This weekend, I had the honor and responsibility of organizing the author events at the American Association of School Librarians National Conference (#aasl15). Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano spoke to a full banquet of librarians about their experiences growing up as young readers, and the impact they seek to make through their writing.
|Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia & Sonia Manzano at AASL banquet|
Rita Williams-Garcia sparkles with energy, laughter and heart every time I meet her or read her stories. Rita received the Newbery Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award for the outstanding novel One Crazy Summer, and was a National Book Award finalist. Delphine, Vonetta and Fern’s story continues in P.S. Be Eleven, and now their story comes to a close with this year’s Gone Crazy in Alabama.
Rita began by sharing her early memories, growing up in the cocoon of her family’s love. At the age of 2, her family moved from New York to Arizona, traveling that long way by car. Rita described traveling through the South as the first time she saw her mother frightened: crying and fearful when the police stopped them. They didn’t stay in hotels, but were welcomed into other black families’ homes along the way—something that Rita didn’t think about at the time. As she said, when you are a child, your eyes are open and your memories stay with you.
As young children, we only know our direct experiences. Our children notice race, but might not know how to process their thoughts. In first grade, Rita’s teacher read wonderful stories—but when she read the stories of Little Black Sambo, Rita clearly remembers feeling that her classmates were laughing at Little Black Sambo, feeling different from her classmates because she was one of the only black children in her class.
When we share stories with our students, we must think about the memories we are creating. How are we validating their experiences? How are we inviting them into the conversation of stories?
Librarians and teachers are the caretakers of our children’s reading lives, as teacher and friend Donalyn Miller so wonderfully said on the NerdyBookClub. Every time we recommend books to children, we are inviting them to see themselves in stories. The stories we buy and collect must have many entry points, must have many different types of characters, must reflect the diversity of broader world around us.
We do this, as Rita reminded us, by being honest with our young people about the world around us, being authentic, and engaging in the hard conversations of our times. I love this tweet from Rita. These are turbulent times, full of strong emotions. When we have honest, caring discussions together, we can all move forward.
©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books