Snow outside – AGAIN. Thank goodness for the leftover cozy feelings from the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference this past weekend. On a scale of 1 – 10 in warmth and camaraderie, it ranks about a 50.
One reason was the faculty, a solid collection of Latinas in publishing. It included the fabulous former editor and literary agent Adriana Dominguez; color goddess illustrator Laura Lacámara; multiple-award winning poet and prose author Margarita Engle; Lila Quintero Weaver (who we’ve talked about here); bilingual library pro and storyteller Irania Patterson (how can anyone imitate every accent in the Spanish-speaking world?); longtime publishing icon Teresa Mlawer (“sounds like flour, with an m”); and me.
For three days we worked side by side with teachers and librarians from all over the country who wanted to know how to use multicultural books to serve all kids. Inevitably, we all drew close as we asked ourselves hard questions and generated new ideas. “I’m so glad you guys aren’t divas,” one of them told me as we all sat together.
Some of my personal highlights and favorite ideas:
Margarita Engle. Poet, feminist, botanist, historian. If you want your students to experience history’s most unknown and shocking corners, seek out her books. Who else can tell you about pirates in the 1400s, search-and-rescue mountain dogs, Cuba’s first feminist, and how the Panama Canal was dug by hand… in a single presentation? It was astounding.
Make a simple move with a big implication. Print out the list of Pura Belpré winners and have those books available in your collection, right alongside your Newbery, Printz, and Caldecott winners. (In fact, go hog wild. Put out as many winners/honors of the ALA awards as you can.
Add the books from the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature to your list. Are you familiar with that award? It was founded in 1993 to recognize quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States. CLASP (which organizes the award) also has a mission to provide teachers with recommendations for classroom use. Go here to familiarize yourself more. You can see the titles that have won or received honorable mentions over the years. Click around for descriptions and activity ideas. Here they are on Facebook, too.
Continue to lean on your book fair organizers, bookstores, and publishers to carry and promote diverse books. We’re talking about friendly and persistent reminders. To reach a range of students, you need to access a range of “voices” in your library. Ask for their help. And if you need additional backup, point them to this article by Walter Dean Myers in yesterday’s NY Times.
Join REFORMA (and other librarian groups with a mission around serving diverse populations.) It’s inexpensive ($25 as a community supporter if you can’t think of a category for yourself) and the funding helps librarians get the books and materials into children’s hands.
Support your champions: One of the quiet heroes of the Latino lit movement is Dr. Jamie Naidoo Campbell, a Kentucky-born guy who doesn’t speak una palabra de español, but still leads the charge. He organizes this conference at the University of Alabama to help his library students and others learn how to make informed and sensitive choices for their collections. If you can support the conference, make a donation or plan to attend in 2016. (Right now the conference happens every other year.) If you’re of like minds, consider reaching out soon to partner or in some way help the effort. Proceeds from the purchase of this handy book go to support the conference, too.
Believe in the power of inspired teachers and librarians. The energy and good-will in the room was so high. It makes me smile to think of the changes – large and small – that will come as the result of our three-day celebration. To Klem-Mari, to Erica, to Margaret, to Marianne, to all those happy teachers and librarians from Arkansas, to Demi, to the first grade teacher from Chicago, to all of you fabulous people who took the trip to Tuscaloosa and stepped outside your comfort zone to learn, mil gracias and best wishes as you experiment at your schools and libraries. Be sure to let us know of your successes!