On Inauguration Day 2017, I was in Atlanta, far from my hometown of Takoma Park, Md. (just over the border from Washington, D.C.) and happily ensconced in a daylong educational institute for children's librarians. Among the programs featured were "Passing the Mic: Muslim Voices in Children's Literature and Lessons Learned in the Pursuit of Equity and Inclusion," "Why Is It So Difficult to Talk about Race, Culture and Other Marginalizations in Children's Literature" and "Welcoming Rainbow Families @ Your Library."
|Gene Luen Yang, Nat. Ambassador for Young People's Literature, created this program.|
These wonderful, enriching programs were punctuated by talks by well-known children's authors and illustrators, including Caldecott Medalists Kevin Henkes and Erin Stead, Cuban-American author/illustrator Carmen Agra Deedy, and National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson. We all ended the day energized and uplifted, and armed with great materials, such as a list of well-written books for kids, teens and adults by Muslim authors and featuring Muslim characters and themes. I've already used the list to order books that my library doesn't currently own.
Overall, the institute was the perfect way to spend this particular Inauguration Day, a way of countering the new administration's message of hate and fear by celebrating our rich diversity and highlighting marginalized voices. It was a day that helped remind me and other participants of our important mission of empowering ALL young readers through programs, services and books and other materials.
For me, the ALSC institute in Atlanta was a great way to open a particularly important ALA Midwinter conference where it seemed everything we did and said stood in direct contradiction to the new administration. At times, it felt like a subversive act just being at the conference! For example, it was particularly satisfying to see hundreds of librarians from around the country taking time off from the conference to participate in the Atlanta Women's March, many of them wearing the March's trademark pink hat. ALSC Blogger Karen Ginman was one of the marchers.
Another example was a program entitled "Racial Justice @ Your Library," sponsored by Libraries4BlackLives. And then there was the speaker chosen for the ALA President's program -- 2015 Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander. This ALSC Blog post by Sondy Eklund gives a flavor of his talk, as does this one. Here are a few quotes Kwame's talk, as recorded by Sondy: "Librarians, fire your cannons! Books have a job to do and words plant seeds" and "Books connect us to each other. Books don’t segregate. We do."
(On a personal note: I was lucky to sit next to Kwame and also Caldecott Honor artist Ekua Holmes at a Friday night dinner given by Candlewick Press to celebrate their new book, Out of Wonder. Talk about inspiring -- both meeting these two incredibly talented people and also reading their new book!)
Another example of Midwinter conference subversiveness: the adulation -- and acclaim -- rightly accorded to Rep. John Lewis, whose congressional district includes Atlanta. Lewis, the Civil Rights icon, recently was excoriated as "all talk, talk, talk -- no action or results" in a tweet by President Trump. Lewis, however, has found new fame and fans in the library world for his autobiographical graphic novel trilogy, March: Books One, Two & Three, co-written by Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. Librarian Karen Ginman captured her excitement at meeting Lewis in this ALSC Blog post.
Lewis also made history at the Youth Media Awards, the annual announcements of the winners of such prestigious awards as the Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal, and more. At this year's awards, held on the morning of Jan. 23, March: Book Three won a record four top ALA awards: the Michael Printz Award, given to the best book for teens; the Coretta Scott King Author Award, given to the best book by an African-American author; the Robert Sibert Medal, given to the best non-fiction book for kids; and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Non-Fiction Award. Lewis accepted the YALSA award in front a large crowd, and his speech was captured in this ALSC Blog post.
Meanwhile, several other award-winning books also spotlighted diverse voices. Illustrator Javaka Steptoe won the 2017 Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, a book about the hugely talented African-American artist.
A book about an important piece of African-American history, Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie and written by Carole Boston Weatherford, was one of four Caldecott Honor books.
And finalists for the YALSA Non-Fiction Award, which won by March: Book 3, included In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives, by Kenneth Davis and This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration by Linda Barrett Osborne.
In fact, the Youth Media Awards themselves are a celebration of all kinds of diversity. In addition to the Caldecott Medal, the Newbery Medal, and the Coretta Scott King Awards for books by African-American authors and illustrators, other awards presented include:
__ the Pura Belpre Award, given to the best books by Latino writer and illustrator. This year's author winner was Juana Medina for Juana and Lucas, while the illustrator award went to Raul Gonzalez for Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, written by Cathy Camper;
__ the Schneider Family Book Awards, given to books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience. The award for young children (ages 0-10) went to Six Dots:A Story of Young Louis Braille, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Boris Kulikov, the award for a middle grade book (readers ages 11-13) went to As Brave As You, written by Jason Reynolds, the teen award went to When We Collided, written by Emery Lord;
__the Stonewall Book Award-Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children's & Young Adult Literature Award, given to books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience. This year's winners were: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgar: The Hammer of Thor, written by Rick Riordan and If I Was Your Girl, written by Meredith Russo.
|ALA leaders hold some of the winning books.|
Now it's time to bring all of this home, to keep up the momentum for celebrating diversity and spotlighting social justice. One thing I've committed to doing is creating a new book club, which I'm calling "Books to Action: A Social Justice Book Club for Kids and Adults." Our first meeting is Sat. Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Takoma Park Maryland Library. We'll read and discuss 2-3 illustrated books (generally geared to ages 5-10) around a particular issue (I'm betting immigration might be our first topic) and then do a simple community service project. I got the idea for the book club and the name from reading about a California State Library project, and things crystallized when several patrons with young children asked if we could do a regular event based on the "Hope & Inspiration" Community Read-Out that my library offered in December.
Let me conclude this blog post with this hopeful image (with thanks to Anne LeVeque):
END NOTE: A big shout-out to librarian Mary Voors, who manages the ALSC Blog, and her team of volunteer bloggers for doing such a great job of covering the Midwinter conference!