|Sonia Manzano, Rita Williams-Garcia & Matt de la Peña at the 2015 AASL Authors Banquet|
Sonia Manzano played Maria on Sesame Street for forty-four years, teaching us how to count in English and Spanish, how to say our ABCs, how to laugh with (and gently tease) our friends like Oscar the Grouch. Named as one of the “25 Greatest Latino Role Models Ever”, Sonia has retired from her television role and is devoting more time to her writing. Her memoir, Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx, reveals life-changing moments in her early life that led to her later success.
As a young person, Sonia never felt represented in the media she watched or the books she read. She told us:
“In all my viewing I never saw anybody who looked like me or lived in a neighborhood like the one I lived in. Not being represented in the media made me feel invisible.”The books that teachers shared were no better--Dick and Jane’s family was nothing like her own. Reading and writing were not things that happened at home growing up—curling up with a book was seen as lazy. But Sonia has always been drawn to the stories of others.
Books connect us as people because we see pieces of ourselves in the stories we read. Manzano shared with us teacher Monica Ediger’s thought that the only way to help young people do better than previous generations is to share “sensitive mirrors of others into distant tragedies.” Books can help young readers understand the plight of the less fortunate, help them think about the confusing world around them.
As we read and share stories, however, we must make sure our diverse students are represented in these stories, not just inviting them to think about someone else’s experience. Sonia told us:
“There is something so important about seeing yourself and your own experiences reflected in media. As much as I saw pieces of myself in these other characters, it wasn’t until I was taken to see West Side Story that I realized that the world of creating art was accessible to me and that I could actually be represented on stage and in books the way I was, not just as part of someone else’s experience.”Whenever we choose a book to recommend, whether we are a parent, teacher or librarian, we are making a statement about what stories we value. We must continue to be inclusive, to challenge ourselves to think beyond stereotypes. In our own reading, we must strive to find stories in which we see our children’s lives and experiences validated. Sonia concluded her speech by reminding us of this:
“When you make decisions on what books to share, think of the child who doesn’t see himself reflected in society, books that will be the beginning of an experience and not the end, and books that are full of emotion.”Create a conversation about the stories you read, around the dinner table, around the classroom rug, at the circulation desk. Reading IS thinking, and our students will surprise us every day with the power and depth of their ideas.
Matt de la Peña and Rita Williams-Garcia had on our audience at #AASL15. Thank you so much to Scholastic for sponsoring Sonia Manzano this weekend. It was a truly pleasure having him as our guest.
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©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books