ALAN pt 2

I went to ALAN this year because Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Rogue; Nancy Paulsen Books) asked me to moderate a panel with her, Kekla Magoon (The Rock and the River; Aladdin) and Rene Saldana Jr (Juventud! Growing up on the Border: Stories and Poems; VAO Publishing). entitled “It’s Complicated: Diverse Authors Revisit the Classics”. We had a nice turnout and it was great working with these talented individuals, although Rene was unfortunately detained in that terrible storm in Texas and unable to join us.

I was truly disappointed in the lack of diversity at the conference. As a new friend stated “I’m tired of the all White world of YA.” I could count on my hands the number of people of color who were present. While there those who are committed to YA and to the teens who read it, most teachers and librarians of color will choose to come only if they see people like them somewhere in the program. It makes you feel welcome, you know?

My criticism is more with the industry and how it promotes authors.

I felt quite welcome at ALAN this year as I always do.

Yea, it bothered me that after all I’d gone through to get there, the room was so packed that it seemed I’d spend the first day standing around the back of the room. But this is a conference where people talk to one another! We talk about the books, the authors, programs we’re planning, students we teach and the shoes we wear. We talk to librarians, authors, editors and university students. While we celebrated 40 years of ALAN, we listened to authors as they shared about their writing, their readers and their lives.

I hated that I missed hearing Jacqueline Woodson’s (Each Kindness, Nancy Paulsen Books) poem but I had to get Swati Avasthi’s (Chasing Shadows, Random House) autograph and arrange an interview with her!

Who was it during the Coming of Age session when talking about hope in our stories that said “It’s not the despair that gets you, it’s the hope”?

Alan Sitomer (Caged Warrior; Disney Hyperion) on the same panel postulated that “we all live on hope.” With much passion, he proclaimed that “there’s an assault on kids in urban schools today.” They’re not bright enough, not motivated enough… and this is only said about the urban kids!

Upon receiving the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award, Eliot Schrefer (Endangered; Scholastic) reflected on his visit to the Congo where he spoke to teens growing up in this war-torn country and he wondered why he was there talking to these students about books. But then, they began taking examples from his reading and applying them to situations in their country.

Fellow recipient A.S. King (Reality Boy; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) made even more of a point about why she writes. “I need to write the air. I write because I need to. I believe in compassion and community and I’ve always wanted to live in a world where people really are equals … Writing should make us generous. You have to give up yourself to the book. Writing should change you.”

As someone who has moved over to the academic side and who teaches research to students, I really appreciated what Tanya Lee Stone (Courage has no color, the true story of the Triple Nickles: America’s first Black Paratroopers; Candlewick) had to say about research. She suggested getting young researchers to realize what they are passionate about and then figuring out what’s important about that. Passion should drive research.

I loved hearing Beth Kephart (Going Over; Chronicle Books) state that “landscape is character” because it spoke to my passion for geography  and economics in literature.

Sharon McKay (Enemy Territory; Annick Press) was amazing as she unfolded her personal story that helps her know how to be an insider when writer. “Outsiders have simple solutions.” They don’t understand a community’s complexities.

We are all writing about people in the end. We’re all writing about love in the end.” Kephart.

But readers need to find themselves in what they read. They need to be able to relate to the characters and situations.

Sara Farizan (If you could be mine: a novel; Algonquin) reflected on growing up uncomfortable with her gay identity. She found solace in reading and writing and she sought out books. While she found some with gay and lesbian characters, she couldn’t find any Middle Eastern or Asian characters who were facing obstacles like her. She decided to write one.

Authors with so many provocative thoughts!

While so many writers urge us to push the envelope and to be edgy (which we need to do because so many teen’s lives are ‘edgy’) Another perspective was presented by Carl Deuker (Swagger; Houghton Mifflin). “They grow close to 6 feet tall but they’re still very close to Charlotte’s Web”.

I wish I knew who said it!!!
“Why are books the last racial  barrier where many white kids only read about their own experience”? Neighborhoods and schools are integrated. We listen to one another’s music, so what is it about books?

I loved witnessing Paul Rudnick’s (Gorgeous; Scholastic) sheer exuberance about writing; Ann Burg’s (Sarafina’s Promise; Scholastic) commitment to truth, Robert Lipsyte’s plea for literacy over sports (where “character has become less important than characters”); Ken Setterington’s (Branded by the Pink Triangle; Second Story Press) work to preserve the pink triangle of the Holocaust and was perplexed by science fiction writings admitting the lack of science in their writing yet  managing to redeem themselves in their use of horror.

I was glad to discover a new author of color, Kendare Blake (Antigodess; Tor), a Korean American author.

As is fitting, my take-a-way came from Walter Mayes, librarian extraordinaire and the face of ALAN. Remember, ALAN is part of NCTE, so the majority of people there are teachers. Walter was part of a panel celebrating librarians and media specialists. I think he’s an incredible librarian. Well over 6 ft tall, he’s still close to Charlotte’s Web, still close to what children hold dear. Walter related a story to us.

In his library, the older students are able to speak their mind if no younger students are around. Walter’s students aren’t those urban students but they’re diverse. His library books represent diversity. He’s figured out how to give students what they’re ready for and he knew this particular 8th grade black girl was ready for pretty much the same thing her white classmates were reading until one day, she came in, looked around and said she was tired of all these books with “rich, white bitches”. Their conversation led him to make a selection for her that had her coming back, and coming back and coming back.

Walter, this tall white guy working in a library in an all girl’s school was aware enough to get that not all Black, Latino or Asian kids are able to recognize or articulate their desire for books with characters like them. I can remember Ari, Kekla and even myself being quite satisfied with reading about “rich white bitches”, but once discovering a book with a character like us, we wanted more! In our youth, we really couldn’t articulate what we wanted or why. For publishers to want students to articulate their desire for ethnic diversity in literature is absurd: they simply haven’t all reached that level of psychological development. Thankfully, many librarians get it.

ALAN was stimulating, thought-provoking and irritating. I made wonderful connections in terms of thoughts, ideas and relationships with other people. I just know that a more diverse presentation would have enriched us all so much more. The authors not being there wasn’t because ALAN didn’t invite them, it has to do with who publishers choose to market.

ALAN is very inexpensive to join. The organization is extremely inclusive and its journal is quite important to the field of YA literature. Let’s not pull away from ALAN. Only by joining such organizations and working with such allies can we get publishers to realize they’ve got to change how they market their authors of color and how they represent YA lit to readers.  We have to show up to be included. Next year’s conference will be in Washington D.C..

ALAN is the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English.

Saddleback Educational Publishing

If you looked at the list of African American books published in 2012, you would have noticed a number of books published by Saddleback publishing. Late last year, I contacted Saddleback to find out about who they are, what they publish and what their new series are all about. The following is the response I received from Tim McHugh, Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

Saddleback just celebrated it’s 30 year anniversary this year.  We started as a company working with struggling students in middle school.  Today we publish books for struggling students in grades 5-12.  What makes us different is that the books we publish are intended for older students yet the reading level is reduced.  For example, we publish books at a 3rd grade reading level for high school students.  The books are about topics which only an older student would appreciate (and are appropriate) yet the books are written at a low enough reading level that struggling students can achieve success.  This area of publishing is called “hi-lo” which stands for high-interest, low readability.  

 In the US 70% of 8th graders read below reading level and over 1.2M high school students drop out of school every year – 6000 students/day.  Clearly our country has a reading problem.  Many students start to fall behind in 3rd and 4th grade and by the time they are in middle school/high school the students are several reading levels behind.  The teachers (and librarians) then have a problem – do they give the struggling student a book for a 3rd grader (i.e., content appropriate for a 3rd grader, written at a 3rd grade reading level) or do they continue to give books to the student which are age appropriate but yet written at a grade level the student can’t read.  This is where Saddleback fits in, with age appropriate content for older students reading at lower reading levels.    And all of our books are written in a series – that way once a young adult reader finds a book they like they can continue to finish a few more books in a series to build up their confidence.  
Today, we publish books from a 1.0 to 5.0 reading level but for students in grades 5-12 and adults.  Again, all of our books are intended for older students reading at lower reading levels.  In the schools our books are used by teachers/students in the areas of special needs, english language learners, alternative schools, charter schools, after school programs, and even correctional facilities.  Many adult education programs use ours books as well as we cover subjects such as lifeskills, lifeskills math, lifeskills vocabulary, grammar, etc… But as I pointed out earlier 70% of 8th graders read below reading level so our books are also being read by students in general ed classrooms who have simply fallen behind.  
We publish graphic novels, classroom curriculum, non-fiction, interactive whiteboard activities as well as fiction.  We have always published fiction for struggling readers but in the past three years we started publishing Urban Fiction.  The first urban series that we published is called Urban Underground.  There are currently 25 books in the series (in print) and 19 of the first 20 are on the ALA Yalsa Quickpick list.  The books in this series are divided in to the Caesar Chavez High books (a Latino high school) and the Harriet Tubman High books (an African American high school).
These books have developed a cult-like following and are written at a 3.5 reading level.  

Gravel Road is also Urban Fiction. So far, it is a three book series that was launched in January.  This series is about raw, gritty topics like rape, foster care and teen pregnancy. One of the titles, Unchained,  was just awarded a silver medal by the Independent Publisher Book Awards in the category of multicultural fiction – childrens.  
Gravel Road is made up of separate titles (unrelated),  and is intended for multiple authors in Urban Fiction. The first three books were written by author L.B. Tillit who was an alternative school teacher in North Carolina for many years.  She took the stories from her classroom and have related some of these stories in these books. We will continue this series, with another author, in the winter. The next book is about depression and suicide.
The Lockwood High series came out in June and we are very very excited about this series.  It is a flip book series – with two different series/viewpoints.  The girls side is called Cheer Drama and the five letters in the word “Cheer” correspond to the first letter of the names of the five girl characters – Charli, Hallie, Eva, Ella and Randal.  The boys side is called Baller Swag and those five characters are Blake, Amir, Leo, Landon and E.R.  As you can see, the first letters of their names spell “Baller”.  
These books are a kind of “Friday Night Lights” type of series with football, boyfriends and girlfriends, family issues, drugs etc… but they also have strong moral ties; teaching about integrity, chastity, honesty, a strong work ethic, and faith. 
Lastly, Saddleback is a second generation family company which my father-in-law started.  My wife and I purchased it from him over three years ago and we sell through all major educational and trade distributors.  


There was a time when  if one wanted to teach 3rd grade, they simply needed to have finished the 4th grade. This makes teaching sound like an easy gig, but not necessarily in an agrarian society were few stayed in school. Once in the ‘profession’ limitations were placed on teachers that required them to stay single, follow strict moral codes and rise before dawn to heat the schoolhouse.  Communities kept a close eye on teachers because in their wisdom, they knew it was necessary to be careful who was given access to the children.

This care still continues and sometimes we appreciate the caution and other times see it as excessive and unnecessary. Teachers still have codes of ethics. There are communities that publish teachers’ salaries in the newspaper and qualifications are publicly accessible on the Internet. It can still be difficult for GLTBQ educators to find or keep teaching jobs and a teacher’s arrest for DWI will often make the local news.  In today’s world, teachers often spend more time in a day with children than do their own parents.

And so do books.

Books give publishers access to children and affect how they perceive the world around them. Books validate us, inspire us and teach us. So, shouldn’t we be concerned about the librarians, authors, publishers, editors and other adults who have access to our children through the world of books? In working for diversity, we have to focus beyond what’s not on the shelf and look at the real decision makes. We have to see  the need for more diverse books as more that the battle for Mitali Perkins, Greg Neri or Gaby Triana to become rich and famous. Rather, we have to work for people of color to be the decision makers who control the publishing houses, make the marketing decisions and edit the books.  These are the positions that control the ideas and images that reach our children.

In the past week, I’ve seen growing multi-faceted approaches to addressing diversity issues. Does what’s on the cover matter? Do we fight like Martin or Malcolm? While Charlotte’s Library questioned the whiteness of a bi-racial child on a cover, Shelftalker’s recent post grew into a debate as to whether  books with multicultural casts should make a greater effort to show ALL characters on their covers.  What are we teaching our children? Without honestly portraying the browness of the world, how do we end racism?

There’s so much to do! It’s not just books and book covers in the 21st century! We have to be aware of the overarching message and this implies that we can’t just regulate the adults in front of our children or filter what they access on the Internet. We have to be concerned about the real decision makers, the powers behind the scenes that control the ideals that charge the information. We have to be vigilant, watching the book covers, the language in the text and the cultural references.  We can’t believe that just because America is getting browner that there will be greater access! White Readers meet Black Authors  just blogged about the resistance of whites to what movies with majority Black (or Latino or Asian) casts. I won’t resist watching a television show with majority white actors, will you? Sounds like colonialism perpetuated to me and these colonists still have access to our children.

So what are we going to do this week?

We’re going to donate books published by companies that support people of color to Ballou High School through GuysLit Wire AND to Helen’s high school through Ari’s C.O.L.O.R. project.

We’re going to call the local public library and place a request for one of these books by these same companies.

Tuesday Tidbits

I’ve been collecting stuff while collecting time to reflect and repose. I don’t know, too much snow? too much school? Not enough vitamin D? I just need to step back, reflect and. . . chillax for a minute. Still, though I’m still getting stuff I really need to pass along to readers!

JoAnn Hernandez was gracious enough to share this link to a library scholarship from REFORMA. It’s due on 15 March!!

Lee and Low has acquired Tu Publishing! This fantastic pairing will extend the collection at Lee and Low to older readers and help diversify sci fi and fantasy offerings for PoC!

There are a couple of wonderful book conferences coming up: International Reading Association Annual Conference and the Virginia Hamilton. The IRA is a bit much for my pockets these days, but I may be at the Virginia Hamilton. You?

Forest Hill Publishing is launching a book of stories from transplant survivors and donors of color.  We are well aware that people of color represent a disproportionately high number of patients who need organ transplants—and die because they did not receive them—and a disproportionately low number of people who serve as organ and tissue donors.  Our hope is that our book will inspire many more people of color to become donors and save lives.

Do observe Women’s History month!. Why? Celebrate for the woman you are or for the women in your life. I like how Monique said it when she thanked Hattie McDaniel “for enduring what she had to so that I would not have to.”  Observe Women’s history month to thank, learn about, remember all those who fought the fight for us. Whether we’re male or female, we’re all made better when women, when any part of society, is no longer oppressed.

  • If you’re a librarian: Pull out the women’s biographies. Weed the old stuff! Notice what you don’t have and order some new biographies for your patrons. I did this last week and am always dismayed at how few women’s biographies there are.
  • If you’re a parent: donate a women’s biography to your child’s school’s library. Take your child to the library to find a good biography to read. Go to the 323.oo in the Deweys and help them find a social history on women around the world.
  • If you’re a library patron: Visit your library and see what biographies they have. Are they missing Monique’s Skinny Women Are Evil or a biography of Hattie McDaniel? Suggest they buy it!

Embedding is disabled on the video, but it is well worth the click to YouTube: