2021: A Reading Year-In-Progress

JANUARY

One of my multiplying book stacks…

Luster, Raven Leilani

A working class Black girl’s struggle to find herself while navigating a complicated relationship with her white male lover.

Finna, Nate Marshall #blackboylit

A moving book of poetry about Blackness, love of Black people, and Chicago.

The Girl with the Louding Voice, Abi Dare

A young Nigerian girl overcomes a tremendous number of hardships, holding true to her desire to be educated and to find her voice.

Concrete Rose, Angie Thomas #blackboylit

Maverick Carter’s story is powerful: teenage father learning to find his voice and his own power. It will make you immediately go reread The Hate U Give

FEBRUARY

Memorial, Bryan Washington

Queer love story about a Black man and his Asian lover, a dying father, family dynamics, and what happens when a relationship can (and should?) end. It’s not easy, by any stretch of the imagination.

MARCH

Black Kids, Christina Hammonds Reed

I appreciate this book for breaking me out of my reading rut. Fabulous, thoughtful, complex look at a young Black girl who is wealthy, goes to school in a predominantly white environment, and is trying to figure out all the identities she has and wants to be. I’d also use this book as a craft study b/c Hammonds Reed can write a brilliant sentence, and this book has so many. One of my faves of the year at this point.

APRIL

You Should See Me In a Crown, Leah Johnson

I continue to turn to YA as a way to get my reading life restarted. Liz Lighty is an overachieving Black girl who wants to go to the local PWI more than anything. She’s queer, which is hard in a small Indianapolis town, made even more complicated because she runs for prom queen. I felt for Liz, who has be to exceptional in every way, struggles with anxiety, and the loss of her mother, and, well, being working class in a white midwestern town.

MAY

We Are Not Broken, George M. Johnson

Another entry to the #blackboylit canon that gives us a nonbinary young person living their best life. This was a great example of all the ways young people can grow up whole, free, and supported by a loving community. A memoir in vignettes, too!

Things We Couldn’t Say, Jay Coles

I read this one with the Johnson book above in preparation for moderating a panel for SLJ’s Day of Action. Another #blackboylit title. I so appreciated the main character, a bisexual Black boy who experiences depression, a missing parent, and falling in love. I loved Gio so much, and also appreciated his comments about school, lol, especially being dragged through a reading of To Kill A Mockingbird.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Deesha Philyaw

This book got me OUT of my reading rut. Just an excellent collection of short stories about Black women that is beautifully written, funny, sad, healing…just everything. I wished it was longer, have recommended it as my favorite book this year, and gift it, too.

JUNE

Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching, Jarvis Givens

I stan for Dr. Givens and his scholarship because it helps me locate myself in the tradition of the art of Black teaching. Lots about the life of Carter G. Woodson, Black teachers, and why what we do matters even more today. It’s also an important reminder that as teachers we need to be “scholars of the practice” and make time to read scholarship.

The Prophets, Robert Jones, Jr.

This queer love story set during enslavement was moving and reminiscent of Morrison in so many ways. I loved the love and resistance of characters and felt such deep sorrow to read about the ancestors, real and imagined. Once I started, I read right through the days to finish, and the two men at the center of the story, and their insistence on loving each other, was so very powerful and beautiful.

Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry, Joya Goffney

Just a fun YA book, perfect for the summer. See my Twitter thread about loving this book and why it’s SO necessary.

Barracoon, Zora Neale Hurston

This book came up at the library and I’ve been wanting to read it. The story of Kossola, the last survivor of the Clotida, is devastating. It’s important for understanding the impact of enslavement, how Africans were treated by African Americans, and the lasting legacy that so many of us carry with us. Required reading. Plus, it’s a powerful account of the anthropological work of Zora Neale Hurston.

The House of Historical Corrections, Danielle Evans

I’m a Danielle Evans fan. Her first short story collection is one of my all-time favorites. This second collection is even more brilliant. She can write a beautiful sentence and tell a brilliant story while breaking your heart and affirming your Blackness and brilliance all at once. These short stories are definitely teachable in high school classrooms, too, and ones I wish I had access to when I was looking for something different for my own short story units…

JULY

So We Can Glow, Leesa Cross Smith

Seems like the universe is trying to help me find my way back to my reading life. These short/micro stories are delightful. Lots take place in Kentucky, so that’s even more special to me, and Cross-Smith is SO good at writing about women in the everyday. I felt so seen while I read this collection in all parts of my life: high school, college, post-college, now.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown, Talia Hibbert

I finished the final book of Hibbert’s trilogy and found it quite satisfying. Hibbert’s characters are funny, thoughtful, smart, and real. A great easy breezy read that also features characters with autism, depicted multidimensionally, where the characters are so much more.

AUGUST

Motherhood So White: A Memoir on Race, Gender, and Parenting in America, Nefertiti Austin

I try to read books on Black motherhood because there are so few out there. I would like a mirror for that part of my experience, too! Austin’s book is an interesting take on adoption and makes a strong case for why and how to do it. I found myself bothered by her perspectives on birth parents and there was an air of respectability that was hard for me. I’m glad this book is out there for folks, though.

Seven Days in June, Tia Williams

Just when I needed a good romance that centered on a single mom suffering from debilitating migraine headaches who was an amazing writer and got back in touch with an old flame, this book delivered. A solid rom-com, filled with some great humor (the tween daughter is well-written, much because I bet Williams drew on her success writing your a YA audience in a couple of her earlier books). Love this, too, especially for the summer.

How Much of These Hills is Gold, C. Pam Zhang

I wanted to immediately teach this book with juniors, especially in all those discussions about the “American Dream.” A story of two Chinese girls in the west, their family, their hopes, their dreams, and, well, what happens as they try to survive during brutal settler colonialism. So many beautiful, heartbreaking sentences and characters who I absolutely loved.

OCTOBER

All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks

How I appreciate Black women for being able to lovingly gather us. bell hooks lays it down about why we need to actively choose love again and again, and how we can heal ourselves. I found myself stopping and rereading so much of this book; so much resonance, especially right now.

Summer On the Bluffs, Sunny Hostin & Veronica Chambers

My reading slump continues, apparently. I love Oak Bluffs for many reasons, some which showed up in this book about a Black fairy godmother and her goddaughters. There were a few juicy plot twists, and, if you’ve been to MV and OB, a few details that spark great memories. Nice summer read but, seeing as I wasn’t reading it in the summer, lol, it was easy breezy and enabled me to finish October able to reconnect to some steady reading.

NOVEMBER

The Firekeeper’s Daughter, Angeline Boulley

This book is EXCELLENT. Daunis Fontaine is an Ojibwe young woman who is deeply connected to her community, the elders, and her family. The mystery at the heart of the complex story kept me reading straight through the weekend. I felt all the emotions and I so appreciated this specific, beautifully written novel. It definitely needs to be in kids’ hands. One of the best books I have read this year.

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow

I’ve been reading at this book for a long time and finally finished it. Really reflective way to think about one’s friendships and to determine if there are “big friendships” in our life. I also appreciate how the authors go there and take up how hard it is to maintain a real friendship and that it’s worth the work. Makes me want to definitely also reach out to the folks I’m in big friendships with (okay, one person, lol), and make sure she knows how important she is to me.

Black Widow: A Sad-Funny Journey Through Grief for People Who Normally Avoid Books with Words Like “Journey” in the Title, Leslie Gray Streeter

Leslie’s book about the death of her husband is both tragic and hilarious. I was so sad for her, especially after she found the love of her life and lost him so unexpectedly. Leslie doesn’t sugarcoat the grief that she felt and how she dealt with it, but her writing is also so funny that I laughed AND cried while reading. Oh, and Leslie also was in the process of adopting her sun, a story arc for which I cheered. I’m so happy I’ve been able to read Black women’s words this year; such a range of diverse voices that are needed so very much.

DECEMBER

Libertie, Kaitlyn Greenidge

This book was exquisite. So much history here: a Black free doctor raising her daughter, helping Black folks who had freed themselves. Many themes here that are classic and eternal; the ones that stuck with me the most were about the relationship between mother and daughter and what one does for independence and freedom, as well as the ways that we find and keep friendships, especially among women. I would definitely teach this one in the classroom.

Milk, Blood, Heat, Dantiel Moniz

This short story collection was uncomfortable to read in all the best ways. It’s filled with every day characters trying to figure out all the things in life that are, well, worthy of taking up in short story form. I cringed, I reread, I felt all the feelings, and was deeply appreciative for all of them.

A Sitting in Saint James, Rita Williams-Garcia

I couldn’t put this one down. A fascinating portrayal of the role of white women in enslavement and all the ways Black folks resisted, persisted, and remained free within themselves. A thoughtful look at a white family bent on maintaining their whiteness at all costs. So many complicated issues here. I would couple it with They Were Her Property to build a text pairing that can help readers understand–really, truly understand–history.

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, edited by Alice Wong

We need diverse books has to include disability justice, or else it’s an incomplete movement. Here is an excellent collection of essays that expanded my own understandings, pushed me to confront my own biases, and has made me think deeply how my work has to center disability justice. I’d definitely have this book in my classroom library and I’d regularly pull essays from the collection for whole-class discussions.


My 2020 Year-In-Reading


Any suggestions about what I should add (or fast track to the top) to my stack? If so, leave them in the comments. Thank you!

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2020: A Wrap-Up & #Blackboylit Faves

I always love reading folks’ year-end reflections. I’ve rarely gotten it together to write one myself, but think that, in this moment I have between working on my book that’s slated to come out in 2021 and procrastination, a year in review seems appropriate.

First, thanks to everyone who’s reached out in solidarity, in purchases of coffee (thank you!) and in love to express their support for #DisruptTexts and my co-founders. The greatest thanks is doing the work; thus, please continue to #DisruptTexts in ways that fundamentally normalize high achievement for all students, and especially Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other POC children and youth. Please, keep doing that.

Top Blog Posts

  1. 31 Days: We Begin, Again
  2. Dr. Joseph Rodriguez’ Guest Post for #31DaysIBPOC
  3. Announcing: My New JAAL Column
  4. 2020: My Year in Reading Progress

There were also lots of hits around the site about me, how to work with me, and publications/podcasts. I am limiting my professional development work in 2021 to allow me to be intentional about what I say yes to, to continue existing relationships with departments who have already contracted with me, and to be able to continue doing my own work that enables me to be authentic during my PD work. Thus, if you’d like to work with me, please reach out, knowing I have limited availability, but I’d love to work with you if possible.

My Faves

I had a few favorite things from 2020.

My #Blackboylit faves include:

Ty’s Travels from Kelly Starling Lyons–so great for emergent readers!

I Am Every Good Thing, Gordon James & Derrick Barnes

Class Act, Jerry Craft

King and the Dragonflies, Kacen Callender

I was in a significant reading rut because pandemic. I know there were such great young adult and verse texts for #blackboylit that I intend to read in 2021. Once I do, I’ll update my favorites to include those as well. Thanks to Black Children’s Books and Authors for their comprehensive lists that help me to keep my TBR abundant (and I also donated during Kwanzaa in the spirit of cooperative economics, BTW).

I did enjoy expanding to #bipocboylit because I collaborated with one of my favorite brilliant people and educators, Aeriale Johnson. We wrote “Literacy As a Tool for Liberation” for ASCD. In 2021, I am hoping for more opportunities to write with people I admire and who push my practice. Ms. J and I are working on a book together; send us your energy so we complete that project! That’s why I loved editing the JAAL column; such fantastic voices that we should be paying attention to in the field of literacy work.

I had the most fun interviewing MacArthur Genius Fellow THE Jackie Woodson for the Horn Book magazine with some of my favorite Black women. There was so much love for her and for Black children in that moment.

2021: Looking Ahead

ASCD is insisting I complete this book, lol. So, look for that to be out at some point. It’s about how we can do the work of creating culturally relevant intentional literacy communities for Black and IPOC youth. I’m excited for that.

I’ll continue presenting nationally and leading PD for districts. Reach out if you’d like to think about working with me. I’m energized by the work departments are undertaking to push their own understandings forward as they select texts that can make a difference on readers. The best way to find me is through the Find Me/Work with Me page.

I’m grateful for the abundant opportunities to engage in such a broad range of literacy experiences, even during the midst of a global pandemic that has impacted so many. I am encouraged that I am in community with people who are committed to equity, liberation, and justice.

May we have a better 2021. Together.

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Announcing: My New Column for the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy (JAAL) (Read it free!)

I’m excited to announce the start of my column editorship for the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy.

“Students and Teachers: Inquiring Together” is aimed at early career educators, and I’m thrilled that such excellent educators have agreed to share their work with all of us.

(The abstract) Young people in literacy classes sometimes think their teachers are not listening to them. The practitioners featured in this column listen to questions posed by their students and respond to them, with the goal of enhancing English language arts instruction for a range of young people and educators.

Future columnists include:

Joel Garza

Lorena German

LaMar Timmons-Long

Tricia Ebarvia

Neema Avashia

I’m so very honored to work in collaboration with such fantastic educators and the knowledge they’ll share with the JAAL readership.

Read the free PDF of my article (link if the PDF won’t load), and bookmark the site and come back every month to read future columns.

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#31DaysIBPOC: We Begin, Again

I almost fell for the okey doke. 

In our house, we use that phrase as a playful, cautionary reminder to be thoughtful about making decisions and to not be fooled.

When school was called off seven weeks ago and I became my child’s full-time teacher, I almost did, indeed, fall for the okey doke.

How could I help my sun master–wait; let’s be real here–maintain the skills he’d been working on if he wasn’t in school daily? It didn’t matter that I’ve been teaching young people and adults for nearly two decades. An almost-six-year old is not a high schooler, no matter how much their dispositions are similar on a given day.

I immediately went down the online rabbit hole of fancy schedules, programs, and apps that had no diverse books or materials, and what seemed an endless stream of worksheets for printing (and my annoyance for the prevalence for these with a lack of regard for those of us without a printer).

Around the same time, I started leaning really hard into rituals and routines that have always anchored me, especially during chaos and transition (cue current moment). Those include running, journaling, and reading. And by reading, I mean fully immersive reading, where I lose track of days, what my kid is doing, everything.

I’d picked up A Black Women’s History of the United States (ABWH) by Drs. Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross at Boston’s fantastic Black-owned Frugal Bookstore, with every intention to read it some day. But once #pandemicreading ensued, I couldn’t quite find a book that spoke to me. Young adult authors, contemporary fiction– books that usually were the perfect balm–weren’t working. When I remembered the copy of ABWH in my car (my greatest fear is to be stuck somewhere without a book, so I have them everywhere), I went looking for it, thinking (hoping?) that it might be an answer to getting my reading life back on track.

I could not put it down, and the voices of all these Black women ancestors shook me, telling me: look, you got this! 

This being educating my child and building on the traditions that Black women (and in this case, Black women educators) have been doing for Black children, families, and communities since we were in this country. 

Ms. Nannie Helen Burroughs
Photo from Library of Congress

I keep thinking about Ms. Nannie Helen Burroughs, particularly.

An educator and activist, Burroughs’ dedication to Black women and girls, and her belief in the brilliance of them, led to her founding of the National Training School for Women and Girls among many other accomplishments. The writers summarize: “…she embraced both industrial and classical education, and expressed early Black Nationalist and feminist ideologies. She encouraged race pride by celebrating dark skin, and she remained a champion of Black women’s voting and labor rights” (p. 2). I also kept circling back to Burroughs’ motto for her school: “We specialize in the wholly impossible.” 

Throughout the book, I read and learned about SO MANY Black women who have done (and do) just that: specialize in the wholly impossible by dedicating their lives and work to collective struggles for Black freedom for Black women, girls and femmes, especially during times when so many others denigrated and dismissed us. 

ABWH reminds me that the ancestors are always watching and helping if I just listen. Black women have been here educating children and adults for generations. With schools that have systematically attempted to destroy us, we’ve made our own classrooms in places within our communities, written or revised texts to make them affirming and empowering for Black children, and been the teachers, time and time again. While adversity that included racism and sexism was consistent, our responses to it have always been to creatively organize ways to help as many folks as we can, with whatever tools we have. We have consistently specialized in manifesting the wholly impossible, and we’ve always been creative and resourceful. 

Who am I to forget that or to not do the same?

Because there is a foundation of Black women educators who have assured the flourishing of Black children (and many others), certainly I can teach my sun and in the process heap tons of love on him. Surely I can understand that schools can be damaging, traumatic places for Black children and decolonize my own thinking that what we do at home isn’t as good as–if not better–than what schools might be trying to teach. Absolutely I could reach out to all the wonderful early childhood educators I know (his teacher included), and figure out how to design instruction that resonates with his deep desire to know, ask questions, and be immersed in learning. 

I would merely be doing what Black women educators have been doing all along, and what Black women educators have been doing for me all along.

And along the way, we could read books written by Black authors that reflect my child (like The Brownies Book); books by other authors of color that offer mirrors into experiences he needs and wants to know more about (like We Are The Water Protectors); and have a few moments of transformation. We also could be aspirational and think about the skills, dispositions, and experiences I want him to have and then think about how to realize them beyond the nearly oppressive chatter of “gaps” and “deficits” and “learning loss” that threatens to drown out any other more important talk about normalizing high achievement for all children in the district. 

I’m learning much about early literacy as my sun learns how to read, and I’m also remembering how my own grandmother taught me. She collected scraps of wood from my uncle’s shop. As a carpenter, there were always remainders amidst the piles of sawdust. She had him cut them into smaller sizes, and on those she wrote letters and words. As I gained proficiency, she’d add more combinations of words, requesting more scraps as she needed. She, too, specialized in the wholly impossible. The everyday, wholly impossible. She didn’t see it that way, though; rather she’d simply say “I haven’t done anymore than I should have done.”

Let me remember the foundations on which I stand. 

Let me not fall for the okey doke.

Instead, I find myself feeling relief and gratitude for being able to learn about the phenomenal history of Black women who have actively worked to make this world better. I am working hard to remember their names and to make sure my sun learns their names and their accomplishments, too. Daily, I inventory more “funds of knowledge” (Amanti, Neff, Gonzalez, 1992) our family has (and that we’ve always had), and think about how we can use those to connect to other things we desire and need to learn. 

I hope to make my world a bit smaller by figuring out how to work together with other Black educators who have the ability to teach through their screens and make it feel like their children never left. I’d like to be able to think about how they can share their brilliance to even more families who are working hard to help their children thrive. 

Together, we channel the spirit of Nannie Burroughs–and the millions of Black women who have and will continue to be here–as we continue specializing in the wholly impossible: yesterday, today, tomorrow. 

Be encouraged.

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.

#31DaysIBPOC_BADGE

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Five Questions with Roger Sutton from the Horn Book

This was a delightful interview with Horn Book editor Roger Sutton. Enjoy!

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My Year in Reading: 2020 In Progress

This picture from the summer of ’19 reminds me that we will have this again…

JANUARY 2020

Parable of the Sower: Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, Damian Duffy and John Jennings

The Book of Delights, Ross Gay (#blackboylit)

I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying: Essays, Bassey Ikpi

FEBRUARY 2020

The Yellow House, Sarah Broom

The Tradition, Jericho Brown (#blackboylit)

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, Warsan Shire

Ordinary Girls: A Memoir, Jaquira Diaz

Dominicana, Angie Cruz

& More Black, T’ai Freedom Ford

A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland, DaMaris B. Hill

MARCH 2020

Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (#blackboylit)

How We Fight For Our Lives, Saeed Jones (#blackboylit)

Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano

Everywhere You Don’t Belong, Gabriel Bump (#blackboylit)

Red at the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson

APRIL 2020

No One is Coming to Save Us, Stephanie Powell Watts (great to teach if/instead of/with The Great Gatsby #DisruptTexts)

How to Be Remy Cameron, Julian Winters #blackboylit

Bingo Love, Tee Franklin, Jenn St.-Onge, Joy San

MAY 2020

A Black Women’s History of the United States, Daina Ramey Berry, Kali Gross

All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto, George M. Johnson

Some Places More Than Others, Renee Watson

allegedly, Tiffany Jackson

JUNE 2020

On The Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope, DeRay McKesson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson

Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, Imani Perry

Every Body Looking, Candace Iloh

Clap When You Land, Elizabeth Acevedo

JULY 2020

Music to My Years: A Mixtape Memoir of Growing Up and Standing Up, Cristela Alonzo

Felix After After, Kacen Callender

Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline

we are never meeting in real life, Samantha Irby

Ordinary People, Diana Evans

AUGUST 2020

Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert

Party of Two, Jasmine Guillory

The Black Flamingo, Dean Atta (#blackboylit)

Frankly in Love, David Yoon (#bipocboylit)

Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams

SEPTEMBER 2020

My Sister the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite

Wild Hundreds, Nate Marshall (#blackboylit)

Memorial Drive, Natasha Trethewey

NOVEMBER 2020

You Exist Too Much, Zaina Arafat

King and the Dragonflies, Kacen Callender

DECEMBER 2020

Patsy, Nicole Dennis-Benn


Friendly suggestion to purchase any of these from your friendly Black-owned bookstore. In Boston (and all around the US b/c they ship), that’s Frugal Bookstore.

Have you read any of these texts? What do you think? And, most importantly because my TBR list is always growing, what are YOU reading and would recommend? Leave me a comment if you’re so moved. Thanks.

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Late October Update

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!).

Erin Entrada Kelly. I LOVE HER! (photo credit: EEK)

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.

I’ll be at NCTE in Baltimore with the #DisruptTexts (Tricia, Julia, and Lorena German) crew and keynoting at the Conference on English Leadership CEL on Monday. If you’re in Baltimore, please, say hello!

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!

In solidarity.

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#31DaysIBPOC: Do Something Different

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 Post-It that I kept on my desk at one point so I could keep track of diverse books

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.

We brought our own folding chair.

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.


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#Blackboylit: Martellus Bennett’s Washington Post Perspective is a Must Read: Let Black Boys Dream

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.

Martellus Bennett (Photo Credit: The Nation)

“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.”

Enjoy!

Oh, and be sure to #supportBlackwriters and buy the book!!!

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#blackboylit: New & Notable

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.

Dream Country by Shannon Gibney

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

The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop, Carole Boston Weatherford & Frank Morrison (PB): this just arrived in my library. I’ve heard great things about this book and can’t wait to read it.

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 

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