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

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Children's Voices

I write this in light of the lack of indictments and a failed racist "joke" as Jacqueline Woodson received her well earned National Book Award for, "Brown Girl Dreaming." Though I am tempted to comment and link to articles and type type type, I want to honor the reason I began this blog, and simply recommend books that can aid discussion with young children.

Lee & Low Books put out a list: 5 Books That Build Confidence in African American Children
This was first posted in the wake of the verdict of the Trayvon Martin case. I would add one more, a book from Kelly Starling Lyons, "One Million Men and Me".

The setting for this book is the Million Man March which took place in Washington DC in 1995. I think this is quite apropos of the current and daily marches and demonstrations around the country. Children may have questions about why people gather together, this is a good launching pad for that discussion.  This book is also told from a child's point of view which is so important to examine- children see what we are seeing too. I think adults sometime think that images and words meant for adult ears aren't absorbed by a child's, but that is not the case. Lyons empowers the reader through this girl, a young witness to a historical event with words like:

Everywhere I looked, fathers and sons, friends and strangers, clasped hands in unity. Their faces filled with pride. Their hearts swelled with hope. I held my head a little higher. Daddy said they missed school to join in purpose and peace. Drums thumped. I felt the magic. And I held my head a little higher.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

In the News...

Geez, I have been woefully negligent. But, I am back!
Here's some diversity news...

The Washington Post published, "In the land of make-believe, racial diversity is a fantasy"
Isn't it true? While Amina Luqwin is writing beyond books, looking at media, we all know that characters of color in fantasy are few and far between. While creating a bibliography of middle grade fiction books in my own library that did NOT include historical fiction, the number of books in comparison to the rest of the collection was dismally low. The amount of sports fiction was the highest genre and fantasy/sci-fi was indeed represented by a pathetic amount of titles. Ugh.

"Suffice it to say, our son is a big fan [of Harry Potter]. So it was no surprise when he considered dressing up as Harry for Halloween. But our hearts sank when he quickly added, in a matter-of-fact tone of disappointment, 'But I’m not tan. I’m brown.'"

Here's an interview and article from NPR I found rather interesting, it's a few months old, but worth your ears and eyes, To Achieve Diversity In Publishing, A Tough Dialogue Beats Silence.

...and finally, Hooray! Hooray! Break out the drums! The fantastic organization, We Need Diverse Books, announced that there will be a Walter Dean Meyers award! From Publisher's Weekly,

"The Walter Dean Myers Award, which WNDB representatives have already nicknamed The Walter, will recognize published authors from diverse backgrounds who celebrate diversity in their writing and “[allow] children to see themselves reflected back” in those works, according to WNDB’s announcement to PW. The amount of the award has yet to be determined."

You can support WNDB's Indiegogo campaign that supports this and other initiatives. Check it out!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Digging In: My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood

"My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood" is written in verse, by Tameka Fryer Brown and illustrated by Shane Evans. I like to think the cold plums are a nod to the great William Carlos Williams.

Often with picture books, I tend to initially be attracted to the illustrations of books- and Shane Evans does not disappoint. Bright and saturated colors fill these pages, with simple yet expressive characters and their surroundings.

The book follows a boy, a middle child, through his day and activities and most importantly his MOODS. This little boy has feelings. His feelings have color. He is green and happy drawing with one of his sisters, he is gray and annoyed and brown and grounded. We end the story sharing a meal with his family- and we feel happy, full and yellow.

This book pairs well with Dr. Seuss's, "My Many Colored Days"- great for figurative and descriptive language lessons. 

Tameka Fryer Brown has some activities that go along with the book as well, visit her website:
Ms. Brown is also part of one of my most favorite literature projects, The Brown Bookshelf.
Do yourself a favor and take some time to go through this blog:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Digging In: The Big Red Lollipop

The Big Red Lollipop, by Rukhsana Khan and illustrated by Sophie Blackall

This book just makes me happy. I know that is not a very objective or descriptive thing to write about a book, but it's true. I just love it.

My son is in first grade and he is beginning a unit on family culture and traditions. I immediately thought of this book. Sometimes, our cultural traditions are not the same as the dominant culture's that we find ourselves in. That is true for Rubina, a little girl who received her first birthday party invitation. Her mother, Ami, was new to this custom but allowed her to go, on one condition, her little sister, Sana, also went.

This put Rubina in what she found to be an uncomfortable social situation, she wanted to be part of the celebration just like "everybody else", but her mother held tight to an important tradition in their family and Rubina has to call her friend and ask if it's all right for her little sister to come too.
                    I beg and plead, but Ami won't listen. I have no choice. I have to call.
                    Sally says, "Allright." But it doesn't sound all right.  I know she thinks
                    I'm weird.

In the end, the friendship remains intact and the sisters have an even stronger bond. Khan gives us a glimpse into the inner dialogue and sometimes struggle of a child that wants to honor the many cultures in which she belongs.

I would be loathe not to mention the illustrations. They are warm and sunny and sweet. I love the expressiveness of the faces and the beautiful jewel tones in the clothes. The characters are incredibly emotive and we get a sense of how Sana and her sisters are feeling not only through words, but through pictures. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Digging In: Dear Primo: A Letter To My Cousin

Dear Primo: A Letter To My Cousin, by Duncan Tonatiuh

In grades 1 and 2 students begin to study letter writing. Of course, Ezra Jack Keats's "A Letter to Amy" is a classic, and the newly published, "The Crayon Box That Talked" is a hoot. But, Dear Primo adds another dimension to the conversation.

The author and illustrator, Duncan Tonatiuh, celebrates the unique and special cultures of both Mexico and the United States. As a citizen of both countries, he is uniquely seated to do so.Two cousins, one in Mexico and one in New York, write each other letters about what they eat, what they like to do on weekends and their favorite games to play. At the end of the book, each cousin wants to visit the other and share in his experiences.

The illustration in this book is quite unique. The characters are only drawn in profile, reminiscent of native Mexican art. The illustrator also uses photographs and collage to ultimately create a one of a kind visual experience. Students will definitely want to view these pictures up close.

Please be sure to include the author's note in your read aloud. Tonatiuh describes his experiences growing up in San Miguel and Western Massachusetts. He ends his note with the following:

"I am both Mexican and American (literally; I have two passports), and what I've discovered is that despite the apparent differences between these two countries- the buildings, the food, the day-to-day routines, physical appearances, the politics- at the end of the day, we are more similar than different. People are people."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Digging In: When I Was Eight (Back to School Edition)

Welcome back to a new school year! I am excited to dig back into work in my school's library. With the beginning of the year comes the happy task of matching books to curriculum and choosing stories that will pique interest, start conversations and offer windows into worlds perhaps different than our own.

When I Was Eight, by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (Based on "Fatty Legs")

I adore this book for many reasons. I love the illustration, the resilience and focus of Olemaun, the female protagonist, the language the author uses and the general inspiration it gives my students at the beginning of the year.

I chose this book as the first read aloud I did with grade 4 this year. In grade 3 students are introduced to our state's native population and begin to develop an understanding of colonialism. With this background knowledge, I am able to introduce this book, and Olemaun as an Inuit girl. In the story, she refers to "the outsiders", Catholic Europeans that run the schools.  Olemaun is determined to learn to read, as her older sister had done before, but her father is hesitant to send her to the Catholic school with good reason, but succumbs to his daughter's pleas.

Upon arrival, Olemaun's braids were cut, her l clothes removed and her name taken, she was given a new one- Margaret. What Olemaun went through to learn to read was unimaginable to many of our students. The most common reactions from the students I see are cries of unfairness and disbelief. This book can be used to lead discussion on education as a right or privilege. While no school may seem like a great idea at times to students (especially if summer was super fun), what would they ultimately lose? How far would you go for the ability to read?

"I was Olemaun, conqueror of evil, reader of books.
 I was a girl who traveled to a strange and faraway land to stand against a tyrant like Alice. 
And like Alice, I was brave, clever and as unyeilding as the strong stone that sharpens the ulu.

I finally knew this, like I knew many things, because now I could read."

Monday, August 11, 2014

We Need Diverse Books: Recommendations

What a summer! I have been so busy with another of my projects that I haven't had time to sit and write. I spent this summer riding the Book Bike- check us out here: www.cambridgebookbike.org
Now I'm back and excited to start thinking about another school year. This year I am turning my attention to not only have students recognize themselves in books, but being empowered members of their community. I am working on one project I am super excited about, I will share soon.

While I haven't been writing, I have been reading and ferreting away book resources, bibliographies and awesome new titles. One of my favorite things that came out this summer was "#We Need Diverse Books" new reading recommendation format, "If you liked_____, then read this next.":
I hope other teachers, librarians and parents will be utilizing these fantastic examples to get kids to broaden their reading experiences. I am envisioning a section in my library with many of these books displayed.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Leaving Crumbs...

Today was the final meeting with a colleague and the professor that was leading us through our Teacher Action Research project. The project began as simply wanting to understand what a "reflective library" meant to students, specifically boys of color. Did they feel our library was inclusive and they had the availability of books to read that reflected them (interests, culture, physicality, etc.). You can read about some of our conversations in this blog post.

The thing is, I thought (naively) that at the end of these last few months of conversations and reflections, I would have this neat little package with clear answers to my questions. I wanted the kids to feel empowered by their library knowing that their interests and experiences were worth writing about, publishing and displaying prominently. I wanted them to  know what to expect from libraries in general (i.e. an inclusive collection) and feel a sense of belonging. I guess, what I wanted them to get to say was, "Aha! I see! Yes!", by following the clear path I had created for them, but I think I just left a trail of bread crumbs few and far between in a brushy forest.
Library shelfie amongst my picture books.
There is no marked trail.  I am actually left with even more questions. As the school year comes to a close, I hope the summer affords me enough time and space to be more contemplative and critical (constructively so, of course) of  my practice, of how to leave more crumbs on the path of awareness for my students. I hope this pathway leads my students from the library and out into the broader neighborhood equipped with a sense of self and the knowledge that they too are an important and essential component of our community.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Seat At The Table

Wow, what a whirlwind the last few weeks have been. I have so many posts I want to write, but I will just have to settle for one post at a time...

I have also been updating my Delicious account with some regularity. There has been such amazing press about diversity and inclusion in children's literature. I am trying to save articles as I see/read them.

A couple of weeks ago at Simmons College (where I received my MLS) during Children's Book week, I was lucky enough to be part of a discussion about diversity in children's literature. The event was hosted Children's Book Council and Children's Books Boston. Horn book was also there. It was called, "Setting A Place at the Table", read more about it here.

The idea was to speed date with authors that wrote inclusionary books. I, of course, became an immediate fan girl, counting my lucky stars to be at such an event and having meaningful conversations with authors I hold in such high esteem. But, it wasn't just authors that were there, but many librarians, publishers and other children's book related individuals that really rounded out the questions.

Fellow fabulous attendees!

We were given questions to discuss and were led by SEED trained individuals. This led to some honest conversations. Why weren't more inclusive books being published? What were we doing to promote "diverse children's literature"? Having the perspectives of many literacy professionals allowed for reflective thinking on the broader literary world as well as our own practice.

Where I get stumped is the "now what?" I am passionate about giving my students a place in my school's library that is representational. But then what? How else do I empower them to understand that they indeed have a perspective and experience worth living and READING about. How is this message conveyed to a 5 year old, a 7 year old or an 11 year old? I'm working on it, folks...

Monday, June 2, 2014

Series of Series: Amy Hodgepodge

Amy Hodgepodge is a series about a multiracial girl, Amy. From the publisher, "From comedic entertainer Kim Wayans and her writer husband, Kevin Knotts, comes a dynamic chapter book series that gives a face and a voice to multiracial children. Children of all races will identify with Amy Hodgepodge because it deals with universal themes such as feeling "different," being teased, and making new friends. Celebrate what makes you unique with the one and only Amy Hodgepodge!"  

Amy and her family.

I like this series because so many children can identify with the themes presented. It is also is unique for children who are multiracial to find a series that may mirror them. The authors sat down with blogger Honey Smoke a few years ago for an interview. Here's what they had to say about how important it was for children to "see themselves" on a book cover:

 Children, especially those of color, are almost magnetized by the covers of the books, because it’s so rare that they get to see beautiful images of kids that look like them on a book cover!  Sad, but true.

For the rest of the interview, click here. For more information and fun activities for Amy Hodgepodge, click here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


As my Book Bike launch is coming (Check out my fun Book Bike project here.), I have really been reflecting on the power of community and change. This is something that I talk about with all of my students K-5, often through read-alouds like "Magic Trash", "Biblioburro", and "Mama Miti" (from 9 trees in her back yard to nearly 40 million across the green belt!).  But I wonder how many of my students and their families actually feel like their voice is heard and holds importance in our community?

Over the last two years, I have invited public figures, the mayor, city councilors, school committee members and administration to my school library for short intimate talks with students and their families. I serve coffee and do my best to moderate. I love this forum. It is a time to speak your mind and get an immediate response, to field questions and ideas. What I do notice however, is that the same families attend over and over. While their voices and perspectives are indeed important, I worry that only a very myopic view is being represented. How can I change this? Because I operate only within the school day, 8:00-2:45, I struggle to find a more inclusive time. Also, I think about how some people's experiences in and around schools are not positive, already feeling a disassociation or even disenfranchisement with the immediate community. Then of course, there are other time obligations, jobs, interest levels, etc...

Mayor David Maher and School Committee member Fred Fantini talk to parents in the school library.

The Book Bike is an idea that may answer this in a small way. One of my main foci  as a librarian is to empower children as readers, learners and citizens in their world. For many students the access to books over the summer decreases immensely. While Cambridge has an amazing public library system, it is not fair or accurate to assume that students will be able to access it.  Going to where many children are in the summer makes sense. We will travel to 3 parks in Cambridge that will be offering other events, like movement activities and free lunch. Children are already there to play, to move, to eat, and now they will be able to hear a story and take a book home, FREE. I'm excited to see how many people we reach and whether this involves a greater swath of our community.

Follow the Book Bike on twitter: @Book_Bike
Read more about it here: www.cambridgebookbike.org

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Digging In: Magic Trash

This is a book which you can really dig into, it can open conversations about activism, social justice, race relations, segregation, social programs (or lack their of), riots, industry and of course, ART.

Generally, I reserve this as a read aloud until grade 5, because I like to get into the context of the story and really talk about how powerful a message this book has- as well as the man himself, Tyree Guyton.

It also delivers a really concrete example of how art can shift one's view- trash to art, a crack house can be turned into a masterpiece, but certainly not with out struggle. Mr. Guyton changes his neighborhood from the inside out. He is a local activist and his message reaches us all over the country and the world, it is applicable on a grand scale.

Instilling in children the fact that you don't have to travel, have lots of money or go any further than your own block to make a difference is a powerful message. You have power in your own community to affect change, use it!

There are many videos to share with students as well- here's the one I most often use:

From Amazon:
Tyree Guyton loved his childhood home--that's where his grandpa Sam taught him to "paint the world." So he wanted to wake people up... to make them see Detroit's crumbling communities.

Paintbrush in hand, Tyree cast his artistic spell, transforming everyday junk into magic trash. Soon local kids and families joined Tyree in rebuilding their neighborhood, discovering the healing power of art along the way.

This picture book biography of Tyree Guyton, an urban environmental artist, shows how he transformed his decaying, crime-ridden neighborhood into the Heidelberg Project, an interactive sculpture park. The story spans from Tyree's childhood in 1950s Detroit to his early efforts to heal his community through art in the 1980s. Tyree's awards include Michigan Artist of the Year and International Artist.

MAGIC TRASH offers strong themes of working together, the power of art, and the importance of inspiring community--especially kids--to affect action. The Heidelberg Project is internationally recognized for providing arts education to children and adults and for the ongoing development of several houses on Heidelberg Street. Not only does the Heidelberg Project prove that when a community works together it can rebuild itself, but it also addresses the issues of recycling, environmentalism, and community on a global level.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Diversity Is More Than Skin Color

How exciting- social media, articles, webinars, editorials, blog posts, and books all about how to support diversity in books. Yes! Publishers to buy them from. Yes! Ways to guide discussions around diversity. Yes! Opening doors for our kids through literature. Yes!

This blog, mainly chronicles me, my library and my effort to make a "reflective library" collection. I tend to focus on this blog mainly on the side of racial and cultural diversity, however that does not take away from my efforts to create a diverse library within the realms of gender, GLBTQ, religion, mental illness, family makeup, etc., etc. ETC., ETC. We ALL deserve a reflective library. Come find your book...

Thursday, May 1, 2014


It's 1:30 on Thursday- where's your hashtag? #WeNeedDiverseBooks
Tweet away!
Follow the reflective library on Twitter: @reflectlibrary
This is me in my library- the quote is by a wonderful co-worker. It really boils down the issue, "We need diverse books because we still need to talk about why we need diverse books." BAM!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Digging In: Wonder Horse

Just to mix up my book recommendation, because there is more to literature than series fiction, I will introduce my new rec series: Digging In. I will also pepper in more series (and other kinds of) books.

Wonder Horse : 

the true story of the world's smartest horse

by Emily Arnold McCully 

This book has multiple entry points. The illustrations, love for animals, Civil War, slavery, as well as a tie to local history (for my students)- Harvard scientists!

From the publisher: In the late 1800s, former slave and veterinarian Bill "Doc" Key realized that his new foal, Jim, was no ordinary horse. Believing in the power of kindness and patience, Doc taught Jim to spell, recognize the primary colors, and even make change from a cash register!  
Performing in shows across the country, Jim stunned audiences with his incredible skills. But when some people called Jim a fake, Doc set out to prove them wrong and to show the world that, thanks to the power of kindness and patience, Jim was truly a wonder horse.

I have used this book with children in the 3rd through 5th grades. We look at this story as one of perseverance within the context of history as well as outside of it. I use the author's note liberally in my lessons with this book, as it helps lead the discussions. When questions arise, we write them down and research further, we dig in. What if Jim Key were a white man at this time? Would people have more readily believed him? Have you faced difficulties or injustices in your life? Have you witnessed them in another's life? How can you affect change? How did Doc affect change? 
And because I am a librarian, I also take this opportunity to introduce primary sources from the Tennessee Virtual Archive. : )

We Need Diverse Books: Twitter Campaign

The blogosphere and social media platforms are abuzz. The Tumblr, "We Need Diverse Books" has created a platform for stating our reasons WHY we need these books. Here's the post. I have copied the "action" agenda below.

Here's the information that is necessary for you to jump on this righteous wagon:
On May 1st at 1pm (EST), there will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. We’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. We want people to tweet, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blog, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.
For the visual part of the campaign: 
  • Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you. 
  • The photo can be of you or a friend or anyone who wants to support diversity in kids’ lit. It can be a photo of the sign without you if you would prefer not to be in a picture. Be as creative as you want! Pose the sign with your favorite stuffed animal or at your favorite library. Get a bunch of friends to hold a bunch of signs. 
  • However you want to do it, we want to share it! There will be a Tumblr at http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/ that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1stto weneeddiversebooks@yahoo.com with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on our Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day. 
  • Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be your job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever you think will help get the word out. 
  • The intent is that from 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word. We hope that we’ll get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets.
  • The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long we need to keep this discussion going, so we welcome everyone to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st.
On May 2nd, the second part of our campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.
On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of our campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign! More details to come!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Students Help Build A Reflective Library

I work hard on being a reflective librarian however, checking and balancing one's own decisions and collection development is not optimal, as oneself can be very subjective. Certainly, the teachers in my building and their curricula needs offer a clear road to developing certain Dewey sections- Revolutionary Massachusetts, rocks and minerals, liquids and viscosity, narrative and expository nonfiction. But, I don't just serve myself and my teachers, I serve my students- hence the blog.

With the scaffolding of an amazing professor and friend, as well as a parent of a student at my school, I have begun interviewing small groups of 4th grade boys of color about what a "reflective library" means to them. We talked about the definition of "reflective" and "reflection". They spoke to how reflection can be an inward study of ones choices and a study in introspection, or maybe a reflection of things we like, and even a physical image of oneself, like in a mirror.

I told my first group of boys, that it is really important to me, as their librarian, that I have a library that reflects them. One of the first students I met with said a library that reflects him would have adventure books, and books with curious children. Yes! What else? Books about disasters, like the Titanic. So far so good. We talked about our interests and books that reflected our interests and personalities.

Making sure that they knew their ideas were heard and validated, I then steered the conversation to the physical aspect of the reflective definition. I asked them about books that have characters of color on their covers. They told me this is not something they thought about too much. I probed a little further, inquiring what they thought an author's message may be having a character of color on a book cover, and this is the response that floored me,
"The author wants me to learn about my ancestors and history."

This hits the nail on the head. This child has completely internalized the message that constantly bombards our readers of color, the stories worth writing and publishing are told in the historical context of the Civil War, Slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. While these are important historical and social movements that should be celebrated, it should NOT be the only context for readers of color to find themselves. The other child in the group simply stated that, "Maybe the publishers don't have enough money for color ink."

How can we allow these detrimental and prejudicial practices to continue? I do not want my students sitting passively, accepting the deleterious practices of publishing and media. We are ready for action. We need support, we need to have discourse and we need your help too. Join us!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Reflecting the Lives of a More Diverse Group"

 As publishing practices that disenfranchise our youth of color continue, we are hearing more authors give voice against these harmful conventions. Matt de la Peña is the most recent author to come out in support of diversity in children's literature, asking, "Where's the African American Harry Potter or Mexican Katniss?" in an article posted on CNN's Living site.

What seems most powerful about this article, was the fact that de la Peña didn't realize that the stories he was writing COULD even get published. He never felt represented in books, until he read Junot Diaz's "Drown".

Photo from http://www.cnn.com/
"'Drown' by Junot Diaz was the first book that made me think I might be able to make writing my livelihood," de la Peña said. "And I thought, 'Wait, people publish the kind of stories I write?' That novel made me feel like publishing was a possibility. And then I started digging in on the hard work."

What else are we robbing our children from accomplishing by not having a reflective body of children's literature? How will we change the deleterious effect these publishing practices have on our youth? 

I hope that this conversation will continue to be pushed forward. This is an issue that should not be a "fad". We currently have press supporting the discussion, but sometimes I worry once the issue leaves our society's very myopic view, where will we be? Where would Matt de la Peña's books be if he hadn't found Junot Diaz? My library would be short some great and representative reads...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What an Inspirational Conference!

If you look back to my first post on this blog, I attended an *awful*, yet inspirational conference in 2012 which rocketed me into my current passion of having a "reflective library".

Me with Walter Dean Myers!
Well, last week, I went to an *awesome* and inspirational conference at the JFK Library in Boston called, "To Light the World: Stories of Hope and Courage in Challenging Times".  The focus of the conference was how to use literature to aid conversation and action. Speakers included Doreen Rappaport and Walter Dean Myers (I know, right?!). As you can imagine hearing them speak on such a topic was edifying.

Luckily, the subject of publishing was broached and the speakers had somethings to say...
Doreen Rappaport spoke to the fact that she would like to publish books on less well known figures, but the publishers will not allow this to happen because of (drum roll...) MONEY! Making money, that is...you know, "the bottom line". Her quote was "publishers are cowardly", dictated by their purse strings.

Why is this?
It at least has partly to do with the current market. As libraries lose funding and brick and mortar book stores disappear, consumers will most likely "buy what they know", the serendipity aspect of book browsing in the stacks has all but vanished. It is risky to feature a new author, new subject or anything out of the mainstream because where will readers find it?

What can we do?
I think we can certainly support authors, books and bookstores that feature books that aren't "mainstream" but this is assuming that the books are being published. Sure, some are, check out publishers like Lee & Low and their imprints as well as Candlewick Press and other small publishing houses, however we know these are but drops in the proverbial bucket.

Walter Dean Myers had a pretty radical idea in regards to publishing that I would love to see some movement around. He believes that we as a COMMUNITY need to put pressure on less typical publishing houses such as university presses. Could a Harvard type university begin publishing books with characters of color? Walter Dean Myers thinks so- he believes the money and need is there. Now we just need to make some noise...

Mr. Meyers (reread his NYT OpEd here) closed out his session with this:
"No matter what the problem is, the individual is the answer...We need to reengage children in their own salvation."
Amen. Let's start this revolution and have our children lead us!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Series of Series: Pet Club

This a sweet early reader, 8 book series. These books are about a group of friends taking care of pets, sometimes there is mystery, sometimes drama, but there is always a problem to be solved by these dynamic friends. Great for the beginning reader. The author is Gwendolyn Hooks, she is a blogger for
  The Brown Bookshelf, a wonderful resource that you should bookmark...right now! The organization describes itself as:

Image from

The Brown Bookshelf is designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers. Our flagship initiative of is 28 Days Later, a month-long showcase of the best in Picture Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels written and illustrated by African Americans. 

Read more about Gwendolyn Hooks by visiting her website.
Read a summary of each of the eight books here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Series of Series: Buzz Beaker

Buzz Beaker is a boy with a scientific mind! He is one smart cookie and never afraid to try new things.  He has many books in two styles:
Capstone Press publishes "Buzz Beaker Brainstorm" which is more of a graphic novel format and Stone Arch publishes Buzz in a more "Early Reader" format.

Now, perhaps you groaned a little when you heard the words "series" and "graphic novel" in the same sentence, but don't worry! These books are incredibly motivating and on top of that, they are what we call "hi/lo" books, meaning they will appeal to children with a "low" reading level and a "high" interest level. This is no small feat. Buzz can be enjoyed from 1st grade - 6th grade, no problem. Is it great literature? No. But are your children reading? Yes. Case closed. I love Buzz.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Series of Series: Ling & Ting

Grace Lin is an amazing and award winning author best known for her chapter books for children, here is her debut as an author of early readers featuring twins, Ling & Ting! These twins may be identical in looks, but it ends there... The two books in the series (I use the term loosely here...here's hoping there are more in the works!), "Ling & Ting Not Exactly the Same" and "Ling & Ting Share a Birthday"  prove that these sisters are funny, complex and charming in their own ways. I don't think these books have seen the shelf in my library, they are constantly in circulation.

The New York Times Book Review wrote the following:

While there are some excellent books with modern Asian-American characters for older children, there are very few in the early-reader category. “Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same!” is a fine addition to the shelf. Even the youngest children should find themselves drawn along to the next page by engaging stories that unfold illustration by illustration.

For the complete review, click here.

Passive But Profound?

As many of you may know, books displayed with covers out will circulate far more than books with just their spine showing. I am careful about making sure the covers are showing diversity in gender, race, religion and topic. Certainly, it is not perfect everyday (especially after 5 classes in a row!), but the effort is made. This is an easy way to send a message of inclusiveness. Now, I am not sure if the kids in my library will notice this outright, but I can't help but think this is sending the message even in its seeming passivity.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Well Then, Where Are the Books?

While we are aware that the number of children's books that feature diverse children/characters is dismally low, that doesn't mean there are not books that fit this demographic. Lee & Low Publishing put out a blog post today about where to begin, click HERE.

Highlights include lists of publishers, blogs that review and highlight diverse books, and  books stores across the that feature diverse books. For those readers in Massachusetts like me, there is a bookstore featured in Boston (a wonderful GBLTQ supportive shop), Calamus Bookstore.

The best way to support these publishing practices is to purchase the books, ask for your local libraries to purchase these books and then check them out!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Series of Series: Dyamonde Daniel

Here is a series about a little girl, Dyamonde Daniel. In the first book of the series, Dyamonde is a new student in school. She is not meek, but strong and determined to make friends. This is refreshing in its self, a new girl not being portrayed as trepidatious, but rather strong in herself and not deterred by her "newness". I would describe Dyamonde as a spunky character with great appeal, she is easy to route for (more so than some of her literary peers which I find a bit whiny...*cough* Junie B. Jones *cough*).

The author of this series, is the wonderful and prolific Nikki Grimes. She has written a plethora of books which are incredibly popular in my library and many libraries across the country. Two years ago, Lee & Low Publishing posed the question to writers and scholars of color, why aren't more books featuring non-white protagonists published? Here is part of Nikki Grimes's response:

I, myself, am finding it exceedingly challenging to sell at the level I was even five years ago. There are still too few people of color represented in the decision-making positions in publishing, as well. But I think it’s more than that. I think authors of color who do not produce manuscripts that fit an expected demographic, who, for example, are writing books featuring characters who are middle class, instead of poor, or characters who live in two-parent households, instead of single-parent homes, are finding it difficult to place their manuscripts. That, of course, speaks to the perception that only people of color will want to purchase books by people of color, and so publishers want to play to the audience which they believe—wrongly or not—is the average, or the norm.

This is harrowing, if Nikki Grimes is having a more difficult time getting published how can we expect new writers or less "famous" authors to get books published that aren't writing to the "perception" of what a character of color "should" be portrayed as?

For the complete interview from Lee & Low, click here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Series of Series: EllRay Jakes

Students in my library love series fiction. Teachers and parents sometimes will grumble when students read series but the truth is, series fiction allows a reader to feel successful. Readers can anticipate the story arc, get to know characters and make viable predictions...they can really flex those reading and fluency muscles and feel good about it!

This will be a first post in a "Series of Seriesthat have primary characters of color. I will be posting series fiction and a few words and reviews about them. Today I will focus on, "EllRay Jakes", written by Sally Warner. This is a popular series with relatively high circulation in my library, especially among 3rd and 4th grade boys. I've used these books to help coax some kids to get their nose out of the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid".

Ellray Jakes is a funny, likable 8 year old boy with broad appeal. He deals with problems that many children in school deal with, bullies, stage fright and being unsure of himself. EllRay is a character we can sympathize with. There are currently 5 books in the series, "EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken", "EllRay Jakes is a Rockstar", "Ellray Jakes Walks the Plank", "EllRay Jakes the Dragon Slayer" and "EllRay Jakes and the Beanstalk".

School Library Journal reviewed the first book in the series back in 2012:

"EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken is just the first in a long line of EllRay Jakes books to come....My hope, above all, is that EllRay paves the way for other books about other present day African-American boys. Preferably short, funny stories like these that give kids new heroes to grapple with. Writing such books isn't easy, but I've always felt that aside from easy readers, early chapter titles are the hardest and most rewarding books to make for kids. And rewarding isn't a bad word to use in conjunction with EllRay here. Better check him out."

Monday, March 17, 2014

My First Post!

The lack of representation of children of color in children's literature is a topic I have been researching and thinking about for years. This is not due to the fact that authors aren't writing these books, or illustrators aren't drawing children that aren't white, but the books are not being published because as a society, we are not placing enough importance and value on having a representational tome of children's literature.

In 2012, I went to a well known presentation hosted by a professional librarian and professor, she holds an MLS and a PhD in education. Every year, she presents a list of "best of" books for children. I quickly noticed that the only books with major characters of color had to do with the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. After her presentation, I approached her and asked about this. Her response floored me, "Those books aren't published". I pushed back a little, I wanted more of an answer. She then said something that jolted me into action in my library and district, "Well, those children can read books with animal characters, they don't have skin colors."


I went home and dove in. I quickly found the Cooperative Children's Book Center and their chilling data. Books by and about people of color are grossly underrepresented. I then found the work of the amazing Rudine Sims Bishop, who eloquently wrote,

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books. 

My library needs to have books that can be windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors, for all of the children I serve. All libraries do.

What finally propelled me to start a blog about this topic was the Op Eds written by Walter Dean Myers and his son, Christopher, in the New York Times this weekend. The amount of emails I received with the links were heartening, a.) because people know this is a near and dear subject to me and b.) because a large audience was reached this weekend. Let's turn our outrage into action! Make your child's library and book shelves reflective of our larger society.