Category: Community connections

Winning a grant is a pretty great feeling… and then watching the impact of that grant on young children is just joyful.

When author Ana Crespo made an author visit via Zoom to the school where I work as a Literacy Coach on Cape Cod, the joy in classrooms was palpable. Most children in our K-3 school had never met an author before, and they were excited to meet Ana.

Crespo, a native of Brazil who lives in Colorado, is the author of several picture books, including The Sock Thief, Hello, Tree, and Lia and Luis: Who Has More? She made four presentations over the course of two days, presenting individually to each grade level at the M.E. Small School. 

Crespo’s author visit was provided by SCBWI’s Amber Brown Grant, which funds author visits to deserving schools. In my application for the grant, I wrote of the M.E. Small School, “The students at M.E. Small are an enthusiastic bunch. Give them a rich and layered read-aloud experience, and they hang on every page turn. Give them a place to dance, and they dance their hearts out. Provide them with art materials and their creations burst with color. They are ‘all in,’ ready to embrace any new experience given to them.”

More than half of the students at M.E. Small School are English Language Learners, and a significant portion of those students are from Portuguese-speaking Brazilian families. That’s what made Ana’s visit so special. An author of more than seven books for young readers, she began to learn English at the age of 12. She was an embodiment of Rudine Sims Bishop’s windows and mirrors for our students at M.E. Small. Crespo personalized her presentation to each grade, greeting students in Portuguese and calling out special details about children in each grade level. 

“I loved your book,” one student named Laura wrote to Crespo after the presentation. “I’m Brasilian too. I read Lia and Luis. Me and my brother are just like them. Obrigado.”

Another student named Cyrus wrote, “Thank you for teaching us a little bit about you and Brazil! I love your books!”

Funding from the Amber Brown Grant allowed each classroom in the school to receive a copy of two of Crespo’s books, The Sock Thief and Lia and Luis: Who Has More? I want to give a special shout-out to SCBWI’s Kim Turrisi, who coordinated all aspects of the grant and made the process so smooth!  The impact of the grant goes much deeper than one day’s joy, however. When I think about our young students, I believe the ripples of Ana’s visit will be felt for years to come.

Finding Poetry in Robotics? Yes!

WHAT IS A FRIEND? I am delighted to be a part of a new poetry book for middle graders that answers this question. It’s a collection of poems about all aspects of friendship– getting along, competing, trying out new ventures together. My poem, “Team,” is about a robotics team tinkering and figuring out together how to make things work. It’s dedicated to my friend Brian, who teaches Robotics in a high school on Cape Cod serving a very diverse and high-needs population. Here’s to all the robotics teachers, helping their students to “try, fail, adjust.”

WHAT IS A FRIEND? is edited by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell of Pomelo Books; it was chosen as a Children’s Book Council “Hot Off the Press” Selection for October! It would be a great gift for a teacher you know, or a young reader in your life. You can order it from Amazon or Bookshop.org. Thank you, Sylvia and Janet, for the dynamic and thoughtful poetry books for young readers that you put out into the world. 

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Sarah Grace Tuttle hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today on her blog. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!

Radio Round Table on Diversity and Children’s Books

It was a delight to be part of a (remote) round-table discussion this week on WCAI-FM (the Cape and Islands NPR station) about children’s literature and diversity. On “The Point” program hosted by Mindy Todd, I was joined by an educator from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe,  Jennifer Weston of the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project. We were also be joined by two librarians and the co-owner of Eight Cousins Books in Falmouth, Sara Hines. 

What a dynamic conversation touching on race, LGBTQ+ people, native stories, and windows and mirrors.  I was able to share rich conversations I’ve had with my students at Cape Cod Community College. We received great comments and suggestions from listeners, too. Thank you, WCAI, for hosting this important conversation!

You can listen to the recording on the link here.

 

Does Your Child’s Bookshelf Reflect the World?

One of the best things about my recent article in the Cape Cod Times about Black Lives Matter and children’s books is that I’ve heard from parents and educators who are inspired about making mindful book choices for the children in their lives. 

One delightful spark is that I heard from a guy who was here on Cape Cod– the father of Marley Dias! He shared a diverse book list that Marley developed for Parade Magazine.

The article also led the owner of a new bookstore (about to open) to contact me, and ask if I would consult with her about making rich and diverse choices for their children’s section. I’m excited to collaborate in the birth of a new bookstore on Cape Cod. More on that soon!

As always, We Need Diverse Books is a great source for book titles!

My poem in an anthology: “Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown”

Being part of an anthology is an honor—being part of an LGBTQ+ anthology is a party! My poem, “Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown” is included in the new anthology Hashtag Queer vol. 2, published by Qommunity Press.

“Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown” was inspired by an incredible portrait of Rachel, displayed last year in Jo Hay Open Studio, a Provincetown gallery.

Marveling at Jo Hay’s portrait; at Jo Hay Open Studio in Provincetown

When I saw the vivid portrait by artist Jo Hay, I began imagining the impact this work would have on LGBTQ+ kids… seeing a role model like Rachel in a larger than life scale.

“Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown” is a tribute to the striking portrait, to out role models like Rachel, and to parents who do the right thing for their queer kids. I’m so delighted that it’s part of Hashtag Queer vol. 2! The anthology features short stories, poetry, and essays, and you can order it online or ask for it in local bookshops like WomenCrafts and East End Books.

 

When a Poetry Workshop becomes a Slam

It started out with a curve ball. And that was before the table flipped.

When I head to the South Bronx each year to lead a poetry workshop at St. Luke School, I expect that I’ll teach the 7th and then 8th grades. The classrooms are right next to each other, I know both teachers, and it just flows.

This year, the kids were combined. That meant 50-60 kids, in one room, in chairs (no desks). On a Friday afternoon. They did have notebooks. Maybe it was a scheduling glitch. Who knows? I rolled with it.

I told them a little about my background and my connection to the school. (My mother went there as a child.) I did a quick book talk and make a small display of the books I had brought to them as gifts to the classroom.

I brought books by Sharon Flake, RJ Palacio, Jackie Woodson, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Varian Johnson, Judith Robbins Rose, and Marcia Wells.

We talked about poetry, about word choice and sensory details. And they started writing. They wrote most powerfully about family members… cousins, parents, unnamed objects of wrath and affection. And then they started reading.

The first few were tentative. Then the performance level got more dramatic. There was laughter; there were moments you could hear a pin drop.

There was pacing and labored delivery.

Don’t be fooled. He brought the house down.

One student sat on a table, reading one of my favorite lines of the day.

Amazing line: “Her insecurity shines like the light of a thousand suns.”

And then the table flipped.

The laughter nearly blew the windows out. The rowdy factor was up to ten. But we rode the waves, the poet righted the table and kept on reading.

She ended with a flourish.

You can start a fire with poetry, and you don’t always know where it’s going to go. It was wild, it was uproarious.

It warmed us but didn’t burn.

It was amazing.

Wishing you a wild and wonderful National Poetry Month!

Fighting the Good Fight with Children’s Books

Can children’s books fight prejudice, oppression, and injustice? Absolutely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I presented a teacher training about structuring the read-aloud experience for maximum benefit to young children. This gave me the chance to weave together two strands I am passionate about: early literacy and social justice.

It’s hard to keep my focus as an educator and writer when so much of what I love about this country is under assault: freedom, diversity, a value on the arts and sciences. I could go on. There was a bright spot this week, something that helped me to gather my strength: Mirah Curzer’s recent article on Medium, “How to Stay #Outraged Without Losing Your Mind.”

Curzer wrote about the various ways we can counter the intolerance and injustice we are seeing in the new administration:

“Don’t forget to play to your strengths… If you’re a writer, write articles shedding light on important issues, convincing the other side or rallying your allies to action. If you’re an artist, make art with a conscience. Teachers can bring social justice into your curriculum. Lawyers can volunteer at free legal clinics, write amicus briefs, do pro bono work. Like to argue? …Love to bake? Bring cookies to activist meetings and homeless shelters. No matter what your passion is, there’s a way to use it for good and have a great time doing it.”

So that’s what I did yesterday, which also happened to be Multicultural Children’s Book Day. I presented about the read-aloud experience to a group of passionate Head Start teachers, educators who spend their careers working with children from low-income circumstances. Many of the children in their classrooms have experienced trauma and major challenges. We talked about windows and mirrors and how vocabulary equals power.

We examined beautiful books and how to use them in the Head Start classrooms. I left feeling a little less bleak, a little more energized. We can each wage this fight in our own way, with the tools we have at hand.

My tools are books.

From Brandon Stanton’s Little Humans

Let’s keep fighting.

Mommy, Why Are They Marching? Six Picture Books for kids

Our children are asking.

How do we respond when a man about to be inaugurated as President of the United States would flunk the behavior guidelines of every kindergarten in the country: no name-calling, no touching someone else’s private parts? When the election was tainted by scandal and voter suppression?

We march.

For many young children, protest marching may be a new concept. They may not be aware of Black Lives Matter demonstrations over the past year; they have not known a country led by a white president who disrespects women, who lashes out at Muslims, Mexicans and civil rights icons, who threatens mass deportations.

As parents, we explain that as citizens, we can demonstrate, we can march, we can protest.  And we can use books to teach our children about these tools of democracy.

Here are some titles perfect for young children:

“The sun rises and we prepare to march.”

The message is spare and powerful in We March, written and illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Roaring Brook Press, 2012).  In direct, rhythmic language, Evans portrays children awakened by their parents to join in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  We see  African American families paint signs, travel on buses to Washington, and march with Martin Luther King, Jr. The illustrations show the participation of children in the march and some white citizens marching shoulder to shoulder with black protesters; it ends on a note of hope.

“You cannot pretend that we do not exist.”

Peaceful demonstration in a march for migrant workers’ rights is the focus of Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Harcourt, 2003).  Krull shows us Chavez’s childhood and his rise as a champion for migrant workers in the fields and farms of California, highlighting his dedication to non-violence and the 300-mile march to Sacramento in 1966. Inspiring, positive, with luminous illustrations by Morales.

“One newspaper calls it an army. Others call it a revolt. It’s a revolt of girls, for some are only twelve years old.”

Child labor, immigrant rights, and girl power are entwined in the picture book Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2013). Young immigrant Clara “knows in her bones what is right and what is wrong.” When she goes to work in a garment factory in New York City and experiences its crushing working conditions, she becomes an advocate for the thousands of girls working in factories across the city. Spurred by Clara’s words, the factory girls stage a strike, marching on the streets of New York, sparking protests in other cities and calls for reform. An inspiring picture book with beautiful language and intricate, artful illustrations.

“When you fight for justice, others will follow.”

The Trump campaign started with a wholesale assault on Mexican and Mexican-American people; the book Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation does not shy away from the history of this discrimination.  While there is no literal protest march portrayed in Duncan Tonatiuh’s award-winning picture book, it is timely in its depiction of the struggle for rights (seeing a “No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed” sign in an illustration is painful) and in its portrayal of the Mendez family’s bravery in being part of a lawsuit that fought for equal education for all children in California, regardless of race, ethnicity, or language. Their courage in showing up in court each day, in testifying for their rights, is clearly conveyed in the illustrations; they exemplify the word resist. (Abrams, 2014)

“This story begins with shoes… We fought with our feet.”

Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation is a “story told with steps” by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney. It recounts the resistance of Rosa Parks in the face of Jim Crow laws, and the ensuing bus boycott that lasted over a year. This was a different kind of march: the grueling 300+ days of black citizens refusing to use the city bus service in protest, walking to work, schools and elsewhere in punishing weather, day and night. It ends on a triumphant note, as the boycott was successful: “now you see the power of won’t –stop shoes.” (Amistad/Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2008)

“Clutching a protest sign in one hand…Audrey marched out the door.”

Cynthia Levinson’s The Youngest Marcher tells the story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, who participated in the 1963 Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama, where she was arrested at age nine along with thousands of other kids and teens.  Gorgeous illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton capture the dynamism and heart of this Civil Rights era story. (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2017)

Whether or not you are marching in or attending a Women’s March, these books beautifully lay out the concept of resist for young children. Buy them. Read them to your kids. We’re going to need them.

Marching on Washington

Our country has a rich history of marching on Washington, to defend rights, to protest, to resist.  Two picture books I have been reading capture this dynamic perfectly for young children.

The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson portrays the energy and idealism of children standing up for justice in the civil rights era. To counteract the cultural dissonance of our current President-elect criticizing civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, read this book to your children. Young Audrey Faye Hendricks participates in the 1963 Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama, offering a powerful example of youth activism. With beautiful illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, this book was just published this month by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

We March by Shane W. Evans shows a family rising early, traveling by bus, and participating in a civil rights march in Washington DC. Its spare words and vibrant illustrations leave a lot of room for the child reader to ask questions or let the story weave its spell. A perfect picture book (Roaring Brook Press, 2011).

The Women’s March is in one week. May it contribute to the great history of marches on Washington to rally, protest, and resist!