By Elizabeth Wroten
On 18, Jun 2018 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I know I touched on this when I announced the theme for my 100 Day Project last summer, but I wanted to come back to it again.
While self-published and small press books can have their pitfalls (paperbacks have such a hard time standing out on library shelves!), I cannot stress enough the essential hole they fill. The traditional publishing industry has the poor judgement to not want to publish books about diverse people (claiming they won’t sell or the books don’t read authentically enough for white audiences) and the gatekeepers in the industry tend not to allow authors of color (or anything other than white, able bodied, cisgendered, usually female) into their industry.
I for one am tired of stories about the same quirky, upper middle class white girl. I am tired of the stories about white boys surviving. I’m tired of families that look approximately like mine. I want variety in my reading. And, more and most importantly, I know there are kids out there desperate to see themselves in books. I was lucky enough that that quirky girl resembled me in a lot of ways. I never had trouble finding characters and people that looked like me. But I’ve heard countless stories of adults and children who, while they enjoyed some of the same characters I did, wished they shared more in common with them. They wished those characters looked like them.
If the traditional publishing industry isn’t going to give us those books and authors and illustrators, we need to set aside our preconceived notions about self published and small press books. We need to recognize that if our students and children can love Dragons Love Tacos 2 (a god awful sequel that looks hastily slapped together and weakly plotted, but published by a major publishing house) then they can love these books as much and probably more than those traditional books.
So, if you have any kind of buying power, either personal or institutional, look for small press and self published books. Seek them out. And buy them. Put them on your library or home bookshelves. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t buy books from big-name publishers. You will and you should (especially when they occasionally publish #ownvoices authors and illustrators). Just don’t let these be the only books you give to your students. Vote with your dollars and support small publishers and authors/illustrators working outside the traditional system.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 04, Jun 2018 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Today in my Feedly I read this thought-provoking article from the blog Reading While White. If you are white you need to hop over and read through it. The author, Elisa Gall, discusses troubling aspects of the traditional publishing industry including the publication of books about oppressed and marginalized people by white people as the industry’s answer to the call for more diversity. The article also calls out the fact that we’re seeing less “I don’t see color” arguments, but are seeing more people calling for books with what they call “casual diversity”. I’ve heard and used the term “incidental diversity”.
As I was reading, though, I was embarrassed to realize I am guilty of looking for those casual diversity books and naming some of the diversity I see in picture books as such. And from there I realized, as Gall points out, this is because I’m still looking at those books with a white lens. While I may never be able to remove that lens completely (or at all), I should not be looking for books that simply have brown or disabled or queer characters in circumstances or stories or places that are essentially white or able bodied or hetero. And if those characters can be swapped out for a white character, it may not be true diversity.
Now that being said, this does not mean we need one story to represent all black people (or all disabled people, etc.). Nor does it mean that a black and white character may not be able to be seen in a similar story. I think my own blindspot over this stemmed from my desire to see the abundance of stories that reflect me and my children available to children of color (and others). The problem with that is that I didn’t stop to examine whether or not those same stories would be applicable to those other children. In some cases they might be, but in many others they are not. It was a really good check on my privilege to read that article and realize how careful I need to be when reviewing books and a good reminder that I am not always the best person to be reviewing diverse content. I’m trying to use my gatekeeper status and the fact that white librarians might (sadly) be more likely to listen to my recommendations, but that doesn’t mean I will have the most accurate perception of how a book will work for an audience that isn’t white, cisgender, able-bodied, straight, and middle class.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 09, Sep 2017 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
This isn’t exactly a library related post, except I wouldn’t be surprised to see the trend start spilling over into children’s areas at libraries and into classrooms. I originally wrote and posted this on my personal blog, which primarily documents the homeschooling I do with my daughter. But it was just to important to pass up cross posting here, I think. If anything I have said here is problematic for marginalized people, please reach out to me so I can fix any problems.
To be honest I was never comfortable with it, so to say I’m over it is a misrepresentation, but they’ve become ubiquitous. You can’t look through Pinterest or your Facebook feed without seeing a clean modern children’s play area set up with one: a play teepee. Meant to be twee little nests for children to hide away in, the reality of what they represent is quite insidious. When I look at them I see the worst of cultural appropriation, hurtful cultural stereotyping, Native erasure, and fetishizing.
Teepees, or tipis, are a real cultural object used as dwellings by several Native Nations, including the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota. They were and are real homes for real people and continue to be used ceremonially by many of these tribes too as they hold onto their traditional ways that have been forcibly erased. In reducing something that was integral to the cultures of these Nations to adorn your living room, we erase its cultural significance and history. These play teepees are generic, where the originals would not have been. Even the word itself “teepee” is a generic, Anglicization of the real term used for these dwellings, which comes to English from a Lakota word. Parents aren’t using these play tents as a way to talk to their children about the history or culture of the people they come from. We’re appropriating them as something cutesy for our playrooms.
Which leads to another piece of this trend, native erasure. The teepee is so often used as a generic symbol of all North American indigenous people. Except they were used by some Native Nations, not all. Moreover, teepees as a generic dwelling, have been used by other indigenous people in other places around the world. In pairing them with broader stereotyped depictions of “Indians” seen in popular culture and ignoring their cultural and historical importance, we reinforce those hurtful stereotypes that have allowed these people to be colonized and erased. It also reduces the cultures and people in the eyes of our children to something they can take from to make their homes and spaces more on trend and ultimately discard when no longer fashionable.
I also fear that this will encourage a resurgence in children “playing Indian”. The idea is still out there, even though I think most people see it as something kids did in the 50s and 60s. I see it depicted again and again in new children’s books and even in magazines and certainly at Halloween time. “Playing Indian” either includes fighting and villainizing the “Indians” or fetishizing them as the gentle, nature loving Native Americans. It’s all more stereotyping. But a stereotype of people who were exterminated by white settlers and government and continue to be marginalized. Again neither villainizing nor fetishizing gets at the history of colonization of Native Nations, nor does it show our children that their cultures are not there for our taking.
Now I’m sure there are some people who want to argue that these play teepees honor the cultures they come from and I want to directly address that. You would only be honoring the culture if you were talking about their cultural and historical importance and, considering how generic the play teepees look, you aren’t. Just having it in your house does not impart the significance of the object if you do not give it the proper context. More importantly a big, non-Native company has taken this culturally significant object and turned it into something generic that they are now marketing and making money off of. None of those sales are going to benefit the Native Nations the object has come from (not that that would indicate any form of reverence, anyway). They have appropriated the teepee to make it into something they can sell stylish parents and make a quick buck. In no way does any of that honor a living culture.
If you have a teepee please consider opening a conversation with your child about what it is and remove it from your living room too. If you are considering buying one, don’t. Click through to the links below (also found in the links in the paragraph above) if you need more convincing. They are articles written by people more knowledgable than me as they are members of Native Nations. I will be writing letters to companies that sell them. A drop in the ocean to these companies, but if you agree and would like to join me, maybe we can make a difference.
Repost: Step away from the “Indian” costume! by Dr. Adrienne Keane, Cherokee, from her blog Native Appropriations
When Media Promotes Offensive Indian Stereotypes by Sarah Sunshine Manning from Indian Country Today
Lane Smith’s new picture book: There Is a TRIBE of KIDS (plus a response to Rosanne Parry) by Dr. Debbie Reese, Nambe Owingeh, from her blog American Indians in Children’s Literature
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 01, Jun 2017 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Over the last year I’ve been really attracted to small presses and self published books as a way to get more diversity into library (and home!) collections. This spring the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s blog posted some graphs created using the diversity statistics they collect each year. It shows a huge gap in #ownvoices for African American children’s books. If you haven’t seen these statistics, graphs, and commentary head over here to read it . Maya Christina Gonzales and her Reflection Press also used these statistics to great effect showing how many books would need to be published to have an equitable children’s publishing industry. If you haven’t seen or read about that, check it out here. Zetta Elliott, who self publishes many of her phenomenal books, has also addressed the lack of diversity in the mainstream publishing industry. Between her advocacy for small press and self published books and Reflection Press’s project to quickly publish quality books to fill some of these needs and gaps, I started going out of my way to find self published children’s books.
I know there is a stigma against a lot of these books, and certainly there are terrible self published materials out there, but while some of them lack the slick covers, illustrations, and marketing of major publishers I found that my daughter and students didn’t mind them at all. In fact I think my daughter’s top three books are small or self published. Basically, kids don’t hold books to the same standards that adults do. That isn’t to say they can’t sniff out something that is too didactic or trying to push an agenda or that they don’t have standards of any kind. What kids are looking for is just different than what adults are looking for. There is a case and a place for having beautiful, amazing books that traditional publishers put out around children, but not at the expense and exclusion of giving them reflections of themselves and the world around them.
All this is to say that for my #100dayproject I will be reviewing a self published or small press title each day. It may take me more than 100 days, to be honest. Most of these are not available in my local library, so I have to buy them myself and that adds up. I’ve got a little stash right now and I’m also planning on rerunning blog posts from the past year or so where I have reviewed self published books. It can’t hurt to get more exposure for these titles. (To be clear, I don’t mind buying them! I want to buy self published and small press books, but it just adds up.) After these 100 (or so) days I’m going to keep on with this type of book. I will occasionally review the traditionally published book, but there are plenty of reviews and blogs out there dedicated to them so I want to call attention to books that might not otherwise get much press.
Obviously you can follow along here on the blog, I’ll be posting daily. You can also follow along on Instagram as I’ll be taking a picture each day to go with the post. I will also be sure to share the photo on Twitter when I post it. I’ll be using #100daysofselfpublishedkidlit. It’s long and cumbersome and leaves out the small press aspect, I know, but it is what it is.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 08, Feb 2017 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
One of the science units in our second grade curriculum focuses on insects. Each student becomes an expert on one insect of their choosing. They read up about it, then they create a presentation that features the information they have gathered. The final piece of the project is creating a 3-dimensional model of their insect with their parents. While it has to be anatomically correct (three body parts, six legs, etc.), they have a lot of flexibility in how they make the model. They can use any kind of material from paper mache to Legos. Some families make enormous bugs others make tiny ones. Some look they were more a project of the parent than the student and some look like the parents weren’t involved at all. Either way it’s usually a lot of fun for the kids and even the adults.
Knowing that this project would be coming up in about a month and a half, I decided to offer two open days in the Makerspace over spring break. Families are welcome to stop in any time during the two Saturdays over spring break and use our space and materials. My husband and I will be there to help clean, welcome people, show people around, and provide snacks (snacks are a must in the Makerspace). Sometimes the project can be really overwhelming for parents who are short on time, don’t like mess, or may feel ill-equipped to get creative. And that is a big reason I decided to have these open days.
My point here is not that you should start an insect project in your school (although that would be pretty neat!), but that you should look for those small opportunities to bring in community members and tap into your curriculum. It will make your Makerspace more relevant and can help teachers begin to integrate the freer thinking of the makerspace into their teaching and curriculum. Next up for me, our first grade has free choice play at the end of most days, I want to schedule them to have free choice in the makerspace one or two days. I can set up stations so it ins’t a complete free-for-all, but still highlights some of the activities and things you can do in the makerspace.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 06, Feb 2017 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Forgive me, but I’m about to get a little passionate about kids and education. We recently had an author come visit our library (shout out to Bruce Hale, he was awesome and we have a lot of budding author/illustrators thanks to him!). He was really great with the kids and had lots of interaction with the audience and at one point asked what some of the kids in the audience wanted to be “when they grow up”. It’s a pretty traditional and mundane question and we got the range of answers: vet, doctor, lawyer, engineer, architect. But we also got a couple YouTube stars. That led to a couple chuckles and a lot of eye rolling from teachers.
I had forgotten that I had heard a rant about this a few months back. I cannot, for the life of me, remember where or who was ranting or anything beyond a collective hand wringing over “kids these days”. But I think we need to stop wringing our hands over this particular phenomenon and need to step up to harness this interest. (I have a lot of choice expletives about getting off kids backs when it comes to things adults deem unworthy, but I’ll spare you that rant for now.)
For starters, “YouTube star” is a pretty nebulous concept, especially for these kids. Why don’t we roll our eyes at lawyer? I mean for a third grader what the hell does being a lawyer mean? Nothing more or less than a YouTube star. It has very little meaning to them. Except it YouTube star DOES mean these kids want to be content creators. We love to spout off about how we’re teaching kids skills for jobs we can’t even imagine. One thing I think we can know about their futures is that they will need to be content creators. Be that writing, report making, building, or scientific research. They will be creating content of one kind or another. So all those potential YouTube stars have a head start over their peers in that they already want to be doing what they probably will be doing.
Instead of rolling our eyes, we need to be harnessing these kids’ energies and interests and showing them how to bring their ideas into the world. Teach them to record themselves, make podcasts, write scripts, sing, play instruments, draw and animate, and make technology a tool (e.g. stop fucking wringing your hands over kids using technology). Teach them to make things and sell them on Etsy. Help them find what they are good at and enjoy and then help them put it out there into the world. Encourage them to be creative. Certainly if you have a makerspace, this is where it comes in and plays a HUGE role in our children’s education. But even if you don’t, that’s okay. Providing them with the support and a few materials is better than all the eye rolling and hand wringing I see going on right now.
As a fairly creative kid I made all kinds of crap. From voice recordings on an old-ass tape recorder we had, to scripts for a TV show I performed in a box, to fully illustrated picture books, to weird “inventions” out of leftover foam, and comic books. I even sold them to my friends and family so I could go to the drugstore after school and buy comic books, candy, and makeup. There is no reason any of those projects couldn’t be updated with modern technology and put online. And no reason why we shouldn’t be encouraging our children to use their creative skills to make a few extra bucks to pay for fun little things. Why should be discourage our kids from doing these kinds of things? Because a few crusty, technology-phobic teachers think kids shouldn’t want to make money or create videos?
YouTube star is probably not a realistic life goal for most of our students, but let’s not lose sight of what these kids are really telling us. Instead of throwing up your hands, help them form that interest into something they can be proud of, even if that involves wacky videos posted to their YouTube channel.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 11, Oct 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I’m back this October with numbers and ideas about our easy reader collection. I have a couple goals here. The first is obvious, I want to be aware of what kind of diversity is visible in our collection with the intent of making it a stronger, more diverse collection. The second, I would like to restructure the collection so it’s more of a learning-to-read collection. These books don’t check out very much and I would like to help boost their circulation by leveling them and marketing them as books to help kids learn to read.
Now, I despise book levels, but I think with this collection they might really help kids find just-right books. I think having a really basic level system with them will also make them more friendly to browse. Currently they’re crammed into some small book racks. It isn’t terrible, but it’s really hard to browse because they’re in there so tightly and they aren’t easy to see. Plus they’re about to explode out of their little corner. We also have some popular titles (In a Dark, Dark Room for example) in two places in the library- the easy reader shelf and the holiday collection- so I’m not worried about kids shying away from some fun classics because of a book level sticker on it.
Beyond this post with the statistics of the collection and thoughts on what we need to do to make the collection better, I’ll be reviewing books in the collection and new books that I want to buy for the collection. I will also be sharing information about what we are doing to level the collection. (Although that may take longer as we have a long list of projects going in the library.)
There are approximately 260 books in the collection. A good number of them are checked out so I did a report that pulled up a list of books with the sublocation “Blue Easy Reader” in order to create the tallies. This may have missed a handful of titles that were not on the shelf and are not marked properly in the catalog (that kind of happens a lot, but I’m working on it). The collection seems fairly old with a handful of new books added over the past few years and it ranges in reading ability/reading level. There are a lot of different reading series, such as I Can Read and Ready to Read. Nearly all the books are fiction with our easy reader nonfiction sorted out into the regular nonfiction collection. If/when I start leveling the books I will pull the majority of easy reader nonfiction off those shelves and bring it back to this collection.
In creating these numbers I lumped series together. So Henry and Mudge has quite a few books in the series, but I only counted it once. Same with things like Poppleton and Amelia Bedelia.
Thoughts & Concerns
Well, we could certainly be doing better. There are actually more animal stories than there are stories about white kids. And those two categories make up the bulk of main characters. It doesn’t look much different than overall statistics of children’s literature or the other collections I have examined. I do worry that it’s going to be nearly impossible to find easy readers featuring Indian Americans and Native Americans and even Latino/as. If they’re already such a small part of what is being published they’re probably going to be even harder to find in easy reader format. But I will be looking and if you know of any, please, please, please let me know.
The one big surprise here was how many female authors there were in the collection. I do have to wonder if that has to do with the fact that women often get relegated to little kids and little kid stuff. I didn’t bother to look at the race/ethnicity of the authors. It’s nearly all white with a few exceptions.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 01, Jul 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I thought since I talked about the summer reading lists that I created I thought I would share pdf versions of them here.
Our lists go home with a letter attached that explains summer reading. In it, in all grades, we encourage parents to read WITH their children. Thus you will see books that are not necessarily grade level. We also point parents to ALA award lists (actually I have pdf versions that I typed up that we post to our website for parents to download).
Note that I was asked to add back in a few titles. Titles that were not diverse. Ones that I had removed because I figured that parents visiting any bookstore would find these classics and popular titles and did not need me to tell them about. It’s fine. They’re all good books. But it does skew the numbers I shared in my statistics posts. The lists are less diverse because books were added back without being intentional. It’s a work in progress and I’ll be updating them again next year too, so I can keep making it better. I am not sharing the fifth grade list because the one published is not the one I came up with.
We also include a Bingo card at the end of each list and ask that the kids fill out each square (there are only 9 so it isn’t an insurmountable task!). Here is a copy of that in case you want to use it or do something similar. The kids who fill it out can come to the library for a treat and a summer reading badge in the Fall.
Here is a reminder about my Creative Commons License:
This work by Elizabeth Wroten is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
If you want to use these for personal use, please feel free! I would also be happy to see them built on and if you do drop me a line to let me know. I would love to know what people add and subtract from them.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 09, Jun 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Last Friday I went to one of the best conferences I’ve been to. It wasn’t fancy and it wasn’t expensive. It was only a day long. I signed up because two people I have been following were going to be presenting and I REALLY wanted to see them. They were Zetta Elliot and Debbie Reese. While I already greatly admired them I came away from the conference with a newfound respect for them. Everything they said just clicked for me. They often make me feel uncomfortable, but I should, if for no other reason than my discomfort really makes me examine myself and the world around me and pushes me to learn and open up.
My biggest takeaway from the conference was twofold. Usually I like conferences where I can take something concrete back to the library or classroom at the end, but this one was different. My takeaway was really codifying my thinking about our collection and making a decision about how I would approach both weeding and purchasing. I have decided anything that has racist content in it goes off our shelf. This seems really obvious, but while trying to pull things off the shelf I have asked if we can leave things so they spark discussion and had my other librarian make the same suggestion. I’ve also gone back and forth on the idea that pulling a lot of these materials constitutes censorship.
But from here on out, I don’t care if people want to label it censorship or think the materials should stay for historical/conversational purposes. Because unless we are having explicit conversations about these questionable depictions in materials, the kids are internalizing it and that perpetuates all our problems with race and with privilege. And let’s face it, the majority of materials are going home and are not being discussed, examined, or broken down. They just aren’t, plain and simple. I’m sorry (not sorry) if people think that I’m pushing an agenda, but I can’t stand by and let our children internalize racism. No one is okay with that when you call it out, but because it’s so often “under the waterline” as Mitali Perkins called it, we are letting this stuff slip by and it’s not okay.
The second part of my takeaway is that I need to be very, very careful and thoughtful in examining the narratives that our collection creates (i.e. do all our books with African Americans show them as either poor or in historical contexts as slaves). I was already very aware that I needed to focus on this, but I feel a much greater drive to really examine it now. Collection development is not just about getting overt (or even subtly) racist content off the shelves.
I was glad because some of the steps the speakers talked about for incorporating diversity I’m already doing. I know I have a lot more work both personally and in the library to deconstruct the racism that is so prevalent, but it’s nice to know I have taken some steps in the right direction and have started the journey.
Thank you to Debbie for helping me really accept my new weeding policy. Thank you to Zetta Elliot for making me think (and for being gracious as I very nervously introduced myself and tripped over my own tongue while gushing about how much I love your work) and for making me see that I fall into some of the same traps I keep trying to stay out of. Thank you to ACL for such a great conference.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 24, May 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I recently came across this project called The 100 Day Project. It encourages you to do one thing for 100 days, with an emphasis on making or doing something. The project technically started back in April, but I just don’t have time to do this kind of thing every day during the school year and I feel like I had my plate full this spring. So instead I decided to start late and use it to guide some (most) of my summer reading. I have a couple larger projects planned this summer, like revamping my curriculum for the library and also, with the generous help of my best friend, who is also one of the second grade teachers, weeding our Native American content in the library.
The plan is to read one diverse book a day and review it. This will give me a lot of good practice reviewing and force me to seek out a lot more diverse books. Many will be picture books (my line up is on Goodreads if you want a sense of where I’m starting out and going) because they are faster to read and a lot of these books I’m looking at with an eye toward adding them to our library collection and I do a lot of the development in the picture book section. I am really trying to hit more than racial diversity, although we need plenty more of that in our collection, so if you have any suggestions please feel free to share them.
One final note, the project asks you to document your project on Instagram. As much as I dislike taking daily pictures and as much as I dislike having one more social media account to manage I’m going to try and do this. I will be adding my Instagram account in the sidebar, but as of writing this I haven’t done it. I think I can set it up to only see the hashtag for this project (fingers crossed). If not you’ll be seeing my other 100 day project which is 100 days of simple science play with my daughter. I suppose the Instagram will serve the purpose of documenting the reading even if I don’t get around to writing reviews each and every day.