Ever since I was lucky enough to see Jewell Parker Rhodes speak at a publisher’s preview about her book Ninth Ward in around 2010, I have been a huge fan of hers and everything she’s written. I’ve read both her children’s and adult titles, and I’ve never been disappointed in her writing. From Bayou Magic to her Marie Laveau trilogy, I find her style warm, lyrical, and engaging.
There is a title of hers I hers I have been avoiding, however, despite its popularity at my last school: Towers Falling. Yes, I am one of many New Yorkers who was here on 9/11 and prefers not to talk about it. While I was a public librarian, I remember that every early September, children would approach the reference desk asking me to share my “New York 9/11 story” with them. That’s when I came to the realization that, while, for me, September 11, 2001 felt like it had just happened, most of the children I worked with at the library were too young to have remembered it (of course, now, I only work with children who hadn’t even been born yet). In fact, many of these young patrons’ parents hadn’t been living in the country at the time, so their public librarian became the default interviewee. I remember both hating to drudge out my same old sad story, year after year, while also thinking it was important and vital to share these memories with young people who really had no concept of what that day was like.
As I said, despite being a big JPR fan, I was hesitant to read Towers Falling because I simply did not want to rehash that day. In fact, in the author’s note, Rhodes says that it was never her intention to write about 9/11: She found the subject, “Too hard emotionally. Too hard, technically, to convey such history for middle grade students.” Luckily, for those reluctant to relive that day, Rhodes sets the novels 15 years after the event, while still managing to give readers a sense of what 9/11 was like.
When fifth grader Déjà starts learning about the towers in class, she can’t figure out why she should care: It happened long ago to people she didn’t even know. Through lessons from her teacher, Miss Garcia, about connections and community, and discussions with her new friends, Ben and Sabeen, Déjà begins to understand how the attack on New York has changed her neighborhood, school, and even her own family.
Hi! I’ve just come off a year of being on the Stonewall Book Award Committee, and boy is my brain tired. I spent two years on the Rainbow List (check out their 2018 list, by the way), but this was my first time on a book award committee, and the work load is no joke. I learned, once again, that once I’m “assigned” a book, I can sometimes drag my feet when it comes to reading and completing titles, but also that the imposed structure and pace of an awards committee makes me a more dedicated and efficient reader.
Now that my committee work is over, I’m excited at the prospect of reading whatever the hell I want to, whenever I want to, but I’m also missing the discipline I got from strict parameters and goals. That’s why I’m giving myself a mission:
By the end of the year, I want to read 50 middle grade titles. Before I started working for a school, I interacted with a larger age range of children. I did a lot of Toddler and Infant storytimes, so I was pretty knowledgable when it came to board books and early chapter books. Typically, my afternoons were spent at the Young Adult reference desk, so I became an avid reader of teen titles. This focus on the youngest and oldest kids really left a gap in my reading. I read middle grade titles fairly sometimes, but infrequently, and honestly, I didn’t really suffer for it. Now, however, many of my readers fall into the middle grade category. My students range from Pre-K to 4th grade, so my knowledge of infant and YA titles doesn’t really come into play. I’m aiming for 50 middle grade titles by 2018 in order to better serve my student population. It is my plan to mostly read titles that are #OwnVoices, as well as any titles by WOC and queer authors (though, it’s important to mention that when it comes to LGBTQ lit, middle grade is a near-ghost town). I will also probably break my own rules a lot, because, you know, why not?
As soon as I became aware that the GLBT Round Table and the Rainbow List existed, I knew I wanted to be involved. I have always wanted to be a good ally and advocate for LBGTQ patrons of the library (and out of the library, naturally, but the library is my home). I have known that LGBTQ kids, teens, and families have been shamefully underrepresented in literature. It’s not as if a multitude of LBGTQ characters in children’s and YA books will fix anyone’s life or experience, but I’ve always believed in the healing power of literature. All children need to see themselves reflected in the books they read. This includes children of a variety of races, ethnicities, financial backgrounds, physical/mental abilities, geographic locations, religious affiliations, sexual and gender identities, and a number of other factors that I’m not clever enough to think of at this point. When a child (or teen, but I think it’s especially important in a person’s early years) reads about a character that speaks to their experiences, it can instill a love of reading and a sense of belonging in the world. We’re all looking for a witness. We all crave someone to validate our experiences and to say, “Yes. You went through this and you are not the only one.” Books can be so life-affirming.
This is why I am a proud Rainbow List member. I want LGBTQ kids and teens (and the children of LGBTQ-identified parents) to have the opportunity to see themselves in the books they read. I want to recognize and promote the authors who make this possible.
I know lots of librarians want to be involved with the Printz, Newbery, Caldecott or Alex Awards and that’s totally valid. The awards committees seem (I say “seem”, I’ve never been on one) very exciting and they’re certainly prestigious and impressive. However, there’s so much to be said for committees like Rainbow List. The Rainbow List is not an award. We’re a list of quality books for kids and young adults (birth to 18 years). The titles must contain authentic and significant LGBTQ content. The Rainbow List can include as many titles as the members would like, but it also includes a Top Ten list that features the best titles of the year. The Rainbow List, and other lists like it, are a tremendous resource for librarians, teachers, parents and readers of all ages. If you’re a youth services librarian, the Rainbow List is a valuable resource for collection development purposes. It’s not always apparent which books are LGBTQ-oriented and it can be difficult to locate them. The good folks of the Rainbow List find these titles for you, read them, and let you know which ones are worth including in your collection. I have cut-and-pasted entire Rainbow Lists into Baker and Taylor for ordering purposes, and this was way before I was involved with the list or the Round Table.
Here’s our committee with our Top Ten picks. That’s me on the left with the pink hair. I’m holding Kate Bornstein‘s My New Gender Workbook and The Culling by Steven dos Santos. Christine, right next to me, is holding Pantomimeby Laura Lam and Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle (the latter being one of the few exceptional submissions for young readers. Most of our submissions were YA books). Anna, in the scarf, is holding Sara Farizan’s If You Could Be Mine and Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block (it pained me to not hold either of these titles. I really love them both. They hit me right in the gut. I should say that I’m honored to being holding Kate Bornstein and Steve dos Santos’s books. No doubt). Erin, who has the gorgeous curly hair, is holding Freak Boy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (give this one to your hardcore Ellen Hopkins fans) and Leap by Z Egloff. Seated on the floor is my girl Naomi and she’s holding Branded by the Pink Triangle by Ken Setterington and Alaya Dawn Johnson‘s The Summer Prince.
If you work in a library that serves teens and children, I would like to insist that the above titles are essential for your patrons. If you don’t think you have LGBTQ library users, you are wrong, I assure you. Also, these are great titles for expanding the horizons of all your readers, including those who identify as straight. A book that represents an unfamiliar voice can truly broaden one’s understanding of the world.
I highly recommend serving on the Rainbow List (Or any ALA book committee. I also think that the Amelia Bloomer book list looks like the jam and I can’t wait to work with them in the future). Here are a couple of reasons to get involved:
Not to sound like a hipsterbrarian, but I read Better Nate than Ever before most people did. Being on the Rainbow List gets tons of ARCs/galleys delivered right to your door. Receiving all those books and getting that smug “I read it before you did” look on your face is truly priceless.
I got so many nice emails, tweets, and Facebook messages from authors thanking me for getting them on this list. Seriously, it makes you feel so good.
There’s not a much better feeling than participating in a committee that helps bring underrepresented voices to libraries everywhere.
Not convinced? Non-award committee meetings are open to anyone at ALA. Come on in. See what we do. See if it’s something you’d enjoy. We usually have chocolate.
Want to volunteer to be on the Rainbow List? You need to be a GLBT Round Table member, as well as a member of ALA. Click here to get involved.
I am serving one more year on the Rainbow List until I have to take a break. Here’s what I’d like to see in upcoming Rainbow List submissions:
More books including and representing People of Color. Books about middle-class white boys are great and needed, but we’re failing a good deal of the population here.
Picture books! Come on now! Todd Parr can’t be the only one knocking out books like this. More! More!
More books for young readers. Hopefully Better Nate than Ever has opened the door for more LGBTQ children’s chapter books.
More books featuring women.
More books with trans* characters.
More books that acknowledge that gender is a spectrum.
I hope you read through our list and order some titles for your library. Put these books on hold. Trot over to your local bookstore and purchase these titles. Go on Twitter and tell these authors that you appreciate them.
♥ Leaving Shangri-La: This blog hasn’t been updated since 2011, but I can’t stop reading anyway: “Books and Ephemera for the Francesca Lia Block fan.” I’m obsessed. I’m having major blog envy here, folks. Like, why can’t my blog be this good? And what happens when I’m done reading this blog? I fear the last page! Leaving Shangri-La is my new security blanket.
♥ New Case of Libranesia Confirmed in Miami: The libraries of Miami-Dade still need some saving. I do like this quote, “Sufferers of Libramnesia have been known to regain their memory and appreciation for the awesomeness that is our country’s public libraries by experiencing unemployment, homelessness, immigration and/or ghostly encounters with Andrew Carnegie.”
♥ Thanks to Catherine for pointing me towards this article entitled The Problem with Summer Reading. My two favorite books that I read in school were Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo by Ntozake Shange and The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. Both of these were books that I was allowed to choose on my own and read independently.
I’m a sucker for a good link round-up. I can’t lie. Kaelah from Little Chief Honeybee does weekly round-ups that I live for (it’s not a library-related site, but all library and no play makes Ingrid something-something). I used to bust out Things I Love Thursdays (TiLTs) once in a while, but they were kind of a chore and I gave up. So, I’m taking another go at this, posting them on Fridays instead of Thursdays (I guess Thursday always crept up on me. I was never ready for it). Here we go:
♥ This is a thing that happened:
♥ The Slog Days of Summer: Have I complained about Summer Reading lately? Marge over at Tiny Tips for Library Fun totally feels all of our collective sad summer feels.
My own fragility revealed that a library is not just a reference service: it is also a place for the vulnerable. From the elderly gentleman whose only remaining human interaction is with library staff, to the isolated young mother who relishes the support and friendship that grows from a Baby Rhyme Time session, to a slow moving 30-something woman collecting her CDs, libraries are a haven in a world where community services are being ground down to nothing. I’ve always known libraries are vital, but now I understand that their worth cannot be measured in books alone.
♥ The Magicians: This is Libraries Changed My Life‘s most popular submission to date. For so many of us who were teenagers dying to escape from our small towns, our libraries helped us hold on just a little longer, until it was time to go.
Welcome to “I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW”, where I blather on about books I’m loving. I don’t do summaries, so don’t come looking for ’em. But, before I get started:
I am pretty dedicated to not including any spoilers in my half-assed reviews (I should really call them reflections instead of reviews), but this book is super special. I won’t intentionally spoil anything, but if I accidentally reveal something that would curb your enjoyment of this marvelous book, I’d never forgive myself. So, if you want to U-Turn on out of here until you read Eleanor & Park, no hard feelings. Come on back after you read it. Trust me, you want to read this. I don’t care if you don’t like YA fiction. Read it.
Mostly, I’m obsessed with the wonderful notes you all sent along with your donations. I love that they come from all over the U.S. I love that they come from people we’ve never met before. I adore that Americans are pulling together to help post-Sandy NY-ers.
Now, every book donation we get is special. You can tell that the books were chosen for a reason and we appreciate that. However, some donations are a little specialer than others. This book selection was such an epic win for NYC kids, I can’t even tell you. First of all, everything in it was brand new. Second, each and every book in the donation was collection development gold.
But brace yourself for what was hiding underneath these books:
As you may remember, some of these books will end up in libraries whose collections were destroyed by the hurricane. The rest will find a home in one of ULU’s mini libraries. If you want to help us out, that’s great, but ULU is no longer taking book donations (at least, not at this time). However, we always take money, ’cause we’re keeping it real. Storage for the books, gas to cart these suckers around? It costs a boatload. Another great (and free!) way to help Urban Librarians Unite is to email NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg and let him know that cutting library funding is NOT an option. Most of the librarians who have been working on the Sandy Children’s Book Relief will be affected by these insanely huge budget cuts. ULU librarians have been working overtime on this book drive, volunteering on weekends and early mornings. Please take the time to tell Mayor Bloomberg that laying off library workers and closing libraries is not an option.