Many voices, many stories

As promised in my 2020 Reading Wrap-Up, a separate post about essay and short story collections.

Reading fiction – especially fiction about people whose lives are different from your own – builds empathy.

Meeting someone in real life can be the most effective way to break down prejudice against a group.

Even those who normally read voraciously have had trouble concentrating on reading, due to anxiety, trauma, or burnout this year.

How are these three things related? They all highlight the value of short story and essay collections, particularly anthologies. These collections have both breadth and depth: each piece of writing delves deep, and each has a different perspective. Together, each facet makes up the whole, and the reader comes away with more insight, more knowledge, more empathy.

Every person is only one person; we are all our own main characters. But we can do the work of learning about others’ lived experience, through fiction and memoir and essay. We cannot be considerate if what needs consideration is invisible to us; as Minh Lê writes in The Talk, “Obliviousness is not an excuse.” (My alma mater takes it one step further with its motto, Non satis scire – to know is not enough. And my husband’s alma mater continues with the motto Do something.) We cannot do something until we know.

So, for those who are short on time and/or attention, but who want to enjoy the reading experience again, delve deeply into others’ lived experiences, and hear from more and more varied voices, I recommend any and all of the following essay and short story collections.

Above: Cover images of A Map is Only One Story, Disability Visibility, and Come On In

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, edited by Alice Wong – If I could choose a handful of required reading books for everyone, this would be one of them. “Stories are the closest we can come to shared experience….Like all stories, they are most fundamentally a chance to ride around inside another head and be reminded that being who we are and where we are, and doing what we’re doing, is not the only possibility.” -Harriet McBryde Johnson

A Map Is Only One Story: Twenty Writers on Immigration, Family, and the Meaning of Home, edited by Nicole Chung and Mensah Demary – The statue of liberty has one message for immigrants; our current media landscape and politics tell another. But, except for Native Americans, everyone in the U.S. is an immigrant or is descended from immigrants, and it is incumbent on us all to ensure that the doors that were open for us remain open for others. “Immigration is not, ultimately, the story of laws or borders, but of people.” -Introduction

It’s Not About the Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality, and Race, edited by Mariam Khan – If you’re a Muslim woman, this book may be a mirror; the rest of us should be grateful for the chance to peer through this incredible bank of windows (see “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” by Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990). “I believe the role of the writer is to tell society what it pretends it does not know.” -Mona Eltahawy

The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love, and Truth, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson – Many of the pieces in this collection take the form of letters or poems to the authors’ children. The creators have different backgrounds and identities – African-American, Jewish, Cherokee, bilingual – but, as Duncan Tonatiuh writes, “Recognizing our similarities is a powerful way to combat prejudice.

The Moth and The Moth Presents All These Wonders, edited by Catherine Burns – The stories in these collections come from NPR’s “The Moth” radio show and podcast. The storytellers are wildly diverse in age, gender, race, class, socioeconomic status, career, geographic region, and any other way you can think of, but they have one thing in common: they can tell a story. “We live in a world where bearing witness to a stranger’s unfiltered story is an act of tremendous compassion. To listen with an open heart and an open mind and try to understand what it’s like to be them…takes real courage….And when we dare to listen, we remember that there is no ‘other,’ there is only us, and what we have in common will always be greater than what separates us.” -Catherine Burns

Come On In: 15 Stories About Immigration and Finding Home, edited by Adi Alsaid – The characters come from different places and have different experiences, every single one worth reading. “Don’t let anyone’s ignorance make you feel that you don’t belong somewhere. You belong wherever you are.” – Sara Farizan

Once Upon an Eid, edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed – Joyful stories of teens celebrating Eid with their families and friends. It reminded me a bit of My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins, but there are so many Christmas books published in the U.S. and not nearly enough about Muslim holidays. “Special days start when you run toward them.” -S.K. Ali

Do you have short story or essay collections you’d like to add to this list? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

2021 ALA Youth Media Awards

The ALA Youth Media Awards were announced this morning. Last year, I was doing storytime for 2- and 3-year-olds at my library during the announcement and caught up right after; today (like many others), I watched in my pajamas with my five-year-old next to me or in my lap, waiting impatiently through the YALSA awards for the ones she really cared about…the Pura Belpré and the Caldecott! (When We Are Water Protectors was finally announced as the winner, she said, “That’s the one I would have picked, too.”)

“We stand
With our songs
And our drums.
We are still here.”
-We Are Water Protectors

“A cure is not about what we want. It’s about what we need. The same is true for stories.” – When You Trap A Tiger

“When you believe, that is you being brave. Sometime, believing is the bravest thing of all.” – When You Trap A Tiger

I was excited about the books (and authors and illustrators) in every award category, starting with the Asian/Pacific American Awards: I loved Danbi Leads the School Parade (picture book honor) and Prairie Lotus (children’s literature honor), and When You Trap A Tiger (children’s lit winner – and Newbery winner!).

School Library Journal has already published an article and a complete list of the honor and award books, so, like last year, I’ll continue with the books I’ve already read in each category. I’ve already requested several of the ones that I missed (including three of the Caldecott honor books, I am embarrassed!) from the library.

  • Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim (Asian/Pacific American picture book honor)
  • Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park (Asian/Pacific American children’s literature honor)
  • When You Trap A Tiger by Tae Keller (Asian/Pacific American children’s literature winner)
  • Welcoming Elijah by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Susan Gal (Sydney Taylor picture book winner)
  • I Talk Like A River by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Schneider Family Book Award winner for young children)
  • When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Schneider Family Book Award honor for middle grade)
  • Show Me A Sign by Ann Clare LeZott (Schneider Family Book Award winner for middle grade)
  • You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson (Stonewall honor)
  • King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (Coretta Scott King author honor, Stonewall award)
  • Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (Coretta Scott King author winner)
  • Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh (Alex Award)
  • Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (Odyssey honor)
  • Sharuko by Monica Brown, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri (Pura Belpré illustrator honor)
  • ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl Gonzalez (Pura Belpré illustrator winner)
  • Honeybee by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann (Sibert award winner)
  • Ty’s Travels: Zip, Zoom! by Kelly Starling Lyons (Theodor Seuss Geisel honor)
  • What About Worms!? by Ryan T. Higgins (Theodor Seuss Geisel honor)
  • Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby (Caldecott honor)
  • We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (Caldecott winner)
  • Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Newbery honor)
  • We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly (Newbery honor)
  • When You Trap A Tiger by Tae Keller (Newbery winner)

Travis Jonker over at SLJ invites readers to fill out a 2021 “Caldecott Comment Card.” Since I only read two(!) out of the five Caldecott honor/award books this year, I can’t say how the handful of titles I was hoping for compare, but I was sad not to see Minh Lê and Dan Santat’s Lift on the list at all (I think Sophie Blackall’s If You Come to Earth was tremendous also, but she’s already won twice). As a wise librarian friend said this morning, “I don’t envy the committees. Such hard decisions.”

So, thank you to everyone who served on any committee; thank you to all of the authors and illustrators who created books last year, and their publishers; and thanks to the booksellers and other librarians who are going to get these (and many other) books into the hands of readers, one way or the other (hurray for contactless pickup!).