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

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.