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.
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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.