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.

Books as gifts for the classroom

Many daycare, preschool, pre-K, and elementary school teachers have their own classroom libraries. They usually develop these libraries out of pocket, or through donations; adding a new book is a way to build that library and increase the number of books kids have ready access to.

Here are a number of relatively new books that would be great additions to classroom libraries – and the majority of the authors and illustrators are BIPOC. I’ve separated them into categories by age, but please don’t treat that as a hard-and-fast rule.

Ages 2+

Hello, Hello by Brendan Wenzel

Carrot & Pea by Morag Hood

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin

A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes

Rain! by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer

Ages 3+

Saturday by Oge Mora

Want to Play Trucks? by Ann Stott, illustrated by Bob Graham

Hank’s Big Day by Evan Kuhlman, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love

Ralph and Rita’s Rotten Day by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Pete Oswald

The Adventures of Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

Lift by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington

Ages 4+

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Owen by Kevin Henkes

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

The Someone New by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EJ Keller

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua

World Pizza by Cece Meng, illustrated by Ellen Shi

Unstoppable! by Adam Rex

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

First Day of School

The Class by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kimberly Gee

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

Truman by Jean Reidy

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

 

As an additional resource, Tinkergarten pulled together a list of “24 Books with Black Protagonists by Black Authors.” Representation matters – all kids need to see themselves reflected in literature (positively!). And if your students are homogeneous, then diverse books can serve as “windows” to show them that the world is full of all kinds of people. (The “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” analogy was coined by Rudine Sims Bishop; Debbie Reese, founder of American Indians in Children’s Literature, would add “curtains” as well, that certain stories may be kept within a culture.)

Teachers, please chime in on the topic of classroom libraries. Do you welcome donations? Do you keep a wish list? Do you (or your students) have favorite titles, either for read-alouds or reading alone? What else should parents/caregivers/guardians/volunteers know about classroom libraries?

 

Anti-racist book lists: a place to start

No one would argue that 2020 has been a pretty rough year so far. We’re facing the effects of climate change and the very real and immediate specter of worse to come; we’ve got a global pandemic; and here in the U.S., we have a president who refuses to lead a coherent, science-based, national response to either the COVID-19 pandemic or the epidemic of racism our country is also battling.

I’ve done a lot of reading about all of these things, but less writing about them. I compiled most of the anti-racism resources below in early June, but at the time, the internet was flooded with similar resources; did I need to create a selected bibliography of them? (I didn’t, really, but my instinct is always to take notes, document, and share, so if they are useful to you, fantastic.)

On June 15, the New England Library Association (NELA) published a statement that reads, in part, “Let us all stand together, build coalitions, and be each other’s accomplices in the struggle to end internal, interpersonal, and systematic forms of racism and all other forms of oppression….Racism, in all its forms, destroys our communities. We must all proactively work on eradicating racism anywhere and everywhere it exists” (emphasis added).

I have been thinking – as a white parent and librarian – about how to do that, and what advice I can share about how to be anti-racist and how to raise anti-racist kids. I’ve boiled it down to a few points, for now:

  1. White parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians need to normalize talking about race. Though some of us were taught to be “colorblind” in the ’90s, what we really need to be is “color conscious.” If talking about race is taboo, that makes it seem uncomfortable, and shameful, and then we arrive at the point where even mentioning race is considered racist. But if we refuse to recognize the racism around us, and can’t talk about it, we can’t work to dismantle it. (Note that even the option to talk about race or not is part of white privilege.)
  2. Books provide an entry point to discuss many topics. If you’re involved in selecting books for kids (if you’re a parent, caregiver, teacher, librarian), make the effort to choose books that show all kinds of people. Don’t let white be the default. Don’t let animals be the default (as much as we may love hedgehogs and bears). Most of us live in communities that are effectively segregated; if kids don’t see diversity around them, at least they can see it in picture books.
  3. If you’re seeking books that show Black characters, make sure you are not just getting biographies of civil rights heroes or stories of enslavement. Select books that show Black joy as well. There is a wealth of contemporary Black stories – enough for every month of the year, not just Black History Month. Seek out and read #ownvoices books.
  4. Definitions are important. Racism is structural, historical, and present-tense. We live in a racist society; it’s “the water we swim in.” As the song from Avenue Q goes, “Everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes,” even if our intentions are good. But white intentions don’t matter as much as white actions. So…
  5. Listen. Speak with care. Have humility. We will make mistakes; don’t let fear of making mistakes keep us from doing the work. Apologize, repair, listen some more.

A selected bibliography of anti-racism resources, June 2020

CrownOde

“Discussing Race with Young Kids,” Rachel G. Payne and Jessica Ralli, School Library Journal, September 24, 2018. https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=discussing-race-with-young-kids-first-steps

“What White Children Need to Know About Race,” National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), https://www.nais.org/magazine/independent-school/summer-2014/what-white-children-need-to-know-about-race/

“Talking to Kids About Race,” Lindsey Krabbenhoft, Jbrary, July 21, 2016. https://jbrary.com/talking-to-kids-about-race/

“A Nonfiction Anti-Racist Reading List,” Publishers Weekly, June 3, 2020. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/83485-an-anti-racist-reading-list.html

“Antiracist Books for Kids,” Kirkus https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-lists/antiracist-books-kids/#a-good-kind-of-trouble

“10 Antiracist Books for Teens,” Kirkus https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-lists/10-antiracist-books-young-adults/

“10 Books That Challenge Racism,” Kirkus https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-lists/10-books-challenge-racism/

“Antiracist Resources and Reads: Lists for All Ages,” Elizabeth (Betsy) Bird, School Library Journal, June 2, 2020. http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2020/06/02/antiracist-resources-and-reads-lists-for-all-ages/

“Because Black Lives Matter, A Collection of Antiracist Reading Lists,” Karen Jensen, School Library Journal, June 1, 2020. http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2020/06/because-black-lives-matter-a-collection-of-anti-racist-reading-lists/

“Our Modern Minstrelsy,” Kekla Magoon, The Horn Book, June 3, 2020 https://www.hbook.com/?detailStory=our-modern-minstrelsy

“Young Dreamers,” Christopher Myers, The Horn Book, August 6, 2013 https://www.hbook.com/?detailStory=young-dreamers

Reading While White http://readingwhilewhite.blogspot.com

We Are Kid Lit Collective https://wtpsite.wordpress.com

The Brown Bookshelf https://thebrownbookshelf.com

We Need Diverse Books

The most recent issue of Kirkus is a “diversity issue,” with about 40 pages of articles and essays that give different perspectives on diversity in literature. I’m still making my way through it, but I loved this quote from author Padma Venkatraman:

“Books are more than mere mirrors or windows; they are keys to compassion. And novels don’t just expose readers to differences, they allow readers to experience diversity. They allow us to live within another’s skin, think another’s thoughts, feel the depths of another’s soul. Novels transport, transform, and, most importantly, allow us to transcend prejudice. When we immerse ourselves in characters whose religions are different than our own, our empathy is enhanced. We move closer to embracing people of all religions.”

It reminded me a bit of the way Neil Gaiman talks about fiction (“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been”), and what Caitlin Moran wrote in her essay “Alma Mater” about growing up in the library:

“The shelves were supposed to be loaded with books – but they were, of course, really doors….A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination….They are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead.”

When Venkatraman writes about mirrors and windows, she is referencing Rudine Sims Bishop’s 1990 article “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Books that are mirrors reflect the reader’s self and own world back at them; books that are windows show the reader another person or people and world; books that are sliding glass doors allow the reader to “enter” another world.

The San Antonio Public Library page “Diversity in the Classroom: Building Your (Early Childhood) Library with Mirrors and Windows” has a video clip of Bishop from January 2015. In it, Bishop says, “Children need to see themselves reflected, but books can also be windows, so you can look through and see other worlds, and see how they match up or don’t match up to [your] own. But the sliding glass door allows you to enter that world as well, so that’s the reason diversity needs to go both ways.” She says that just as children of color need to see themselves in books, white children – who see plenty of themselves in books – need to see characters of other cultures, races, and religions as well, to provide a more accurate picture of the world as it is (“colorful”).

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement FAQ page cites an infographic produced by multicultural publisher Lee & Low Books (“About everyone. For everyone”), which used statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and census data. Although 37% of the U.S. population are people of color, only 10% of published children’s books contain multicultural content. Note that that includes books where the main character might not be a person of color, and it also doesn’t mean that the author was a person of color.

We Need Diverse Books virtual buttonWhere do we go from here? We need more diversity at all levels of publishing, in libraries, in schools, in the bookselling business. We need to write, publish, read, and promote diverse books; “multicultural books don’t sell” is no longer a valid argument, if it ever was. We need more stories about more different people and places. We’re getting there, but too slowly.

8/17/17 Edited to add:

As I made my way through the rest of the issue, I found two more quotes I wanted to share. The first is from Megan Dowd Lambert, an author, senior lecturer in children’s literature at Simmons, and Kirkus reviewer; she in turn is quoting Mary Robinette Kowel:

“It’s not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity, it’s about subtracting homogeneity for the sake of realism.”

Though our society is far more segregated than it ought to be, and some kids may rarely see people outside of their own race, culture, or class, the world is “colorful” and literature ought to reflect that. In fact, books are where many people encounter new ideas and perspectives and learn about the world. “Armchair traveling” isn’t just for seeing the lives of ancient royalty, dangerous mountain-climbing expeditions, or sea voyages; it may be a way to see into the next neighborhood.

“…Disability comes from scarcity and environment and other people’s prejudices as much as the body. Silencing the word can silence real injustices, emotions, and experiences. Diverse books are tools for empathy, but we can’t address what we won’t say.”

This is from Amy Robinson, children’s librarian and Kirkus reviewer. She makes an important point about environment contributing to disability. Are our built environments inclusive, or do they present barriers? (Do elevators work? Are aisles wide enough? Are there ramps or only stairs? Is signage large and clear? Are there curb cuts on sidewalks? Are sidewalks even or broken, covered in snow or cleared?) In many cases, a disability may only present extra difficulty because of obstacles in the world – in the built environment or as part of prevailing cultural and societal ideas. Let’s figure out what those obstacles are (it’s often very hard to imagine, so ask people who confront them) and start removing them.