to Ishmael Beah to MK Asante (wonderfully, one of Maya Angelou’s protege’s), I see kids feel encouraged, enthusiastic and interested in a place that tends to dampen all of that.
In the 80’s I was a part of the anti-nuclear protests – when my friends were released from jail I was horrified to hear there were no books where they had been housed. I immediately started a book drive for the jail and that ultimately led to employment at the library serving those incarcerated in Alameda County.
What does your average day look like? Do you even have an “average day”?
Almost every day involves advocacy. Today one of the staff told me that going to the library was like a field trip, all the kids love it. But, she said, the girls had not “earned” a visit, so they couldn’t come. This didn’t make sense to me. I am constantly trying to advocate and educate for the library to be a right, and not a privilege that can be taken away. I am advocating for youth to be able to come here, as well as in general, advocacy for the youth, library, etc.
What kind of relationship with books do your students have? What kind of role do books play in their lives?
I think initially, many of them have a negative relationship with books and reading, and others have a non-existent relationship with them. Some students do have a positive relationship with reading before they come here, but there is a huge percentage—probably the majority—that start reading here and get excited about it and read more than they ever have in their life.
Regardless of their relationship to books and reading the library is a desired destination and activity. They are fully respected and acknowledged here. And the atmosphere is remarkably different from the rest of the facility. There are plants in here! And windows! And outside the window you can see trees and clouds and birds and grass! Real furniture and comfortable chairs! We play a game (Taboo) and laugh almost every library visit.
The majority of the kids here ultimately develop a positive relationship with books and reading. Books are a de-stressor, they are a life saver. In fact, the staff that call me the most, that request that I come down and talk to a kid or bring a kid a book, are the therapeutic staff. They also advocate with me for kids on suicide watch, etc. to be able to have a book. Today I went out and talked to a kid that has been under a blanket for hours if not days. He actually sat up and showed some life when I brought him some books.
Are there any books that your students are scrambling for? What flies off your shelves?
The bottom line is a. anything with action, and b. something they can personally relate to. And c, it makes huge difference if the cover is dynamic. My job is to find those books that have the right combination of the above. It’s a constant part of my job. While there are a few authors whose books I can’t keep on the shelf no matter what (Sister Souljah, Cupcake Brown, Tookie Williams, Coe Booth, Alison Van Diepen, Alan Sitomer), there are others whose books I work hard to bring to light. Right now as I look around I don’t see any of MK Asante’s Buck, for example. That’s an accomplishment: a cover with only words and no visuals isn’t something that in general attracts them. He visited here and so his book has taken off. He also stimulated the youth to read about their history, the history of rap music and books about the educational system in the US. Yah Hoo!
What kinds of books are allowed in a juvenile detention center? What kinds of books are not allowed?
In general, what is NOT allowed is anything that’s graphically sexual or violent or that outlines how to make a weapon or alcohol—something that would be a direct threat to the security of the institution.
What is “allowed” is a huge issue, and is one reason that we wanted to create a listserve, web page Library Services for Youth in Custody, and now the In the Margins book award. My hope is that the book award will lend legitimacy to our titles and hopefully enable more facilities to carry them. I am working with a facility right now that says, “Books must be limited in violence, sexually explicit material, promotion of drug or alcohol abuse and vampire stories.” It’s just bizarre the things people come up with to exclude and how they word and interpret it.
In my facility, I’ve made the choice not to advocate for “street lit” mainly because I think that battle is too big to fight since I’m fighting for kids to get to the library. In addition, I spend a huge portion of my life finding books that I believe will work with both the authorities and the kids. Street Lit titles often do have a lot of violence and sex in them which is why I’ve chosen not to advocate for them – but it’s a hard choice every day, and one full of contradictions. There is definitely a group of kids – maybe 5% – I am unable to engage in reading due to my choice to not advocate for street lit.
What do you wish people knew or understood about incarcerated youth?
They are super resourceful. They are caught in a trap not of their own making—poverty—and are punished for many of the things that I, and honestly, most of us did when teenagers. I am constantly amazed the privilege afforded the white middle class and what people of color and/or those from the poverty and working classes have to work extra hard for.
A recent example: Kareem, who is a college educated African American wrote me an email and then recalled it because of the typos. Meanwhile I wrote an email to the head of a very lucrative organization. My email was typed in lower case, and even had the phrase, “gratitude for all you do, dude.” I mean, not exactly thoughtful. Would anyone question that I was college educated? I doubt it. Kareem, and his beautiful, eloquent email with a few typos—he felt the need to correct it in order to present himself in the best possible light. It’s exhausting to constantly have to do that. And that is a *minor* incident.
There is so much policing and criminalization of poor youth and youth of color, I don’t think the majority of white middle class people really understand the depths of the inequity and the daily assaults. The juvenile hall (criminal justice system) is the crucible of race and class inequity in America.
Being in a detention facility, what unique limitations are you working with that a public or traditional school librarian might not be dealing with?
You know the supposed foundation of our country, that we are all innocent until proven guilty? For the most part, that’s not in operation here. There are a lot of unspoken power dynamics and struggles. When I’m in the living units I’m on the staff’s terms to a certain extent. When they are in the library, it’s more on my terms, but they always have the power to override me. It is definitely a dance.
There is a completely different culture in a facility and if you don’t learn what the norms are you can’t be effective. There are unspoken rules and meanings. For example, kids walking down the hallway with their hands behind their backs are living there—on their way to court or medical. Kids walking with their hands by their sides are on their way out of the institution. There is a spoken language that is not used “on the outs” with phrases like, “the tone is high,” “live scan,” “pods,” “talking is dead,” and “prepare for transition.”
The biggest limitation is “security” issues. Those can run the gamut from restricted access to the internet or books on tape to candy, pencils, and envelopes, or even to students being prohibited from getting out of their chair on their own volition. Things that you would never imagine are security issues can be seen that way from a certain perspective (that I actually have come to understand on some level). These limitations force a creative response.
Are there any common misconceptions you’d like to correct about what you do?
I think the biggest misconception is that the kids are hard to work with. And I’m not saying they aren’t hard to work with. I’m also not saying we don’t have seriously disturbed and disturbing kids. But in actuality, it’s the entire toxic system of mass incarceration that’s hardest to work with. Finding your correct place in that toxicity is challenging, ever evolving, yet doable. The kids are the least of the problems.
Just in case I cannot make myself post tomorrow morning before I leave for work at 5:30 am, I thought I should alert my lovely readers to the following.Whether or not you follow the comic world, I think someone should alert fanboys and girls everywhere that Dark Horse is employing its very own pin-up. That’s right, kids, the assistant editor who is responsible for this (as well as working on other comics) is also a new poster girl for Original Sin Hard Cider (considered the “top American Cider” by the NY Times).
Don’t believe me?Well look:
(Click picture to enlarge.)
It seemed only right to post this in honor of Saturday being Free Comic Book day across America. If you're looking to feed your habit, or just learn a little something about the industry, that's the day to hit your local comic book shop and check out the selection. Who knows? You might just find something you like.
The interesting thing about this picture—to me anyway—is that it was based on a photograph taken in my living room.Miss Assistant Editor came over and worked her sexy, bad ass thing with an apple while HTC did her best Tyra impression to get the look we thought the artist was going for. That, plus wine, made the night full of laughs. Our poster girl wasn’t wearing fishnets or a red dress (go artistic license), but that green couch-type thingie is definitely based on my over stuffed chair.
My overstuffed chair is famous, y’all!Oh yeah, and so is my partner in bad dancing.I'm so proud of her. I truly hope someone brings a copy of this to the next comic-con she attends and has her sign it.That would make my day.Hers too, after she stopped blushing, of course. (I'm such a horrible friend.)
The artist, R. Black, has most (if not all) of Original Sin’s promotional design as well as posters for different events and album covers.If you’re looking to waste some time I suggest checking out his whole portfolio. I would love for someone to turn him loose on a book cover and see what he comes up with.It would certainly by eye catching.
We get a lot of bookish news and links from librarian Betsy Bird’s blog, A Fuse #8 Production, and its Fusenews collections of literary links. This week, she brought us a couple stories of covers that we’re happy to pass along. First, we have the cover to PW’s Trends in African-American Publishing issue causing a bit of controversy. Frolab looks at the arguments and asks us to Pick Fros Not Fights!. Second, she leads us to Stacked, where they’re taking a look at a different sort of diversity—or lack thereof— on covers: Where have all the fat girls gone? “Think about all of the covers you see: they’re ALL thin. Every. Last. One. Of. Them. Even if the book doesn’t talk about the weight or shape of a character, the cover makes him/her thin.” Well, not every cover, but she’s got a point.
Moving on from covering books to covering songs, some people are asking, Is ‘Glee’ a Little Bit Racist? They point out that though the cast of characters is diverse, the storylines are consistently about the white folk.
On a more serious note, The New York Times brings us a story of rising gang violence among the Sioux of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and the efforts of many to fight the rise in gang culture by encouraging native traditions.
Race hasn’t come up much in the health care debate, despite a notable difference in the care received by whites as by people of color. Ta-Nahesi Coates highlights this gap and takes a pragmatic if counterintuitive look at why it’s not being talked about.
Gracias • Thanks by Pat Mora, illustrated by John Parra, has been awarded Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor!
Given by the Association for Library Services to Children, the Belpré Award and Honors are given to Latino/Latina authors and illustrators whose work celebrates the Latino experience. We’re very proud of the book, and we’re very pleased that the committee has recognized John Parra with an Honor for his outstanding illustration of Pat Mora’s poetic text.
Have a look at some of that stunning art:
Congratulations, John, and thank you, Belpré Committee!
It’s bitterly cold outside (at least here in New York), so stay inside and read! Here’s this week’s selection of articles and essays.
Last month we shared an Indian ad for White Beauty, a skin-lightening cream. Now, a study is highlighting the dangers of these types of products, many of which contain steroids or mercury. A NYTimes Op-Ed looks beyond the products and into the roots of their popularity with an exploration of colorism, the tendency to be biased towards people with lighter skin, even within one’s own racial or ethnic group.
On Wednesday, newscaster Chris Matthews commented that during the State of the Union, he “forgot Obama was black.” Ta-Nahisi Coates examines the comment and the assumptions that underlie it, explaining why the well-intentioned comment is deeply problematic and a concept of “invented truth.”
Lastly, in book-related news, there’s a new exposé into the secret world of offline book piracy, where shadowy individuals known to one another as “librarians” lend books in silent, hidden dens of iniquity called “libraries.”
Anyone who loves books loves libraries, and even though they’re worth celebrating year-round, it’s especially important now. Why? Well, for one it’s National Library Week. Ironically, we’re also in the midst of a huge round of budget cuts for libraries all over the country. Time’s growing short, but it’s not too late to let your public officials know how important libraries are to all of us! The ALA has a quick and easy way to show your support:
2. Scroll down and customize the sample email message as you see fit — remember, a brief but personal story on how your library helps your community matters the most! Change the subject heading to “please sign the Dear Appropriator letter for libraries.”
3. Enter your contact information.
4. Press “Send Message.”
5. If you would prefer to call your senators’ offices, feel free to dial the Capitol switchboard at 202.224.3121 and ask for your senator. The switchboard will transfer you to their office. If you don’t know who your senator is, visit here and type in your zip code.
6. Please ask your friends and supporters to call. We need as many individuals to contact the senators as possible so they know this is an important issue and that voters want them to support it.
We only have 72 hours to go! The deadline for these “Dear Appropriator” to be received by the Appropriations Committee is April 14, so it is important that you email or call your senators offices today, as well as encourage others to do so, and ask them to sign onto a “Dear Appropriator” letter that is circulating around the Senate. This letter will be sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee and will be asking the committee to support the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries (ILTSL) program in its FY2011 budget.
If you’re in NJ, state funding is coming under the ax as well as federal funding. Take a look here for ways to support New Jersey libraries. I myself spent many happy hours in the South Brunswick Public Library and seeing it in peril is really scary.
Remember, libraries are not just good for books! They provide free internet access for those who can’t afford it at home, help people find jobs, teach students how to research, provide a safe haven for kids after school, and provide a meeting place for communities. Shelli over at Market My Words has a great list of reasons why everyone should use their public library (Reason #6: Who else is going to learn the Dewey Decimal System? You?) And be sure to check out this adorable letter from a first grader in Indiana that begins, “Dear the government, I don’t like that you’re firing our school librarians.”
I leave you with this quote from the oh-so-wise Lemony Snicket: “A library is like an island in the middle of a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded.”
If anyone knows of any other ways to support libraries, post them here in the comments and I’ll update!
Before we launch into this week’s roundup of race and diversity links, I’d like to make a plea: help your local library. Many around the country are facing massive budget cuts, so let your elected officials know that your library is important. New Yorkers, NYPL has a handy form to help you contact your City Council member and the mayor, in the hopes of preventing massive service cuts, including closing ten branches and limiting the library to four open days per week.
Now, to diversity!
White people adopting children of color is discussed relatively often, but Charles Mudede looks at the other side: what it says when a black person adopts a white child.
The New York Times brings us a great story about Chinese teachers coming to the United States, and learning as much about the U.S. as they teach about China.
The Supreme Court is, of course, big news lately. ColorLines brings us a Fantasy Supreme Court, nine passionate legal scholars who happen to be a picture of diversity, and many of whom have worked on race issues. And according to a recent poll, the public overwhelmingly says that a nominee being black, female, protestant, or gay is not a factor.
I had an interesting discussion the other day. Let me just start off by saying that I feel pretty strongly anti-censorship and would never advocate the banning of books. But I was speaking with a friend about the second Twilight installment and how uncomfortable it made me. At the beginning, Vampire Edward leaves Bella, after which she spends a year putting herself in all kinds of danger just to bring him back. She actually comes close to killing herself so he’ll come back to her. That is not OK with me. I said to my friend, “I’m afraid that teen girls will look at Bella as a role model and see this as an ideal relationship,” and it seemed to me that this was a story that could do real damage to readers.
"Get away from me, you creep."
The content that we deem dangerous varies: for some of us it’s sex or drugs or a certain 4-letter word, and sometimes it’s stories that just aren’t in line with our values, whether they be feminist, religious, political, etc. I think that ultimately the instinct to protect young readers is one we all share, and it is fundamentally a good instinct: it’s because we care.
And that’s why, for me, Banned Books Week is not just about celebrating our favorite banned books (although…The Giver! Harry Potter! every single Goosebumps book!) but the books that were banned that maybe we don’t love so much, those that we even find troubling. This is a week to remind ourselves once again that books are complex, and people are complex, and there’s no predicting all the magical ways that a book will change the person who picks it up.
I am grateful that Twilight has turned so many people into readers, and it deserves a place in every young adult collection. And I’m also grateful for all the books that have meant so much to me that other people saw fit to leave in libraries and bookstores when they personally didn’t agree with them or like them. Keeping some books accessible requires courage, and that’s the courage I celebrate this week. What books are you celebrating, even though they’re not your favorites?
And…TRIVIA! Can you guess which Lee & Low title has been challenged? First person to guess correctly in the comments below wins a copy.
Hint: It was published before 2000, and the topic falls under American History.
We took a short break from blogging in the wake of last week’s big event in the children’s book world: the American Library Association’s annual announcement of their Youth Media Awards—or, as some like to call it, “The Oscars of Children’s Literature.” No outlandish outfits at these Oscars, but a few of our books do now have nice, shiny accessories on their covers:
Winning a major book award is surprising every time it happens. Like all publishers, we pretend not to pay attention to the mock award committee announcements that multiply in our inboxes each December and early January. Of course, we do not deny ourselves a little excitement when we spot one of our titles on someone’s favorites list, but we try to keep our expectations realistic. The chances of winning one of the “big” awards are like the chances of winning the Lotto, and it is a good idea to protect ourselves by not letting our hopes get too high.
This season, however, we did win some big awards, and it felt great to have our books recognized and included in the good company of books from other houses that we know and respect. Also worth mentioning is the fact that we received as many awards as quite a few larger houses, which is an accomplishment for independent publishing.
An award designation means a book will be read by a wider audience. As our books are included in library collections across the country, those collections become more diverse by the sheer presence of our books. Awards give validation not only to the quality of the books we publish, but to the very core of our mission to promote cultural diversity, take risks on stories that need to be told, and nurture new talent.
January was a fantastic month for LEE & LOW, and our hopes that 2011 will turn into a year to remember would not be possible without readers like you who have supported us year in and year out. We are grateful to everyone out there who has read and enjoyed our books and has helped spread the word about books that are “about everyone” and “for everyone.” We could not do what we do without you. Thank you all.
We’re getting excited to head down to New Orleans this week for the American Library Association Annual Conference. New Orleans has always been one of my favorite cities, and I’m looking forward to eating piles of beignets meeting many awesome librarians while we’re down there. If you’ll be there too, please stop by booth #1132 to say hello! Here’s what we’ll have going on:
SATURDAY, 2-3PM: Under the MesquiteARC signing and giveaway with debut author Guadalupe Garcia McCall. This is a PHENOMENAL book – it made me cry right at my desk – so you’ll definitely want to snag a copy.
11AM-12PM: Signing with Sonia Lynn Sadler, illustrator of Seeds of Change and winner of this year’s Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustration
We’ll also have ARCs of our first three fall titles from TU BOOKS, our new science fiction/fantasy imprint.
ALA goodies - come and get 'em!
Trust me you guys, you won’t want to miss these.
Looking forward to seeing some of you there! If you’ve got fun restaurant recommendations or things to do, be sure to leave them in the comments. And if you can’t attend, stay tuned for a special giveaway just for you!