I am an elementary school librarian in an urban setting in Massachusetts. Through the work of creating a more representative and inclusive library collection for my students, I learned a lot about the politics of the publishing industry, the accepted institutional racism and purposeful exclusion of communities in books and that we should be outraged at the continued disenfranchisement of our children.
Follow me on Twitter: @reflectlibrary

Monday, November 21, 2016

Channeling Anger Into Recs That Aid In Critical Conversations

Good lord, folks.

I have been putting some books to good use in the library the last two weeks, that's for damn sure.
Information and conversation with the kids are critical. 

I will save you from my rant and start with ONE book recommendation for now. More to come, but this is one of those books that isn't so overtly about history or feelings. It's not overly didactic. It's a picture book, but one that you could read to adults and really get a nuanced convo going, especially when read in context post 11/9/16.

Gecko Press's, "Don't Cross The Line!" by 
The book is super visually appealing, the illustrations are bright, colorful and child-like. Juxtapose that with the story of a General (dictator?) who will not let the characters of the book over to the right page. These orders must be carried out by a solitary guard. What will the characters do? How will they react? A slow and peaceful revolution blossoms (*started by a CHILD, please note*) with characters pouring onto the right hand page, eventually followed by the guard. When the General calls for the arrest of the guard, the populous protects him, leaving the General to question, "Who wants to be the hero of a children's story, anyway?"

Check it out!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"Windows and Mirrors" Catalog

I have been writing endlessly and yet, where the hell are the blogposts? There is so much- SO MUCH. Fine Dessert, Large Fears, never MIND the "recall" of George Washington's Birthday and all the racial implications there... I have so much to say, too much to say- but there are many others who have said it in a far more erudite fashion. I am sure you have read all about it too.

Here's something though.

Folks, super excited! Groundwood is introducing a catalog specifically showcasing culturally diverse (or, as I think is more accurate, *inclusive*) books. I love the books from this Canadian publisher, so often they are GORGEOUS. We love independent publishing houses that have been working hard for years to be more inclusive in their publishing...

Read all about it on "Quill and Quire".

There's also a website dedicated to this that will be updated with seasonal titles, BOOK MARK IT! I am going to. Now, if only I had more of a library budget : P
Here's the link...it's super pretty.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

In the News: Visual Representation is Important! Books in the Face of Trump

First- sorry, you guys. I have been negligent- nay, I have abandoned you this fall. There were like 1000 articles and books that I wanted to post, but I didn't and then that backlog was overwhelming. So, starting fresh, dealing with TODAY's issue: DONALD TRUMP.

I don't feel like I need to explain why his vitriol is damaging to people, children and families. Recently, he stated that we should ban Muslims from entering our country until we "figure out what's going on." If you would like to read more, here's an article from the New York Times.

I am lucky to live in a community and work in a school that has many Islamic families. I have talked to some of these families that attend my school over the past couple of weeks about the current climate in the country and how it is effecting them. And, unfortunately but not at all surprisingly, the "Go home!" shouts and dirty looks and stares have escalated.
Page from, "Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors"

So, what can you do in your library or classroom? Do some read alouds with kids- read some folktales, read picture books, open conversation, answer questions. 

I think picture books are important here,because what picture books can do is offer immediate visual representation. I think illustration is powerful in that it opens the doors to questioning in a way that maybe we wouldn't do/allow otherwise, it gives us the space and a silent permission to dig in-maybe a child would be more comfortable asking questions about things that fall outside of our cultural norms (read: hetero/cis/white/christian hegemony) via an illustration representing such things, than asking a real live person . Also, even grown-ups with good intentions (you know where those get you!) might bury real curiosity and the opportunity to learn and grow with, "don't ask that, it is rude!"

This whole blog is set around the "window, mirrors and doors" metaphor. Right now is a prime time to bring this into action...open the door, people, raise that window, educate yuorself and the kids around you. Display books with ***positive*** (not caricatures, folks) Islamic characters prominently. This is passive, yes, but I do find power in this. Also, READ and RECOMMEND these books you are displaying, because displaying isn't enough, though a piece of the puzzle.

Lee & Low in all of their awesomeness has an annotated list to get you started:


Don't have a huge budget? Don't know where to start? Here are a couple authors I really like:

Khan's "King for a Day"
Rukhsana Khan is AMAZING! She has been a favorite author of mine and my personal kids for sometime. As a librarian, her books are such good stories and teachers love them too! She also Skypes and the kids love her. A professional and fantastic story teller. Please visit her website: http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/ and buy all of her books! If you can't purchase all of them, The Big Red Lollipop and King for a Day will do well for your library. They are gorgeous. I have blogged about The Big Red Lollipop here. If you have a crazy limited budget, go get these two books at least, you will be very happy.

Hena Khan (no relation that I can find) has two very lovely books for our young readers and a website, http://www.henakhan.com/. Her books are really well circulated in my library, especially Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, while this books leans more toward the pre-school set it is checked out often w/ Kindergarten and 1st grade. The illustrations entice my "princess" loving students and it has a lovely intro to Islamic vocabulary and holidays.

Here's a new publisher, support them:
Bharat Babies is a new publishing venture with, "educational media content tailored to the children of the Asian-Indian diaspora". Visit their site and BUY A BOOK, http://bharatbabies.com/. I have two books from them and they are both currently checked out- a commendation, for sure!

So friends, go, go, go... Want more recommendations? I have them! Contact me via Twitter, @ReflectLibrary.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15- October 15 is Hispanic Heritage month. Here is a list of websites, books, authors and illustrators for the elementary set. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it is certainly a start. Celebrate!

Latinas For Latino Lit, L4LL
“L4LL is a woman- and minority-owned education and literacy organization run by co-founders Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D. and Monica Olivera. Considered Latina influencers with a combined three decades in the education, Hispanic, and media space, our mission to raise literacy rates through pedagogically sound, culturally relevant content, and technology is rooted in our belief that all educational and professional achievement, as well as economic empowerment rests on the mastery of basic reading skills.”

National Hispanic Heritage Month

Popular Authors and Illustrators
Alma Flor Ada: http://almaflorada.com/
Matt de la Peña: http://mattdelapena.com/

Select Books for Elementary Aged Children, K-6
Ada, Alma Flor., and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta. Dancing Home. New York: Atheneum  for Young Readers, 2011. Print.
Ada, Alma Flor., F. Isabel. Campoy, and David Diaz. Yes! We Are Latinos. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2013. Print.
Alvarez, Julia. How Tía Lola Came to Visit Stay. New York: Knopf, 2001. Print. Part of "Tía Lola" series.
Brown, Monica, and Sara Palacios. Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match. San Francisco: Children's Book, 2011. Print. Part of a series, "Marisol McDonald".
Corbett, Sue. Free Baseball. New York: Dutton Children's, 2006. Print.
Engle, Margarita, and Rafael López. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, n.d. Print.
Engle, Margarita, and Sean Qualls. The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. New York: Henry Holt, 2006. Print.
Herrera, Juan Felipe., and Raúl Colón. Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes. N.p.: Dial  for Young Readers, n.d. Print.
Mann, Charles C., Rebecca Stefoff, and Charles C. Mann. Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491. New York: Atheneum  for Young Readers, 2009. Print.
Morales, Yuyi, and Tim O'Meara. Viva Frida! New York: Macmillan, n.d. Print.
Morales, Yuyi. Niño Wrestles the World. New York: Roaring Brook, 2013. Print.
Peña, Matt De La. Mexican Whiteboy. New York: Delacorte, 2008. Print.
Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Esperanza Rising. New York: Scholastic, 2000. Print.
Tonatiuh, Duncan. Diego Rivera: His World and Ours. New York: Abrams  for Young Readers, 2011. Print.
Tonatiuh, Duncan. Separate Is Never Equal: The Story of Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation. New York: Abrams  for Young Readers, n.d. Print.

Winter, Jonah, and Raúl Colón. Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates. New York: Atheneum  for Young Readers, 2005. Print.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Creating Community Connections

 This summer, I had the great opportunity of being the keynote at New Hampshire School Library Media Association 's Library Camp. The theme of the conference was, "Creating Community Connections." Below is a partial transcript of my speech.

Phipps Soeiro, Liz. "Creating Community Connections." Library Camp 2015. Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH. 15 Aug. 2015. Speech.

When we think of how we make connections, I think we as school librarians first and foremost think of how we connect our readers to books which is both intrinsic to our profession and hugely important. And beyond this, i think our role has an even broader reach outside the library and school walls.

Our public librarian counterparts have been doing it for years. Engaging and connecting their patrons to the community. Why aren’t more school librarians doing the same? We have a built in audience with our students and their families. Why couldn’t we be doing the same thing at the same level?

Now, I realize there are obstacles. that many of our school libraries are underfunded, with little to no budget. And I realize many of us are not full time in one building, perhaps traveling between two buildings. But, even small connections and  small community based projects are powerful and meaningful. Also, by shining a light onto our programs through these projects and outreach, more people will see and understand the need for funding and support us and school library programs.

So, today, I am going to talk about how we can be effective at building connections with students and their families and others with books and with projects in  our libraries, in our districts and in our greater communities.

Perhaps our number one job and the image most evoked by the term, “school librarian”, is our job making connections between readers and books.

Through books, children are introduced to things they have never seen or heard, they are reminded of their own experience and feel a sense of validation  and they build background knowledge for life.

In some cases, we can either make or break our readers with books. School librarians have to tow the line between librarian and teacher. Perhaps we encourage children to get a “just right book” or only let kids choose a book from there level...but I am asking us, as a profession,  to push back here a little bit.

Overly didactic use of books can stifle our readers. There often is little choice for kids in what they can read at school- and if there is choice it is controlled choice, either by level, genre, author, etc. I ask you to think about how we as librarians support our readers and connect them to books. Do you limit books children can check out by their reading level? Do you feel pressure to limit books children can check out by topic from teachers or others?

The school library is really one of the last places our readers are allowed to be autonomous. Instead of smothering this, celebrate this! We hear so much about “reluctant readers”, I urge us to shift your lense. What if these readers aren’t reluctant, they are  just specific readers? Maybe they do not want to be told to read a book that has no meaning to them maybe that leveled book is not actually just right for them at all? Reading Minecraft Manuals is still reading for information. It is our job to match readers with books and nurture that love of reading and help it grow and then we will watch confident readers taking more risks with their reading and book choice.

Connecting kids to books they want is just the start and critical first step of creating lifelong readers. We help to do this in our school libraries by creating a collection of books that are relevant to teachers and students.

When I first came to my library I currently work at, I noticed the collection did not reflect *all of * my patrons or their  interests, abilities, experiences. And it did not challenge their  ideas and idealogies in a way sometimes only a book can, by exposing them to other times, places, cultures and realities.

I wanted to change this. So first, I weeded the heck out of my library. Then I listened to students and watched them, let them make input both by talking to me and writing anonymous recommendations. As I began to rebuild the collection, I also kept in mind one of my most favorite articles from 1990 by Rudine Simms Bishop out of Ohio State, “Windows Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors”.  What an awesome visual. Readers should be able to see others, see themselves and experience what they may not normally experience through reading a book.

These windows, mirrors and doors are not just for our populations that are chronically marginalized by the publishing industries, which I will touch upon later, but also and just as importantly for the dominant culture. Bishop states,

“Children from dominant social groups have always found their mirrors in books, but they, too, have suffered from the lack of availability of books about others. They need the books as windows onto reality, not just on imaginary worlds. They need books that will help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in, and their place as a member of just one group, as well as their connections to all other humans. In this country, where racism is still one of the major unresolved social problems, books may be one of the few places where children who are socially isolated and insulated from the larger world may meet people unlike themselves. If they see only reflections of themselves, they will grow up with an exaggerated sense of their own importance and value in the world-a dangerous ethnocentrism.”

This article was written 25 years ago, but it still rings true. It is very timely when we think about current events and really important to consider this in our own libraries, what are the messages we are sending?

Over the years, parents and professionals will sometimes disregard books or falsely believe they won’t be read  because they assume white, able bodied, hetero, cisgendered children won't pick up a book with a person not like themselves on the cover. This assumption has led to publishing practices that are nonrepresentational and honestly pretty gross.

As you guys know there is a wonderful movement  and resource in our professional community with the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign. WNDB is a response to years of marginalizing many communities, cultures and races in book publishing practices, but it solidified as a movement and real wake up after the 2014 Book Con, where all panels were made of white male authors.   Something had to change, it was a real call to action.

I want to share with you last years publishing statistics based on 3500 children’s books published in 2014 from Cooperative Children’s Book Center:

What you see here are four affinity groups, African/African American, American Indian, Asian/Pacific Asian/Pacific American and Latino. Blue represents books about the affinity groups, meaning the main character or premise of the book represents that affinity group- which if you can see that’s about 180 about  African or African Americans, 35 about American Indians and so forth. The orange represents the books that are BY and ABOUT each group, so of the 180 books about African or African Americans only about 65 were written by authors of that affinity group. The gray represents books BY the affinity group but not ABOUT it. So, looking at these statistics, you can see out of 3500 books, minimal were published that were representing our country’s diversity. So, if combine the number of books BY and ABOUT these 4 affinity groups, that is 165 books, or around 5% of the children’s books published last year. That really has an impact on ALL of our readers, whether they are aware of it or not.

This information is critical when building connections between readers and book, we are building a community through our collection development and circulation practices. Its important that we are always reflecting on our practices and asking ourselves, am I reflecting my patrons interests and experiences? Am I offering a window on to new realities? Am I challenging thinking and offering other perspectives? Am I censoring what books I allow to be circulated based on reading abilities instead of interest and motivation?

There is a passage in Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming Where she touches upon her experience *finally* seeing herself represented in a book while at a bookstore when she was a girl and her anxieties around whether or not she was too old for such a book.
She said,
"..I might have missed the picture book filled with brown people, more brown people than I'd ever seen in a book before. If someone had taken that book out of my hand, if they said you're too old for this, maybe I'd never have believed that someone who looks like me could be in the pages of this book, that someone who looked like me had a story. Maybe I never would have believed that someone who looked like me could be in a picture book."

This passage speaks to representation in books, AND it also talks about her fear that 

because this book would probably be deemed “too young” or not “just right”, she may not 

ever had a chance to look through it. How many students put down a book they are 

motivated to read because it’s not at their level or just right?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Summer Slide, Not the Kind at the Playground

Summer evokes fun and relaxation for some students, but it can be an extremely critical and anxious time for many others. This is the time of year you may hear a lot about "summer slide".  When we give serious issues alliterative titles, I think it devalues the seriousness of what it actually means. It sounds like educational jargon but it's not.  Summer Slide is very much an issue of social justice because it most greatly effects students of a low socioeconomic bracket with little funding to look more closely at the issue.

When children do not read over the summer, they can loose months of reading growth gained during the previous 9 months and over a student's educational career this becomes compounded into years of loss.  "We" blame parents, "we" blame teachers, "we" blame the students themselves for their lack of skill and motivation, but in a recent article by Richard L. Allington, Ph.D., and Anne McGill-Franzen, Ph.D. they examine what is the root cause of this destructive phenomenon. They answer the question, 

"Why is there this family economic trigger that creates summer reading loss, and is there a way to neutralize that trigger and end the summer reading loss that kids in low-income families experience?" 

The article goes on to say that owning books, or lack there of, is one of the factors that greatly contributes to this losing of ground. I think when some people hear this, they immediately scream, "Go to the library!" and yes, go to the library. But in many neighborhoods there are no branches or there is no grownup to take the kids or there are fines to be paid or English is not the first language or there is a distrust of organizations that take your information or families may not be "legal" residents...it goes on. Beyond the barriers of library use, there is plenty of information, both academic and anecdotal, that *owning* books greatly effects student achievement.

Choice is another factor, not so much touched upon by the first article, but I have seen the effects and much has been written of choosing one's own book as opposed to being assigned books. Now, this is where it gets tricky for me. As a school librarian I have a foot in two worlds, library and teacher. Even so, I shudder at leveled readers and the overly didactic use of books (though I do appreciate the necessity in some cases). My own child complains that he always has to write about what he reads when he just wants to read. Choice is also a matter of social justice. There is room for books to have the dual roles of learning and pleasure for some, BUT when choice is often part of some students' educations (library use, access to school library, purchasing books at book stores) and not others' (see above paragraphs), you loose motivation, again leaving children with a lower SES status behind and bolstering skills of wealthier students in wealthier districts. 

I urge you, dear reader, to find resources in your community that supply NEW FREE books (donations are a slippery slope with many implications no matter how kindhearted the gesture) and get them to children. The Rotary Club loves to give money toward literacy causes through grants. Nationally, see if you can utilize Reading Is Fundamental. It is out there, let's organize for our children!

Awesome kids reading their awesome new books they chose from the Cambridge Book Bike!

In my community, I am an organizer of the Cambridge Book Bike, which gives NEW FREE books away all summer. Contact me if you want to start something similar, I will help with any tips I have. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015


I have been a loathsome blogger this winter. Seeing how I live in New England, I feel I have every right to blame the snow. We had 8 feet of the stuff, down right stifling figuratively and literally.  But, I am back with daffodils and crocuses...

I've written about and have a permanent link to the article written 25 years ago by a professor, Rudine Sims Bishop, out of Ohio State called, “Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors”- in it Bishop likens books to these windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors, offering views into other worlds, a reflection of ourselves and an opportunity to explore and gain experience outside of our own lives. She explains that it is dangerous when kids aren’t given the opportunity to do this. And while her focus was on kids of color, I think the sentiment can apply to other disenfranchised and underrepresented groups of kids. She says,“When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part. Our classrooms need to be places where all the children from all the cultures that make up the salad bowl of American society can find their mirrors.”

Similarly, I recently read a quote by Junot Diaz. He also weighed in on books as mirrors and his own struggle as a child to find himself. He said, “You know how vampires have no reflections in the mirror? If you want to make a human being a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, ‘Yo, is something wrong with me?’ That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist? And part of what inspired me was this deep desire, that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors, so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it."

Librarians and others working with children have a duty to seek these mirrors out and provide them to the kids in their lives, and also just as importantly, we need to expose the myth that only certain, white, cisgendered, hetero narratives are important and worth telling.  The more that we tell and consume stories and experiences that fall outside of our cultural norms, the better. The more that these stories are acknowledged and valued, the better our world, our schools, our kids are- everyone is.

In Jacqueline Woodson's , "Brown Girl Dreaming", there is a scene in the book, where young Jacqueline, who struggled with the fact that she didn't have the same academic prowess of her sister, found an intriguing book in a bookstore:

"...I might have missed the picture book filled with brown people, more brown people than I'd ever seen in a book before. If someone had taken that book out of my hand, if they said you're too old for this, maybe I'd never have believed that someone who looks like me could be in the pages of this book, that someone who looked like me had a story. Maybe I never would have believed that someone who looked like me could be in a picture book."

This is a beautiful illustration of how books can become a barometer for children, am I worth writing and reading about? Yes, and it's our job to make this clear to children.