Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Picture Book Recommendations: Folk & Fairy Tales

I may have missed National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, but since I saw some tweets about it today, I decided to share some of my favorite fairy and folk tale inspired picture books. Some are fractured, some are newer adaptations, all are fun to share with students. And they would make great #classroombookaday choices and conversation starters.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Can we talk about consent for a minute?

Three things happened this morning...
1. My friend Aliza Werner sent me a link in Voxer asking if I was following this developing conversation sparked by Anne Ursu's article about sexual harrassment in the children's publishing industry.

2. I responded to her and then added another message: "Also, can we go back to XO, Ox for a minute... And why I had issues with it... And how others see it as funny... And it's written by a man..."

3. I was browsing the latest posts to the #classroombookaday hashtag on twitter and saw a teacher shared a "Valentine's/love themed read-alouds" text set of picture books, which included XO, Ox which had been voted as the favorite by her students.

In the journey I've been on pushing myself to become more critical of what I read and share with kids, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the implicit messages we send to kids through the books we share with them. In our schools, classrooms, and libraries, with the messages in the books we share, we are planting seeds for the unconscious biases of the future generation. That's a heavy load to bear, and I know I still have work to do, but I try to listen to those who share concerns without pulling a "but I liked that book" defensiveness. We have to be critical of the messages in the books we share with kids, especially in the picture books we share with our youngest kids who are still developing their moral compass.

So let's go back to XO, Ox: A Love Story for a minute. (Even as I type it, I still can't believe the subtitle of this book is "A Love Story") When I first read it, I felt torn. I could see it as a funny story, but was also very worried that it promoted stalking a little too much. However, as much as I could see the intended humor in it, the bigger part of me was thinking about how we are trying to teach the importance of consent to our youth. I was worried about what message it sends if we find it funny that a girl directly tells a boy to stop writing to her and fawning over her, yet he continues to do so. The more I thought about it, the more damaging I think it is to share this book with young children without a discussion about the context around the concerns about consent. She said no. Stop. She shouldn't have to say it again. Also, the fact that it explicitly says this is a "love story" in the title is concerning. This is certainly not the superficial (Ox doesn't even know her, only her looks, and pursues her even after being rebuked), abusive (only after he tells Gazelle what's wrong with her does she start to like him) type of love I'd want to promote to children or teens. The more I think about the story, the more bothered I am by it.
Do I think it was created with all of this in mind? I would hope not, but ultimately, I'm not sure if matters so much what the author's intent is, if it can be read as a negative and promote negatives to our students, it's a concern. I don't think any author sets out to write something that will be perceived negatively, but once it's out of the author's hands, it becomes the reader's book based on their own interpretation. It's part of the whole issue we're having in our society where men don't see this type of behavior as harassment, and don't take seriously the issue of consent (because of many factors, and this may be simplifying a bit).

But let's take it back to where we started: sexual harassment and consent. This is a book that glorifies the harassment of this girl and sends a message that it should be funny. She repeatedly says no (edited: see notes on author's response below), yet he ignores that and continues until he becomes angry about it and turns from praise to denigrating her. How many stories are we hearing in the news right now about just this type of sexual harassment?

I had a first grade teacher ask me about this book last summer in the #classroombookaday Facebook group and whether the way the teacher approaches is makes a difference. My response:
You may be thinking, but it's just a cute story for young kids, but I would argue that we shouldn't be sending this message to young kids, because they become older kids. How can we expect our older kids to fully grasp the basis and importance of consent when we are sharing this type of book with them when they are younger.

Another teacher in this discussion, Cara Wegrzyn, had this to say after sharing it with her 5th grade class:
So, where does that leave us? Well, for me it's about thinking more critically about the books we share with kids. Would I have shared this book with my middle school kids? Maybe, but only within the context of using it as a jumping off point to have the conversation about consent and harassment. I truly believe this story sends a damaging message to our youth if shared as a standalone, and these discussions need to be happening in our classrooms because if they're not, where are they happening? Are they ever happening? How can we help the next generation to see the bigger picture around the dangers of harassment and need for consent if we don't start now? We have to become more critical readers of the books we will share with our kids. And we have to think about when it's developmentally appropriate to share books that will prompt these types of discussions with our students. We can't share these books without context that require context to fully grasp the issues. Their future depends on it.

And it doesn't stop there. It goes all the way to our young adult literature, and beyond.
Though I started this with picture books, I'm going to end it with YA and recommend some books that reinforce the importance of consent for teens, and the aftermath when there isn't any, that I think should be in every high school classroom library because our older teens still need to be thinking about these issues and grappling with how they do, and will, affect their own lives. And we need our girls to know they should stand up, can speak up, and will find support. And we need to send the empowering messages through the books we share, not damaging ones.

Edited 2/11/18 12:45pm: Someone responded to a tweet about this post on twitter and tagged the author, Adam Rex. I'd like to share his comments here as further perspective in this conversation. I had not originally tagged Adam, as I didn't mean for this to be directed at/attacking him, but more adding to the conversation about critical reading. However, I appreciate his respectful, thoughtful responses and feel they add to the conversation, so want them to be available here also.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Is it offensive to say Black? Conversations We Can't Avoid in the Classroom

Today I was doing a First Chapter Teaser of Jason Reynolds' GHOST with one of my 4th grade classes in the library. I asked if they remembered that I had shown them a picture of Jason early in the year when I was going to a bookstore event. Because representation matters, and it was important for them to picture who writes this book, and that he's someone who looks like many of the kids in their class & school look.
One girl (who is White) answered, "No offense. But he is Black and has those things in his hair." We clarified as a group that she meant dreadlocks which got some of the kids talking more about hair. But her comment stuck with me, and I had to go back to it. I couldn't just let it go. She started wth "no offense" and then referred to the author being a Black man. But why did she feel the need to start with "no offense" in the first place? Because she's White? Because she was saying he is Black? To me, this was exactly the kind of comment that needs to be addressed and not just glossed over in the classroom.

In those 30 seconds I was wondering what my Black students might be thinking after that comment, and also flipping through various ways to respond to it in my head and trying to decide which way would be compassionate and inclusive, while still knowing that I might screw it up. I was worried about microaggressions, and trying to figure out if what I was about to say would be one or not for any of my kids. I imagine it's this moment of fear that too often keeps teachers from encouraging these conversations in their classrooms. But I've learned that I can't shy away from them because my kids live these lives in this society and need to learn how to navigate it. And in those few seconds that I was thinking of all of that (sidenote: This might also illustrate why teachers end up with decision fatigue by the end of a school day), I decided to just start with a question.

So I asked the student why she started her statement with no offense. And she shared that since she was saying Jason is Black, she didn't want people to think she was being racist. I had to sit with that for a moment...my instinct was to want to turn to the Black kids in the class and ask if they felt it would be racist for someone to say that. Knowing that would not be the way to handle it, as I know it shouldn't be the responsibility of the PoC in the room to educate the white people, I simply scanned the whole class and asked what others thought: Is it racist to say he is Black? Does she need to start with no offense? One of the boys (who is Black) called out from the side "She's just saying that's what color he is; not judging him for it. So it's not racist." Leave it to the kids to simplify it and lay it out there for us all.

I reminded them of when I shared Hey, Black Child early in the year for our read aloud, and asked whether using the word Black seemed racist. In a book that is celebrating Black children, written and illustrated by two Black men, they said it didn't. We followed up with a brief discussion about using Black vs. African-American and not all Black people being of African ancestry.

I'm not sure if I handled it right, but I hope it made a positive impact on the classroom community. The kids were respectful, honest, and hopefully gained some new perspective. It was one of those classroom moments when kids surprise you, challenge you, make you think, worry you a little, and you hope you handled it well enough to help kids be better humans...without causing lasting damage. It may have made me uncomfortable or nervous at first, but I can't let that prevent me from cultivating these conversations in the classroom. If it doesn't start there, how will we ever expect kids to be able to have these conversations outside schools in an empathetic way?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Life Updates & Job News

I don't even know where to begin, yet I realized today that I never "officially" announced some major career changes! I feel as if I've been majorly slacking on the blogging front for the past year, and especially the last six months. I even feel like my reading has taken a hit, but that's what happens when other things have to fill the plate.
If you didn't already know, I'm back in grade school (again!) for another Master's degree. My first was in reading, but I am no longer in the classroom. The exciting thing, though, is that I am back with kids again in the school library! So I'm pursuing an MLIS degree while also working in a new job this school year at aK-5 elementary school as a library media specialist. So, yeah, the blogging and reading volume declined as I was figuring out a new job in a new district and having a large amount of reading and writing to do for grad classes. The good thing about it, though, is that I LOVE being in the library and I LOVE being at an elementary school. Even with the pressure that comes with a new job and the workload of grad school, there have been numerous times over the last six months when I've thought to myself that I feel like I'm finally in the right home for me. It's not that I didn't love teaching ELA in middle school, and I still miss bigger kids sometimes, but my heart and spirit feel at home.

I'm still getting to work with teachers through BALB Literacy Consulting, and I'll still be presenting at conferences (I'm in the midst of finalizing some NCTE proposals right now!), and I'm still Chairing the Wisconsin State Reading Association Children's Literature Committee, and it's all with a bit of a happier heart. So there may still be lengthy pauses between blog posts, but you can follow my reading through my goodreads page. And if you want more "real-time" updates on what I'm up to, twitter and Instagram are the places to go.

Even though I haven't yet, I am still hopeful I'll get a post up of some of my favorite 2017 reads, even though I'm well into 2018 reading now! I didn't do it in December because the end of the grad school semester was crazy and then I spent the holidays at Christmas Markets in Germany with my husband, and we got to ring in the new year in London with my parents! It was wonderful, and a good reason for not blogging. :) We had an incredible view of the New Year's fireworks to kick off a great 2018!
Happy New Year & Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Gratitude for NCTE & ALAN 2017

I am utterly exhausted, but feeling utterly blessed after this year's trip to NCTE & ALAN. So much learning, so much laughter, so many amazing conversations, leaving me with so much to go home and think about. I feel as if NCTE is my yearly call to action to center me in the work of doing best by kids. And I am left feeling so very grateful.
To my educator friends: Whether a quick hug & hello, a brief chat, a shared meal, someone to sit next to, a deep conversation, or scheming for future plans...THANK YOU for supporting me, pushing me, cheering for me, challenging me, and keeping me centered on doing the work for the kids whose faces we see and love every day.

To my new friends: Whether stopping me to introduce yourself, commenting on our social media exchanges, or letting me know something that has impacted you...THANK YOU for reminding me why we work so hard to share the work we do to support each other in this profession in the interest of doing what is best for kids.

To my publisher friends: Whether a hug and a smile, a booktalk recommendation, a question about how my new job is going, books to take home, or dinner and drinks...THANK YOU for always making me feel welcomed, encouraging me, and helping make it a little easier for me to do the hard work for our kids.

To my author friends: Whether a passing hug, being part of my sessions, chatting at a dinner, signing a book, or speaking to a large group...THANK YOU for giving of your time, your energy, your passion, and yourself to help inspire us to do what we know is best and right in loving the kids we see in our schools every day and doing the internal work we need to so we can do right by them. You are human, and you are exhausted, but you do so much to make a difference for the present and the future. I see you, and I thank you.
If you've never been to NCTE or ALAN, make plans now to meet us
in Houston in 2018 for some of the best literacy PD out there!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Guest Post: Dev Petty - There's Nothing to Do

I adore Dev Petty's Frog books and kids' giggling reactions when they read these stories of a complaining frog whose highly entertaining reasoning for his opinions cracks me up. Add in Mike Boldt's bright, enthusiastic illustrations that jump off the page, and it's a pairing made for read aloud heaven.

I was lucky enough to meet Dev in person at nErDcampMI this summer, and am honored to host her on the blog today to celebrate the newest Frog book, that I think will be a hit with all kids who have ever claimed to be bored, THERE'S NOTHING TO DO!
Frog can’t find ANYTHING to do—even when his animal friends make good suggestions, like sleep all day, lick between your toes, or hop around and then stare off into space. Will he find a fun and exciting way to spend his day? Featuring the beloved Frog, this new story is sure to bring a smile to every kid (and adult) who has ever felt like there was nothing to do. This is another surefire crowd pleaser that lets every kid know that being bored . . . doesn’t always have to be boring.
And don't miss the first two books in the series:
Small Books Can Help Kids Ask Big Questions

Being an actual, real, live parent is a different beast entirely than the parent I thought I would be before I had kids.  I began this adventure waiting for the moments when I could answer fun life questions with total parental sureness (and hopefully having also prepared an Instagram-worthy meal with colors and multiple food groups, and wearing mascara).  Having had a strange childhood, I expected the best times would come when I felt really confident in my answers.  And it's true, when it's about friendships or school, or math, I usually have a pretty solid reply.  But my FAVORITE moments as a parent?  When I am stumped.  I love when my kids ask me things I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA HOW TO ANSWER.  Examples:  “Why are we here?”  “Why am I me?”  “Why do I have to get a job?” “Why do you have to work?”

So I guess as a parent and a picture book author, I've found a huge draw to writing books which ask questions that are open-ended.  The kind of questions kids ask their parents in the middle of dinner and find their mom, with a crumpled face, standing in the kitchen ten minutes later, trying still to figure out an answer worth giving.  I love it when my kids ask me questions and I begin with “I JUST DON'T KNOW...”  It forces me to think about my own life and to think about how to write books that speak to that unsureness.  We all share a lot of knowledge, but perhaps- more interestingly- we share a lot of NOT knowledge...that space in the in between where we're just figuring things out.  Parents, kids, grandparents, siblings, friends.  We're all just muddling through, wondering a lot of the same things.  The fun is that we share the not-knowing and find ourselves in the wild variety of what we figure out.

I hope that kids take away from my books that it's okay to ask questions and to be uncomfortable.  It's in those moments of wondering, waiting, wishing, sometimes being angry or not knowing where to put your hands (why I wear pockets!) that we learn things.  Kids can sometimes feel bad when they don't know the answers, so I hope my books remind them of the joy of not knowing.  In my latest, THERE'S NOTHING TO DO!, my little somewhat-sarcastic, oft-complaining Frog character wrestles with an empty day and the deep desire to do something fantastic with that day, something really, really super, but he doesn't know what.  This story is a direct result of my life with my kids who are not lazy (seriously, never, they always want to be doing something or other), but they often don't know what to do.  They have expectations, hopes, big dreams of what a lazy Sunday may hold for them and no real idea of how to find that special thing to do.  

Most of my books, in fact, center around those subtle questions that speak to our inner desires as kids...to accomplish, to create, to not be too idle for too long.  I have two daughters and I sometimes can't comprehend the complexity of the world in which they find themselves.  It is surely more complicated than my 1970s childhood, if only because it predated call-waiting and even answering machines.  I went out looking for my pals if they weren't home and had long swaths of time to be alone, sometimes adrift, sometimes unsure.  Things were, for lack of a better way of phrasing it, less specific.  I see how my daughters now have specific skills, favorite authors, apps they're hooked on, friends they always do or don't hang out with.  They are much more sure than I ever was, and maybe more sure than I am now.

I love helping kids discover that they share concerns, wonders, questions, fears, and a whole lot more not-knowing than knowing.  That not-knowing creates friendships, fun, and thankfully (at least for ME) picture book ideas!

Dev Petty is a Berkeley native who writes picture books that, hopefully, make you laugh a little and think a little.  She used to be in visual effects, working on The Matrix trilogy and many other film projects and loves making picture books because they're sort of like little, paper movies.  Her debut book, I DON'T WANT TO BE A FROG, has been published in eight languages and sparked two follow-ups including her latest, THERE'S NOTHING TO DO!. She is also the author of CLAYMATES and more stories to come.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

My #TheEdCollabGathering Session: I'm White, So Now What?

I was honored to again participate in The Ed Collab Gathering this weekend. If you aren't already aware of it, it's one of the best, FREE, PD opportunities out there. Free, streamed online into the comfort of your own couch, and quality sessions that you'll want to listen in on.

And, the better part (if anything can be better than PD in your PJs!)? You aren't left with FOMO from your session choices because all the sessions are streamed live via Google Hangout, and then are available immediately afterwards as video playback!
I presented a session with my friend Teresa Bunner, one of my edu-mentors, around race and equity and our responsibilities to our students as white educators. Here's the link if you'd like to listen in and do some thinking around your journey related to bias, privilege, and equity: I'm White, So Now What? Making a Place for Conversations Around Race in Schools. We no longer have the luxury to not bring these conversations into our classrooms, and that work starts with us as teachers.

Videos from this Fall Gathering will be up until the Spring Gathering in April. So take some time to look at the session topics, and see if there are any that appeal to your needs for support or growth. It's well-worth 45 minutes.
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