Archive for the ‘activism’ Category

Turns out Booklist is *not* the only kidlit review journal to pay attention to Ship of Souls. We got a “sneak peak” at the upcoming School Library Journal review, and it’s great! Here’s are the concluding lines—the complete review will run in May:

This succinct tale brings well-researched historical background to a compelling urban fantasy. Dmitri’s magical journey through the city’s burial grounds leads him along a deeper emotional one, forcing him to face his grief and acknowledge that more in life is waiting for him. With a suspenseful story that will leave readers feeling inspired, this is a quick and intriguing read.

Thanks, SLJ! You can also watch a video interview with me conducted by Amy Bodden Bowllan, a blogger at the School Library Journal website. Amy runs the Writers Against Racism series and is an outspoken supporter of diversity in children’s literature.

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The only good thing about waking at 4am this morning was finding this email from a former student in my Facebook inbox. You’ve probably heard about the teacher in Michigan who was fired for mobilizing her students around the Trayvon Martin case. Radical teaching—which is what we NEED to achieve social justice—should be celebrated, not punished. You can sign a petition and learn more here.

I know it’s been awhile, but I wanted to let you know that I am still following your work and to also, again, thank you for your inspiration and support in my scholastic endeavors. I am currently in my second semester at ___ State University and am in the process of getting my masters in the teaching of writing. I am currently interning for a class titled “Theory of Composition,” where we actually just attended a lecture given by Dr. Y. I wrote the following email to my professor, Dr. S, that I thought may be of interest to you and to also remind you, again, of the impact you’ve had on me as a learner/teacher. Having had some experience as a teacher working in foreign countries for the past three years, I know what it means to receive genuine and honest feedback; it is one of the many things that makes teaching so rewarding. So, I thought I’d send you a copy of the email I sent my professor to not only demonstrate the effect you had on me, but to also demonstrate how the messages we teach, when they are truly meaningful, can spread like wildfire to places or, in this instance, to classes you hadn’t imagined.

She then shared my blog with her professor so that their conversation about young adult lit can include a consideration of race and equity in publishing! Touched and very proud…

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Join Us for a Post-National Black
Writers Conference (NBWC) Event
NBWC Past Participants

Meet Tavis Smiley and Cornel West
at a Fundraiser for the
Center for Black Literature

Friday, April 20, 2012
The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College
695 Park Avenue (at E. 68th Street)
(between Park & Lexington Avenues)
New York, NY 10065

Smiley and West take on the “P” word—poverty. During this compelling lecture and book-signing they challenge all Americans to re-examine their assumptions about poverty in America-what it really is and how to eradicate it.

Join Tavis Smiley and Cornel West

on Friday, April 20, 2012

at a lecture & book signing for

The Rich and the Rest of Us

a Fundraiser for the Center for Black Literature

Get Your Tickets In Advance & Buy Now!
$35 (includes book)
$25 (without book)
Go to www.CLSJ.org and click “Donate”
[Online ticketing administered by the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College (CLSJ)].

We thank you for your continued support of
the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College!
For more information, call 718.270.4811
or visit www.centerforblackliterature.org

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Up before dawn on the first day of spring break, hoping this headache doesn’t bloom into a migraine. Lots to watch online (episode one of Great Expectations at PBS.org) and Amy Bodden Bowllan has posted Part 1 and Part 2 of our conversation about race and representation in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin. I use this poem by Sharon Flake in my poetry workshops, but think I’ll include the cover image from now on…

I showed Pratibha Parmar’s brilliant film, A Place of Rage, in my classes yesterday. As always, the students were deeply moved and impressed by the profound statements made by Alice Walker, Angela Davis, and June Jordan. Pratibha posted this important Ms. Magazine blog article on Facebook this morning:From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin: How Black Women Turn Grief Into Action.” And the students are writing on Audre Lorde’s essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.” It’s not enough to mourn. You have to channel the pain that is the core of rage into something constructive that can help others in addition to yourself…

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The only good thing about bigots is that they usually hang themselves if you give them enough rope. That’s just what happened on The Daily Show when Al Madrigal traveled to Arizona to interview a school board member who voted to ban Mexican American Studies in Tucson schools (based on “hearsay,” not facts). If you haven’t seen the segment, you can watch it here. Debbie Reese has also transcribed the interview and you can find that on her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature. You want to laugh because it’s so ridiculous, but the ramifications of this kind of ignorance are very real—and harmful to our youth and the future of the country. This week Amy Bodden Bowllan is featuring Matt de la Peña on her School Library Journal blog; Matt recently visited AZ after his novel, Mexican Whiteboy, was pulled from the shelves. Amy also gave me a chance to reflect on the Trayvon Martin case and its impact on young readers. THIS is what I’m talking about when I say that “the lack of books for children in our communities IS A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH.

Yesterday I told my students that I never used to talk in class; they were amazed to learn that I used to sit in class in college and even in graduate school with my lips sealed shut. And even at the conference in France last month—the keynote speaker was making some really problematic statements, and I sat there hoping someone else would speak up. But no one did, so that’s when I raised my hand and tried to keep my voice from shaking with rage…most days I’d rather disappear, but we don’t only speak for ourselves. We speak for those who have been silenced. We speak because we’ve been given a platform and so many others have not.

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remix at the mall

R. Gregory Christie is an exceptional artist and a wonderful person—please take a moment to learn more about this exciting new project: a store/studio with a focus on kids, books, and art! You can learn about his fundraising efforts at Kickstarter. Here’s a description of the project in Greg’s own words:
After doing children’s books for over fifteen years, I have decided to take my passion for history and culture to the next level.
I am opening up a bookstore and gift shop in Decatur, Georgia (inside of North Dekalb Mall). Although the lease is signed as of a few days ago, the store will officially open up in April. It will feature my children’s books along with tangible handmade products for sale. It’s my desire to make the space as appealing as the trendiest sneaker store, but instead of the newest gadget or latest $30,000 pair of sneakers, I want to have a heavy focus on books.
I will use this space as a live painting studio to work on children’s books and canvases but I will also coordinate weekend workshops to be held right inside of the mall.  Everything from quilt making to dj-ing , the focus is to make people of all ages appreciative of their inner artist and to give the many teens walking around the complex something to do.
Consider it a store, my own personal passion, and a community space. However, Georgia has quite an expensive process to open a small business. Although I have covered many of the costs, I’d like to make the space stunning. So I humbly reach out to you, hoping that you’ll be willing to be a part of this as a well wisher, sponsor, or promoter.
Learn more about Kickstarter‘s all or nothing sponsorship.
Thanks in advance!R. Gregory Christie


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Have you heard about the Children’s Book Council’s new Diversity Committee? Elizabeth Bluemle has also written an account of the committee’s first event:

Last year, a group of children’s book editors desirous of actively talking about and tackling these issues started gathering for lunch discussions. Over time, this grew into a full-blown initiative spearheaded by the wonderful people at the Children’s Book Council. Last week, I was overjoyed to have a chance to attend the kickoff celebration for the CBC Diversity Committee, which describes itself as “dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and experiences contributing to children’s literature. We endeavor to encourage diversity of race, gender, geographical origin, sexual orientation, and class among both the creators of and the topics addressed by children’s literature. We strive for a more diverse range of employees working within the industry, of authors and illustrators creating inspiring content, and of characters depicted in children’s literature.”

I’m skeptical, of course, and don’t see any mention of their intent to *measure* progress, which I think is important. But it’s a start, and big change can come from taking a small step forward. The following is from their blog:

We plan to achieve these goals by taking the following actions:


  • Participate in high school and college career fairs.
  • Visit high school senior level English classes to discuss careers in publishing.
  • Maintain an up-to-date blog consisting of industry news, book spotlights, CBC Diversity event information, the personal stories of Committee members, and other ready resources for publishing individuals.
  • Provide a Goodreads CBC Diversity profile that exhaustively curates front and backlist books by CBC member publishers in order to raise awareness of the diversity-friendly content already in existence.

Keeping the Conversation Going

  • Hold safe space meetings at which industry employees can discuss the obstacles to diversity that they have encountered within the children’s publishing world.
  • Host panel discussions at which different industry arms can communicate the challenges they face in selling and promoting diverse books, and can work together to develop solutions to these problems.

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I don’t want to talk about the situation in Arizona—the white woman governor poking her finger in the president’s face, the need for brown-skinned immigrants like me to carry ID at all times, and now the banning of books that do nothing more than tell the TRUTH. I wrote about the dismantling of the Mexican American Studies Program in a post I’ve submitted to a Canadian government blog—if it gets published this week, I’ll let you know. I wrote about Wednesday’s “Teach-in” in emails to my colleagues at work. I plan to talk about it when classes start tomorrow because I doubt my students are aware of the pressure across the country to do away with Ethnic Studies in schools AND universities. But I’m sorry to say that right now I don’t want to blog about it here. I’ll just point you to Edi’s fabulous list of links, which includes the important work Debbie Reese is doing over at AICL. I’ve asked my college to order a copy of Precious Knowledge and will screen it this semester as part of our Ethnic Studies Film Series. It’s not enough, but it’s a start. Because we all have a choice at moments like these: do something, or do nothing.


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…take the Birthday Party Pledge! Today is our official launch day. If you haven’t already visited the BPP site, please stop by and take the pledge. If you’re a book blogger, grab the code and add our button to your site. If you know others who could benefit from the many lists on our site, spread the word! Our team has compiled book lists with dozens of multicultural titles in all genres: poetry, historical fiction, books boys love, graphic novels, speculative fiction, books girls love, chapter books, LGBTQ, picture books, sports books, and non-fiction.

About Us:

The Birthday Party Pledge emerged from an ongoing conversation between authors, educators, librarians, and book bloggers. We wanted to promote children’s books by authors of color, and we wanted to encourage the building of home libraries in low-income communities. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, less than 5% of all books published annually for children in the US are written by people of color. Many publishers insist that they can’t find more writers of color and/or claim that the market doesn’t exist for books about children of color. Yet a study conducted by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation revealed that many adults want to purchase multicultural books and are simply unable to find them:

Nearly eight in ten (78%) U.S. adults believe that it is important for children to be exposed to picture books that feature main characters of various ethnicities or races—but one-third (33%) report that it is difficult to find such books, according to a recent survey that was commissioned by The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the love of reading and learning in all children.

Some parents simply can’t afford to buy books, and we encourage all families to draw on the resources available at their local public library. In other cases, buying books for children is a matter of shifting priorities and redirecting resources. Compared to video games and other toys, books are relatively inexpensive (and can often be purchased “like new” from online resellers). Buying books locally puts money back into your community, and we encourage you to support those independent bookstores that carry multicultural books.

The BPP has two goals:

1. To encourage childhood literacy in order to promote a lifelong love of books.

2. To assist adults in providing children with books that truly reflect the diverse society in which we live.

Take the pledge today!

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I’m not a spontaneous person. In fact, I have anxiety issues, which means I try to plan as much of my life as possible. I walk with an umbrella in case it rains. I have a mini pharmacy in my purse to deal with any health emergency. When I travel, I use Hop Stop to plan my trip. I also live off-peak as much as possible—I avoid rush hour on weekdays and avoid the trains altogether on weekends because that’s when track work takes place. Well, yesterday I was uncharacteristically late (thirty minutes late!) for a wonderful Homecoming event up in Harlem. Hop Stop said to take the C train, but that runs local and I wasn’t going to take a local train from one end of the city to the other. So I went to the station only to learn that the Q wasn’t running. So I waited on the packed platform for the shuttle train to arrive; did some mental calculations and decided to take the 4 since it runs express. Except when I got to the next station, the 4 train was running local. So I took the 2, which runs local in Brooklyn but goes express in Manhattan. Except this 2 got to Manhattan and ran local. So I switched to the A at 42nd and finally got to 145th—late. On the way home, I took the A express again, then switched to the local C train in Brooklyn–and it ran express. Sigh. If I hadn’t just spent three hours with some remarkable young women, I might have gone off on somebody. Or I have might have gone for a big slice of cake. But the positive energy of the homecoming event (and closing cupcakes) kept me calm and instead I came home to reflect on all I’d learned. Cidra M. Sebastien, Associate Director of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, wrote a great summary on Facebook last night:

So what happens when a world-traveling private chef, author-professor, DJ-filmmaker, actress-playwright, physician-activist, young mothers’ advocate, and a professor-author-music connoisseur are in the same room sharing their life stories?

The practical and the fantastical.

Here are selected gems the circle of women shared…

* The distance between where you are and where you want to go is shorter than the distance between where you started and where you are.

* Birds remind me to look up…Keep your feet on the ground and look up.

* You might try and fail but success is about endurance.

* Fear will paralyze you. Don’t make decisions based on fear.

* Never fail to stand up for what you believe in.

* Daydream.

* Usually the most difficult thing you choose to do is the right thing to do. And will bring rewards.

I’m sure you can guess which piece of advice came from me. When I learned that invited guests would be asked to give a 2-3 minute speech on the theme “Building Your Wings,” I naturally sat down at my computer and wrote a speech about birds. But as I sat in the circle and listened to the other guests sharing their advice, I realized that I wasn’t meant to deliver a formal speech. So I had to improvise. I *suck* at improvising. I tried to remember part of what I’d written and then I realized I was rambling so I just stopped talking and resolved to be better prepared next time. But maybe what I really need is to let go of the need to be prepared all the time. I want to be better at thinking on my feet, which is hard because I’m accustomed to sitting at this laptop with the ability to cut and paste. I spent the afternoon sharing my college experiences and listening to the young women in Sister Sol—they were so honest and earnest. And bright! They reminded me of my students and I wondered how many young women have a support group to help them get through life? We all need mentors, we all need a space to ask questions and search for answers. I learned a lot from the other guests as well—that first point is especially important, I think. It’s easy to get caught up in all the things you *want* to achieve, but don’t forget to draw strength from the distance you’ve already traveled. Take time to acknowledge the progress you’ve made in life. My anxiety issues are better than they once were, and I can practice spontaneity while still being moderately prepared. The advice I needed to hear as a teen? You don’t have to be perfect. And forgive yourself when you fail.

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