Tuesday, January 10, 2017

RWW Interviews: Laura M. Jiménez

Laura M. Jiménez
Our RWW Interviews series continues today with a conversation between Allie Jane Bruce and Laura M. Jiménez. Jiménez earned her Ph. D. in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology from Michigan State University in 2013. She is currently a lecturer in Boston University School of Education’s Language and Literacy program. Her research primarily focuses on reading comprehension and issues of representation in young adult literature with a special interest in graphic novels. Her work has appeared in The Journal of Education, Journal of Language & Literacy Education, Journal of Lesbian Studies and, most recently, The Journal of Literacy Research. She is currently working on a large-scale project looking at the ways women and girls are represented in graphic novels.

In addition, she writes a blog (http://booktoss.wordpress.com/) in which she reviews graphic novels and brings her understanding of graphic novels, YA literature and representation to a wider audience.


Can you share your origin story? How did you get started in this work, and what has changed over time?

Originally, in grad school I studied literacy, reading, and reading motivation.  I wasn’t interested in literature then.  I read a lot, though, I always have.  Reading saved my life when I was a kid.  But in academia, literature and literacy are separate, and I was looking at literacy.  

Then I started teaching children’s literature, and I found out that the way that it’s taught is very marginalizing along race, class, and sexuality lines.  That bothered me.  It’s also not grounded in literacy research.  So, I changed the way I taught.  Instead of putting all the “others” in the “ethnic aisle,” which, in academia, means the final week of class or in its own course, I taught it as a normal part of children’s literature.  And it was really difficult for my students, way more difficult than I thought it should be.  I was teaching the people who would go on to be American teachers--White women for the most part--and they were having a really really hard time connecting with these stories outside of their lived experiences.  And the more stereotypical and trope-ful the book was, the easier they could connect with it.  So I had to ask, how do I get people from White America to learn how to read and experience books in ways that are so different from them?  The answer came largely from W.E.B. DuBois’ theory of dual consciousness.  So when I write my blog, I’m trying to help White, straight, able people develop that dual consciousness.  It’s my way of saying, “I see the world this way.  This is how I can translate it for you so you can also see the issues that I am seeing.”

At first I was writing about books that I liked, good fit for classrooms.  About a year ago I decided, after talking to Debbie Reese, that I was going to take the idea of criticism head on--real, literary criticism.  Using race, queer, feminist theory to do that work on an open blog space.  Now, I research and write almost exclusively about graphic novels.  What finally did it for me was when I had read and posted about Delilah Dirk by Tony Cliff.    It was being touted as this great adventure story for girls, and it was incredibly sexist and misogynistic.  Her physicality is completely stereotypical, her cleavage is always perfect and out there, her arms are like little twigs, her upper arm is the same thickness as her lower arm even though she’s this sword-wielding badass.  The importance of image can’t be understated.  And the response I kept getting: “It’s so fun! He tried.”  And I finally said, “I can’t give a medal for trying.  Kids, girls, boys, everybody, deserves a better representation than this.”  It completely rankled me, and I took the gloves off.

Now, I don’t go looking for bad books.  Unfortunately, it’s not that hard.  I blog about the fabulous, I blog about the crap.  Unfortunately, there’s a lot of crap, pumped out under the guise of diversity in literature.  That’s what really bothers me.

Tell us about your research in graphic novels.  What questions are you asking?  What have you learned so far?

I look very closely at comprehension and motivation.  Typically, when academics look at graphic novels, everyone is saying “Look how motivating we are!” and nobody has asked “what are kids learning from this?”  Recently, that’s changed. What we’ve seen is that reading graphic novels is different from reading print novels.  It takes different processes, attention, time.  I’m not sure that reading graphic novels will directly transfer to reading print.  I’m not saying it won’t, there’s just no research base to say that it will.  I suspect there is a subset that will like the metacognitive work you do in both--the questioning, the predicting, inferencing, finding evidence.  I think the higher order thinking you do when you’re reading graphic novels will transfer over to print.  But I’m not sure yet.

Here’s what we do know: kids that read graphic novels learn content, solid information, from them, that they are then able to produce on standardized tests.  In one study I’m involved in, kids read Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy, and then we asked them standard history questions about the American Revolution.  We didn’t teach the book like a history text; they read it like a novel.  But they learned the content and the vocabulary.

The other thing is, all the kids wanted to read the books.  That’s the motivation piece.  We know that if they don’t want to read, kids will actually put more work into avoiding reading than the reading would actually take.  I borrow a lot of my thinking and teaching on this subject from library science--that “shut up and get a book in their hands” mentality.  If they don’t like it, get another one.  That is very very different from literacy-- “they should read this book for this reason.”  That’s the traditional thought.  What I tell people is, the question is, “are they going to read or are they not going to?”  And the arbiter of that is the child.  The older the child, the more sophisticated they are in subverting the systems they need to read.  So the single best thing we can do is motivate them.

And graphic novels are additive, because they contain visual cues as well as verbal.    We have enormous visual cortexes; we really are built to see the world.  We think that that visual component attunes the memory, and makes it easier to retrieve.  It is possible that reading multimodal books  embeds the information in a sort of multi-dimensionally or multiple places in your brain.
In all the work that you do, what are you most proud of?

I recently got the only piece about graphic novels in Journal of Literacy Research.  It took two years, and I brought in a second author to help me with the writing.  I’m hoping it’ll change the way the literacy field looks at graphic novels.  They’re not just popcorn, not just useful to keep the kid busy in the back of the classroom.  They’re complex, multi-dimensional literature.
How do you stay motivated or promote self-care when facing frustration or pushback?

I am very bad at self-care.  I think I am much better at handing out advice about taking care of yourself.  I am great at giving that advice, telling people to take a night off, but I’m the worst at actually doing it.  Luckily, I have a group of friends that give that advice right back at me.  So when I’m feeling completely drained, I just get angry, and then I’m not good.  And then I need to step back, take time off, spend time with my kids, cook a meal, read for pleasure.  I have people to tell me that, and I am smart enough to listen.
Who are your heroes, both within and without the children’s literature world?

Debbie Reese.  She is an inspiration, a touchstone.  I venture beyond my own identity: lesbian, Latina, nontraditional learner.  But I’m looking at representation of marginalized communities, which means I’m looking at communities I’m not a part of.  In some ways, that holds its own problematic issues.  But I can always go to her and say, “Am I totally off base here?”  She knows what’s going to get kickback, she knows when you’re sticking your neck out.  And she’s so generous.

One hero I’ve never met - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who talks about the balance between knowledge and skill, finding flow.  He’s looked at aesthetics, and how people read and react to what they’ve read--very needed.

What advice do you have for others looking to do equity work in the world of libraries and youth literature?

What I’ve discovered is that treating White, straight, able people as the problem or the enemy does not work.  I take that stance seriously.  Whiteness as an identity can’t be the problem--I start with that in mind.  I have to give them opportunities so they have the chance to be aware of their own identity.  It sounds strange to people, but I truly believe that White people do not realize that they are White.  It’s like trying to ask a fish to identify the water.  So I try to give them opportunities to see the water.  I have them identify their identities out loud.  I get them used to literally saying the words out loud: race, racism, White, Latinx.

In my teaching experiences, which are mostly with middle class White women, I think they have decided the best way to not get in trouble is to not talk about race, sexism, really all identity.  Just avoid it.  Avoid it at the cost of anything.  I have to break through that training.  We can’t deal with it if we don’t talk about it.  So I have them read WONDER and OUT OF MY MIND, as a paired texts.  By that time, at the end of the semester, I’m really looking for them to name the kind of flat character that Palacio gives us in Auggie--the object he acts as versus the kind of character Draper gives us in Melody.  I also look to see if they can figure out that she’s Black.  She doesn’t name it because she doesn’t need to.  By and large, there’s usually one or two people who don’t see it.  But the rest of the class does, because we have a community that can talk about it.  That last class, I am hoping I don’t have to say one word.  If I get them there, it’s been a successful semester.

The one thing that frustrates me the most--and I’m glad that Reading While White is doing what it does--is that if I say something about a book, if Debbie or Edi says something, we’re all told that we’re not giving the author a chance.  That they tried.  We are not believed.  If you look at the traffic RWW get vs the traffic I get or Edi gets, even though we’ve been doing this for longer, you get more, and the only difference is that you’re White.  To be honest, part of me resents that.  And, I am glad that there are people willing to amplify our voices.  If I write something, and you pick it up, that means so many more people will be willing to hear it.  And that is paramount to my work.  You get a lot of crap, the same criticism, but at the end of the day, you are heard and you are believed.  Without White voices, our message can’t be heard.  We are not believed.  It’s good that your team realizes it.

-Allie Jane Bruce

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Award Attention

In January, many youth librarians look forward to the announcements of ALA’s Youth Media Awards, which happens on the Monday morning of the Midwinter conference; this year, on Monday January 23rd at 8am Eastern.  (Details including a link for the live webcast can be found here.)

Over the years, this press conference has grown to include all of the youth media awards selected by ALA Divisions or Round Tables, including the Schneider Family Book Awards, the Stonewall Awards, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, and the Pura Belpré Awards.  

This last award is co-sponsored by The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC, a division of ALA) and The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking (REFORMA) together, which ensures its announcement (via ALSC) at the YMA press conference.  REFORMA is an affiliate of ALA.  There are other youth book awards selected by ALA affiliates which are not included in the YMA press conference, as they are not co-sponsored by an ALA body. They include:

Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature to honor and recognize individual work about Asian/Pacific Americans and their heritage, based on literary and artistic merit. Sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Library Association (APALA).

American Indian Youth Literature Award to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians. Books selected to receive the award will present American Indians in the fullness of their humanity in the present and past contexts.  Sponsored by the American Indian Library Association (AILA). This award is presented every two years and will be announced next in 2018.

Sydney Taylor Book Award  presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Sponsored by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL).

Of all of these awards, the Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpré, Asian/Pacific American and American Indian Youth Literature Awards are notably all for books created by people of those communities, about their own experience.  Over the years, I've heard the following questions repeatedly, largely from White people: “Shouldn’t any book about [a marginalized race] be eligible if it is the best portrayal of that experience?” or “Shouldn’t any book by an author of [a marginalized race] be eligible because it promotes an author of color?”  In fact, I have asked these questions myself during my career, and, gratefully, been reminded by White colleagues that either question misses the point. Organizations of librarians from marginalized communities take the lead on these awards, and the last thing they need is to explain how sorely these awards are still needed to well-intentioned White people. Yet they do.  Marc Aronson’s Slippery Slopes and Proliferating Prizes back in 2001 and Andrea Davis Pinkney’s response echoes today’s post-election railing against identity politics.

While I applaud all the youth media award winning authors and illustrators, you will always hear me clap the strongest for #OwnVoices book awards.   Please buy these books, and share the news, especially for those without a presence at the ALA Youth Media Awards press conference. These are meaningful awards deserving of everyone’s attention, and White people can do a better job of holding them up.

--Nina Lindsay

Thursday, December 29, 2016

RWW Interviews: Edi Campbell

Edi Campbell
Today we kick off our RWW Interviews series with a conversation between Elisa Gall and Edith (Edi) Campbell. Campbell is a Reference/Instruction Librarian at Indiana State University. She has served as the Indiana State Ambassador for USBBY and on the WNDB Walter Award Committee, YALSA’s BFYA jury, and CYBILS Nonfiction Awards committee.  She is a member of the 2018 Printz Award committee and she works with a team to coordinate the annual We’re the People Summer Reading List. She blogs at https://campbele.wordpress.com/ and can be found on Twitter at @CrazyQuilts. Thank you, Edi, for sharing your insights with us!


To many of us, you are an online superhero. Can you share your origin story? How did you get started blogging?
Super hero? No, I’m just a librarian doing her thing. There are so many, many more librarians, publishers, editors, authors and illustrators who have done this for such a long time! Their persistence has made it that much easier for me to do what I do. Just imagine some of the things I post that would have had serious consequences just a few decades ago. Because of what they have stated, exposed, spoke and risked, those of us working today are able to feel hopeful.

So, how did I get started?? I came into the library after spending part of my career teaching Social Studies. I had actually been a school librarian for a couple of years before I began blogging. I was looking for a new technology to master and I was also thinking about so many librarians and teachers who kept saying that they had a difficult time finding books by African American authors. I thought that could be something to blog about. I thought I could combine my interest in technology and in books to promote literacy for African American teens. I immediately saw the need to also include books for Latinx and my blog continued to become more and more inclusive.

What has changed since?
I think several things have changed over the years. I’ve tried different things over the years, some more interesting than others. I think I blog to promote Native American authors, authors of color and their books rather than to promote literacy and that’s probably because I’m not in a school library any more. Much of the sharing I used to do on my blog is now done on Facebook and Twitter and I think that brings up one major change in my blog: I just don’t post as much as I used to. I think my posts fell off when I was on BFYA and then the Walter Award Committee, and I’ve not really recovered from that, not gotten back into the blogging routine. Next year, I’m on another award committee so I’ll be back to blogging without talking about current books that are eligible for that award.

Something else that has changed since I started would be that other forms of social media have come about that have actually provided a voice to marginalized people. This has been a huge development.

You’ve talked about the importance of connecting with people with whom you disagree. How do you break the echo chamber?
I have two Twitter accounts and two Facebook accounts and it amazes me how many people I connect with that seem to share my same perspectives. I’ve even reconnected with people from grade school and high school and still I see little dissent on my FB feeds.

At this time when we’ll “unfriend” someone who says the slightest thing with which we disagree, it seems that it takes a conscious effort to connect with people of differing opinions. It’s following that person who says something you don’t completely agree with or in ‘real life’ it’s taking the risk of saying some things others may not agree with and being able to listen to others’ reactions. I’m beginning to think that coming offline and having those face to face connections is where we’re really going to build robust communities. Online, where there is no chance to read body language or facial expressions we tend to parse words while expecting nuanced conversations. It’s easy to get caught up and misunderstood online.

I like what Ashley Hope Perez said a few weeks ago in giving advice to people who want to be allies. She suggested using social media as a tool for listening. Sometimes, just listening helps us grow more than thinking we have to say something, especially if we’re listening to people outside the echo chamber.

In all the work that you do, what are you the most proud of?
This is going to feel like a punt, but I am most proud of my children and this definitely includes my daughter in law. While I maintain that they have become the awesome people that they are despite me, I am so very, very proud that they are my children. I learn so much from them! They are truly amazing people.

I take pride in being a librarian. While people claim librarianship is dying, I find it to be a very vibrant and demanding profession that requires me to keep learning, allows me to innovate services and provide ways for me to make a difference for others.

Can you tell us about the We’re the People list?
This is also something of which I’m quite proud! For the past couple of years, I’ve been able to work with some of the most amazing people in children’s literature (Tad Andracki, Sarah Park Dahlen, Sujei Lugo, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Nathalie Mvondo, Debbie Reese, Ed Spicer and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas) to create summer reading lists for all ages of children. We work together throughout the year to identify books written by authors of color that are chapter books, picture books, middle grade, young adult and adult crossover. We critically review each book so that our list contains books that we would be proud to give any child.

We look for books from small and large publishers, as well as self-published books. Intersectionality is extremely important as we look for books that also include LGBT+ characters, those with disabilities and those from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. We want biographies as well as sports books, speculative fiction and mysteries. We try to apply diversity in every sense of the word. It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work.

How do you stay motivated or promote self-care when facing frustration or pushback?
I don’t work alone. From the very beginning, I’ve been with a network of people who are just amazing! The network has changed over the years, but it’s always been there and I can always turn to them for clarity, strategy or for a good laugh. Being surrounded by people of integrity is the key to accomplishing most things in life, including remaining sane.

Balance is a critical part of self-care, but it can be challenging when you earn your living by your passion; when you want to get away from work, yet you want to read a book! I’ve only recently questioned ‘what am I doing for me?’ It helps to be healthy, to eat to live rather than living to eat and to get out in nature as much as possible. I think celebrating is an important part of this equation, but in equity work, it can seem like there is so little to celebrate at times, but there are small successes and it helps to stay positive to recognize them.

Who are people you look to for advice and inspiration?
My family really takes a strong interest in what I do. My children keep up with much of what I’m doing and we talk about many issues that intersect with my passion, and with their passions, too. Talking to them, getting a perspective from outside that echo chamber really helps. And the inspiration I get from my daughter-in-law as well as my three children knows no limits.

Children’s literature is an intersecting world. We have so many differences within this community, but we have that common drive to get good literature to our children and that really holds us together. I’ve approached so many people for advice and rarely if ever have been turned away.

There are too many people in children’s literature who excel at what they do to begin naming names, too many people who have shared wisdom or advice with me and who inspire me.

What advice do you have for others looking to do equity work in the world of libraries and youth literature?
I’d say if you’re interested in doing equity work in libraries and/or children’s literature, you should be clear about why you want to do this work. If it’s about what you want to get and not what you want to give, you may want to spend your efforts on something else.

I’d say understand that you’re joining a network of people who are and have been entrenched in this work; build upon their knowledge. Know that we’re reaching a point in time where those who are LGBT+, disabled, Native American or people of color know who we are and what we want. We’re not looking for missionaries to represent our interest. We need workers who honor the past while creating a new future. I’d say forget patience, we’ve been patient too long. Look back and fly forward.

- Elisa Gall

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Introducing Our RWW Interviews Series

We are pleased to introduce our newest series, where we will feature key players from the children’s literature world in conversation with a core member of Reading While White (RWW). The topics will vary, but all will be pertinent to our thrust of racial diversity and inclusion in books for children and teens. We are grateful to Edi Campbell, who gave us the idea for this series; appropriately enough, Elisa Gall’s interview with Edi is due up first (check back tomorrow morning).

Our interviewees will be mostly women of color and First/Native Nations. Why? Because we want to reflect the reality of who has been doing the work in this field. Of course there are men among the “Diversity Jedi,” but let’s be honest: when we men do anything in children’s literature (or any other field, for that matter) we get heaped with more praise than we deserve, or at least more praise than a women would get in the same situation.

We look forward to these conversations and hope you will tune in to our first interview post tomorrow.

- Sam Bloom

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Spotlight On #OwnVoices: When We Were Alone

Robertson, David A. When We Were Alone. Illus. by Julie Flett. Highwater Press, 2016. 24 pages. ISBN 978-1-55379-673-2.

An inquisitive young girl, working in the garden with her kókom, asks a series of questions.  "Nókom, why do you wear so many colours?" "Nókom, why do you wear your hair so long?" "Nókom,why do you speak in Cree?"

Nókom's answers come in three parts: What life was like at home, in her community; what life was like at the school she went to, which was far away from home; and what life was like when she and her classmates managed to escape from the watchful eyes of their captors for a few minutes at a time, during which they remembered, and briefly re-lived, happy times.

Robertson's straightforward yet poetic text ("...at the school I went to, far away from home, they cut off all our hair. Our strands of hair mixed together on the ground like blades of dead grass") makes this deceptively simple book accessible to roughly first grade and up, and Flett's delicate collages encapsulate the mood of every page turn.  Descriptions of the enforced bleakness of life at boarding school, as children were dressed mono-chromatically, punished for speaking their own languages, and prevented from seeing their family members, are reflected with appropriately bleak renderings; in the rare moments children can snatch alone, splashes of color and vibrancy emerge.

Perhaps most noteworthy about When We Were Alone is how it elegantly balances three separate narratives: life at home, in the community; life at a dehumanizing "school"; and, brief snatches of humanity and happiness in the face of that colonial force.  As important as it is to teach children the truth about race and colonialism in history, there is a danger of instilling in them a narrative in which Native peoples are necessarily victims.  When We Were Alone honestly presents a history that attempted to victimize Cree children--and then counters it with a narrative of survival, humanity, and community.  A first purchase for every children's collection.

Reviewed by Allie Jane Bruce.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Bring It Back: The Secret Stars

Slate, Joseph. The Secret Stars. Illus. by Felipe Dávalos. Marshall Cavendish, 1998,  32 pages ISBN 0-7614-5027-0 op
On the Night of the Three Kings, Sila and Pepe think excitedly about the toys that might appear the next morning, and they worry that the frigid weather might make locating their New Mexico home next to impossible. Their grandmother, cuddled with her grandchildren under a cozy quilt, assures them that the Three Kings will find a way to navigate by stars even with clouds in the sky. (“There are stars behind clouds / and in many secret places.”) As they sleep in bed, she takes them on a dream where they find stars shining everywhere: in the twinkle of the freezing flowers, a spider’s icy egg sac, and even in the chicken coop. The children wake on the day of the Three Kings to notice beautiful stars in the veins on their grandmother’s face, presents waiting for them in the barn, and three frozen and glistening pine trees:
“Look-ee, look-ee there, Sila,” cries Pepe.
“The pines have become the Three Kings!”
“And their crowns and capes,” says Sila,
“they are filled with stars.”

Through their dialogue, the family’s faith and love shines as brightly as the glittering pieces of nature they discover together. The Three Kings, each with a different skin tone, are shown on the title page and later as figures on the mantle, but the mysteries of their gifts are left for readers to interpret. The text is engaging, full of metaphor (“She is the warm hearth on this cold night. / She is the nestling log.”) and descriptions, such as the “Rat-a-tat-tat” of the freezing rain on the rooftop. The illustrations combine spot art with paintings within frames, reflecting the Southwestern setting. A darker palette allows for shining objects to pop, reinforcing the mood of discovery and feel of light amid the shadows of winter. 

While this is about a specific holiday, the family’s warmth and the children’s enthusiasm and anticipation will have universal appeal. It’s no surprise to me that the Pura Belpré Award Committee recognized Dávalos with an honor for illustration in 2000. Let’s get it back in print so that more families can snuggle up like grandmother, Sila, and Pepe and create new memories reading and sharing this story together.
 -Elisa Gall

The #OwnVoices tag in this case applies only to the illustrator. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Bring It Back!

I'm sure we've all had the experience of setting out to buy a favorite book as a gift for a child or a teen -- or replacing a worn library copy of a popular item -- only to find out that the book is out of print and no longer available.

This seems to happen with even greater frequency with books by and about people of color and First Native/Nations. Joseph Bruchac's memoir Bowman's Store: A Journey to Myself was published by Dial in 1997 and went out of print so fast it never had time to find its audience or work its way into the secondary curriculum -- and this in a time when teachers were crying out for authentic books about First Native/Nations for their classrooms. Luckily, Lee & Low managed to bring it back into print just four years after its original publication, and it's been in print and available from them since 2001.

Just this fall Lee & Low has brought back into print another great book, Mama and Papa Have a Store by Amelia Lau Carling (as well as the Spanish language version La tienda de mamá y papá, with the translation by Carling as well).  This exceptional picture book recounts part of the author/illustrator's early childhood in Guatemala as a member of a second generation Chinese immigrant family. It was originally published by Dial in 1998 and it won the Américas Award, as well  a Pura Belpré Honor for illustration in 2000. In the early years of the award, there were so few Latinx books that the Belpré Award was given every two years so there would be a large enough pool from which to choose. And there were times when one of the awardees would already be out of print by the time the award was announced.

But Lee & Low can't bring every great book back into print.

I always want to buy John Steptoe's brilliant picture book Baby Says (Harper, 1988) as a gift for every new baby I know. But I can't because it's been out of print for years and I can't afford the $47.50 used book dealers are asking for for it on Amazon. It's a shame Harper never had the foresight to issue it as a board book. They wouldn't even need to change the trim size or truncate the text. How can we let publishers know that we want these books when we can no longer buy them to demonstrate that?  Diverse books need to stay in print longer than they currently do, and they need to be available in paperback and board book editions, too.

With this in mind, we're launching a new series on Reading While White called "Bring It Back!" We hope to call attention to the great  #OwnVoices books we have on our library shelves which have all too quickly disappeared from the stores and warehouses. Because it's not just that #WeNeedDiverseBooks.  #WeNeedDiverseBooksToStayInPrint.

--KT Horning