I realize that I keep most active on Twitter, and if you’ve found me there recently, or even stopped by here, I want to first welcome you and thank you.
Over the last bit of time, I’ve chatted with authoress Erin Entrada Kelly at the Boston Book Festival about her new middle grade novel (a must read), Lalani of the Distant Sea. Erin’s selfie game is strong as you can see below. I love this picture so much! (BTW: if you are looking for some fabulous short stories, I also can’t say enough about Erin’s; that’s how she got her start writing MG novels–her short stories!).
I completed my time as judge for the Boston Globe-Horn Book awards. The winners are incredible. Please, read, buy, and share these amazing books. I was definitely fangirling HARD the entire night.
I presented about equity and literacy a few times, including the Scholastic Reading Summit in Greenwich, CT (Black Boy Lit); at ILA with my favorite #squad: Aeriale Johnson and I about Black and Brown boy lit (I love working with Ms. J; I’m going to see if we can make this a permanent thing!), with Julia Torres about how literacy affiliates and chapters can really, truly think about diversifying their affiliates, and with all of my favorite people–Anna Osborn, Tiana Silvas, Aeriale, and Tricia Ebarvia about teachers and action research. Anytime I can spend with them is self-care. We laugh. We cry. We plot revolution. We go to Sonic. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I should also note that none of my ability to get up and chat with folks would have been possible had not Lizabeth Moore been my ELA and Speech Team coach for all those years in high school. I have eternal love and gratitude for her for seeing and nurturing something in me when I was just a teenage mess, and for also building and supporting a community of young people, some of whom are my dear friends to this day.
In the last two months of 2019, I’ll hope to reflect on the year, be grateful for the abundance that grows in my life, from friendships, to family, to mothering my boy (and am still getting powerful feedback from folks who have been moved by that post), and remember that I’m happier when I’m disconnected (Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism has been good for this), but I have a Twitter habit I just can’t quit. Shrug.
Three quick things that are saving my life right now:
-committing to cooking a few nights a week. I’ve decided to cook from two cookbooks, Julia Turshen’s Small Victories and Lucinda Scala Quinn’s Mad Hungry. Both have easy, delicious recipes that I can pull together with minimal planning and shopping, and my kid tends to like it. Oh, and Smitten Kitchen. Always, always.
–Occupational Therapists for children. I’m convinced all young children need them. ALL. I’m learning so much from the one who works with us and how much the body’s core regulates, well, everything.
–returning to a reading habit. I have been able to read only what I want, and I realize how much of a privilege that is after judging the award. I’m making up for lost time and reading nearly 100% exclusively BIPOC authors. ONLY. And I’m making sure to read BIPOC authors that I don’t have a lot of experience reading so I can build my own windows and sliding glass doors (Bishop, 1992).
I have a number of 2020 PD dates already on my calendar. If I’ll be spending time with you in the new year, I’m looking forward to learning together. If you’d like to bring me to your school or workplace, please send me a message. I have some limited availability and love working with departments, districts, and community organizations.
I’m aiming to update the rest of the site with articles, podcast links, and sundry information that helps to know what’s new around here, with an eye to returning to a regular writing flow soon. I promise!
I knew someone years ago who told me that, during moments when something happened that was either unexpected or undesirable, her father would encourage her to “Do something different (DSD).” My sense is that those words were not always welcome, especially during particular moments of frustration, but what it did was to encourage her to stop, to gain some perspective, and to make a change.
Doing something different created #31DaysIBPOC and it also was a factor that influenced my participation as a judge for the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards.
Wait–How Many Books?! I was honored when Roger Sutton selected me because, well, free books! Then, the books began arriving (from June ‘18-May ‘19), and I quickly understood why I needed to be careful what I asked for. Some days, I’d receive boxes of hundreds of books, combinations of picture books, nonfiction, young adult novels and everything in between. I explained to someone that we were essentially looking for a needle in a haystack. The criteria was simple: “excellence,” but as you might figure out, excellence can be a moving target, especially because we read books through the lenses of who we are. Roger knows about my work as a literacy organizer and he also knows I’m vocal about equity, so I’m certain he knew what kind of lenses I would bring as a judge.
I also adhere to the words of my dissertation advisor, Dr. Arlette Willis, who told me, “You never know if they’re going to invite you back.”
My lenses are particularly attuned to looking for books written by BIPOC authors and illustrators, and as I opened the boxes, I read through all of the books and kept tallies of the ones from writers and illustrators of color. At one point, there were at least 25-30 books featuring animals and fewer than 10 about BIPOC kids. That snapshot was fairly typical. I’d say out of the nearly 1300 books we read, a slim number of those were about BIPOC, and an even smaller number were #ownvoices. And while I always knew this was the case, to live through the process of unboxing book after book after book about white children who might have an incidental Black or Brown friend–if that, as often there was just whiteness– was demoralizing. It’s no wonder BIPOC authors and illustrators have such a hard time gaining any recognition: they’re simply outnumbered by volume. When so many books arrive in such a short time, with a tight deadline for reviewing and considering it for an award, unless a person is looking for who and what is missing, the absence can go unquestioned.
Selecting a Winner
The next challenge could come from whatever processes the committee uses to narrow the selections. I will say upfront that the chair of my committee, Monica Edinger, was a pro. She’s served on other awards committees, so she was able to offer guidance while moving us along and providing reminders that helped us to record our favorites, discuss our thoughts, and meet deadlines for winnowing the selections. I’ve said in several places that this experience was what it was for me because of the chair, and that’s another takeaway: the chair has incredible power to guide or derail a selection committee (and keep in mind I’ve been on one, and only one, of these committees) because if there’s no process that gives all the final choices an equitable discussion, (if any diverse books have made it to the final rounds in the first place), then all books don’t get the same consideration. I appreciated that all the books we’d put forward as individual favorites received equal time in deliberations.
There were also moments when that same white woman chair called me out on my love of a book that, when we got down to it for example, glorified poverty, another that had rhymes that didn’t quite work, and other points that I needed to have made to me because, as I said, I read through my own biased lenses, and I’m still learning, too! She also spoke up about whiteness and named issues that I’m not so confident other white folks would be able to name and own so readily. I was grateful that I had the opportunity to learn more and read more (my TBR list is going to last me the rest of the year). And, as compared to other situations I’ve been in where white women have been condescending and have felt they needed to wield white knowledge to “teach” me something, I always felt I was in high-caliber, thoughtful, respectful discussions that were grounded in a broad definition of excellence about a range of texts that were not derailed by white fragility, maybe for the first time in my life in the context of working with white colleagues.
Again, because we read through the lenses of who we are, if we are in spaces where folks tend to share the same ideas, and where everyone upholds white supremacy, well, then, nothing different happens. We need challenges, even if we feel strongly about a book, in this case. I will also say that I’m often surprised when white women, particularly, speak up about inclusivity and diversity, and actually do something that changes outcomes. It seems like this is a bit of a broken record, but if you’ve not seen the Horn Book Award winners for 2019 yet, here they are. I emailed one of my doctoral professors, Dr. Violet J. Harris, to ask if she’d seen the winners and she said something along the lines of being “shocked” about the number of authors and illustrators of color and then looked more closely at the judges (waves hand). A diverse selection of winners is still shocking and surprising, unfortunately, but it shouldn’t be. There are so many excellent, truly excellent books for children and young adults that are consistently written by BIPOC authors and illustrators.
Now that I’m on the other side of the judging, all I can say is that I get it. I get why it’s so difficult for a book by a BIPOC author or illustrator to get picked up (see the current comments on my timeline in response to Black scientists attempting to get their books published and getting no traction from publishers). If it does get published by some small miracle, then it is even harder that the book will catch the eye of enough people who will think it should be considered for an award. For most books written by BIPOCs, that’s really the end of the line. Many will go out of print before most know they even existed in the first place. Maybe some of those texts find niches or gather momentum through word of mouth or advocates, but it’s still unpredictable, especially if the people in positions to make the decisions are refusing to look.
Wrapping Up May
This month’s #31DaysIBPOC blog circle was a project that began with a desire to do something different and to stop wishing and waiting for white spaces to incorporate the robust, powerful, important voices of BIPOC folks, many of whom wrote for #31Days, but extend far beyond just one month. We honestly could have done #365DaysIBPOC.
Asking all the contributors who wrote posts this month was sheer delight–I was absolutely giddy when we reached out and people said yes so enthusiastically. Then, once the posts began, I was most proud of how well received they were by such a broad audience, particularly by so many who did not know about all this excellence that has always been here: in your classrooms, in your universities, in your communities, in your conferences. We did something different for May, and now, as we close it out, I’m curious to know what happens next. Do we say this was a great project and return to the way things were, or do we linger and reflect on all the ways we have been pushed and challenged to reflect on our identities and literacies and make ourselves do something different tomorrow and every day after?
If nothing else, judging the Horn Book Awards and working alongside the #31Days contributors has reaffirmed that BIPOC excellence has always been here, in all ways. All we need to do is look.
Thank you for supporting #31DaysIBPOC. Look for us again next May in what we hope will become an annual tradition. In the meantime, please continue to follow, make space for, and support the brilliant work of our contributors.
Have a restorative summer.
This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by LaMar Timmons-Long (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle) and start at the beginning with Aeriale Johnson’s Day 1 blog.
History and Repetition: Removing the Cloaks for Socially Just Practices
“There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away[.]”
—Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886), from Poem 1263
I was an adolescent in the 1990s when I first read Emily Dickinson’s poem “There Is No Frigate Like a Book.” After reading the poem twice and asking myself some questions as a reader, I used the American Heritage Dictionary and learned that a frigate could be a light boat or even a kind of warship. I was drawn to Dickinson’s language use and arts to communicate the human need for escape and also to travel through one’s imagination—accompanied by books—for an adventurous journey.
If it were not for our teacher, Mr. Lincoln Pettaway, inviting us to question what we read and guiding us to challenge the ideas in our textbook World History: People and Nations, Texas Edition (Mazour & Peoples, 1990), I doubt I would have gained the mindfulness and persistence for deeper thinking as an adolescent student and reader (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. World History Textbook.
Cover of the history textbook adopted in 1989 and used in a high school in Houston, Texas.
While reading history and even literature via state-approved textbooks, students can gain a humanist-oriented education with metacognitive inquiry and self-efficacy practices. Students can be guided by teachers and teacher educators who practice critical and multimodal literacies.
My interest in becoming a teacher began when I was in grade school and carries me forward as a teacher educator today. Through the years, I remember the approaches, methods, and strategies used by many of my teachers in my schooling and in my becoming educated. In fact, I recall my study of prehistoric cultures and civilizations during high school that also included the contributions by the Egyptians, Sumerians, Phoenicians, Lydians, Hebrews, Indians, Chinese, and numerous dynasties and empires.
As we advanced to the Mediterranean world in history class, Mr. Pettaway asked us to examine the textbook authors’ point of view in the opening of “Chapter 6: Greek Civilization Triumphed During the Golden Age and the Hellenistic Age, 478 B.C. – 148 B.C.” First, there was reluctance from us to open the book during our final class period of the day. However, we persisted and opened the book to Chapter 6, Section 2. Second, we rarely questioned texts we read in school and much less the tellers of history. This was a new learning move we were invited to consider and adopt.
Mr. Pettaway said, “Students, start by reading the two sentences before the section on Socrates. Then, write down in your notebook what you believe the historians Mazour and Peoples want us to understand.” This encouragement was welcome and sustaining to keep going in the labor of reading. We read:
The Greeks have been honored through the ages for their artistic and intellectual achievements. No people before them—and few since—have demonstrated so clearly the capacity of the human hand and mind. (p. 128)
Figure 2. Passage from World History: People and Nations, Texas Edition (1990)
The textbook authors Anatole G. Mazour and John M. Peoples recognize one civilization to the point of editorializing with bias and ethnocentrism.
The authors Mazour and Peoples attempted to “take us lands away” like the speaker in Dickinson’s poem states, except in this case the narrative was cloaked with inaccuracies and also misleading histories (see Figure 2). Instead, Mazour and Peoples—and even other professors, curriculum specialists, and field test teachers in complicity as members of the Editorial Review Board—favored inaccurate portrayals and intentional exclusion of civilizations that contributed then and now to the humanities—all across the ages and globe. (In fact, we find new discoveries about human inventiveness as reported by journalists and researchers around the world every day.)
Through the textbook, we learned about whose civilizations mattered most in the ethnocentric vision of the authors and Editorial Review Board, while also considering Socrates, Sophists, and philosophers. Even the calendar created by Pope Gregory XIII, which was introduced in October 1582, dominated the wobbly, one-sided textbook. These practices favored ethnocentrism with limiting points of view—all in the cloaked guise of innocence, merit, and objectivity.
In “Linking Autonomy and Humanity,” Wiel Veugelers explained, “Human beings have the possibility to give meaning to their lives and to create coherence in experiences. [. . .] Education, in the family, in civic institutions, and at school, can contribute to young people’s meaning giving processes” (p. 2). A teacher possesses the power to remain complicit or to create change by inviting students to think and question to gain greater understanding. In our case as readers of history, Mr. Pettaway was guiding us to make our thinking known and audible and secondary-school scholars in formation.
Teachers like Mr. Pettaway—and many others here in the United States and around the world—understand the ways we humans can make meaning and can come to name ourselves and the societies we live in, study, and understand. Sometimes these teachers are also historians and philosophers today and across schools and institutions.
In addition, students can join the conversation in the age of fake news, mistold truths, and untold facts. The seriesLies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen is an example of books that provide readers more artifacts and primary sources about the conflicts and drama in the making and writing of American history and public monuments (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. Book Cover of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Young Readers’ Edition (2019).
James W. Loewen’s book was adapted for young readers and makes American history come alive through challenges, conflicts, and dissenting views.
Forms of bias, bigotry, colonialism, ethnocentrism, and racism appear in our everyday lives and require deeper study and dialogue to uncloak the untold through our pedagogical work. Daily, people stand up for the common good and for the humanities in our classrooms across the country (Nieto, 2013). Their contributions and labors make the humanities remain alive with truths to uncover and restore.
For instance, just last year Susan Goldberg (2018), the tenth editor of National Geographic, shared the results of a research study conducted by the historian John Edwin Mason on the magazine’s coverage of people around the world and since its founding in 1888. Goldberg stated,
[U]ntil the 1970s National Geographic all but ignored people of color who lived in the United States, rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers or domestic workers. Meanwhile it pictured ‘natives’ elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché. Unlike magazines such as Life, Mason said, National Geographic did little to push its readers beyond the stereotypes ingrained in White American culture.
The editor’s courage and also honesty to communicate the harm and injustice a U.S. mainstream periodical committed over a century and spread around the world are testimonies of change, hope, and vision.
History and repetition must be challenged by removing the cloaks of authors and institutions for socially just practices and teaching to unfold in our classrooms. One recent resource is the booklet titled Speak Up at School: How to Respond to Everyday Prejudice, Bias and Stereotypes (2018) by Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Figure 4. Cover of Speak Up at School (2018).
Teaching Tolerance provides numerous resources with the mission to “to help teachers and schools educate children and youth to be active participants in a diverse democracy.”
In addition, the pocket guide and mini-video to assemble it provide immediate and responsive action for students and all of us to take as upstanders who can remove cloaks for change, progress, and humane treatment in our lives (see Figure 4).
The work of teachers in the lives of students and their colleagues is immense and life-changing through small, yet necessary and essential, acts of questioning and deeper thinking. Sometimes the work we do requires an openness to our students’ stories, which are filled with doubts, fears, knowledge, questions, and wisdom.
In the bookTeaching, a Life’s Work: A Mother–Daughter Dialogue (2019), Sonia Nieto and Alicia López shared their visions and values for teaching and learning (see Figure 5). They noted, “Every student has a story and every student needs an adult to watch out for them in school. Knowing a student’s story can give teachers great insights into who they are, both in the classroom and out” (p. 54).
Figure 5. Book Cover of Teaching, a Life’s Work: A Mother–Daughter Dialogue (2019).
Sonia Nieto and Alicia López share their teaching journeys and include the challenges and joys of a teaching, fulfilling life among students, families, and colleagues.
If history can become an act of repetition, then we must enact multiliteracies with our students for learning and understanding by removing the cloaks in our lands and shores for socially just practices to unfold in our classrooms and teaching. We can “watch out” for each other in our schools, through the books we adopt and question, and in our professional dialogue for socially just experiences in our learning institutions. In our teaching journeys with our students, we possess the intellect and imagination to name history as it is unfolding and to change course.
This blog post is part of the #31DaysTOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Nessa Perez (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).
I ordered Martellus Bennett’s forthcoming Dear Black Boy. His essay in the Washington Post is simply beautiful and is a powerful reminder for why we need a range of texts and representation for Black boys.
“We can begin to change that — not just by integrating those mostly white realms but also by allowing black boys the space to dream differently. Accept them for who they show you that they really are. When you look at black boys, see them as the future writers, composers, chefs, tech moguls, presidents, film directors, architects, illustrators or fashion designers that they are. The world is more beautiful when we let black boys dream big.”
I’ve been loving some new titles (or new to me) that I’ll either be book talking in upcoming presentations or suggesting when folks ask. Here are a few. All make worthy additions to the on-going list of resources distributed at workshops and available here.
The Season of Styx Malone, Kekla Magoon (MG): funny, buddy novel that includes a realistic Black family living in rural Indiana
Where’s Rodney? Carmen Bogan (PB): fantastic way of thinking about why Black boys (and ALL kids) need to be able to experience nature and what happens when they are outside and able to LIVE
Finding Langston, Lisa Cline-Ransome (MG): a gentle, slim, beautifully written novel about a boy who moves to Chicago with his father during the Great Migration and struggles to find his way. Literacy saves him, and so, too, does love. Oh how I love this book.
The Parker Inheritance, Varian Johnson (MG): another on my TBR list. It’s picked up a bunch of awards and I’m thinking this is a good model for boy-girl friendships and could spark some healthy discussion about being a good friend, especially for tweens.
Dream Country, Shannon Gibney (YA): I do think this is the first example of a YA novel that covers the relationship between African immigrants and African Americans. Reminded me a lot of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, in that it’s intergenerational and takes place in Liberia and in Minnesota. Be sure to read Gibney’s acknowledgements, particularly about why she wrote her book and about Black boys. Image credit
I’m presenting at the Scholastic Reading Summits over the next two weeks. On Thursday, July 12, I’ll be in Raleigh, NC (OMG, sold out!!!) and the following week on July 19, in Greenwich, CT .
My workshop is officially titled: Creating an Independent Reading Canon for Black Boys, and we’ll spend some time talking books that resonate with Black boys, the wonderful world of #blackboylit and how to make sure we’re making informed, critical decisions about what texts we include in our libraries and our instructional practices, and, of course, how independent reading is gonna save us all. Because, it just IS.
I hope to see you either here or in the social media universe. I’ll post my fall workshops as they are booked (which reminds me, I still have some availability for PD if you’re looking for someone whose work is useful, relevant, and effective).
I presented at the Horn Book Colloquium in Boston on October 7. While there were so many highlights (probably the best being meeting Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give and experiencing living legend Ashley Bryan lead us all in a poetry rendition), I was able to lead a discussion with attendees about books for Black boys. I used John Steptoe’s Stevieas a foundational text, then we worked our way through books that are entry points and extensions for this group.
Lots of books on my bibliography were unfamiliar to the audience, and that desire to learn more about what is really a historical legacy of excellent books for Black children sparked a substantial part of the discussion and what we can do to make these books accessible to all children and those of us committed to their care.
After nearly 16 years of teaching and learning with young people, I’m leaving the classroom at the end of the school year.
I am not leaving entirely; rather, I’ll be working in a program that prepares pre-service teachers, a pursuit I’ve wanted to dedicate much more time to doing.
Now, though, is the hard part of leaving. My first thought after accepting my new position was: what is going to happen to my books? I knew I wanted them to go to someone who knows why a robust, diverse classroom library matters–for all kids, but, in the case of my work, particularly for underserved kids. I also wanted to be able to give the library to someone who might not have the resources to acquire this treasure for him/her/themself.
And while I’ve worked to create a school-wide culture of independent reading at my current school, I’m not so sure it will continue in ways that I’m comfortable.
So, this was a wonderful opportunity to look backwards–something I’m not that fond of doing because, well, when that happens we can see the good and the bad.
I have a beloved colleague that used to teach down the hall from me about 10 or 12 years ago. We have continued to be critical, thoughtful friends for each other over the years. He’s wanted to gain a foothold with independent reading with his kids. He knows it matters. He has made smaller achievements with them. He could make leaps and bounds, I think, if he had more resources. His school’s budget has been trimmed even more.
Supplies, particularly books, are usually the first line item to be cut.
He is taking all of the books. All nearly 900 of them that kids WANT to read. He and a colleague are driving across town and will load them all and take them back to their school.
This colleague sent me an email asking for money for the library.
Is he kidding? But that’s how Chris is. I told him that the fact that I know the books are going to be read and re-read and that that library is going to be used is all the peace of mind I could ever want, and a small step towards giving kids access to all the books they want and need.
But yes, he could take me to dinner and we can catch up as thanks, for sure. Always. I’m also reminded of how ideas leave us connected and believing in the power of literacy and kids’ rights to have literate lives, reminding us to work like heck to realize those ideas.