We’re the People Summer Reading List 2016

Collage of covers from We're the People reading list books including Drum Dream Girl, Almost Zero, Americanah, In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, Show and Prove, A Time to Dance, Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, Brown Girl Dreaming, and A is for Activist.

We Are the People is once again providing a summer list for all our children. It includes books written or illustrated by Native Americans or people of color. Some have disabilities. Others are LGBTQIA. All are books that we would proudly place in any child’s hands. This year’s list was created by Thaddeus Andracki, Edith Campbell, Sarah Park Dahlen, Sujei Lugo, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Nathalie Mvondo, Debbie Reese and Edward Spicer.

This year’s list can be found on our new website which is located at: https://wtpsite.wordpress.com/. Last year’s Facebook site will remain in place, but we will put no new information there. Everything will be on the website. Please direct any questions or concerns to Edith Campbell (crazyquilts@hotmail.com). We hope all the young people you know find enjoyment reading the books on our 2016 We Are the People Summer Reading List.

Randy Ribay’s AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES and YA Participation in Rape Culture

From the moment I heard about it, I was excited to read Randy Ribay’s An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes. Nerd stuff? Check. Gay stuff? Check. Filipino author writing characters of color? Oh yeah. It’s been promoted at places like We Need Diverse Books and The Pirate Tree as an excellent example of what needs to be happening in YA literature.

There was much that I liked about it, too. The writing is poetic and urgent, the characters are complex and richly developed, and the road trip that the four protagonists take is an excellent coming-of-age journey.

The story follows four friends whose friendship is no deeper than playing Dungeons and Dragons once a week at the home of Mari, a biracial, adopted girl reeling from some difficult news. There’s also Archie, a white guy whose father recently came out as gay; Dante, a Black teen who’s struggling with his own coming out; and Sam, a young Filipino man recently dumped by his longtime girlfriend. The four set out on a cross-country trip to try to catch up with Sam’s girlfriend and possibly win her back, in the process deepening their friendship. I was thoroughly enjoying the book.

Until they reached Minnesota.

Trigger warning: sexual harassment/assault

Along the way, they make a stop at a home in Minnesota, recommended by a hitchhiker they picked up as a safe place. Upon arriving, the place most definitely does not seem very safe. They come upon “four men reclining in lawn chairs around a bonfire, drinking from red plastic cups” (163). Soon after inquiring with the name they were given, they’re told they don’t know anyone by either the hitchhiker’s or the supposed homeowner’s name—and that they’re trespassing. Then things get real disturbing:

[Archie] starts to back up but then bumps into someone. He turns around and comes face to face with the other two guys who, having left their places at the fire, must have circled around and snuck up behind them. One is skinny and short, grinning to reveal gleaming, white teeth. The other is fat and unsmiling.

The bearded guy takes a puff from his pipe, still seated at the fire. “They have to pay the price.”

“Fuck you,” Sam says. He moves to walk away, but the fat guy blocks his path. Sam stares him down but thinks better of it and rejoins his friends.

“As we were saying,” says the skinny guy, still smirking. “The price.”

“What is it?” Archie asks. “We don’t have much money.”

The skinny guy looks over at the bearded guy who nods.

“Her,” the skinny guy says, tilting his chin toward Mari. (164).

Mari then stands up for herself, prompting the “bearded guy” to get up, stand creepily close to Mari, and sniff her hair. Archie says, “Don’t even think about touching her,” to which the “skinny guy” replies, “Too late” (165).

The tone here is one that implies sexual assault, at least very plainly to me. Mari is threatened, seriously, with rape. Until the men start laughing, shrugging off the whole scene with a “We’re just fucking with you.”

It turns out, the four men are actually two gay couples, they definitely know Sunshine (the hitchhiker), and they’re happy to have the four friends stay for the evening.

As I read this scene, I was literally shaking—first with fear for what was going to happen to Mari, and then abruptly with rage at the sheer awfulness of four gay men making such terrible, ominous threats as a “joke.” I had to set the book aside and take a few breaths before being able to continue. And then, the tone shifts at breakneck speed into a happy-go-lucky party.

There is no recognition of the horror of this scene. Once it’s over, the four road-tripping friends happily mingle with the four gay guys, swimming late into the night, drinking, and crashing until they can continue the next morning. Not a word is said about how terrifying and terrible the way the groups were introduced was. The “rape joke” is shrugged off and glossed over completely, even by Mari. It’s completely ignored. No one says “sorry,” or, “That wasn’t okay,” or “Are you okay, Mari?” or even “Hey, that was a dick move.”

Look, I’m no naïf. I know that men—especially young men—make jokes like this all the time. This is why we have developed the concept of rape culture: it’s pervasive. Sexual assault is everywhere, and it’s considered “normal.” You can shrug my anger off by saying, “it’s realistic.” Sure. But a book that is being marketed and applauded as a remarkable example of diversity—and particularly, intersectionality—can’t ignore the fact that it’s so completely steeped in patriarchy that horrifying references to sexual assault are reduced to being unworthy of conversation.

It’s not like Ribay doesn’t recognize that harmful content shouldn’t go unaddressed in his book, either. At one point, Archie calls Dante a “fag,” and Mari calls him on it. Archie is made to apologize. Look, slurs are terrible, but honestly, “joking” about raping someone is worse. Yet, the former is the one that needs to be addressed in Ribay’s book; the latter is conveniently glossed over.

Mari is a biracial, Black woman. She is literally the kind of woman Kimberlé Crenshaw had in mind when she developed the idea of intersectionality. And for all of its buzzword-y appeal in this moment, Crenshaw calls us to remember that the intersection of race and gender oppression is a very dangerous place to stand. The audacity of four (presumably White) gay men making such demeaning and scary advances on a woman of color without a word is something that I’m unwilling to let go unaddressed. In particular, I want to point out something that many other people have pointed out before me (here’s the Crunk Feminist Collective on a situation that deals with similar themes—the Azealia Banks/Perez Hilton brouhaha): gay men don’t get a pass on sexism. Again, for the people in the back: GAY. MEN. DON’T. GET. A. PASS. ON. SEXISM.

And yet, that’s exactly what’s happening here. The four gay men get to presume access to Mari’s body in order to make a joke, and when they’re done, it’s like it never happened. Their world gets back to normal. Ribay writes a biracial girl without thinking about the concerns that a biracial girl might have after having thought that she was in a dangerous situation. I can’t imagine that a biracial girl like Mari, after having been in this situation, would have actually been okay with staying with these men for the rest of the night. It’s almost as though any of Mari’s reactions don’t matter.

I think this book participates in the sexism of the YA in a particularly terrible way. It’s not exactly a new realization that YA exists in the patriarchy, and patriarchy exists in YA. Please see Justine Larbalestier on awards, Kelly Jensen on honoring girls’ stories, and Tessa Gratton on the Andrew Smith debacle for just a tiny introduction to this pervasive problem.

Honestly, I found the whole book kind of sugarcoated in male privilege. Archie is pretty much an asshole throughout the entire book, especially toward women, and he’s rewarded for it. Also, their journey is about Sam trying to get back with a girl who’s made it very clear that she’s no longer interested, ending with the realization that (spoiler!) he was actually the good one in the relationship. The sexual harassment of Mari in Minnesota is merely the most egregious example.

I’m not going to say that’s it’s not okay to like this book. Rachael at the Social Justice League has offered advice on how to be a fan of problematic things, if you have a different interpretation or reaction to this scene. What I am very concerned about is the fact that I have not seen any reaction to this scene, anywhere. Ribay’s book has been been hailed as the next big thing in LGBTQ and racially diverse fiction. (And it really does make important contributions there!) But it has serious problems with unproblematically assuming rape culture as a given. And for that, I can’t see myself recommending it as a “diverse book.”

You don’t get to write a diverse book as though biracial girls don’t matter. You don’t get to write a diverse book and have it participate in rape culture.

Spoiler ahead in next paragraph.

Also, there’s something a bit uncomfortable about men with wives writing books with gay characters that end with a gay-bashing (*cough* Andrew Smith *cough*), but I’ll just leave that there.

qla @ Gerber/Hart Library and Archives

rae-anne montague

On Saturday, July 19, participants from the queer library alliance (qla) had an opportunity to visit the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives, which contains over 14,000 volumes, 800 periodical titles, and 100 archival collections featuring records of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and related organizations from Chicago and around the Midwest.

We toured the facility and assisted with processing an incredible collection of photographs featuring the legendary drag queen Miss Tillie, the Dirty Old Lady of Chicago, and friends dating from the 1940s.

Gerber/Hart Melissa Funfsinn and Lucas McKeever in the Archives

Gerber/Hart Brianna Walker, Alice Logue, and Thaddeus Andracki processing photographs

Gerber/Hart Taylor Parks and Brianna Walker processing photographs

Gerber/Hart Molly Wayne processing photographs

Gerber/Hart Alice Logue and Rae-Anne Montague processing photographs

This extensive set of photos documenting an important facet of our history is a good example of the valuable resources Gerber/Hart strives to preserve.

If you are in Chicago, check out

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“I think that if we can’t go back, then we should try even harder to go forward”

I am stunned at the news that Walter Dean Myers has passed.

Walter Dean Myers changed the shape of young adult literature. He was the first winner of the Printz Award and won the Coretta Scott King Medal five times.

Walter Dean Myers changed the shape of Black children’s and young adult literature. His work was groundbreaking in so many ways, giving young people portraits that reflected their lives.

As a friend on Twitter said, “We are all better librarians because we have the pleasure and honor of being able to hand Walter Dean Myers books to our patrons.”

There are kids whose lives will be affected that we will not get to see the 15 or so books Myers thought he still had in him when I met him last year. There are kids whose lives will be affected by the fact that they will not hear Myers—someone who looks like them and who has lived a life like theirs—say that “reading is not optional.” That is an incomparable loss.

Mr. Myers was one of the most gracious men I have ever met. One of the most widely known names in YA literature had nothing but kind words when I picked him up from the local high school, walked him across the street to my apartment building, and shuttled him across town in my old Honda Civic to the Juvenile Detention Center. To know that his kind of graciousness is not in the world is an inconceivable blow.

As Phil Bildner has pointed out, there is a cruel irony in the fact that Mr. Myers passed on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act’s passage.

Mr. Myers charged us not long before his passing with work to be done. Let us do that work.

Rest in power, Mr. Myers.

Queer Library Alliance at Children’s Literature Hawai‘i

You may remember a post from the time my friend Rae-Anne Montague—professor of library and information science at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa—and I presented on developing queer/library alliances at the American Association of School Librarians National Conference in November. On June 6, Rae and I again spoke on some of the same topics at the Children’s Literature Hawai‘i Seventeenth Biennial Conference at Chaminade University in Honolulu during a session called “A Queer Library Alliance for Young People: Using Books with LGBTQ content.” We wanted to provide information about that state of queer issues and materials—especially in libraries and especially with regards to local concerns in Hawai‘i—and how libraries, community organizations, teachers, and parents can select materials and work with community partnerships to improve the lives of young people whose lives are impacted by discrimination of LGBTQ folks.

The conference was absolutely fantastic. We attended other sessions at the conference, including a paper presentation about the ways that picture book adaptations of mo‘olelo from the 1970s both subvert and reinforce settler colonial lenses, a talk introducing works that blend elements of Japanese manga and Native Hawaiian culture, and a workshop on teaching peace and social justice to kids using books. CLH does some pretty amazing work, and we were happy to join them.

Here’s the abstract from our talk:

This session includes three sections. Firstly, we review options for selecting materials with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (GLBTQ) content to support personal and community goals. Secondly, we look at challenges to providing access to queer materials. Finally, we consider possibilities to develop collections and programming with GLBTQ content aligned with emerging needs of children and young adults. Presenters will offer ideas and incorporate examples to encourage participants to share knowledge and engage in open discussion throughout the session.

Slides from our talk (PowerPoint and PDF), as well as a nonfiction bibliography handout generously provided by Christine Jenkins and Michael Cart, are available for sharing! I think our talk was useful for several people who attended the conference, and we hope that you find the slides useful, too. We’ve also got a photo of us from our session, sharing books that we’d particularly wanted to recommend.

Our session

Rae and I at our session

A hui hou kākou!

“Change is necessary and overdue”: A Letter Regarding the Chief

What follows is a letter written by a friend to the UIUC administration regarding Chief Illiniwek. With her permission, I have shared this letter here to help amplify her voice. TW for suicidal ideation and gun violence.

To: Chancellor Wise, the Board of Trustees, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and all Native American, Indigenous, First Nations and Aboriginal People

April 3, 2014

My name is Xochitl Sandoval, I am an indigenous student here at UIUC. I write this to you as a condensed statement and explanation of my experience as a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I hope it finds you in a good way and is met with a receptive spirit. What I write to you is very personal and very sacred because it is about my life, and the legacy of disrespect and racism towards myself and the indigenous people who lived on this land and who continue to bear the unbelievable burden of having to fight for respect. This letter is not only for you, but it is also a statement that I intend on circulating to as many places and people as possible, so if some parts are written in a way that is not meant directly for you, it is because they are for the larger audience.

On March 11, I had the thought that I should commit suicide. On March 11, 2014, I specifically thought “blow your brains out on the quad.” My process was as follows: Write a letter to Mr. Jamie and explain that this whole Chief situation was so unbearable, and the apathy on behalf of Administration so painful, that it was obvious that nothing was going to change. Maybe suicide was the way. I would then purchase a gun, load it, go onto the quad, stand facing Union, bring the gun up to my temple, and pull the trigger.

Maybe by committing suicide, you, Chancellor Phyllis Wise, the Board of Trustees, and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Administration will realize that no, I am not exaggerating about the emotional, physical and spiritual pain that seeing the former-yet-still-lingering Chief mascot has on me.

On March 3, 2014, I wrote an email to my Spanish professor expressing my concerns as a student in her class. One student had been wearing sweatshirts with the name ‘Chief’ on them, and a second came with a sweater that had the image on it. In this email I articulated to her that as a student, I had rights that had been outlined by the University that ensured every student would have “freedom to learn, free and open expression with limits that do not interfere with the rights of others, respect for the dignity of others, and personal and institutional openness to constructive change.” I explained to her that as an indigenous student, this image and every likeness to it represented a complete disregard for American Indian culture and spiritual practices, and that every time I saw it, it was not only an emotional stab, but also an impediment to my academic success. In the student handbook in Section 1-302 Rules of Conduct, number 5 states that “engaging in behavior which is so persistent, pervasive, or severe as to deny a person’s ability to participate in the University community” is grounds for discipline, which every likeness to the Chief is to me. Additionally, the University’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access outlines in Campus Climate Section 2 “Hostile Environments” states that a hostile environment, which is prohibited by university policy, consists of, but is not limited to “unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance, by creating an objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment” which the image and the people who continue to use the image have created for me.

Upon emailing this letter to her, I went to see the Dean of Students to create a formal complaint. The Dean referred me to the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access to meet with an attorney to further discuss this situation. I met with the attorney on March 11, after which, while walking across the quad on my way to the Native American House, I watched myself purchase a gun and commit suicide on the quad.

The attorney told me that the only two options that were available to me were to either mediate a conversation with the students who were using the Chief name and logo, or to give a presentation to my class without mentioning my complaint about how this mascot was offensive to some American Indian people. To the first, I was appalled. I did not understand the logic in having to confront the people who were the ones hurting me, and so I said no. To the second, I stated that if she had a responsibility to take action, to go ahead, but for me it would not be a solution. A presentation is something I can, and have done. I was not, and am not, looking to settle for a band-aid solution to this problem that has caused such an immense psychological damage to not only myself, but countless others.

I, along with countless others, have had to endure the unbelievable and unjust burden of educating a racist image so deeply imbedded in the psyche of this Campus.

As I look through the Campus Spirit Revival facebook page, I feel the nauseating anger take hold of me again. People such as Bryce Dirks attacked us in such ignorant, hateful and hostile ways that now I remember why I do not feel part of this campus. I remember now why I am not going to commencement. I am reminded again that I am defenseless, because the people who have the legal obligation to protect me as a student are turning their backs and allowing these people to degrade us over and over again. I am reminded why I do not feel safe on campus. I am reminded that I regret having come to this University and that I would not encourage any minority student to come to this Campus. Granted, there were many professors and TAs who were very encouraging and supportive during this time. There was also the Native American House which from the beginning was my place of refuge. However, a place of refuge is not enough. I knew that there was somewhere I could run to, but that eventually I would need to leave that place and confront the massive student body that continue to display Chief hats, pins, shirts, sweaters, stickers, and etc.

I am going to backtrack a little in order to discuss Campus Spirit Revival. CSR, as you surely must have heard of, is a student organization which was founded by Tom and which I became the President of when he graduated. It was created in order to find a new symbol for the University, being that since the Chief was retired, we do not have one. A contest was held for students to submit their ideas, but this proved to be a difficult process since pro-Chief people became very aggressive towards us, stating that they wanted a ‘no change’ option which ultimately led to the results being withheld in moot court.

Given that it seemed as if students did not yet understand why the Chief had been retired in the first place, and did not seem open to dialogue through facebook, CSR decided to collaborate with the Native American and Indigenous Student Organization to host a forum called ‘Tradition or Transition: A Forum on Chief Illiniwek’ on April 16, 2013. We attempted to contact the Honor the Chief Society, Students for Chief Illiniwek, Stop Campus Spirit Revival in order to work with them. Our thought was that facebook discussions were turning very negative and no real progress was being made, additionally, being online made things very impersonal so perhaps face to face dialogue would be better. We contacted Honor the Chief Society, Students for Chief Illiniwek, and Stop Campus Spirit Revival members, none of whom wanted to collaborate with us.

Josh Good, a graduate of UIUC and an administrator of the SCSR facebook page, after my repeatedly telling him that we wanted to work together to format this event as was best possible, told me that he was not interested in a “massive circus” or public debate although debate had already been raging online. He also said that with 1,900 people, it is hard to control the extremists. Well, here the University could have stepped up in defense of we the students who were being attacked.

Through our CSR facebook page, people such as Eric Arno Hiller called us traitors to the University as well as tyrants, Timothy Thilmony called us uninformed people who were just looking for a cause, John Tuttle called our organization an “embarrassing display of buffoonery at the UI,” Ben Cheslow Kraatz said we were “popularity-seeking, incredibly unintelligent people.” I along with others, withstood all of this without any support from the University. More recently, I was told I was acting like a “personally wounded party, and like a child” and that my militant attitude towards the Chief issue was not the way to address this issue, and that pro-Chief people needed time to heal, again discrediting my emotions in a way that I have unfortunately become all too familiar with through interactions with the University.

The forum itself was interesting to say the least. Ivan Dozier Jr., the “chief himself” did show up. He did not help create the event, he never replied to my message, and he did not let CSR know ahead of time he would be there. The only reason we knew to expect him was through a friend.

Another CSR member and I presented powerpoints we had created for the event, after which we opened up the dialogue. He presented himself as the person who does the unofficial chief portrayal, a member of the Native American House, the President of Students for Chief Illiniwek, and the student liaison of the Honor the Chief Society, although he did not come representing any of those groups and I, in two years, have never seen him at the Native American House.

Dozier stated that the dance and regalia were not authentic, and that he found solace in that. I’m not sure if all of the Chief supporters are aware of that, but thankfully, at least he is. He stated the psychology study on the effects of Native mascots on people was wrong. He stated that it is not possible to find something that offends no one, and told us this heartfelt story of his childhood:

“When I was little I had a harrowing experience with animal crackers because I couldn’t decide whether they wanted to be eaten or not, and I couldn’t eat animal crackers, but we can’t ban animal crackers because of that”

Last I checked, I’m not an animal cracker. And people in general aren’t animal crackers. To compare the two is faulty logic.

His position, as is the erroneous one of many others, remained that the image could be used to educate, since it was already there. He also said that we should work with the pro-Chief people, because they were the ones offended and they were not going to let go of their mascot easily and that because the tradition was embedded strongly, people might even turn to some “good ole vigilante justice.” This is the kind of student who you protect, and the student who, in your recent sell out with the Honor the Chief Society, will be able to continue performing in regalia.

The event ended and everyone went their separate ways. Again, it was clear that the pro-Chief side has no real goal besides bringing the Chief back. Dozier claims to want educational efforts to happen, but I have never seen him at the Native American House for any event, nor have I seen the pro-Chief side, with its thousands of supporters, hold an event to honor native people. The closest I have seen have either been hosted by the Native American House, the Native American and Indigenous Student Organization, and the Archeology Student Society. NAISO and the Archeology Student Society, in fact, held an amazing event called IndiVisible, at which I did not see “Native-loving” Chief supporters at.

And so this is my condensed testament about my experience at the University of Illinois. These are the kinds of students who are on your campus, and this is the situation you have neglected and even encouraged through your settlement. I leave thoroughly disappointed with you, Chancellor Wise, the Board of Trustees, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for having done nothing to address this horrendous issue, none of which achieved their mission to support and most importantly, protect, minority students on campus. I may not matter, because I am not one of the wealthy alumni who can threaten this institution by withholding my funds, but I have a voice. And I will be now, and forever, an alumni who will make sure that other students are aware that the racism and culture of silence and apathy is so fully embedded into this place that it is truly dangerous to be a student here.

If you want to do something, I suggest you enforce the wonderful language you use in your statements and handbooks. I suggest that you start with the classroom environment, and demand that students and professors act in accordance to the rules set by the University and refrain from wearing any and all items which may include the word “Chief”, that may contain the image of the former mascot and any likeness to it, which includes but is not limited to, sweaters, shirts, jerseys, buttons and stickers, which are triggering and which interfere with not only the quality of education but also the emotional well-being of students. Of course, you will find yourself attacked if you do this because the pro-Chief side does not want to change. But change is necessary and overdue.

I hope that you take it upon yourself to act. Until then, I will work hard to reach American Indian and Indigenous people to stay far from this University, to look elsewhere for their education, because this University does not have the capacity to create a safe environment for them, and I would not want them to feel as I have. There are far better institutions for them than yours.

Zenka Tlazohcamati,


Update 3/4/14 9:00 am: Xochi has posted the following message on her Facebook, which I thought would be important to add here:

“Hey community. Just wanted to let ya’ll know that emotionally Im doing well, no more nasty thoughts

With that, I feel that the University might turn this into a “xochitl’s emotions” issue as a tactic to not talk about the Chief.

Lets remember that this is not a suicide issue, this is a #‎BanTheChief‬ issue.”


Taking Action to Make Children’s Literature Better for People of Color

For the month of February, CCBC-Net, a listserv operated by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison hosted a conversation about diversity and multiculturalism in children’s literature, with particular emphasis on discussions on new—and fabulous—books by Native authors: How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle and If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (both of which I had the pleasure of reviewing for the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books). This conversation is, of course, a well-trod discussion that often seems to move in circles. The conversation did, as expected, get somewhat tense; however, I do feel that we did have some remarkably insightful posts generated, and the rich and varied experiences of many of the people on CCBC-Net brought some wonderful points to the forefront.

I primarily sat and watched this discussion play out, although some private conversations both gave me opportunity to vent and the chance to consider more deeply the fundamental truth that “buying a book is a political act,” as list moderator K.T. Horning often reminds us, using the words of Alexis DeVeaux. As the conversation came to a close, new list member Sarah Hamburg, with great foresight and clarity, condensed our talking points and offered suggestions for activism in this arena. With her blessing—she says that “it comes from a joint discussion and belongs to everyone”—I share her words with you. I want to draw your attention to personal and professional choices that I hope to—and hope that you might consider, too—make in order to make children’s literature a better space for people of color.

  • Many of the ideas focused on personal activism: actively buying books representing a diverse range of voices; committing to ongoing challenges (Crystal Brunelle mentioned The Birthday Book Challenge, Diversity on the Shelf Challenge, and Latino/as in Kids’ Lit. Challenge); recommending and promoting diverse books to others when and wherever possible; asking for them at bookstores, schools and libraries; using social media in those efforts and to draw attention to issues of representation; writing reviews on Amazon, B&N and Goodreads; and stepping out of personal comfort zones to make connections and advocate on these issues.
  • For writers and illustrators, people also suggested personal activism would include: stepping out of artistic comfort zones; consciously considering questions of representation, audience and perspective in one’s work (including whether the perspectives and voices of people of color tend to be explored/presented in a heavy context); soliciting and listening to feedback from members of the communities one is writing about when going outside one’s own culture; and also considering questions of cultural bias and representation while conducting research and evaluating sources.
  • The same considerations hold true for those publishing, buying and using books with children, promoting books to parents and teachers, creating library and bookstore displays… etc. including whether those books receive the same quality and quantity of promotion, and whether they are somehow held apart from other books.
  • Many came back to the importance of smaller presses in making space for new voices. This included Tim Tingle’s publishers Cinco Puntos Press and RoadRunner Press, and Lee & Low Books. (Would it be helpful to create a list to share here of independent publishers who are actively publishing “multicultural” books?) Lyn Miller-Lachmann talked about visiting smaller presses at conventions to order books and create buzz. Jason Low talked about “liking” Lee & Low on Facebook and using social media to promote them and their titles, and purchasing their books through independent bookstores. Are there other ways people can actively support small presses, or that smaller children’s publishers can perhaps share resources to further cross-promote with one another? (Some consortium, such as an umbrella website?)
  • People also mentioned the importance of writers’ events and conferences, such as the Native American Literature Symposium, VONA Voices, the Lambda Literary Foundation, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, the Muslim Voices Conference, the Comadres and Compadres Writers’ Conference, and the Carl Brandon Society. (Would it be helpful to compile a list of similar conferences/organizations?) Is there a way to facilitate more outreach to events such as these, and also encourage more inclusion/ promotion of writing for children at those events?
  • Along with such conferences, people talked about the possibility for individual outreach to writers/ artists who are working in other areas, but who seem like they might be suited to the children’s book field (like Debbie Reese introducing Eric Gansworth to Cheryl Klein.)
  • It’s exciting to see new businesses forming, like Cake Literary and the Quill Shift Literary Agency (where you can sign up to be a reader.) Are there other ways people could help promote them?
  • People have also started an amazing array of blogs, websites and tumblrs that focus on aspects of diversity in children’s books. These include Diversity in YA [Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo], Rich in Color, American Indians in Children’s Literature [Debbie Reese], The Dark Fantastic [Ebony Elizabeth Thomas], CBC Diversity, Lee & Low’s blog, Cynsations [Cynthia Leitich Smith]… (I know I’m leaving many out! Please add them– would a list of these be helpful, too?) Would it also be helpful to create some sort of consortium here as well– like the Niblings umbrella?
  • In addition, people asked that “diversity” be an inclusive idea, and not limited to one group or set of groups.

Along with these existing or already mentioned avenues for activism, I had a few other possible ideas based on issues people have raised. Some may well already exist in some form, and if so please excuse my ignorance! I also don’t know if some may feel segregating rather than inclusive, or otherwise problematic– but here they are:

(All initiatives mentioned below would include leadership in design and implementation by people from the communities in question.)

  • School Library Journal/ Horn Book…etc. might create a regular column, written by a Native, PoC, and/or LGBT, and/or Muslim, and/or disabled contributor, which might discuss issues regarding children and books in different communities, or highlight reviews of recent books by people from those communities, or discuss collection development/ classroom use issues related to problematic books, or be published in a bilingual format, or simply be a space always kept open for additional voices from less-represented communities.
  • Development of a course within the Massachusetts 5-college area, in conjunction with the Carle Museum, for Native college students/ students of color to study illustration and writing for children.
  • Outreach to a group like 826, with centrally-organized workshops about writing/illustrating led by people in the children’s book community.
  • A group within SCBWI for Native artists/ people of color to meet and speak about issues in the field specific to their communities, and provide resources and networking opportunities.
  • A subsidized (with some form of community grant?) internship at one of the children’s publishing divisions or literary agencies for a person of color or Native person.
  • Some form of organized mentorship program for aspiring authors/ illustrators.
  • A bilingual division of something like Net Galley, featuring bilingual books, and other books by Latin@ writers and illustrators.
  • A group made up of members of publishers’ marketing departments, convened to study marketing strategies and approaches, with leadership that includes, outreach to, and input from members of different communities.
  • Some e-publishing/ print-on-demand initiative or business, focused on bringing back out-of-print titles by people of color.
  • Also, something like the New York Review of Books Classics, which would bring back into print/ reissue/ highlight classic children’s books by people of color– including international titles. (Or, actively petitioning the NYRoB children’s collection to include more such titles– do they currently have *any* books by people of color on their list? I couldn’t find them.)
  • Concerted outreach at events like Bologna to find and acquire titles by international authors of color/ indigenous authors for publication in the US.
  • Something like the PEN New England Discovery Award (which recognizes the work of unpublished children’s writers, and provides an opportunity to have that work read by an editor at a publishing house) that would be national, and would recognize work by unpublished Native/PoC writers. It could include a specific category for nonfiction.
  • Inclusion of Toni Morrison’s book Playing in the Dark (and Zeta Elliott’s article “Decolonizing the Imagination”) on the reading list at MFA Programs focused on writing for children, with a curriculum that includes more lectures/ discussions about race, writing and the imagination– not just in the context of discussion about writing outside one’s own culture.
  • Focused outreach as part of recruitment initiatives for MFA in writing for children programs (perhaps writers’ conferences like those listed above would be one good place?) and promotion of existing opportunities like the Angela Johnson scholarship at VCFA.
  • A centralized resource for parents/ teachers that would look at still-read classics and more contemporary books, and examine different responses/ perspectives on those books related to representation. This might include strategies and perspectives on classroom use. (A sort of “critical engagement” resource, with different perspectives- like that of Debbie Reese’s American Indians in Children’s Literature.)
  • More inclusion of issues related to representation/ cultural bias in reviews of current nonfiction and fiction titles.
  • Some central website to publish/ promote lists of recommended titles (such as the Top 100 Books by Indigenous Writers, Recommended Books regarding the Middle East, Lee & Low’s Pinterest pages, and the many other lists of recommended books shared here…) There might also be the possibility of compiling and promoting new lists, based on the needs and interests of those who work with children. Maybe individual titles from the lists could be highlighted on a rotating basis as well.
  • Lobbying and activism on related issues, such as funding for public schools and libraries, and support of those institutions (as well as businesses like independent bookstores) on the local level.

Toward a History of Children’s Libraries in China: An Interview with Yang Luo

Yang Luo is a PhD student at GSLIS UIUC who studies the history of children’s libraries in China. Ever since she successfully defended her dissertation proposal last spring, I’d been anxious to hear more about the work that she’s been doing. Plans for an interview (conducted under the auspices of the Center for Children’s Books) were put on hold when I found out that Yang would be conducting field research in China this past summer. I’m delighted to say that I’ve finally had a chance to speak more thoroughly with Yang about her research to feature it through the CCB. Though it’s slated to be released with the CCB newsletter on December 2, you can read the full interview with Yang on the CCB website. Here are some highlights from the interview:

Yang says of her research, “I’m specifically looking at the time period from 1912-1937. I begin with 1912 because that year marks the foundation of a new Republic of China after hundreds of years of imperial rule. I end with 1937, at the dawn of the Sino-Japanese War. I’m interested in the development and genesis of children’s libraries during this time, and my initial investigation has found several factors during this time period—modern education reform, the public library movement, the Republic’s investment in child welfare, influence of Western librarianship, the appearance of children’s rooms and children’s literature—that converge to form children’s libraries in the early twentieth century.”

She says, “As China pays more attention to youth services today—we’re seeing more programs and libraries for young people being opened—I hope my research will answer the first question we should ask: ‘Where did we come from? How did we get here?'”

Yang says she draws her inspiration from Hu Shi, an advocate for education reform and young people in China during the time period she’s interested in. He was greatly influenced by John Dewey, and I think he’s someone I’d like to draw inspiration from as well. Yang shared this quote during our interview:

“It is not a disgrace for a nation to lack a navy or an army. It is only a disgrace for a nation to lack public libraries, museums, and art galleries. Our people must get rid of this kind of disgrace.”

Again, please check out the full interview with Yang to find out more about her wonderful work.

Queer Library Alliance Goes to School

On November 15, I had the opportunity to present alongside Rae-Anne Montague, currently assistant dean for student affairs at GSLIS University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign/soon to be assistant professor at the LIS program at University of Hawaii Manoa, at the American Association of School Librarians 16th National Conference. Our session examined incorporating materials and programming with LGBTQ content into school libraries. Here’s the abstract from our presentation:

This session includes three sections. Firstly, we review options for selecting materials with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (GLBTQ) content to support curricular and personal goals. Secondly, we look at challenges to providing access to resources. Finally, we consider possibilities to develop collections and programming with GLBTQ content aligned with community needs. We will offer ideas and incorporate examples to encourage participants to share knowledge and engage in open discussion throughout the session.

You can check out slides from our presentation in both PowerPoint and PDF format. We also provided a handout of YA nonfiction with LGBTQ content generously provided from a work-in-progress by the wonderful Christine Jenkins and Michael Cart. Our presentation also was written up in School Library Journal, if you’re interested in audience reception.

Rae and I had a lot of fun at the conference, and I believe our session went well. Here’s a picture of us spooked by some not recommended materials.

Rae and I spooked by Not Recommended materials

the frightening nonrecommendations

“How can you know what is missing if you’ve never met it? You must know of something’s existence before you can notice its absence.”

I am noticing an absence.

I woke up this morning to the news that author E.L. Konigsburg died last night of a massive stroke.

I cried.

If someone asks for my favorite book, I always hesitate, but if they say I can start to list things, The View from Saturday invariably comes up. If someone asks for a favorite author, it’s much the same. Konigsburg has always made that list.

 I don’t think there is any feeling I like more than the one that someone is glad to see me. -Silent to the Bone

Konigsburg wrote middle grade contemporary realistic fiction. Which has always been one of my favorites. But there’s more than that.

I don’t know if there’s ever been an author who’s granted young people such a magnificent voice. Who took young people’s concerns so seriously and displayed them so eloquently. Her characters are so thoughtful and selfish, foolish and wise. I’ve never aspired to be like someone so much as I aspired to be like Claudia, or Julian, or Margaret Rose Kane.

I was sometimes a boy, and I was often a bitch…but what I always was, was superb. -The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World

I think Konigsburg’s work had such a profound impact on me because I was able to identify with her characters so much. Many of them are a little awkward, a little nerdy, a little queer, often bookish, a little bit of a mess, and often with a good heart but not knowing how to express that.

Every now and then, a person must do something simply because he wants to, because it seems to him worth doing. And that does not make it worthless or a waste of time. -The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place

I honestly don’t have any lofty things to say or eloquent ruminations. I never met Mrs. Konigsburg (although it was always a fantasy), but I feel certain that if I ever had, she would have been the type of person to have called me a “friend.” And it makes me very, very sad knowing that such a person is no longer in the world.

I think the most important thing I ever learned from Konigsburg’s books is to pay attention. To take those little moments of joy and survival and let them fill you up.

She thought that maybe, just maybe, western civilization was in decline because people did not take time to take tea at four o’clock. -The View from Saturday

I don’t know that I’m too invested in “western civilization,” but I do think that more of us would be able to get along in our lives better if we took time to take tea at four o’clock.

Do something for me, will you?

Will you find a collective that helps up find your chops? Will you give someone a voice? Will you unearth a tragic secret and make sure it’s known? Will you fight to keep something beautiful in the world just because it’s beautiful?

Will you run away to a museum sometime soon?

For E.L. Konigsburg.

Because I think we need it.