review: Down to the Bone

FC9780060843113

title: Down to the Bone
Author: Mayra Lazara Dole
date: Harper Collins 2008
main character: Laura

 

It’s close to the last day in this Miami high school and a love letter has Laura fantasizing about celebrating her anniversary with Marlena, the love of her life. The daydream is cut short when Sister Asunción snatches the letter from her hand and GASP!! reads it aloud to the entire class.

Laura is outed. The word I remember from that scene is “tortillera”. I didn’t need the glossary to figure that one out.

The rather conservative nuns kick Laura out of school and her mother kicks her out of her home for not revealing her lover’s name. All seem to think it is a sin against all that is good and righteous for Laura to love women. Her immediate problem becomes needing a place to live in one but, the larger one is figuring out who and what she really is.

Her lover is written as a shady kind of lady who readers will view as reciprocating no real love toward Laura. She’s written in a way that allow readers to vest more interest in Laura getting on with her life rather than back with Marlena. Getting on with her life means accepting what it means to love women, to be queer and to able to say that word out loud.

Laura was thrown out of her conservative, upwardly mobile Cuban American home and she heads to her friend Soli’s home where life is completely different. It is musical, bright and accepting. Upon meeting Tazer at the beach, Laura comments that Tazer looks like a cute surfer boy and her sleek, dark sunglasses make her look hip. Tazer? Is that a Cuban name? While it’s actually short for Tazmina, we’re being clued into the fact that we’re about to find out that Cuban Americans are not a monolithic culture group. Tazer explains what it means to be genderqueer and specifically a boi in a way that is meant for readers outside the queer community. It’s informative, but flows as part of the story because Laura has never considered neither her sexual orientation nor her gender identity. She doesn’t know about these things.

I like the awareness to socio-economic groups that Dole provides and the fluid way Laura travels through them. Soli and her mom in their cramped apartment are clearly working class while Tazer and her dad are upper income living in their sprawling mansion. This working class family lives happily within their means just as Tazer and her dad do. Dole presents so many diverse lifestyles without accentuating them, making them normal parts of life, similar to how it is in real life. She takes the time to include these important observations in her story, validating many realities. Tazer and her dad are a family, as are Soli, her mom and now  including Laura. Laura’s mom, stepdad and brother are a family as well. That’s life.

Down to the Bone conveys a lot of the pain and hurt endured by too many in the queer community, but it is also filled with the joy of finding one’s self and one’s community of friends and family. I was a little late on this one, but that’s OK. Good books with good messages will endure.

We Are the People 2016

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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. With careful, critical consideration, 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 We Are The People website. We hope all the young people you know find enjoyment reading the books on our 2016 We Are the People Summer Reading List.

Keeping It Relevant

I’ve been busy lately, but there have been some pretty major events in the news that were difficult to miss. A couple of them relate directly to middle grade/young adult literature.

Raul Castro, Barack Obama

President Obama became the first US president on 90 years to visit Cuba. US-Cuba Relations have been intense since 1898 but in 1961, they ceased completely. Things began to thaw around 2012 to the point that just this week, President Obama and several American business leaders are visiting the island nation.

As a young person, I loved learning history and still do. Yet, there is something about fictionalized history that really speaks to me. Perhaps it does so by giving me someone, a character who lived through the event with whom I can relate. Or, perhaps it’s simply that fiction can better play upon my emotions and intellect thus creating a strong response. Knowing how I feel about historical fiction that is well written and well researched leads me to recommend children and young adult fiction about Cuba, particularly works by Cuban American authors.

I have to recommend Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music; Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir; Summer Birds: The Wild Book; Silver MargaritaPeople: Voices from the Panama Canal; The Surrender Tree/El Arbol de La Rendicion: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom/Poemas de La Luche de Cuba Pr Su Libertad and Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish all by Margarita Engle. Engle is a Cuban American writer who detailed the Cuban Missile Crisis from her own childhood perspective in Enchanted Air. She recently spoke of her hopes for improved US/Cuban relations on NPR.

Not too long ago, Latin@s in Kidlit hosted Cuba Week where they highlighted the work of eight Cuban American children’s writers. They wrote about immigration experiences, cubanism, identity and biculturalism. Read more from Guinevere Thomas, Meg Medina, Laura Lacámara, Christina Diaz González, Alma Flor Ada, Enrique Flores Galbis, Nancy Osa and Margarita Engle. The post also curates a list of children’s and young adult books by these and many more Cuban American authors.

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But then, sometimes even though the books parallel real life the author didn’t do the research and didn’t get it right and the mainstream media gets it no better.  What can we do with this?

There’s a story in the news these days about a foster family trying to keep the child they’ve been fostering for several years. The family is white and the child is Choctaw. Do what I just did. Do a search for “foster children Native American” and you’ll see articles about the incident to which I’m referring float straight to the top. Whether you have any background on this story or not, simply read the headlines and note the bias. She’s ‘part Native’. She was ‘seized from the family’ ‘for being 1/64 Native’ .

I thought foster care was a temporary situation until arrangements could be made to place the child with their family. Sorry, I have a bias, too.

Have you ever seen a story about a child being removed from a foster home making national headlines? Pay attention to the bias.

I think the best place to start building a background is here with NPR. I like this three part series because it immediately mentions the removal of Native American children from their home and shipping them off to boarding schools to make them lose every ounce of their culture, their tribal identity and their heritage. That’s what I thought of when I heard about this young Choctaw girl that this white family wanted to keep in their home. If I’m making this sound racial, that’s because I believe it is. Perhaps I should state ‘That’s what I thought about when I heard about Lexi, a 6 year old Choctaw girl that the Page family wanted to keep in their home.”

And then, NPR gets to the heart of this case: The 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act.

How does this relate to YA? In a very odd way, indeed it does. Emily Henry’s recent YA novel, The Love That Split the World is described as follows on Amazon.

Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start…until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.

 That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

Natalie is actually Native American and adopted by a white family (Did you read about the Indian Child Welfare Act above?) and she’s taken from them. I really appreciate how Debbie Reese walked point by point through this book on Twitter.

So, what do we do with this? I think YA literature can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom. Using the sources I’ve cited above, an ELA or Social Studies teacher can construct a lesson around the 1978 law and build case studies from both the real life event and the book using Debbie’s Storify or the news articles to look at bias, power structures, the use of privilege, identity and Native American history. You’ll probably end up with several students who want to read the book. In any other situation, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing this one but buy creating this lesson that is rich in both critical literacy and metaliteracy, I’d say add this one to the collection and let students use the tools you just taught them. Teach your students how to be smart, engaged and informed citizens.

Connecting fiction to real life is one of the best ways to teach students how to read the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This n That

If you are a YALSA member I’m on the ballot to be on the Printz Committee and I’d appreciate your vote.

IF you are an ALSC member, please consider voting for Angie Manfredi, Sujei Lugo and Thaddeus Andrecki (both of whom have ended up at the bottom of the list). These individuals are as committed to diversity as they are to literature and children. I’m voting for them!

 

This new release from J. K. Rowlings…

Excited about J. K. Rowling’s newest release, are you? Loved that Harry Potter and want to read whatever she writes next? Well, not so fast there! Rowling’s latest, History of Magic in North America is replete with Native American cultural misappropriations. In her latest writing, Rowlings has taken elements of “Native American” culture (I have to put that in quotes because that’s pretty much the same as saying “African” culture. Like each African nation has it’s own culture, so does each Native American nation) whether based in fact or fiction and represented them as truth. N.K. Jemison describes her offensiveness.

It’s even more crucial for religions that are alive, and whose adherents still suffer for misconceptions and misappropriations. But these are easier to research, and it’s often much easier to figure out when you’re about to put a foot right into a morass of discrimination and objectification. All the evidence is there, sometimes still wet with blood. You just need to read. You just need to ask people. You just need to think. – See more at: http://nkjemisin.com/2016/03/it-couldve-been-great/#sthash.HJxxkzgO.dpuf

Debbie Reese has been curating Native responses to Rowlings offenses. Take the time to read one, two or all of them. The offense runs deep.

By repurposing Indigenous legends to which she has no claim, Rowling silences the voices of those from whom she steals, and gaslights yet another generation. Not intentionally, but simply by drowning them out in her wake as she sails into her enchanting New World. Read more from Aaron Paquette at http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/paquette-j-k-rowling-lifts-indigenous-traditions-but-ignores-history.

I’ve never flat our rejected a book without reading it. Never. But, this one I reject on It’s premise.

That new list from In the Margins…

In the Margins Book Award and Selection Committee (ITM), a committee under the umbrella of Library Services for Youth in Custody (LYSC) is committed to promoting and highlighting diverse books and voices that have been in the margins. ITM strives to find the best books for teens living in poverty, on the streets, in custody – or a cycle of all three. ITM just announced their 2016 Award winners and they’re listed below.

In the Margins Top Fiction Award, 2016: Tattooed Teardrops by P.D. Workman.

In the Margins Top Non-Fiction Award, 2016:  America’s Massacre: The Audacity of Despair and a Message of Hope by Tewhan Butler.

Social Justice/Advocacy Award Winner: Girls in Justice by Richard Ross.

In the Margins Official 2016 Top Ten List

Butler, Tewhan. America’s Massacre: The Audacity of Despair and a Message of Hope. Raise UP Media. October 2014. PB $19.99. ISBN 9780692281826.

Carter, Alton. The Boy Who Carried Bricks: A True Story of Survival. Roadrunner Press. March 2014. 196p. HC $18.95. ISBN 9781937054342.

Deutch, Kevin. The Triangle: A Year on the Ground with New York’s Blood and Crips. Lyons Press. December 2014. 214p. PB $16.95. ISBN 9781493007608.

Frank, E.R. Dime. Simon Teen. May 2015. 336p. HC $17.99. ISBN 9781481431606.

Kern, Peggy. Little Peach. Balzer + Bray. March 2015. 208p. HC $17.99. ISBN 9780062266958.

Laboucane-Benson, Patti. The Outside Circle. House of Anansi Press. June 2015. 264p. PB $19.95. ISBN 9781770899377.

Lewis, Tony Jr. Slugg: A Boy’s Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration. Hanover Place Press. July 2015. 166p. PB $9.99.

Ross, Richard. Girls in Justice. The Image of Justice. 2015. 192p. HC $29.95. ISBN 9780985510619.

Voloj, Julian. Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker. NBM Publishing. May 2015. 128p. PB $12.99. ISBN 9781561639489.

Workman, P.D. Tattooed Teardrops. PD Workman. August 2014. 292p. PB $15.95. ISBN 9780993768750.

Annotations, the full list and further information on the committee and selections can be found at: http://youthlibraries.org/2016-margins-official-list-0
The 2016 Committee members are:

  • Sabrina Carnesi, School Librarian, Crittenden Middle School, VA
  • Amy Cheney, District Library Manager, Oakland Unified School District, CA
  • Dale Clark, Teacher-Librarian, Fraser Park Secondary, Burnaby Youth Custody Services, Burnaby, BC, Canada
  • Joe Coyle, Project Coordinator, Mix IT Up!, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL
  • Marvin DeBose Sr., Library Supervisor, Free Library of Philadelphia, PA
  • Lisa Goldstein, Division Manager, Central Youth Wing, Brooklyn Public Library, NY
  • Sian Marshall, Head of Teen Services, Oxford Public Library, Oxford Michigan
  • Maggie Novario, Teen Librarian, Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, WA
  • Kerry Sutherland, Youth Services Librarian, Akron-Summit County Public Library, OH

Thanks to you all for creating such an important list.

March Releases

Native/author of color releases by the numbers for March:

2013: 7
2014: 11
2015: 19
2016: 13

 

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina. Candlewick. Ages 14 and up.
Nora Lopez is seventeen during the summer of 1977, when New York is besieged by arson, a massive blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam. Meg Medina transports us to a time when tempers and temperatures ran high to share the story of a young woman who discovers that the greatest dangers are often closer than we like to admit.

This is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang. Greewillow/HarperCollins. Ages 14 and up.
A heart-wrenching novel about best friends on a collision course with the real world from Amy Zhang, the critically acclaimed Indies Introduce and Indie Next author of Falling into Place. Janie and Micah, Micah and Janie. That’s how it’s been ever since elementary school, when Janie Vivien moved next door. Janie says Micah is everything she is not. Where Micah is shy, Janie is outgoing. Where Micah loves music, Janie loves art. It’s the perfect friendship—as long as no one finds out about it. But then Janie goes missing and everything Micah thought he knew about his best friend is colored with doubt.

Using a nonlinear writing style and dual narrators, Amy Zhang masterfully reveals the circumstances surrounding Janie’s disappearance in an astonishing second novel that will appeal to fans of Lauren Oliver and Jay Asher.

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly; Greenwillow Press ages 8-12
Two sisters from the Philippines, abandoned by their father and living with their stepmother in Louisiana, fight to make their lives better in this remarkable story for readers of Cynthia Kadohata and Rita Williams-Garcia, and for anyone searching for the true meaning of family.

Beyond the Red by Ava Jae; Sky Pony Press. ages 12 and up
Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.
Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identitya secret kept even from him.
When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.

Women at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee; Random House. ages 8-12
This groundbreaking new middle grade series follows DC Comics’ most iconic female Super Heroes and Super-Villains . . . as high schoolers. At Super Hero High, the galaxy’s most powerful teens nurture their powers and master the fundamentals of what it means to be a hero.

Infinity Riders/Voyagers Series by Kekla Magoon; ages 8-12
The action is on the page, on your device, and out of this world This multiplatform series is part sci-fi, all action-adventure. And you don t have long to wait six books are coming all in one year
Earth is in danger The only things that can save our planet are six essential elements scattered throughout the galaxy. And it is up to the Voyagers a team of four remarkable kids and an alien to gather them all and return to Earth.
On the fourth planet, Infinity, the Voyagers journey deep underground, through a complex maze of tunnels. The tunnels are full of alien life and danger. And before they can escape, one of their own will be taken from them. . . .

A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter by LaurenceYep;Crown/ Random House. ages 8-12
Three-thousand-year-old Miss Drake has arranged to send her dear pet Winnie to The Spriggs Academy, an extraordinary school for humans and magicals alike. Winnie is particularly excited about magic class and having Sir Isaac Newton for science. She’s also making new friends and frenemies. . . .

The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli, translated by Daniel Hahn; Delacorte. ages 12-18
Fourteen-year-old Samuel is newly orphaned and homeless in a small town in Brazil. He lives in a giant, hollow, concrete head of St. Anthony, the lingering evidence of the village’s inept and failed attempt to build a monolith over a decade ago. He didn t know what it was when he crawled into it, seeking shelter during a storm, but since coming there, he hears beautiful singing, echoing like magic in the head twice a day. So he stays.
Miraculously, he can also hear the private prayers and longings of the villagers. Feeling mischievous, Samuel begins to help answer these prayers, hoping that if he does, their noise will quiet down and he can listen to the beautiful singing in peace. Ironically, his miracles gain him so many fans that he starts to worry he will never fulfill his own true longing and find the source of the singing.
Filled with beautiful turns of phrase and wonderfully quirky characters, “The Head of the Saint “is a riotous story of faith and magic that won t soon leave your thoughts.

Allie First at Last by Angela Cervantes; Scholastic. Ages 8-12
No better feeling exists in the world than stepping to the top of a winner’s podium and hoisting a trophy high in the air. At least, that’s what Allie thinks . . . she’s never actually won anything before. Everyone in her family is special in some way — her younger sister is a rising TV star; her brother is a soccer prodigy; her great-grandfather is a Congressional Medal of Honor winner.

Mission Mumbai: A Novel of Sacred Cows, Snakes and Stolen Toilets by Mahtab Narsimhan; Scholastic. ages 9-12
When aspiring photographer Dylan Moore is invited to join his best friend Rohit Lal on a family trip to India, he jumps at the chance to embark on an exciting journey just like their Lord of the Rings heroes, Frodo and Sam. But each boy comes to the trip with a problem: Rohit is desperate to convince his parents not to leave him behind in Mumbai to finish school, and Dylan is desperate to use his time in India to prove himself as a photographer and to avoid his parents’ constant fighting. Keeping their struggles to themselves threatens to tear the boys apart. But when disaster strikes, Dylan and Rohit realize they have to set aside their differences to navigate India safely, confront their family issues, and salvage their friendship.

Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate; Amulet. ages 13-19 Debut Author
In “Seven Ways We Lie,” a chance encounter tangles the lives of seven high school students, each resisting the allure of one of the seven deadly sins, and each telling their story from their seven distinct points of view.
The juniors at Paloma High School all have their secrets, whether it’s the thespian who hides her trust issues onstage, the closeted pansexual who only cares about his drug-dealing profits, or the neurotic genius who’s planted the seed of a school scandal. But it’s Juniper Kipling who has the furthest to fall. No one would argue that Juniper obedient daughter, salutatorian, natural beauty, and loyal friend is anything but perfect. Everyone knows she’s a saint, not a sinner; but when love is involved, who is Juniper to resist temptation? When she begins to crave more and more of the one person she can t have, her charmed life starts to unravel.
Then rumors of a student teacher affair hit the fan. After Juniper accidentally exposes her secret at a party, her fate falls into the hands of the other six sinners, bringing them into one another’s orbits. All seven are guilty of something. Together, they could save one another from their temptations or be ruined by them.
Riley Redgate’s twisty YA debut effortlessly weaves humor, heartbreak, and redemption into a drama that fans of Jenny Han and Stephanie Perkins will adore.

Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige; Harper Collins. ages 12 and up
In this third book in the New York Times bestselling Dorothy Must Die series, new girl from Kansas Amy Gumm is caught between her home and Oz. My name is Amy Gumm. Tornadoes must have a thing about girls from Kansas, because just like Dorothy I got swept away on one too. I landed in Oz, where Good is Wicked, Wicked is Good, and the Wicked Witches clued me in to my true calling: Assassin.

The way to stop Dorothy from destroying Oz and Kansas is to kill her. And I m the only one who can do it. But I failed. Others died for my mistakes. Because of me, the portal between the worlds has been opened. And if I don t find a way to close it? Dorothy will make sure I never get to go home again. Now it’s up to me to: join the Witches, fight for Oz, save Kansas, and stop Dorothy once and for all.

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock ChyePantheon Graphic Books
Now in his early 70s, Chan has been making comics in his native Singapore since 1954, when he was a boy of 16. As he looks back on his career over five decades, we see his stories unfold before us in a dazzling array of art stylesand forms, their development mirroring the evolution in the political and social landscape of his homeland and of the comic book medium itself.
With “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye” Sonny Liew has drawn together a myriad of genres to create a thoroughly ingenious and engaging work, where the line between truth and construct may sometimes be blurred, but where the story told is always enthralling, bringing us on a uniquely moving, funny, and thought-provoking journey through the life of an artist and the history of a nation.

Book review: The House You Pass on the Way

FC9780142417065.JPGtitle: The House You Pass on the Way
author: Jacqueline Woodson
date: Delacorte Press, 1997
main character: Staggerlee Canan

 

“And freedom? Oh, freedom.
Well that’s just some people talking.
Your prison is walking through this world all alone.”

Any book that begins in the winter is gong to be a cold, lonely story and the House You Pass On the Way is no exception. While most of Staggerlee’s coming of age story occurs in the warmth of the summer, her overall life lesson reinforces her aloneness. Just like the men in winter, everyone in her life from her grandparents to her favorite brother and now her cousin Trout seems to fade away into the quiet. Staggerlee seems to be taking control of her growing up self, choosing only to answer to “Staggerlee” rather than her given name, Evangeline Ian. But, she has this odd feeling in her that she cannot begin to define until her cousin Trout comes to visit. Away from the Canan home, the house you pass on the way and out by the ever-changing river, the two girls share honesties and intimacies.

Woodson’s metaphorical use of seasons and places provide a rich emotional background for a young, biracial girl whose coming of age means understanding her sexual orientation. An older book by Jacqueline Woodson, it definitely withstands the test of time. The House You Pass on the Way was named to the ALA Popular Paperbacks For Young Adults list in 2006 and won the Lamda Literary Award in 1997.

SundayMorningReads

We’re firmly in the month of March. Keep coming back here because I will post the March releases by authors of color before the month ends. I promise. February was filled with Writers on Writing and reviews of sources on enslavement. March may be quieter because of offline responsibilities but, I do hope to review some older, classic YA books by Native and women of color as my tribute to Women’s History Month. And, we’ll be releasing the We’re the People Summer Reading List.

February found folks around the web using #StepUpScholastic to  following up on StepUpScholasticV4-300x278Scholastic’s access to our children.  The campaign was announced here on the Ferguson Response blog and it went even more public on 29 Feb when Leslie Mac held the #StepUpScholastic Twitter chat. She’s archived it here.The goals of the campaign are simple, encourage children & adults to critique current offerings from Scholastic and ensure that Scholastic hears their voices in this call for substantive change.” We are asked to engage in the program in the following ways.

Debbie Reese sets an example of being proactive in the #StepUpScholastic campaign.

I’m sure you’ve heard that ‘she who controls the pen controls the history’? Be vigilant. Keep learning about the massive reach of Scholastic and of textbooks companies. Read the books, know who writes the text and sits on the boards that create the books. Understand the huge role Texas plays in what appears in textbooks and be fearful of people like Mary Loy Bruner who is running for a seat on the Texas board of Education.

On the Civil War, she wrote in 2014: “Slavery is not the Reason for the Civil War. by [sic] Mary Lou Bruner…. Historians waited until all of the people who were alive during the Civil War and the Restoration were dead of old age. THEN HISTORIANS WROTE THE HISTORY BOOKS TO TELL THE STORY THE WAY THEY WANTED IT TOLD.”

source: The Washington Post

This rewriting of history isn’t just in America and it’s not only in children’s books. Japan for years has been re-writing its interactions with Korea during World War Two.

But, it’s the power of independent voices that are getting the true story out there.

Independent voices like Leslie Mac and Deborah Menkart whose only vested interest is in our children.

Independent voices that used crowdsource funding to create and release a movie about the comfort women that has climbed to lead the box office in Korea.

Independent voices like those featured in Amy Martin’s new column in School Library Journal that features indie children’s authors.

School Library Journal also recently featured an article on how few sight impaired people are learning braille.

Because teachers and students often depend on audio tech, including text-to-speech programs, vision-impaired children aren’t learning the conventions of written language. “He or she might be getting information, but the child isn’t reading,” says Chris Danielsen, director of public relations at the NFB, which provides many resources for braille literacy (learning braille). In the 1970s, more than 50 percent of vision impaired people in the Unites States knew braille. More recently, among the nearly 60,000 U.S. children who are legally blind, only nine percent were registered braille users, according to a 2010 report. Other estimates put the figure at 10 to 12 percent.
source: School Library Journal

Is there another side to this discussion?

Living here in Indiana, I realize the way the publishing world marginalizes those of us who don’t live in NYC. Not only are the major publishing houses, agents and publishers there, but the discussions take place there as well. Sure, there’s a small pocket centered around Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, but it pales in comparison. I like how Padma Venkatraman used the power of the Internet to overcome geographic barriers and create this important roundtable of voices from South Asia.

Rachna Gilmore: Yes, inasmuch as all authors’ life experiences inform who they are, and influence the values they form, which inevitably shapes their writing. More specifically though, as a brown person of Indian heritage in a white world, I have, of course, experienced racism; both the active, vicious kind, although rarely that, as well as the more patronizing and labeling kind, born of stereotyping. I know much of it is simple misunderstanding and ignorance. It has fueled my desire to write in a way that builds bridges. I strongly feel that it is through fiction that we can cut through boundaries. When we read of characters of cultures that we have perceived of as “strange” or “other”, and when we identify with them through the magic of fiction, and recognize that at the core they are not really that different from us, that is when we start to relate to others simply as people. We drop our stereotyping assumptions and see that our common experiences as human beings are far more profound and real than any superficial differences of skin colour or cultural preferences.

Gilmore’s words make me want to send a shout out to Ellen Oh, #DiversityJedi extraordinaire.

Another important roundtable this past week came from the PEN Equity Project. If you don’t click any other link here, this. This is the one to read. It begins in that place where we stay stuck too long, of recounting the battles and missed opportunities, but it takes the chance to say ‘what if …’ to imagine a way forward.

There is a role for all of us who understand that even if the industry was meant to not be diverse in all of its representations, it cannot stay that way.

Cheryl Klein Imagined setting up classroom libraries. I do that for a classroom here in Terre Haute. Every month I send a collection of books to first grades and I do imagine making this a thing, a foundation that matches more classrooms to donors. You might think the school library is doing or can or should be doing this. Research shows the closer the books are to young readers, the more they will read. Sometimes, libraries just can’t provide books because they have either no librarian to select the books or no funding with which to purchase them. I recently had the pleasure of serving on YALSA’s Great Books Giveaway Committee and was almost in tears while reading librarians describe their profound need for books. Comments from those who received the grant can be found here. The link will also take you to an application for the next grant round.

Isn’t it interesting how much of the heavy lifting for our children’s literacy is done by women? Just look how many women I’ve listed here today. And, in the recent Lee & Low Diversity Baseline Survey, it was documented how many straight white abled-bodied women work in publishing. Lee & Low has been watching the report ripple through the industry and has capture insights here.

I have to leave you with this breathtaking phone of my youngest son from his recent trip cross country to visit his brother. He walked out there and sat on the edge of the world, something I could never, ever do. I catch my breath just thinking about it. Funny, the only place on my Bucket List is the Grand Canyon, but I cannot go to the edge.

Here’s to the generation that will not be limited by our fears.

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