Category Archives: Featured Posts

Laura’s Top 20 of 2017

One of the great perks of being in a masters program for children’s literature (Did I mention that I started a master’s program for children’s literature?) is that you HAVE to read lots and lots and lots of children’s books.  In fact, we’re holding a mock Caldecott Committee to select the most noteworthy book of the year.

But I could never pick just one.  So, just in time for the holiday season, in case you’re planning to shower the younger ones in your life with great literature or need a great picture book to snuggle up with yourself, I present my favorite 20 children’s books published this year (alphabetical by author, because I can’t even bring myself to rank them…).

Note: although I read lots and lots, there are even more I did NOT read… please share them with me!

magical do nothing day

 

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day

Written and Illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna

Lovely colors and textures illustrate a girl’s exploration in the rain after she drops her technology in the pond.  Totally recommend to  Luddites like myself.

 

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating PoetsOut-of-Wonder-Poems-Celebrating-Poets-259x300

Written by Kwame Alexander, Chris Corderly, and Marjory Wentworth; Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

A compilation of poems that celebrate the lives and writing styles of various poets, with brilliantly collaged illustrations.  This one would be a lot of fun to teach with.

The wolf

 

 The Wolf, the Duck, & the Mouse

Written by Mac Barnett; Illustrated by Jon Klassen

This picture book is pretty weird.  But I happen to like picture books that are pretty weird, and I know a lot of kids that do, too.

 

Louis UndercoverGroundwood Logos Spine

Written and Illustrated by Fanny Britt

This graphic novel touches on the tough topic of an alcoholic parent in what feels like a very authentic way, with equally heartfelt pictures.

 

Rooster

 

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet

Written by Carmen Agra Deedy; Illustrated by Eugene Yelchen

This colorful tale of a Bolivian rooster who will stop at nothing to sing endearingly captures the spirit of fighting for freedom of expression.

 

Her Right Foot

Written by Dave Eggers; Illustrated by Shawn Harris

This unique book combines a wide, interesting history about the Statue of Liberty with inspiring commentary on immigration.

 

When’s My Birthday?

Written by Julie Fogliano; Illustrated by Christian Robinson

This bouncy, rhythmic read manages to capture the unbearable anticipation kids feel about their birthdays.  And Robinson’s illustrations are the icing on the cake!

 

 

Real Friends

Written by Shannon Hale; Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

This graphic novel manages to capture the complexities of girl friendship and social grouping, based on the author’s own childhood.

 

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth

Written and Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Jeffers combines insight with playfulness in this guide for human experience of life on this planet.  Written for newcomers to Earth, Here We Are provides a useful perspective for humans of all ages.

 

A Greyhound, A Groundhog

Written by Emily Jenkins; Illustrated by Chris Appelhans

These joyful, watery pictures match the language, the words tumbling around on your tongue as the greyhound and groundhog spin and romp through the pages.

 

The Book of Mistakes

Written and Illustrated by Corinna Luyken

I’m a sucker for books about making mistakes, and I love Luyken’s original take on the theme. The evolving artwork makes up the story as the artist makes mistakes and creatively resolves them.  The twist at the end is endearing (and kind of meta…).

 

The Fog

Written by Kyo Maclear; Illustrated by Kenard Pak

I will confess that I haven’t actually been able to get my hands on a copy of this book.  But from what I’ve read and seen, I love it already.  A bird-watching girl and a people-watching bird meet under the worst circumstances for such observant specimens – in a heavy fog.

 

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters

Written by Michael Mahin; Illustrated by Evan Turk

These illustrations are my favorite of the year, reflecting the vibrancy and textures of Muddy’s life.  It’s the story of a man and a guitar and of fighting against a current of racism to rise to the top.  Mahin’s blog on this is worth checking out.

 

Blue Sky White Stars

Written by Sarvinder Naberhaus; Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

This book places some awe-inspiring wordplay alongside Nelson’s beautiful portrayal of the diversity of people that make America the country it is.

 

XO, OX

Written by Adam Rex; Illustrated by Scott Campbell

OK, this book might not stand up to critical analysis of gender norms or healthy relationships, but taken with a light humor, this series of love letters between an ox and a gazelle are really cute.  And in a clever move by ox, it shows how loving someone for their flaws is greater than placing them on a pedestal.

 

After the Fall 

Written and Illustrated by Dan Santat

Scieszka set a high bar for fractured fairy tales when I was a kid, and so I was skeptical of this one.  But Santat pulls off a fresh spin on the story, full of humor and a surprising end.

 

Town is by the Sea

Written by Joanne Schwartz; Illustrated by Sydney Smith

This story follows a boy who lives by the sea for a day.  Life seems simple for him, but his father is under the sea digging for coal, and the boy knows that someday, he will be too.  In a time when children are told that they can be anything, this perspective reminds them that not all children have had that privilege.

 

What Does Baby Want?

Written and Illustrated by Tupera Tupera (Japanese design team)

The innovative shape of this board book is perfect for introducing an essential part of many baby’s lives that I’ve never seen represented in a children’s book before – breast feeding.

 

And So It Goes

Written and Illustrated by Valvdivia Paloma; Translated by Susan Ouriou

This seemingly simple book grapples with some of life’s big questions, like why we come into this world and what happens when we leave it behind.  Lovely illustrations to boot.

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality

Written by Jonah Winter; Illustrated by Stacy Innerst

Another awesome biography with illustrations that show both strength and humanity.  Winter addresses the people of the jury as he makes the case for the importance of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s influence on the progress toward gender equality.

 

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How Minecraft is Crafting Our Minors

If you know me at all, you probably know that I am one of the last people on Earth that would promote kids playing lots of video games.  But it doesn’t really matter whether or not I would promote it, because kids are playing lots of video games.  And, as a creative writing and art teacher, I made an observation recently that I think is worth sharing (and that makes me sound way less curmudgeon-y than normal).

During my last creative writing residency, when I asked my students to write personal narratives about family memories and then fictional stories about a family member overcoming a made up conflict, they asked if they could write about computer games.  I discouraged it, but said that they could do it if they avoided violence and really focused on the experiences of their family members and not just what was happening in the game. They largely ignored me.

And you know what?  Their stories were awesome.

Ducks Typing photo (2)
Ducks understand the joys of computer games better than I do.

When I let go of my personal biases, I saw how excited they were to write their stories.  Kids who could hardly stay in their seat for 4 minutes were hashing out 3 page stories that ended with “to be continued,” because they did not want to stop.

 

Their stories were filled with action, adventure, and drama while sticking to a cohesive narrative arc.

I did not have to prod them for detail like I normally do.  They drew out descriptions of how they built houses or escaped from evil ‘animatronics.’

And, most interestingly to me, their narrative voices sounded unlike any other 3rd grade narrators I’d heard.  They were mature and sometimes even archaic, one student referring to the reader as “my child.”  They wove lots of dialogue into their stories, and one student even embedded short fables of the protagonist’s parents’ youth into his longer tale.

The same phenomenon was happening with my art students.  A group of boys who had all but stopped participating in the activities now got excited about any art form they could apply to their favorite characters.  There was no denying that computer games were encouraging kids’ creativity.  And I wasn’t the first to notice it.  A Michigan State University study linked video games to creativity in kids years ago.

The point of all this is not at all to say that parents should go encourage their kids to spend lots of time playing computer games.  It’s to say that since computer games are something that many kids are excited about, we should use that excitement to make connections with other things.  Encourage kids to draw their favorite characters… and then make up their own.  Ask them to write stories or act them out.  Build actual models of what they build in the games or create costumes of the characters.  Come up with math problems about them.

When kids get passionate about something, whether or not it’s something you care about yourself, make the most of it.

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Writing Prompts y Provocaciones Para Escribir

A giant thank you to all of the wonderful local writers who joined our Mountain of Words Write-In yesterday, and of course to everyone who contributed to support Asheville Writers in the Schools & Community’s work!  Your contributions will enable us to do so much, although we still have a ways to go to reach our goal – and it’s not to late to help out.

Even if you weren’t able to make it out to the write in, you can still take advantage of the bowl of writing prompts prepared especially for the event.  Go ahead and grab one, and write away!

  • Create an advertisement for yourself.  Be sure to highlight all of your greatest features! (You can also try writing a dictionary entry, recipe, or theme song for yourself…)  Crea un comercial de ti.  ¡Incluye a todas de tus características mejores!  (También puedes escribir una entrada de diccionario de ti, una receta para ti, una propaganda musical para ti…)
  • Choose an emotion, such as anger, fear, love, or surprise.  Write about it as if it were a physical thing.  What color is it?  What texture?  How does it sound and smell? Selecciona una emoción como el enojo, el miedo, el amor o la sorpresa.  Escribe sobre la emoción como si fuera algo físico.  ¿Qué color es?  ¿Qué textura?  ¿Cómo suena y huele?
  • Imagine you are walking through the park and you find an unmarked box.  Do you look inside?  What do you think is in it?  Fíjate que estés caminando por un parque y descubras a una caja sin escritura.  ¿La abras?  ¿Qué tenga a dentro?
  • Create a ‘How To’ manual for something for something that you cannot actually teach step-by-step.  For example, How to drive your big sister crazy, How to achieve world peace, etc.  Crea un manual de cómo hacer algo que no realmente puede explicar paso a paso.  Por ejemplo ‘Cómo enloquecerse a tu hermana mayor’ o ‘Como obtener paz mundial,’ etc.
  • Choose something that you feel strongly positively or negatively about.  Write about it as though you hate it.  Then, when you’ve written as much as you can, write about it as though you love it. Selecciona algo de que tienes emociones muy positivas o muy negativas.  Escribe de lo como si lo odias.  Luego cuando has escrito tanto que podrías, escribe de lo como si lo amas.-from “Writing Down the Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg
  • You have been given the opportunity to create a new holiday.  What does it celebrate?  Who celebrates it?  When?  Where?  And most importantly, how?  Tienes la oportunidad para crear un feriado nuevo.  ¿Qué celebra?  ¿Quién lo celebra?  ¿Dónde?  ¿Cuándo?  Y, más importante ¿cómo se lo celebra?

Happy Writing!

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A Mountain of Words to Help Voices Be Heard

“I feel like this country doesn’t want to know about me or my life but that is why we are doing the magazine. So that we can give kids a voice. So that they know we care about them.”

-Word on the Street Online Magazine participant, 13 years old

During this heated time in our country, it’s so important that our youth, families, and communities feel empowered to share their voices, and I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of that work.  This year, Asheville Writers in the Schools & Community launched Word on the Street, a bilingual online magazine run by teens of color so that youth locally and globally can share their perspectives through creative expression.

We also continued our Family Voices program, placing writers in classrooms to share literacy skills and build a creative classroom community, and inviting families to come together for food and creative writing in the evenings.  The students and families then publish their stories, poems, and artwork in an anthology.  When I see my students who have participated in the past, the first thing they usually tell me is, “I still have my book!”

DSCN3012.JPG

“My hands are old, tight, closed, very hard to work with.  Wrinkled, brown, long.  They have been through a lot in life.”

-Writing and Artwork from Family Voices at Hall Fletcher Elementary, 2016

Next weekend, Asheville Writers inthe Schools & Community will be hosting the 4th Annual Mountain of Words Write-a-thon to support these programs and keep kids feeling that this country does want to know about their life and care about them.  Here are some ways you can help:

  • Sponsor me in the Write-a-thon!  Next weekend, I will spend time writing as much as I can as a way to show my support for Asheville Writers in the Schools & Community… and for the sake of my own writing.  Donations will help programs like Family Voices and Word on the Street to continue and grow.  You can sponsor me here, or send a check to 347 Kenilworth Dr., Asheville, NC 28805 with my name in the memo line.
  • Join us for the Write-a-thon this Saturday, November 19, 1-4 p.m. at Malaprop’s Bookstore.  Bring your laptop or notebook, friends and family, and spend a couple of hours writing in community with some of our featured writers . We’ll have writing prompts for those that want them as well as some fun writing activities and favors for the kids. Plus, we’ll have an open mic for those that want to share.
  • Volunteer with Asheville Writers in the Schools & Community.  We recognize that our community has a great variety of knowledge and talents to offer, and there are all kinds of ways that your skills can contribute to what we do.  Just click here and let us know in what ways you’re interested in helping out.
  • Spread the word!  Re-blogging, re-posting, and telling your friends are some of the easiest and biggest ways you can help.

We hugely appreciate any support you are able to give!

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Post-Election Post

The biggest reason that I write and teach the arts is because I believe that everyone has a story and that everyone’s voices deserve to be heard.  When I woke up after the election, I was hit with hopelessness, but then I tried to come up with every reason I could to feel hopeful.  One of the biggest is that people are voicing themselves about important things.

I grew up hearing that you don’t talk about politics.  Now, more than I can remember, racial equity, immigrant and refugee rights, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and climate change are out on the table being talked about rather than swept under the rug.  My social media is filled with people sharing their grief, anger, and fears and lifting each other up.  This speaking out is such a huge step.

What’s missing is the other piece of conversation – listening.  There are people saying, “I don’t understand.  How could this have happened?” and then essentially disowning their friends and family who helped make it happen rather than listen for the answer.  I saw protesters outside of a Trump rally shouting, “Love Trumps Hate” with two middle fingers in someone’s face. And it wasn’t to be ironic.  For every Facebook post that has given me hope, there has been at least one response, sometimes from the someone of the opposing political party but often from within the same one, attacking the poster with hatred.

This country is divided enough.  Instead of driving these cuts deeper, can we begin to heal them so that we can continue taking steps forward?  I’ve never seen a situation where someone changed a person’s mind by attacking them.  But I have seen people who disagreed work through their differences by listening to each other and then work together to achieve something.  And we have a lot of work to do.Snapshot 3 (10-25-2014 11-21 PM) (2).jpg

I’m aware that people might attack me for posting this – for being too liberal or for being too soft when I should be outraged and call people out for supporting a hateful, intolerant candidate.  Or that I can say this because I’m white and privileged (which is totally true and valid).  If so, I will do my best to hear you.

But I’m not saying that I’m not outraged or that I accept unjust policies.  I’m saying that we should continue to fight even harder for social justice and human welfare and the environment.  I’m just saying that if we listen and try to understand each other, maybe we can fight from a place of love instead of hate.

Because I don’t think that love is too soft.  I think love might be the strongest thing we’ve got.

Thanks for listening. 🙂

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Feeling Writeous

I’m sitting in a coffee shop co-op, my elbow nearly touching a Black Lives Matter sign in the window, a donation jar for justice for Jerry Williams, a black man killed two weeks ago by a police officer in Asheville, replacing a tip jar on the counter, and feeling guilty about using my white middle class privilege to read SCBWI articles and brainstorm picture book ideas.

I’m always cautious about making my writing overly Peace Pencilspreachy and, because of my ethnicity and experiences, about being the wrong voice for the right cause.  So what good am I doing sitting here working on picture books if they are not directly speaking out about the injustices in the world?

I’m not telling you this just to alleviate my guilt or to justify my work, but because a poignant Teachers & Writers Magazine article arrived in my inbox on just this topic while I was sitting here, suggesting that I wasn’t the only writer out there feeling this way.  In case you’re struggling with the same, here are some reminders of a few of the many ways that children’s books can change the world.

  • Children’s book can encourage creative and imaginative ways of thinking.  Inspiring kids to think outside of the box can help them to become problem-solvers and world-changers.
  • Children’s books can impart knowledge and inspire a love of learning.
  • Children’s books can broaden kids’ worldview, which can foster tolerance and empathy.  Be conscious of the lens through which you are writing and make sure that your books are inclusive, tolerant, and caring.
  • Children’s books can create a soothing escape for kids experiencing turbulence in their own lives…
  • …or they can reflect that turbulence, give kids space to process difficult emotions and feel that they are not alone in them.
  • Children’s books can give kids a chance to see themselves as a hero and then give them the confidence to actually become one.
  • Children’s books can directly speak out against the injustices in the world.  They don’t need to be a security blanket or safe shelter for children.  Kids are often more curious about the world, intelligent, and mature than we give them credit for, and the very issues that adults think are too dark or difficult for kids are often the ones that motivate them.  If picture books only portray a perfect, peaceful world, kids won’t trust them when they learn that the world is not that way.  Kids need both – books that tell it like it is, and books that show the limitlessness of what can be.

The pen is still mightier than the sword (or maybe in today’s world, the keyboard mightier than the assault weapon).  Keep writing!

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Local KidLit Reading List: Part 2

And now, bringing you more awesome authors who double as awesome people… and who happen to live in my neck of the woods.  In case you missed it, here is Local KidLit Reading List: Part 1.

Middle Grade

Snakes and StonesSnakes & Stones

Why I’m excited to read it:

Another brilliant member of my critique group, Lisa Fowler has an incredible writing voice and sense of adventure.  While we got to see and give feedback on the first few chapters of this story, I still haven’t had a chance to see how it ends!

MaypopThe Maypop Kidnapping

Why I’m excited to read it:

Who doesn’t love a good kidnapping mystery?  C. M. Surrisi and I attend writers game nights together, and if her writing is anywhere near as clever as her Balderdash playing, then this book is well worth a read!

Saraswati

Saraswati’s Way

Why I’m excited to read it:

I love it when a book can transport me to a different part of the world.  And after hearing Monika Schroeder’s poignant keynote speech about when and how to authentically write about other cultures at last year’s SCBWI-Carolinas conference, I’m eager to see how she portrays culture in her own writing.

Diary from the EdgeMy Diary from the Edge of the World

Why I’m excited to read it:

The title alone is enough to make me want to pick this book up.  The fact that Jodi Lynn Anderson is so sweet and humble despite being a New York Times bestselling author and a killer pictionary player is just an added bonus.

Nine Pound HammerThe Nine Pound Hammer

Why I’m excited to read it:

Although this Hillsboro author is slightly less local than the others on this list, John Claude Bemis has a great regional presence, and his talks at Malaprop’s and SCBWI-Carolinas conferences have been lively and inspiring.  He just released the first book of his new series, Out of Abaton, but I have some catching up to do first.  Plus, I’m intrigued by the magical slant on this tall tale adventure.

Young Adult

Watch that Ends the NightThe Watch that Ends the Night

Why I’m excited to read it:

I have the feeling this book will have a lot to teach me about perspective.  Allan Wolf tells the Titanic story from 24 different points of view – including the iceberg’s!  Allan also happens to be an awesome supporter of Asheville Writers in the Schools & Community and an all around upstanding guy.

The Way I Used To Be

Why I’m excited to read it:

Amber Smith piqued my interest as a writer and as a person when I saw her speak on a YA panel last month.  This novel addresses the controversial but unfortunately relevant topic of rape, possibly opening the door a little bit wider for teens to feel comfortable talking about the subject.

BONUS: Adult

Fresh WaterFresh Water from Old Wells

Why I’m excited to read it:

No, it’s not kidlit, but I wanted to include this book on my list because it’s been way at the top of my reading list for many months, I am just a tragically slow reader.  This memoir not only tells about a tumultuous family dynamic during an important era of Southern history, it also tells of the author’s experience in writing it.  And because Cindy Henry McMahon also happens to be my good friend’s aunt, her story is one that I feel a special connection to.

It’s a good thing it’s summer, because it looks like I’ve got a lot of reading to do!  Please let me know if I’ve missed any great local reads, and I will get started on a Part 3.  Happy reading!

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Local KidLit Reading List: Part 1

When my first story was published in Spider Magazine, it was on the opposite side of a two page spread from a drawing by Quentin Blake and a few pages down from a Kate di Camillo story.  I was totally star struck.  But you know what’s just as cool?  Seeing my book on a shelf of regional authors in a local indie bookstore and personally knowing nearly every author whose books share the shelf.

A writer friend recently said to me, “You can’t throw a stone in Asheville and not hit a writer.”  And not just any writer.  Incredibly talented writers.  Overwhelmingly supportive writers who share their knowledge, root for each other, and even play games together.   I can’t wait to read some of their latest stories, and I recommend that you do, too!

Picture Books, Easy Readers, and Comic Books

 

Three SleepsThree Sleeps

Why I’m excited to read it:

A family therapist wrote this story that addresses issues of separation anxiety, which I see some of my students experience.  It is also available in Spanish, and the beautiful illustrations were painted by my friend’s wife, Shannon Cappezzali.

Carlos and CarmenCarlos & Carmen

Why I’m excited to read it:

Carlos & Carmen are twins from a Latino-American family.  They have all the adventures and challenges of typical American kids, but with a little more laughter and Spanish sprinkled in.  Kirsten McDonald, the author of this easy reader series, is a children’s librarian, so she knows what she’s talking about.  She is also in my critique group, so I got a sneak preview and even had some input on a few of these!

RSP 1Robot Samurai Penguins

Why I’m excited to read it:

J. Rutland is another writer from my critique group (yes, we are a very talented bunch), and he also paints the beautiful and extremely imaginative artwork in his Robot (Samurai) Penguins comic series.  And I have a few students in particular who I know are going to fall in love with the main penguin, Waddul.

Middle Grade

SerafinaSerafina and the Black Cloak

Why I’m excited to read it:

No list of Asheville kidlit would be complete without Serafina.  And yes, I am a bad person for being a local children’s author who has not read it.  It is a dark, suspenseful story set at the Biltmore Estate, and my students eat it up.  I’ll have to read it soon since the second book in the series is already out and a movie is on its way.  And although this is the first author on the list that I haven’t met personally, I hear that he is a nice guy with an interesting story of his own.

Puffball

Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars

Why I’m excited to read it:

I cheated on this one.  I’m excited to have already read it.  But I recommend it to you because it’s full of clever puns, cute cat pictures, and heart.  Plus the author and illustrator, Constance Lombardo, is one of the coolest cats in town herself.

 

How to steal a dogHow to Steal a Dog

Why I’m excited to read it:

I love books about dogs.  And this one was adapted into a film in South Korea!  The author of this one, Barbara O’Connor, looked fabulous in a feather boa and monocle at my book launch party’s photo booth, and I can’t wait to discover that her writing is just as fun.

 

Yound Adult

InvincibleInvincible

Why I’m excited to read it:

This novel about a girl’s struggle to fight cancer and, later, addiction to medication, is the book that I’m smack dab in the middle of right now.  I keep reading it at night to help me fall asleep, but end up staying awake longer because I want to keep reading.  Fortunately, when I get through it, I get to read the new sequel, Unforgivable.  My friend and mother of a sweet girl at one of my schools, Amy Reed, wrote this one.

Stay tuned… Local KidLit Reading List: Part 2 is coming soon!  I told you there were a lot of talented authors here.

 

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Writing Diverse Children’s Books: the 2015 SCBWI-Carolinas Conference

I came away from yet another SCBWI conference with inspiration, helpful information, new writer friends and idols, and writing momentum, but without much time to process it or actually write.  But even though I’m late, I especially wanted to share what I learned this year since the conference’s “Your Story, Your World” theme is one that I feel a special passion for but don’t always know what I can do about: diversity in children’s books.

Check out the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign!

An incredible faculty of Pat Cummings, Lamar Giles, Minju Chang, Daniel Nayeri, Kelly Starling Lyons, Monika Schroeder, Alan Gratz, and many others shared how important it is for all children to be able to see themselves in the heroes of children’s books.  Not only that, but books should show children that are already well represented the diverse world they live in. As this article in The Guardian explains, reading helps people to develop empathy, and so diverse books can also help children empathize with those who are different than themselves.

So, as a white, middle class, able-bodied, heterosexual writer that believes children should have access to books with diverse characters, what can I do?

This is the insight I gained from this year’s conference:

  • Keep a broad definition of “diversity.”  Think in terms of race, religion, gender, geography, sexuality, class, physical and mental abilities, and age.
  • Write stories with diverse characters.  While this seems like the simplest solution, it is actually the most difficult and comes with a lot of disclaimers.  If you write about a culture (use a broad definition when considering culture, too!) other than your own, write from the heart and not because it is a market trend.  Make sure to empower children through your characters rather than victimize them, and be cautious of stereotypes.

Be aware that it may be uncomfortable and you may be accused of “voice appropriation.”  Monika Schroeder’s response to this is that no one owns a culture, but that if you are going to write about a culture other than your own, get it right.  Do your research, including making authentic connections with people from that culture.  Immerse yourself in it if you can!

Also be aware that some publishers have limited spots for these diverse books and that your story about another culture could crowd out someone from that culture’s stories.

  • Biographies are a great way to depict diverse heroes.  Because they fit in with the common core curriculum, this is also a great way to get diverse books into classrooms.  But, as mentioned above, write them from the heart about people whose stories you connect with, research to portray the culture and perspective authentically, and don’t write them just because they are trendy.
  • Bring existing stories from other cultures to your own.  Research international stories and folklore.  Explore diverse storytelling and illustrating styles.  If you have translation skills, use them to bring in international perspectives.  Very few children’s books are translated into English from other languages.
  • Explore your own diversity.  What part of your own story is under represented?  Although my own race, class, and geography may be well represented, I come from a family of Italian immigrants and we carry on their traditions.  My own family is non-standard, with half-siblings on both sides who are much older than me.  I have a Brazilian exchange student “sister.”  What part of you is not often reflected in children’s books?
  • Illustrate or make illustration notes for pictures with diverse characters.  
  • Buy, read, and tell booksellers about books by and about people from other cultures.  There is not only a need for more diverse children’s book characters, but also for people from diverse cultures to be creating these books.  So what can you do if you are from an over represented culture like me?

As Kelly Starling Lyons eloquently put it, “Lift people up as you climb.”

 

 

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Knowledge vs. Wonder

DSCN1854When I first came to North Carolina, the mountains were a magical, mysterious place.  Sunny paths disappeared into dark, gnarled tunnels of rhododendron, creeks burbled with salamanders and fish whose names I didn’t know, and I saw every stump and shadowy rock as a black bear of questionable friendliness.

In six years of living here, I’ve learned.  The few actual bears I’ve seen either ran away from me or continued nonchalantly eating blueberries at a distance.  I know the landmarks along many trails, that this outcropping is a good stop for a snack because it’s slightly more than halfway there or that those little cascades would be great for a dip… except for the snakes.  And I’m blessed with friends that have grown up in or studied these mountains for the better part of their lives.  Hiking with them is like hiking with an encyclopedia.

Looking Glass 16

But what if I don’t want to know the name of every plant?  Sometimes, while they debate leaf features, I take a few steps back and look out at the forest, notice where the sunlight breaks through the canopy and listen for my favorite bird call.

Because what if that tufted crown of golden petals has a name as unbecoming as lousewort? (It does.)

Or what if instead of admiring a tree’s deep rutted bark, I start analyzing it?

Joyce Kilmer (5)What if instead of looking at the mountains wonderingly, I start looking at them knowingly?

I remembered, though, that knowledge doesn’t exclude the imagination, and often even inspires it.  What if that lousewort has been bitter about its name for generations?  Suddenly, those regal petals become little tongues sticking out. Jewelweed went from a dainty orange flower to a true forest gem, a cure for poison ivy accompanied by explosive seed pods – booby traps, perhaps, to fend off the jewel thieves.

Eastatoe 1And more often than not, the truth in these forests is far better than what I could have ever imagined.  Now, I’m getting to know these mountains, haunted by blue ghost fireflies, burning with flame azaleas, and impassioned with hearts-a-bustin’.

Still, I’m determined never to know who it is that sings my favorite bird call.

Tremont 6-14-14 (2)As a writer, I try to keep in mind that my fiction can share knowledge and that my non-fiction can inspire the imagination and instill a sense of wonder.  As a hiker, what I’ve learned about these mountains with all the knowledge I’ve gained is that they will always be a magical and mysterious place.

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