ALA Annual Conference 2018 – Considering ALL Children

The final session I attended at ALA Annual Conference 2018 in New Orleans before catching my flight was ALSC’s Charlemae Rollins program, with the title: “Considering All Children: A New Ideal in Evaluating and Engaging Around Books for Youth.”

The speakers were Margarita Engle, Dr. Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Jason Reynolds. The moderator was Edith Campbell.

In the introduction by Nina Lindsay, we learned that a character in a picture book is four times more likely to be a dinosaur than a Native American child.

Ebony Thomas:

Stories matter. Lived experiences matter.

[She referred to the book Stories Matter: The Complexity of Cultural Authenticity in Children’s Literature, by Dana L. Fox and Kathy G. Short. ]

Do we really give all stories the same weight? Do all stories matter?

A perennial attack: What really matters is whether children can read.

But if they can’t see themselves in books, what is their incentive to read?

She referred to a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “The Danger of a Single Story.”

Children are impressionable; the stories they hear matter.

Children are vulnerable; the stories they hear matter.

The statistics on multicultural literature have not moved enough.

Is diversity enough? What do children learn about non-white children?

Look at an article “The Metaphors We Read By.”

Remember there’s no such thing as objectivity in children’s literature.

Dr. Debbie Reese

She called her talk “The United States of Whiteness.”

“We the people” wasn’t talking about people of color.

The Little House books represent making America great. Consider ALL children.

This criticism is not new; social media makes it more visible.

William Apess, a Pequot man who lived 1798 to 1839, wrote A Son of the Forest in 1829. When he was four years old, he was placed with a white family. When he was six years old in school, he learned to dislike who he was. When he was eight years old, he saw a white man with darker skin, and he was afraid.

We believe books can inspire us. But who is “us” in that sentence?

“The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” is quoted three times in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Arguments in favor of the books say, “They were a product of her time.” and “That’s what they thought back then.”

Native people did not think that back then.

18 books published since 2011 have characters in the books talking about Little House on the Prairie. In 2003, CNN reported a POW in Iraq saying, “We were like Custer.” American Sniper, by Chris Kyle, uses “injun” and “savage” over and over.

Whiteness in “We the people” said “not you.” Whiteness in stories shapes how we view the “other.” What is whiteness in the US doing to children in 2018?

Margarita Engle

She called her talk “The Nature of Cages.”

This week, we’ve watched images of caged children. We don’t know their names.

Own voices – It looks different from the inside.

She has a project – “Bridges, not Walls: Poetry for Peacemaking.”

How can we speak of peace when we’re angry? Children are the only possible peacemakers of the future.

Compassion is the seed of peace. Listening leads to compassion.

Most Latino characters in children’s books are written by whites. Avoid assumptions and stereotypes. Don’t sprinkle in characters with Hispanic names but no background. “We’re real people, not characters.”

Latinx people have countless reasons to be in the US. “In other words, we’re complex.”

“Bridges reach. Walls separate.”

Words must be honest. Assumptions aren’t honest.

Ignorance is a wall; knowledge is a bridge.

Marketability isn’t a good reason to choose your story.

Her books are about people left out of history.

Jason Reynolds

He recently spoke at a business conference, where they kept saying, “Numbers don’t lie.” That may be true, but that does not mean that numbers tell the whole truth.

If that were true, he wouldn’t be here today. Numbers say black boys don’t read.

Ask proper questions. Is it that black boys don’t have books to read?

Obese people who live in food deserts don’t hate to eat!

Jason Reynolds writes three books a year because he’s terrified. He knows at any given moment, it can all go away. He was taught to work twice as hard to get half as much.

Why do we have to write about black pain? “I wish we didn’t!”

There’s a cost that comes with working as a writer.

He believes in Humility, Intimacy, and Gratitude.

His books are for everyone, but he writes with black kids in mind.

Your job is to write timely work. “If you’re teaching Ghost 40 years from now, we’ve failed.” Create springboards.

Black and brown kids don’t need our salvation. Thank them for coming into the library.

It’s dangerous to eliminate adults. Show kids: There might just be adults who care.

Panel Discussion

EC: We need stories. Not just with diversity sprinkled into them. What does it mean to be American? Kids need to know they’re real. Diversity has become a checklist.

What does it mean to decolonize children’s literature?

First, acknowledging that there were advanced nations here before the U.S.

A stance of humility is key. Be constantly learning. What criteria would the people you write for use in judging books?

ME: Poetry is a good way to connect with young people. When she reads poems to kids, they read poems back.

JR: He’s writing for kids like the one who wrote to him who had committed a murder.

Just be a human being! Actively work to be empathetic every day.

He wants to be honest. Kids connect to honesty and authenticity. Kids always know when adults are BS-ing.

False question: Who can decide what’s “literature”? When stories don’t look a certain way, they’re dismissed.

ME: Her fiction is seen as nonfiction and vice versa.

[Here the recommendation was made to donate to REFORMA’s Children in Crisis Project.]

Poetry is inviting for reluctant readers.

DR: Decolonizing means acknowledging your ignorance and going beyond it.

ET: Think about the white viewer gaze.

Become more precise in your geography. “America” is many places and countries.

Why should people who have no incentive care about any of this? We are all interdependent.

Celebrating 20 Years of Harry Potter with Brian Selznick

This session was just for fun – and was so crowded, I had to wait in line and sit on the floor. Sadly, I didn’t even try to get into the mad crush for free signed copies of Harry Potter #1 (new edition with Brian’s cover). I’d just shipped my loot that morning, anyway.

Brian Selznick came to Harry Potter late – only a few years ago. (Of course he loved it.) When he was asked to create new covers, he meant to say no, but was willing to project curiosity.

He ended up deciding to make it so all 7 covers would line up to make one single image.

He wanted something to draw all 7 covers together, and his initial sketch had a looping line. Of course! It looked like a snake!

The most important part for him was the relationship between characters and the battle between good and evil.

He pointed out some details in his work. To him, Umbridge is the very most terrifying villain.

Harry Potter fans are activists.

Can you do anything to stop people loving Harry Potter? No.

Here are the covers, photographed on posters in the Convention Center:

ALA Annual Conference 2018 – Escaping the Library

I’m writing about ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans, and I’m up to Sunday afternoon. After a publisher lunch (one of the yummiest meals I’ve ever eaten!), I went to a short film called “A Chance to Dress” about a Harvard professor who cross dresses, and has since he was a child. He’s not transgender and sees himself as too tall to pass for female anyway. But he often dresses as a woman and takes delight in that. His wife says he’s a more pleasant, softer person when he doesn’t go too long without it.

Then I went to a more practical session — “Escape the Library: Escape Room Design Workshop,” presented by Sarah Mulhausen and Adam Stockley from Tulsa City-County Library. Here are my notes:

[I’ve done several escape rooms using a lock box and ideas from Breakout EDU. But Breakout EDU has switched to a subscription service, and most of their programs are really more suited to a classroom setting. So I’ve been thinking about creating my own. Any ideas will be helpful. This program was so crowded, I had to sit in the back on the floor.]

First definitions: An Escape Room is a real life game that integrates puzzles with physical challenges. There’s usually a theme that intertwines with the clues.

Teamwork is essential. This is a STEM program, using logical, lateral, and spatial thinking.

These programs have had by far the highest turnout for teen programs at their branch.

How to build an Escape Room?

1) Choose a theme.

Use what you love. The more knowledgeable you are, the better.

Start listing ideas. “It would be cool if…” Have 10 to 20 ideas.

Examples from their Harry Potter room: Using a pensieve, making a potion, getting sorted into houses.

2) Describe what’s in your room.

How should it look? Example: Stone walls, pensieve, potions book…

3) Create a story

Make it creative and consistent with the theme. Be urgent and interesting, with a clear and logical ending that makes the winners feel triumphant.

4) Make a flow chart.

This is where you really build your room. Conceptualize the flow of the room. She writes on different colored index cards to make a flow chart.

Different colors for: Object – Challenge – Reward

In a linear room, one clue leads to another. Nonlinear rooms have multiple starting places.

[Note: They recommend a linear room to start, but the rooms I have done with Breakout EDU have all been nonlinear. The good thing about that is that there are no bottlenecks.]

5) Make a puzzle for every challenge.

Write short descriptions of every challenge on cards.

Make puzzles contingent on being in the room, not on prior knowledge.

If you’ve got a linear room, start with an easy puzzle.

Examples: Jigsaw puzzles with clues on the back, things in the room, locks, computer lock, hidden objects, cyphers, QR codes, weird keys… Google it!

6) Build and test the room.

Change what you need to change and test it again. Give yourself PLENTY of time.

Extras: Costumes, actors, decorations, food. The more you do, the more immersive.

Budget: Use the resources available to you. (They use funding from their Friends.) Recycle and reuse, ask friends…

Age limits and group sizes: Stick to it! The younger you go, the more concepts you lose. The bigger the group, the fewer people feel they’ve participated. They do a few times in one day, with a good hour in between sessions.

Advice: Make backups of anything that could disappear or get broken.
Give plenty of time to reset the room between sessions.
Make a reset list for the room.
Streamline the room to only what’s needed for the game.
Don’t wait until the last minute. Allow two months minimum to figure out a room.
Do you need to be in the room? (With younger kids, Yes!)
If you’re in the room, should you offer help?
Try to design the room to be hands-free for you.
Have a Session Zero — explanation and instructions before they enter the room.

Some examples they did: Mario room — boxes with tissue paper bottoms – coins with clues fell out.
Pensieve – a video under the bowl and fog on top.
Potions – Cabbage water turns purple – add acid or alkaline to change color. “Graded” potion with the correct color gets a clue.

2018 Printz Award Reception

Last Friday night, I got to attend the reception for the Printz Award and Honor winners. One thing I like about this reception is that all the winners give a speech – not the big winner only. Here are my notes from their speeches:

Deborah Heiligman, for Vincent and Theo:

Deborah Heiligman doesn’t remember receiving the Printz call. “Apparently, I screamed.” She told us the story of getting Transient Global Amnesia. She started asking “What just happened? What’s going on?” She was agitated and confused. She could only remember for 90 seconds at a time. This is why she missed the YALSA Nonfiction Awards in Denver.

It turns out that TGA can be caused by strong emotion. Is the moral to “try not to get too excited”?

Vincent painted for art’s sake – and Theo’s approval.

Vincent was a great artist in spite of his mental illness.

We want to leave the world a souvenir. Wake someone up to the world.

Laini Taylor, for Strange the Dreamer:

She works hard at not getting hopes up at award time. It’s a unique form of meditation – “No hope.”

But Hope isn’t something you decide not to have. Hope is all surly and defiant.

Usually good news comes in pieces, over time, with assembly required.

When she did get the call, there was a “totally overwhelming clobber of emotion.”

“Sometimes this writing thing feels like launching a paper boat when you can’t see the far shore.”

With Fantasy, recognition feels extra good, since Fantasy is often dismissed.

Shame is heavy — but it is a safeguard. It says decency is real and lines exist. Our government is being shameless and erasing lines. The thought of her 8-year-old daughter being separated from her makes her lose her mind.

As readers and writers, we imagine other lives. “Decency depends on empathy. Empathy depends on imagination.”

Strange the Dreamer hinges on whether it’s possible to save a traumatized child from her consuming hatred. As long as there’s even one dreamer left — there’s hope.

Angie Thomas, for The Hate U Give:

This past week has been trying as horrific events unfold in our nation. She can revive her characters with the stroke of a pen, but she can’t revive Antwone Rose, who was gunned down this week in Pittsburgh.

In fiction, she can delete injustice.

We should not live in a world where children become activists. Kids shouldn’t have to tell us we need to change.

These young people feel fired. “The least I can do is fan the flames.”

What children’s literature has always shown is that anyone can be a superhero. Yes, even you.

Let’s not leave the work all on them. Acknowledge the injustice around you to the point it angers and exhausts you.

“By faith, I thank you for changing the world.”

Jason Reynolds, for Long Way Down:

There are good writers and good storytellers, not so many people are both.

He wants people to read his books more than once.

He’s proud to win a Printz Honor, especially since the first Printz winner was Walter Dean Myers.

This book was a passion project. Based on when he was a 19-year-old college kid in 2003. His mom was engulfed in the flames of cancer. A friend called and told him that their friend had been murdered.

He remembers the blade of grief. He remembers the anguish of their friend’s mother. All his friends are missing parts of themselves – like cancer. The death changed them chemically. They realized they could do what they couldn’t do before – they could kill.

This book is about the weight of anger, or the rules, but also the weight of cages, the weight of separation, the weight of us.

What happens in the end? “I don’t know.”

The fate of a child is in your hands.

Now we’re certain his friend’s legacy will live on forever.

Nina LaCour, for Award winner We Are Okay:

This is the first time an Own Voices book about queer girls has won the Printz.

We Are Okay is the product of a painful time.

Her own grandfather died when she was hospitalized with preeclampsia. She had a vision of him pushing her on a swing and with his arms open wide in greeting. He grew up in New Orleans.

Gramps in the novel is an altogether different man.

Since orphans are a trope in children’s literature, for her first few books, she did her best to keep the parents alive.

Grief orphans us.

Her own parents split soon after her baby was born, and it was as if her own past were erased.

The big question of the book: When we don’t recognize our own past, what can anchor us?

ALA Opening Session with Michelle Obama!

I spent last weekend at ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans, and one of the highlights was getting to hear Michelle Obama speak, interviewed by Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress.

My flight was delayed almost 4 hours, so I didn’t think I’d make it. Fortunately, there was lots of Opening-Session talk first. I was way in back, but I was in the room!

I left excited and inspired by her talk. Here are my notes on what she said:

They began by talking about her background with books. Carla Hayden actually knew her from libraries in Chicago.

Michelle said that she was the kind of kid who read to her stuffed animals. She remembers getting her first library card when she was four years old. The library was three blocks from their house, a community space.

She needed the escape of story the last 10 years, but most reading happened on longer trips. She’s not an ebook reader. Even now that she’s writing, she likes to hold it, feel it, touch it. As a result, they have lots of books on shelves. Her husband won’t let her get rid of them.

Her first real job was in a book bindery – doing the same thing over and over. It gave her respect for people who do work to pay the bills and don’t have the luxury of looking for their passion. Her father had MS, but faithfully went to his blue collar job. He put both his kids through Princeton. She’s who she is because of her parents.

She knows from experience why affordable child care is crucial. Her mom stepped in to take care of her kids when she was desperate and ready to quit working.

Her mom didn’t let anyone do her laundry at the White House – and she taught the girls to do their laundry. She kept them humble and focused on what was important.

Michelle’s mother listened and didn’t try to solve her problems for her. Her responses would be things like, “What are you going to do?” and “You know what to do!” She taught that from an early age – listened to and encouraged her kids to contribute and solve their own problems.

Michelle had many high-powered jobs before she was first lady. Had to switch from being an executive to being a spouse.

“You can have it all — but usually not all at the same time.”

Life is long. There are trade-offs that you make.

After Sasha was born, when she was ready to quit working, she felt the freedom in an interview (with Sasha in the room) to say what she actually needed in her job because she was ready to quit. They gave it to her, much to her surprise.

It’s not easy for women to tell someone we’re worth a lot.

While writing her book, she’s been reliving these things and writing about them. There was no time to reflect in the White House. There was no room to make mistakes. They were laying the red carpet down for others to follow.

On her first trip to Africa, all in a few days, she did pushups with Bishop Tutu, met Nelson Mandela, went on a safari, and gave a speech to a group of young women. Later on, she literally forgot that she’d ever been to Prague.

Balance is a challenge.

8 men with guns accompanied their teenage daughters everywhere. There is an upside to that for parents! Though they wanted their kids to have a normal childhood.

If kids know you love them, you will be home for them. Kids are resilient. But there are a lot of broken kids out there — which shows that we need to do better.

Give yourself a break. Your kids are loved.

How do your kids interact in the world? They tried to teach their kids kindness, compassion, and empathy.

Let kids see you be good people in the world.

Kids want someone to tell them they’re okay. This could be the interaction that changes a kid’s life.

Women tend to make ourselves a low priority. The oxygen mask metaphor is real.

Michelle has a posse of women who keep her sane. She wants her daughters to see she has friends. They have been there for her since childhood, and when she was a new mother. She did a boot camp with friends at Camp David. Her girlfriends gave her support and fun.

We aren’t meant to parent in isolation. We need community. Build your village.

She wanted the White House to be a place of fun, especially during the tough times.

While they were in the White House, they tried to do a lot of things for kids, bringing them in from all over the country. Every major star who came to the White House had to also do a performance for kids.

She told about when Lin-Manuel Miranda came. He did the first song of Hamilton and told them it would be a Broadway show and they laughed and said, “Good luck with that!”

They wanted to make sure kids of all backgrounds felt like the White House was a place kids were supposed to be. The kids felt like they were something special when they were in the White House.

They did a mentoring program with 20 kids from DC – and saw a shift in who they thought they were.

The program said, “You are worthy.” You are worthy of being talked to and listened to.

If you can go in the White House, there’s no room you can’t enter. They gave that message to the young people who came.

Her book, Becoming, is a re-humanization effort. A black woman from a working-class background doesn’t often have a chance to tell her story.

We think there are only a handful of legitimate stories that make you a true American.

Her book hopes to show the ordinariness of an extraordinary story. She’s not a unicorn. There are many out there like her.

We’re all people with stories to tell.

We need to know everyone’s stories. Americans are good, decent people. There are no devils out there. Maybe if we listen to each other’s stories, we can be more empathetic, inclusive, and forgiving.