Gone

Yesterday was not a good day for American literature.

First came an email from WBN U.S. chairman, and Hachette Book Group CEO, Michael Pietsch stating

After three years in which thousands and thousands of you distributed over a million and half specially-printed World Book Night paperbacks across America, we are sad to announce that we are suspending operations. The expenses of running World Book Night U.S., even given the significant financial and time commitment from publishers, writers, booksellers, librarians, printers, distributors, shippers–and you, our amazing givers!–are too high to sustain.

World Book Night UK also faces financial difficulties.

Then, the truly bad news. Walter Dean Myers passed away.

While I feel as though I met Myers every time I picked up one of his books, I only met him once in person and that was on my first visit to the McConnell Conference in Kentucky. Myers and Brian Collier were the author and illustrator joining the conference that year. Of course I got autographs! I remember spelling “Edi” for Myers (as I do often have to do so that I don’t get “Edie”) and he looked at me in a way that made me think maybe, maybe one of his characters will have that name.

Did you know Walter Dean Myers has the largest collection of African American photographs in the country?

He won the very first Michael J. Printz Award.

His first book was Where Does the Day Go? published by Parents Magazine Press in 1969.

I don’t have a lot of stories and references, just the experience of meeting him in books. Some I read before I knew what greatness he was but even then, it didn’t matter because I still had the same personal experience when I read Darius and Twig as I did reading Antarctica: Journey to the South Pole and Fast Sam, Cool Clyde and Stuff.

What are your memories of Myers and his work?

The tributes around the Internet help us realize how much we’ve lost and I think it through these words of others, Myers is still reaching us and still inspiring us. Someone close to him posted on his website.

Hope Is An Open Book

Walter Dean Myers Says ‘Reading not Optional for Kids’

Press Release Obituary-Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014)

To those of you who knew him better than I, I am regret you’ve lost someone so special. I pray that he rest in peace with perpetual light shining on him.

From here, the charge is clear. As Wade Hudson stated on Facebook “He fought tenaciously for change for more than 40 years. It is left to us to continue!!!”

Scheduled for release:

The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage written with Bill Miles (paperback release) 22 July

Hoops (paperback reprint) 23 September

On A Clear Day 23 September

Id B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told written with Bonnie Christian January 2015

 

 

 

Looking In, Looking On

I remember back in the mid 90s going to buy a car with my then husband. While we were initially impressed with the presence of black sales reps who approached us, it didn’t take more than a couple of visits to realize that the black sales reps were assigned to black customers.

I was reminded of this experience when I read Walter Dean Myers’ recent editorial.

Years ago, I worked in the personnel office for a transformer firm. We needed to hire a chemist, and two candidates stood out, in my mind, for the position. One was a young white man with a degree from St. John’s University and the other an equally qualified black man from Grambling College (now Grambling State University) in Louisiana. I proposed to the department head that we send them both to the lab and let the chief chemist make the final decision. He looked at me as if I had said something so remarkable that he was having a hard time understanding me. “You’re kidding me,” he said. “That black guy’s no chemist.”

I pointed out the degrees on the résumé that suggested otherwise, and the tension between us soared. When I confronted my superior and demanded to know what about the candidate from Grambling made him not a chemist, he grumbled something under his breath, and reluctantly sent both candidates for an interview with the chief chemist.

Simple racism, I thought. On reflection, though, I understood that I was wrong. It was racism, but not simple racism. My white co-worker had simply never encountered a black chemist before. Or a black engineer. Or a black doctor. I realized that we hired people not so much on their résumés, but rather on our preconceived notions of what the successful candidate should be like. And where was my boss going to get the notion that a chemist should be black?

Publishing more books out by authors of color seems like such an obvious solution to so many problems, however the problem of not enough books with characters of color does not exist in a vacuum.

Numerous people have suggested ways to change what is published and many of these people work outside publishing as do I. I’ve never attempted to write a book, never visited a publishing house and have never tried to obtain an agent. My criticisms of this industry are a bit like Sandra Bullock cursing the universe when she realizes her spaceship had no fuel.

But, I see things and it makes me wonder.

I’ve read too many books by authors of color where the author is truly skilled, the story is fresh, entertaining and well developed. Yet there were shortcomings that ranged from flaws in world building, lacking character development, or the lack or a good sense of setting. Who edits these books?

I know that when artwork and teaching materials is needed for a book, the preference is to assign the project to a person of the same ethnic group.  I can’t identify the thought process behind this. Is a book so “Black” or so “Latino” that only people from that ethnic group will relate well enough to the story to develop it correctly? Or, do we just not work together if we don’t have to?

Isn’t it the oddest thing that we see so many creating ways to help Whites write books about people of color rather than identifying and publishing more authors of color and Native Americans? And don’t tell me authors of color don’t exist! Where are the new books by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich? Neesha Meminger? Sheba Karim? Padma Venkatraman? Derrick Barnes? Alex Sanchez? Kelly Parra? Torrey Maldenado?

Creating a culture inside any industry where people understand the advantages to themselves as individuals, their company and even society as a whole is something that no one outside that industry can force.

I don’t believe there will be more books by authors of color until those in publishing understand that they can mentor and edit someone of a different complexion, that they can be as demanding of these authors and have high expectations of them. Or unless more companies like Quill Shift Agency, 7th Generation Press, Cinco Puntos or Just Us Books exist to innovate alternative avenues of success.

When CBC Diversity first formed, I wondered why they didn’t reach out to those outside their industry to build an alliance. There are so many people who address diversity from so many perspectives that it would have to be empowering to bring them all together. But, as I’ve come to believe I understand problems within the industry, I can’t help but applaud these individuals for trying to do something that certainly will not increase their popularity in their own offices. They best know the limitations inside their industry and what changes need to be made.

How can I end this on a positive note? Well, I cannot ignore all the voices (predominantly female, I must add) that continue to fight the good fight. In many different ways and in many different corners, there are people who are passionately trying to make a difference for young readers. Because right there, those pages in the hands of a young child will color their entire worldview. We have to keep hoping because there is no change without hope. We have to keep our ear to the ground and listen for those who are beating a new path. We can move beyond talk and take action. And, we have to continue questioning this industry.

 

 

review: Riot

"Another innovative work by an author constantly stretching the boundaries of what fiction can be, and a natural for readers’ theater in the classroom." ~Kirkus Review

title: Riot

author: Walter Dean Myers

date: Egmont; 2009

main character: Claire Johnson

In developing the history of this book, Myers states that the first Africans came to America as slaves in 1619. I have to correct this statement and please know that in doing so, I’m not discrediting Myers further historic details. I have not studied the New York Draft Riots and from reading the book, I believe the author did extensive research on this event.

To say the first Africans came as slaves in 1619 is a rather common misstatement. The first Africans came to the New World with the Spanish and Portuguese as explorers. They traveled with Columbus, Balboa and other explorers of the day. Free Blacks helped establish St. Augustine, FL in 1565 and were present in cities established by the Spanish throughout the Southwest. Africans were sold as indentured servants in Jamestown in 1619, just as poor Europeans were, with all expecting to buy their own freedom. It’s the racist mutation to enslaving the Africans as human chattel that changed everything and led to the events Myers describes in Riot.

In this book, written in screenplay form, Myers focuses on a mixed raced family to encapsulate the horrors of the Draft Riots. Irish were upset that they were being forced/drafted to fight in what they saw as a war that would free southern Blacks to compete with them for jobs. Wealthy Northerners could buy their way out of the war and most of the Irish were not wealthy. At the same time, conditions existed in large Northern cities that brought Irish and Blacks into close proximity, creating strong friendships and even marriages. ­­­­­­

John, a Black man, is married to Ellen, a White woman and their daughter, Claire who is light enough to be identified as White. The riots bring racism to Claire’s attention (who embodies the sentiment of society) to the forefront as never before. Why can’t she just be herself and not be Black Clair, she wonders. Myers takes us into the streets where we dwell in the fear, compassion, hatred and desperation of the characters.

I didn’t want to like the story because of it’s formatting. The book is written in screenplay form, as Monster was. These form can be quite limiting when developing a book but Myers is such a good writer! His dialogs did a wonderful job of taking me back to that era. I particularly liked when Walt Whitman appeared in the story.

I would pair this book with

A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott

Pinky

Male Monday: Walter Dean Myers

“Reading is not optional.”

Perhaps Walter Dean Myers writes for so well for today’s students because he has walked in their shoes. Myers was born in Martinsburg, WV in 1937 and was given away to live with a family for reasons unknown to him. Though his foster family loved and provided for him, he claims the streets and the church as his home. At the ripe old age of 17 he dropped out of school and joined the service. His passion? Basketball.

He became a writer through the inspiration of one of his teachers.

I actually had the honor of meeting Myers a few years ago at the McConnell Conference in Kentucky. I remember him saying that when he was developing a character, he would complete a McDonald’s job resume for that character. Quite often now when I’m reading a particular book, I’ll wonder how well a character or two would look on one of those applications. Would they have any previous experience or strong references? He’s kind of set a bar for me.

Myers is influencing young people all over the world with books from Where does the day go? (his first book) to The young landlords (they first book of his I read) to the multi award-winning Monster. He’s published fiction, nonfiction, poetry and fiction in screenplay form. In 2012 he will release (or sometimes re-release)

  • The Cruisers Book 3: A star is born (Aug)
  • The Cruisers Book 2: Checkmate (July; pbk)
  • Harlem Summer (May; pbk)
  • All the right stuff (Apr)
  • Kick (Apr; pbk)
  • The journals of Scott Pendleton Collins, A WWII Soldier (pbk)
  • Hoops (Feb; pbk)

Last week, Mr. Myers became our country’s third National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. The Ambassador is chosen by a committee formed by two groups: the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and Every Child a Reader, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Children’s Book Council, a trade association for children’s book publishers. His or her purpose is to” raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.”

As ambassador, Mr. Myers will appear at Children’s Book Week in New York in May and at the National Book Festival in Washington. He will receive a medal at the Library of Congress on Tuesday. One of the first things he expects to say is that reading is not a Victorian pastime.

He probably thinks reading is meant to entertain.

For more information on Walter Dean Myers, visit the Library of Congress.

I’m currently reading Antarctica by Walter Dean Myers

 

 

Male Monday is a meme begun by Ari @ Reading in Color.

 

I’m working on an interactive learning area for the media center and decided to discuss plans with my colleague, Jackie. Isn’t it amazing what happens when colleagues talk? One thing leads to another, to another and to another! Of course we discussed what’s popular in our media centers and from there it went to keeping track of series and then I think it went to authors, or was it technology again?  Recently her students watched a video of author Sharon Draper, one of their favorites and the were enraptured! We talked about the availability of  authors on Skype and the possibility of visits from local authors and we discussed the migration from distance learning to online conferencing and Skype. I’ve learned from blogging that YA authors, the really good ones, don’t just write books but they’re committed to education, to promoting literacy and to making a difference in student’s lives and they know the difference they can make just by showing up.

Walter Dean Myers has teamed up with Adlit.org to create the Second Chance Initiative. On their webpage, you’ll find

  • a reading guide for Dopestick
  • ,three free chapters of the book
  • author podcasts

I was really impressed with the podcasts and would have uploaded ‘Myers on Race’ but I’d have to pay to increase my blog services with WordPress in order to do that and given that I’m considering moving my blog, I can’t justify doing that. But, do go to the site and listen, I think you’ll want to use these resources with students. Obviously, Myers is one author who cares about students!

I have to quickly mention that Miss Domino’s blog made me aware of the fact that titles from Kimani Tru, Ni Ni Simone and Baby Daniels have been included on the ALA’s Recommended List for Reluctant Readers.  Also there is L Divine’s Drama High Series, Perfect Chemistry, I love yous are for white people by Lac Su (and I still want to read this!!), and Dopestick.  I think that’s it. I think that’s all of the PoC titles among the 101. I guess PoC students aren’t reluctant readers and then, it’s only African Americans who are.

I gotta thank my Colts for a great season and give a might CONGRATULATIONS to the Saints!

Book Review: Sunrise Over Fallujah

Sunrise over Fallujah

Walter Dean Myers

Scholastic Books, May 2008

main character:  Robin “Birdy” Perry

Walter Dean Myers is a well known young adult author. His writing routine is well established, from completing job application forms to develop his characters to having his wife hang items related to his story over his desk.  And sometimes,  he reaches into his own experience to bring a story to life.  At 17, Myers left home and joined the Army and so does Birdy.  I don’t think Birdy knew he was going to end up in a combat zone because we find him in Iraq when it was first invaded.  Myers craftily sketches a picture, requiring the reader to use their best judgement to fill in the blanks and in doing so, we find ourselves in the shoes of our young hero.  The soldiers in the story are on a mission where nothing is clear: it is difficult to know who the enemies are, what the purpose of each mission is, or even what one will be doing on any given day.  This is a thought provoking book that makes us wonder what the war, indeed any war, accomplishes.  Myers questions in a way that does not dishonor the bravery of the soldiers or the integrity of American leaders.

Throughout the book, Birdy writes letters to his uncle who happened to have been in Myer’s previous book, Fallen Angels. Birdy is acually assigned to a unit that is meant to repair and maintain friendly relations with the Iraqi people once the invasion begins.  Male and female soldiers work together to figure out how to get the job done and to protect one another.  I found the interactions quite interesting as I would never have expected soldiers to be quite so mouthy to their superiors!  Myers used soldier’s blogs and interviews as research for this book.

discussion guide

Themes:  war, Iraq, relationships