Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Posts tagged ‘librarians’

The art of the book display: librarians in GA raise the bar

Remember those book dioramas you used to make in a shoebox when you were little?  They were 3-D book reports, really, and I loved them.

Well, come to find out, they still live! And they’re bigger and more interesting than ever.

Check out details from an amazing display case created by Vicki Barbre and Jane Anderegg, librarians at Cherokee High School in Canton, Georgia, where I was a guest speaker last month. The school bought copies of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass for their English classes.  The librarians collected stuff for weeks, plucking out themes and details from the story. I’m told they make one for each of their guest authors during the year – an amazing program run and managed by teacher Dennis Jolley. This takes a ton of planning and digging around, so wow.! Thank you, Cherokee HS!

Salon Corazón!

Salon Corazón!

recreation of Piddy's locker

recreation of Piddy’s locker

Ma's piano!

Ma’s piano!

The essay Piddy writes during detention

The essay Piddy writes during detention

Looks real, but it's American  Girl doll-size

Looks real, but it’s American Girl doll-size

The kittens, and hair rollers and other beauty products Lila might love

The kittens, and hair rollers and other beauty products Lila might love

Paddy's elephant charm

Paddy’s elephant charm

 

 

The Literary Activist: When writing moves beyond your computer

Picture the fervor of a rock concert smashed into book geekdom and strong girls.

That’s the Girls of Summer live launch party, being held tonight, June18, 7 pm at the Richmond Public Library (Main branch).

Patty Parks, librarian, Gigi and me at Girls of Summer 2012

Patty Parks, librarian, Gigi and me at Girls of Summer 2012

Gigi and I started the project four years ago, and it has grown into a vibrant partnership that has galvanized our local library, improving their children’s and teens circulation numbers– not to mention their good mood. More importantly, it has connected girls in Richmond not only to good books but also to their own sense of what it means to be a strong girl in 2014.

shutterstock_1216096kissing girlWhen we started this, Gigi and I couldn’t have guessed how it would grow.  The idea was so simple. We had both used books so heavily in helping us raise our own daughters. What were the books we’d recommend to girls and their moms now?

Each year, we answer that question with the help of 20 or so exceptionally talented and generous authors who think girls are amazing, too.  We’ve had the titans in children’s literature, like Jacqueline Woodson, and we’ve had debut authors, like this year’s Hannah Barnaby. What matters to us is the story and the celebration of as diverse a group of girls as possible.

Our librarians and local friends help, too, as photographers, as copyeditors, as designers, as event planners. The sum total is a notable blog and a live launch event that has moved us from little mentions in local events calendars to articles and segments in big places like NPR and CNN.

What I’m most proud of, though, isn’t the press. What’s cool here is that we’ve made a reading event a big deal. Think of all the ways a kid can spend their time. How cool that they choose to spend some of it with us.

So this is what I can tell you: When you first start your life as an author, you’re not thinking about how you can impact your community. You’re thinking about writing your story and about how you can get published. It seems as though being published will be a joy in and of itself.

And it is.

But it’s what you do with your role as an author that can really bump up your joy index. Being a literary citizen means using your love and knowledge of books to make something better for your community. For Gigi and me, it means joy.

Today, I opened my eyes and thought, Its’ here! The energy is everywhere. People are jazzed about the book list. It’s tweeted and shared. The ice cream man double checked on what flavors to bring. The librarians and their readers have polished their excerpts. We’re tying ribbons around the giveaways. Somehow all the exhaustion of planning Girls of Summer has evaporated.

IMG_1560 copy

My favorite picture of my pal and me. This was when she won the 2013 Library of Virginia’s People’s Choice Award

What’s left is this: Two authors and friends spending time together. A library throwing open its doors to a city full of children. And girls of every age, hungry to find their favorite summer story. It doesn’t get better than that.

 

Women’s Media Center Live

womens-media-center-wmc-live-with-robin-morgan-300webMy third grade art teacher was the first woman I ever knew to put “Ms.” before her name. I remember almost nothing about her except that astounding decision – and the fact that she let us dance to Helen Reddy’s  I Am Woman for our after school club performance. She was probably the first feminist I ever met, and thankfully she left an imprint on her little charges. A few years later, I was already reading my sister’s Ms. Magazines, and eventually I went on to a life that’s been about writing stories that in one way or another advocate for girls. Law

So this weekend, when I was featured on the Women’s Media Center Live podcast, I was thrilled. WMCL is a weekly broadcast out of DC. It’s a project of a larger initiative called the Women’s Media Center which was founded in 2005 by feminist icons Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan. What I like about the podcast is that the guests are widely varied, (Anita Hill, Jimmy Carter, just two quick examples). I also like that Robin Morgan tackles any thorny topic with grace and brains.

You can catch it every Saturday morning, but you can download episodes via i-tunes if you miss the 11 am EST stream. This week, Robin and I talked about lots of things: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, how librarians are truly the butt-kicking heroes,  Girls of Summer, REFORMA, and my favorite lists for finding pro-girl multicultural books. Check out Women’s Center Live on Facebook or twitter (@wmclive). Subscribe and enjoy!

Here’s the link to their archives.

A Kid Lit Conference Con Sabor

Dr. Jamie Naidoo, Teresa Mlawer, Margarita Engle, Adriana Dominguez, Lila Quintero Weaver (front), Laura Lacámara, me, and Irania Patterson

Dr. Jamie Naidoo, Teresa Mlawer, Margarita Engle, Adriana Dominguez, Lila Quintero Weaver (front), Laura Lacámara, me, and Irania Patterson

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.

Lifting Me Home by Laura Lacámara

Lifting Me Home by Laura Lacámara

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 EngleLila 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.

purabelpremedal2Make 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.

americasAdd 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.

Unknown-1Support 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!

ALA Midwinter in Philly

Just a quick hello from ALA Midwinter in Philly, where I have re-learned how to walk for miles in six-degree weather. Ice, slush, cold toes, runny nose…I’d almost forgotten what it feels like to live in a place that keeps moving regardless of the weather.

As I ride home on the Amtrak, I’m feeling so grateful for some of these favorite moments:

Gigi, Meg, and ABSetting out on the train with two of my dearest writing friends, A.B. Westrick and Gigi Amateau. The whole train was filled with librarians. (I’m looking at you Lucinda Whitehurst, among others!) It had a Hogwarts sort of feel to it.

We decided to stay in a Bed and Breakfast instead of a standard hotel. Cheaper and cooler, in my book. We were at Casa Buono in the Italian section of Philly.  The view from my window.View from Casa Buona on 10th St in Philly

Kat, Dana, and Laura- the goddesses of The Virginia Shop hauled all their quirky literary wares to the Convention Center, fought for parking spots, and kept us all laughing. Here they are during our wonderful Asian dinner at Sampan on S. 13th Street. I also enjoyed a great meal at the Candlewick Press Family Ho-down at Supper (South Street) on Friday night. (Thanks again, Andie!)Laura, Dana, and Kat The Virginia Shop

Jen Delgado of DelawareNo kidding: I met Jen Delgado from Delaware. (No relation, THANK GOD to Yaqui!)

Babe Conquers the WorldAlways cool to see books by friends. Here are the galleys for Sandra and Rich Wallace’s new novel, BABE CONQUERS THE WORLD (Cawkins Creek/Highlights). Fans of strong girls and sports should look for it in March 2014.

Had a chance to meet with so many young people, bloggers, and librarians who had stories to tell me about YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS. A big thanks to the hong people reading and to the librarians who are courageously dealing with “adults with raised eyebrows.”  Here I am with Kim McCallister, Liberty Middle School in Mechanicsville, VA.Kim McCallister Liberty MS

Italian cookies as IsgroAnd what would a trip to Philly be without Italian cookies?  Isgro on Christian Street and 10th, was just a jewel.photo 7

Do Our Stories Create Activists? My takeaway from the VAASL conference

I’m not a librarian, and I haven’t been a teacher in almost twenty years. But I’m still intrigued about how great schools happen and the role that books play in that drama. Two weeks ago, I got to spend time with Virginia school librarians at their annual conference in Williamsburg. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways.

Library Girl fighting against Zombie librarians everywhere!

Library Girl fighting against Zombie librarians everywhere!

If you’re not already doing so, follow Jenifer LaGarde’s blog or her twitter handle. Jennifer is an Educator on Loan for the NC Dept of Instruction. That means she travels the country as a mentor and lecturer, helping librarians develop the subversive skills they need to become the beating heart of their schools. She fights stereotypes, the Dewey decimal system and use of late fines with the same fervor Batman takes to the Joker – and she’s figured out how to turn her innovative library programs into hard data that principals can’t ignore when it’s time for the budget ax. All that, plus a killer sense of humor. She’s definitely worth following.

Flying-the-dragon-bookcover-webMy fellow Virginia author Natalie Dias Lorenzi introduced us to Padlet as a way to engage students with multicultural lit in the classroom. Natalie is the author of Flying the Dragon, but she is also a teacher with 19 years of experience. She uses the Padlet site to help middle school students connect with the  characters and stories they’re reading. She walked us through building a custom-made Padlet comment wall, where students can post reader responses, ask questions about the characters and events – all in a protected classroom chat. It seemed simple, engaging, and easy to learn. Personally, I’d love to see authors get invited to be part of a Padlet discussion of their titles. Very fun and painless way (a.k.a. small time commitment) for authors to connect.

But the session that stayed with me the most was from Hampton High School, a school that houses every secondary ESL student for its county and which has many students living in poverty. Biology teacher Janice Underwood and librarian Julia Cooley discussed Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (CRP).  I’ll admit, the last thing the world of education needs is another acronym. But in this case, the meat behind the letters was really interesting to me. Coined by researcher Gloria Ladson Billings in 1994, CRP is teaching that is socio-politically empowering. Janice Underwood – a doctoral student in CRP –   further defined it this way: “It’s the teaching reading, writing, math, higher order thinking skills through the lens of social empowerment and confronting societal injustices.” That means that her biology students not only study asbestos as a chemical issue in class, but they also research its presence in their school building and then figure out how to write letters to school board members as well as poems for their school magazine.  The goal is activism and participation against the things in their lives that are obstacles.

Janice Underwood_Headshot

Janice Underwood…Please don’t tell her you “treat all your students the same.” Impossible.

What I like is that CRP moves beyond classrooms where the books and materials reflect the cultures of the students in the room. That’s nice – and lots of wonderful teachers use this approach. But it’s not enough to spark skills and achievement among students who feel outside the decision-making, dominant culture.  Janice made two recommendations: The iconic textbook on CRP is James Banks An Introduction to Multicultural Education (can be hard to find, though.) For writing teachers in particular, try Writing Instruction in the Culturally Relevant Classroom – Maisha T. Winn and Latrise Johnson. It is on my list.

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¡Verano! (Summer – the best time for book lovers)

With author Monika Shroder at LUCY conference

With author Monika Shröder at the LUCY conference on multicultural lit

A quick post today as I settle back from my amazing day celebrating multicultural lit at the LUCY conference at Old Dominion University. Looking forward to a busy first week of summer talking books, culture, and connection.

At the Girls of Summer launch with some of our favorite librarians and authors KP Madonia and Jeri Watts.

At the Girls of Summer launch with some of our favorite librarians and authors KP Madonia and Jeri Watts.

1.  Gigi Amateau and I continue to celebrate our Girls of Summer list. Our launch last week was a huge success with about 180 mothers, daughters, librarians, teachers, and all-around book lovers enjoying free ice cream, book talk, and a celebration of strong girls. Hope you are enjoying Tanita Davis’s Q & A this week. Looking ahead to Friday, 6/28 you’ll meet the fabulous Latina author Guadalupe Garcia McCall on our site. She’ll talk about winning the Pura Belpré prize for Under the Mesquite,  and how she found a way to tell a story based on one of her most painful challenges.

Latino Children's Summer Reading Program2.  For my Latino friends with kids, please check this out! A summer reading list for Latino readers from the blogging community. Latinas for Latino Literature provide book lists by age group, activities, and ideas for encouraging reading. Please follow them on Facebook, too, where you’ll see the growing community around Latinos, youth, and empowerment through reading.

shenandoah university badge3. I’ll be at the Shenandoah Children’s Literature Conference this Tuesday and Wednesday as part of “Heavy Medal,” celebrating children’s book authors who have won medals and prizes for their work. (Thank you Ezra Jack Keats committee! Your gift keeps on giving and opening doors.) So excited to travel to this beautiful part of the state and to see (and learn from) some old friends and new. I am bringing an empty suitcase so I can bring home more books from some of my heroes in the business. (Shhh. Don’t tell Javier.)  Here’s the head banger lineup.

4-300x904. Finally, on Thursday, July 27, I hope you’ll join me and my friends at James River Writers for  The Writing Show at its new location at The Camel Club, 1621 W. Broad (just after Allen). We’ll be talking marketing at all stages of your career, from you at the manuscript stage all the way to seasoned authors who tour. (Register here.) I hope what I can offer is another way to think about marketing besides “how can I sell my books.” (Lord, that could kill anybody’s spirit.) There’s a healthier way to grow into your role as author, and one that gives you more purpose in your community.

More soon!

Cariños de,

Meg

Meet Cristina Dominguez Ramirez: RPL’s newest non-shushing Latino librarian

“I don’t do much shushing. In fact, patrons ask me to turn down the volume; I have a strong voice.”

So says Cristina Dominguez Ramirez, an exciting new face at Richmond Public Libraries. She’ll be managing the renovated Broad Rock branch, which reopens next Tuesday.

Ramirez, recently of VCU Library systems, also has a strong vision. The daughter of two retired academics, she brings to her new job hopeless curiosity and a rich cultural background that includes Jewish, Moorish, Basque, and Visigoth blood on one side, and Spanish and American Indian ancestors on the other. More important, she also brings her dream to make our whole community a living library.

I chatted with Cristina via email about books, Richmond, and the role of libraries in the lives of Latino families.

 What appealed to you about the position at Richmond Public Library? 

It was a perfect match for me. I will manage one of the busiest branches in the Richmond Public Library, and I will get to work directly with community partners and leaders to create programming and events for a large number of underrepresented groups in Richmond. My passion ever since entering the profession has been to reach out to and encourage Latino and African American youth to stay in school and pursue their dreams. I feel very fortunate that I had parents that encouraged my learning so I want to pay it forward for other children and youth. Finally, I love the mission of Richmond Public Library-Inform, Enrich, Empower. This position allows me to work with the other branch managers, library administrators, and community partners to carry out the mission.

The heroine of Latina librarians: Pura Bulpré

It could be said that you’re a minority. As a Latina (although, as we all know, census predictions tell us it’s not going to be long before minorities are actually the majority.) But you’re part of only about 3% of librarians that identify as Latina. First, why aren’t there more Latina librarians? And second, why does it matter in your view?

I think that there are very few here regionally, but this is more a function of history and demographics. If you were to visit public libraries in California, Texas, New York or other states with a long history of Latino residents you would find many more Latino librarians. Virginia has a very young and emergent Latino population. I hope we will see more in the coming years but it is a pipeline issue. You have to convince them to go to library school to get their MLS degree to become professional librarians. Currently, Virginia does not have a library school so many have to go out of state or enroll in an online program.

I also think that it is not a profession that immediately comes to mind to many Latino youth. When they think about possible jobs, careers or professions, librarian does not seem to be on the top of the list. I hope that as the nature of libraries changes and the profession evolves, library schools and professionals can reshape how they conduct outreach. Planting the seed early that this is a noble and worthwhile profession can help encourage more Latinos to enter the profession.

[Having Latina librarians] does matter! When you have faces and names that you identity with when you come to a reference or circulation desk you feel more comfortable asking for services. And when you see a Latino surname and hear Spanish, you feel an immediate connection with the library and the staff.

You have such a varied background, which is really exciting to find in a librarian. Before joining the Broad Rock Branch of the Richmond Public Library as the manager, you were formerly at VCU, where you were the Collection Librarian for Social & Behavioral Sciences. You also have degrees in Philosophy and Religious studies, Middle Eastern Studies and Public Administration. Have you always been hopelessly curious? 

I collect books and I collect degrees as well. Once I get interested in a subject I have to keep learning and exploring it, it ends up in a degree. I wanted to learn about different world religions and philosophies so I did a degree in it while I pursued my B.S. in Psychology. Then, fascinated by Hebrew and Israel, I took a number of years of Biblical and Modern Hebrew and studies Israeli politics and culture. I even went to live in Jerusalem for a few months while enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin. I am currently earning a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Research & Evaluation. My latest interests are statistics, program evaluation, and research design. I have been buying textbooks on designing quantitative and qualitative studies. I know, light reading. I am hopelessly curious; I am a big believer in lifelong learning.

The beautiful work of illustrator, Joe Cepeda
View his work at http://www.joecedepda.com

What’s exciting to you about the Latino children’s literature scene today? 

What I find most exciting is the celebration of the stories and storytellers as well as the artists. Latino children’s literature tells the rich and varied stories that Latino children want to hear and need to hear. We all want to be connected to our culture, language, and history. Latino children’s literature makes these stories come alive with the beautiful artwork that accompanies these tales. I am always amazed at the fact that Latino children’s literature has both amazing storytellers and artists. Children are learning history and culture along with an appreciation for fine art.

You’re active with Reforma and other agencies with a mission to engage Latinos in innovative ways. What do you think are some of the mistakes libraries typically make as they try to connect with Latinos in their community?

Some libraries know that there is a Latino population but do not have the staff or resources to effectively reach out to them. At conferences I have met many librarians and library staff that are aware of their communities but are hesitant to engage due to a lack of cultural competence, linguistic ability, or not knowing how to relate to the community.

The issue probably lies more in the library school graduate programs that should include coursework and field experiences in working with diverse and underserved populations. Creating these experiences for librarians in training is very important. The creation of library Spanish course (like the medical Spanish courses you see in hospitals) would be useful to those who need to learn common expressions and terms to better relate to their patrons.

I also think that having programs and events that showcase elements of Latino culture and history are very important when connecting with a community. When your culture and history is recognized you feel that you have a stake in that library. Bringing in speakers that can connect with the parents and children will also form strong bonds with the community.

What are some of your favorite ways to make the library a cool place to be as well as an inviting place for Latinos?

To be a cool place you need to offer a clean, inviting environment with the resources that benefit the community the most. Today that is a mix of current technology and applications as well as popular fiction, nonfiction, and pleasure reading for youth. We need to offer current titles that cover a range of topics and genres. Series, for example, are very popular among teens. Given the economic climate, we also need to offer a number of resources to help people find and apply for jobs, create resumes and cover letters and to better their technology skills.

Having a library that has a welcoming and caring staff is one of the most important aspects of creating a cool place. Richmond Public Library has a very caring and dedicated staff. They will go out of their way to help patrons.

Finally, creating displays of titles and collections that will appeal to Latinos is crucial in making the library space itself feel welcoming to families. A display during Hispanic Heritage Month, bilingual posters and flyers to promote a cultural or programming event, and adding items or objects from the Latino culture during the holidays help to engage Latino families.

I know you’ve done presentations about the role of libraries in communities, specifically “libraries without walls.” What does that mean, exactly, and how will you make that idea grow legs in Richmond, VA? 

Libraries are not just the physical buildings that house the collections and resources; they are also the staff and community. We all are ‘libraries’ of information, experiences, history, and culture. Having librarians take the library outside of the walls into the community is to network and engage with the community. By tapping into the collective knowledge of the community, we strengthen the library as an institution and make it stronger for others.

For me that means identifying key community members that I consider ‘gatekeepers’ of knowledge.’ They may have key contacts, serve in important positions and understand the community at the ground level. By taking the library outside the walls you tap into all of these mini libraries in the community. They can help you develop a deep knowledge of the needs and wants of emergent communities.

I hope to make this idea grow legs here in Richmond by reaching out to many key community players, agencies, nonprofits, organizations, boards, and religious groups. They all form part of the fabric of the community and hold pieces to the puzzle. I want to create programming in Spanish that taps into the expertise of our business community for money management among Latinos. I want to develop basic computing courses in Spanish and bring in speakers and authors that will inspire and educate our Latino youth.

Your branch is just about to reopen on July 24th after a six-month renovation project. Your days must be packed with getting ready. Any secrets you care to let slip about the grand opening events?

The library under construction last March.

I am so excited about the renovation. We have both a children’s and teen area. The teen area has a nice reading space and is surrounded by graphic novels, comics, teen series and novels. The computing area has increased and we have many more workstations. There are also tables with power for laptops. The lighting and furniture is very colorful and the carpet is bright. The meeting room has and audio-visual and sound system. When you come in, the space is open and inviting. It is so comfortable that you won’t want to leave.

 

Any plans for maximizing on the fact that the new Latin Farmers market, La Plaza, is right next door?   

Absolutely. I want to get a table at the Latin Farmers market and promote Richmond Public Library and Broad Rock branch in particular. I also envision creating a number of tie-in events that will bring the customers of the market into the library for literary events. By creating programs and events with an emphasis on healthy foods and ethnic cuisine, cooking, and arts and crafts, I think that the Broad Rock branch is an ideal location for community engagement. I hope to reach more children and community members that have not previously used the library or resources.

 

Finish this sentence for me. Really great bibliotecas

son como un paraíso para la mente y para la gente.

(translation: “are like a paradise for the mind and for the people”)

Thanks, Cristina!

Looking for a good read? Some recommendations from Cristina:

  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
  • Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear.
  • Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.

A Familia of Latino Children’s Writers and Illustrators

René Colato Laínez's newest title; Joe Cepeda illustrator

We talk a lot about the dry spells in a writer’s life – those awful times when your lack of ideas makes you crave a straightforward job as a cashier at Target or shoveling manure.

illustration by John Parra

But every so often – as happened to me this weekend at the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference – a writer receives a precious gift, an experience that lights something inside and changes everything for the good.

The NLCLC is the brainchild of Dr. Jamie Naidoo at the University of Alabama, a herculean task he takes on every other year with his tireless team of current and former library science students.

I know what you’re thinking. Alabama? Why a conference to celebrate Latinos in a state with some of the nation’s most disturbing anti immigration lawsThe answer is, Sí, Alabama. What better place to send a group of passionate Latino authors, researchers, illustrators, and bad-ass librarians to fan passions, make connections, and work in the community?

“I have thick glasses and white hair,” one of the attendees confessed in our small group. “Who would suspect me?”

Some of the dangerous radicals!

It was especially exciting to tell the attendees about The Hope Tree Project (the topic of my talk). Several were interested in taking the idea for the project to their own schools and communities. Imagine all those hope trees taking root! Cindy Frellick of the Greenville Library in South Carolina even lent me a necklace of milagros she purchased in Mexico to wear for the unveiling on April 30. (Gracias, Cindy! I will wear it proudly and return it to you.)

Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada - the poinoeers

The sessions were fantastic – everything from hands-on writing experiences to discussions of community projects, craft and career paths. I was in the prestigious company of Dr. Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy– pioneers, intellectuals, scholars — and two of the most joyous women I have met. They glow when they have a chance to talk about books, youth, and the growing body of work by Latino writers and illustrators. There’s plenty to celebrate, they say. When they started in this field in the early 1960s, you could hardly find a book with an authentic representation of Latino families. But today, we have the beautiful and prize-winning work of  John Parra, Joe Cepeda, René Colato Laínez, Monica Brown, and Lila Quintero Weaver  – a rising talent – to name just a few.

Joe Cepeda's cover for Esperanza Rising

But by far the best magic happened in the quiet moments when we had a chance to meet one another as friends and fellow artists — each of us trying to name and make sense of Latino identity for kids – and, maybe in some way, for ourselves. Remarkably, we were strangers for about five minutes. After that, we found our way to each other’s hearts. My mother always says that Latinos have a special calorcito, a warmth that makes you feel as though you’re with family. I love all my writing friends, but I thought of my mother’s words more than once this weekend. My colleagues and I enjoyed professional talk, but also food, wine, laughs — even a crazy sprint across six lanes of traffic as we yelled our tongue-in-cheek, defiant battlecry. Run! It’s la migra!  

front: Jamie Naidoo, Lila Quintero Weaver, Monica Brown, me
top row: Rene Colato Lainez, Alma Flor Ada, John Parra, Isabel Campoy, Joe Cepeda

Monica Brown's beautiful tribute to the late Celia Cruz

Over our two days, we taught and we learned. We started figuring out ways to help each other along, shiny-eyed as we confessed new projects we were feeling braver to try. And, of course, we made plenty of room for silliness and laughter. (What did you expect? We’re children’s book people!) Ask John Parra to tell you about his bear camping story some time. Or Monica Brown to explain the birds and the bees of the author/illustrator relationship. Joe Cepeda will tell you why you must only send him two-line emails if you have something important to say to him. And if you ever meet René Colata Laínez, make sure he croons elevator songs for you or recites the ga-gillion words for “drinking straw” he knows from across Latin America.

It was hard to get back on a plane and say adios. Our lives will get busy, and we are a far-flung tribe. But here’s what I know. Somos de una casa. We are of one house. And for that reason I won’t ever keep them too far from my sights.

Cariños de,

Meg

If you’d like to support multicultural literature, including Latino lit, please consider making a donation to the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference 2014.  Contact Dr. Jamie Naidoo at the University of Alabama.

Meg’s next appearances:  

A writing workshop at Pamunkey Regional Library April 4;  School visit to Riverside School, Richmond, VA, April 5. See calendar tab for details!

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind blog tour starts today

Just wanted to give you the heads up this morning. I’m on tour. Yep — and I’m still in my pajamas as I’m telling you this. That’s because it’s a blog tour — the single most author-friendly invention since the pencil. Eight YA bloggers have invited me to answer questions — some serious, some funny — about my novel, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. For me, it’s a chance to channel my inner Where’s Waldo without ever leaving my kitchen computer. I meet their readers, talk about my project, and get the word out in anticipation of the March 12 pub date. For the bloggers, it’s a chance for fresh content and connections. For you, it’s a chance to win stuff (sometimes) and get the scoop on what is behind the book you’re reading.

Today, you can catch me on Waste Paper Prose, where I did  a  v-log (video version) at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens here in Richmond, VA. Don’t make fun of my hair in the last section. It was windy, okay? Visit at  www.wastepaperprose.com.

I hope you’ll make time this week to stop in on these blogs and get to know some rabid book lovers. You can see the dates and stops on the skyscraper that I’ve posted in the sidebar to the right. A big thanks to:  Waste Paper Prose, Book Briefs, Muggle-Born.net, The Book Cellar, Teen Reads, A Cupcake and a Latte, Joyousreads, and The Hispanic Reader.

You’re invited to Meg’s book launch party for The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. Saturday, March 17, 2012, 1 – 3 pm, bbgb tales for kids, 3100 Kensington Avenue, Richmond, VA