Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Time to Get Meta

Some brief musings:

Lately, I've been doing a lot of thinking about my motives for doing this blog.  How do I -- a White, middle-class person who has experienced life-long privilege -- have the authority to write about books written by authors and depicting characters with different backgrounds than me?  Am I engaging in de facto segregation by writing about diverse books and labeling them as "diverse" and "multicultural"?
Am I, as this tweet says, "othering inclusive books" by drawing attention to them?  I know that my intentions are good, but I also know that good intentions can be damaging if they perpetuate unquestioned privilege and continue to draw lines between "mainstream" and "other."

Just some questions I've been wrestling with.  What are your thoughts?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Me + Comics 6Ever

Is there a certain genre of literature that doesn't really appeal to you?  You might try to enjoy that genre because lots of other people do, but it just doesn't feel right.  Maybe you feel like something's wrong with you because that genre seems so great, but for you, it's just... eh.

I have a confession: For me, that genre is superhero comics.  Several of my friends are really into Marvel and such, which I think is great -- they really enjoy that scene, and I'm happy for them.  But my attempts to enjoy superhero comics have been less than successful.

For example, I tried the new Ms. Marvel series and was impressed, but I didn't love it as much as I'd hoped to.  Kamala Khan is a great and complex character, the artwork is beautiful, and I appreciated exploring the cultural issues within the comics, but the series didn't touch me on a deeper level.

via Marvel

That's OK, though.  After trying Ms. Marvel, I decided to keep an open mind and listen to other suggestions from friends (and the kind and knowledgeable folks at my local bookshop).  That's how I found The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

via Marvel

SQUIRREL GIRL IS THE BEST.  What really drew me in is the series' laughs and lightheartedness.  Squirrel Girl (aka Doreen Green) has a quirky, absurdist, silly sense of humor that makes me feel good, and she doesn't take herself too seriously.  Plus, she's smart, creative, and empathetic, which makes her a great role model for young comic book fans.  These comics fit me perfectly.  I'm so glad I gave this series a try -- it showed me that there are comic books out there for everyone, even people who aren't huge superhero fans.

So let my experience be a lesson to all of you teacher and parents out there.  If a kid doesn't like a particular type of literature, it might just be because s/he hasn't found the right book yet.  So keep looking and encouraging your students/kids to try different genres and formats.

Also, ultimately, it's OK to not particularly like a genre, and kids need to know that as well.  In life, we're not going to like everything we read, and even if we love one poetry/graphica/nonfiction/etc. book doesn't mean we're going to like ALL poetry/graphica/nonfiction/etc.  But it's still good to expand your mind with different styles of literature, even if they don't rock your world.

TL;DR version: Keep reading!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Kidlit in Canada: Part Two

And then we went to Quebec and spent most of our time in Quebec City, the capital of the province.

And home of this lovely church-turned-library.

On the old city's main drag lay the sweetest little bookstore, Librarie Pantoute, where I was reminded that Francophones are the monarchs of graphica.  Seriously, a third of the store was filled with comics and graphic novels for all ages.  They had the Smurfs.  They had Asterix.  They even had Mafalda translated into French.

Unfortunately, they also had one of the more racist Tintin books.

What really caught my eye, though, was the series of graphic biographies about famous historical figures.  If I could actually read French, I'd be all over them.

I was also excited to see lots of Guy Delisle's work.  Although I knew he was a French speaker, I didn't realize that he's from Quebec City, so I saw his stuff all over town.  His books -- Shenzen, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Burma Chronicles, and Jerusalem, all already translated into English -- chronicle his worldwide travels as an animator and are more suited for older students and adults.  While I love his drawing style, he's been accused of being an Orientalist, so his work might be a great springboard for critical discussion in a high school or college classroom.

I wish I had more to say about the kidlit situation that I observed, but my lack of language skills prevented me from really exploring the content of the books I found.  So I'll leave you with a few photos of some beautiful picturebooks that grabbed my eye.  If you're a Francophone parent or teacher, maybe you'll enjoy one of these :)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Kidlit in Canada: Part One

First of all, I want to apologize for my sparse posting.  Summer was busy, and my work duties are changing, leaving me with less time to write here.  I'd love to keep up my weekly posting schedule, but things may not work out that way; we'll see how the semester progresses.  Thanks for sticking with me :D

Now onto the Great White North!  So I went to Canada at the beginning of August, and it was the best.  THE BEST.  My husband and I spent a little bit of time in Toronto, then took the train over to Montreal, and finally settled in Quebec City for a few days.  I'm so grateful that I finally got to visit our northern neighbor, and I can't wait to go back and explore some different areas.

And reunite with my favorite candy in the whole wide world.

While in Toronto (home of Groundwood Books, one of my favorite publishers), I was slightly bummed because the city's children's bookstores all seemed to be out of reach.  My husband and I like to rely on public transit and walking when we travel, so we had to stay downtown -- not a big deal, of course, but no children's bookstores for me.  Therefore, I was quite pleasantly surprised when I found an excellent cache of picture books at the Museum of Inuit Art down by the harbor.

What a cool museum, and very accessible for someone like me, a Texan who isn't very familiar with Inuit art.  When you enter, you can take a quiz to determine which "style" of sculpture you like best (minimalist, naturalist, grotesque, etc.), and then most of the pieces are labeled with those style types.  This approach made the exhibitions very relevant and helped me think more deeply about my aesthetic responses to the artworks.

(I especially like the minimalist style, btw.)

Plus, there were plenty of engaging activities for kids (and adult-sized kids), from scavenger hunts to coloring pages to an animated short film version of a traditional story called "The Blind Boy and the Loon."

And the gift shop!  That's where I discovered the picture books and found myself immediately taken in by a book called Sweetest Kulu, written by Inuit-Canadian singer Celina Kalluk and illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis.  It's a precious lullaby filled with beautiful images of a baby interacting with various Arctic animals.  The perfect bedtime read.  (They also had a print version of "The Blind Boy and the Loon.")

Sweetest Kulu's publisher, Inhabit Media, is something to behold.  From their mission statement:

"We are an Inuit-owned publishing company, with our head office located in Iqaluit, Nunavut. To our knowledge we are the only independent publishing company located in the Canadian Arctic. Our aim is to preserve and promote the stories, knowledge and talent of Inuit and northern Canada.

"Since 2006, Inhabit Media has been working to encourage Inuit and non-Inuit Arctic residents to share their stories and their knowledge, and to record the oral history of our home. One of our aims is to ensure that Arctic voices are heard and that they have the opportunity to contribute to Canadian literature. Since our inception, Inhabit Media has been working with elders and storytellers to ensure that the rich story-telling culture of the Inuit is preserved and passed on. As well, we have been working with elders, hunters, and knowledgeable residence to ensure that the rich traditional knowledge about the environment is not lost.

"As well, Inhabit Media works with Inuit organizations, non-profit societies and the Government of Nunavut to ensure that the Inuit language is preserved and strengthened. Almost every book Inhabit Media publishes is also available in Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun. Our authors, storytellers and artists bring these stories and knowledge to life in a way that is accessible to readers in both North and the South."

Something worth supporting.  I encourage you to visit their website and browse their books -- they have some great selection, from contemporary realistic fiction to traditional strories to informational texts.

Well, that's it for now.  In my next post, I'll cover my Quebecois adventures, the abundance of comics/graphica I found, and my frustration with my lack of French language skills.  Hope you have a wonderful week!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Holy Moly, A Publication

After a lot of hard work, I'm so happy to announce that my first "real" published article is out!  In spring 2014, one of my professors encouraged me to write a paper critically analyzing four graphic history books about the Battle of the Alamo, and it's one of the most fulfilling, interesting academic journeys I've ever taken.

While writing this paper, I was able to travel back to my childhood and relive wonderful memories of visiting San Antonio and learning about my home state's history.  However, I also had to confront the fact that the "official" (i.e., popular and dominant) story of the Alamo is pretty biased, inaccurate, and sometimes flat-out racist.

dramatic picture via The Young Turks

After the paper was finished, my friend and co-author, Margaret Robbins, provided some helpful input (many thanks, Margaret!), and we sent it off to Social Studies Research & Practice.  If you'd like to read the article, you can find it here.  It's an open-access online journal, so you'll be able to read the whole thing and/or download it for free.

I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Challenging Racism with Graphic Novels

Now, more than ever, we need to talk about racism.

 via Race Report 

Yes, Confederate flags are coming down.  They needed to come down years and years and years ago.  But now that the flags are gone from government buildings in South Carolina, The Dukes of Hazzard has been pulled from the airwaves, and musicians are removing Confederate symbols from their shows, I bet there are more than a few people out there who are thinking, "Good job, problem solved, don't need to think about this anymore."  Once all of this "dies down" (i.e., major media networks stop covering the flag, police violence, etc.), many will be happy to forget about racism or think that our problems are solved.  Meanwhile, there are those who insist on minimizing racism, explaining it away, or flat-out denying that it exists.

Racism is still out there, pervading every aspect of our society.  Getting rid of Confederate symbols in public spaces is a step in the right direction, but one potential downside to banning them everywhere is that we might inadvertently silence dialog about why Confederate symbols are oppressive in the first place and potentially foster a belief that getting rid of hateful symbols erases racism.  No, racism is an institution, grounded in history, that goes far beyond symbols.  As educators, parents, and friends, we need to talk about it with young people and among ourselves.

via WUSF

That's where books come in.

A helpful way to understand racism and its current persistence in our society is to read histories that trace the journeys of ethnic groups through our nation's past and into the present.  Engaging with these books can show readers how, for example, slavery might be over, but the effects of slavery are still very much with us today in the forms of White privilege and systemic discrimination against Black people.  As Crowley & Smith (2015) pointed out, people need to understand racism through a "knowledge of history and an appreciation for structural inequity along racial lines" (p. 172).

The books that I'm about to recommend can be useful in high school classrooms or for adults who are interested in exploring the history of racism and discrimination in the US more thoroughly.  I believe doing so is extremely important because these issues are often glossed over or completely omitted from traditional histories and other reading materials that many of us encountered in school and that students are still reading today.  Also, I chose graphic novels because they're accessible, visual, and incredibly engaging to read -- a great break from textbooks.

First is Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans (Laird & Laird, 1997/2009), an overview of Black history that I just finished.

I love this book because it provides tons of information left out of history textbooks, such as a closer look at the beginnings of slavery, Reconstruction, and the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement.  Still I Rise presents readers with a fantastic amount of balance, exploring the bad (violence, discrimination) with the good (the important contributions of Black inventors, politicians, artists, etc., to our society) and showing the diversity of Black opinions, experiences, individuals, and communities in our country.  Most important to me, however, is that this book shows how racism has persisted over the years and that despite progress, we must continue to fight against it.

Of course, racism isn't just a Black and White issue.  Fortunately, there are other fantastic graphic novels that demonstrate the roots of racism and can foster ruminations and discussions about race/ethnicity in history and today.

Latino USA (Stavans, 2000/2012) is an excellent option:

This book traces the history and diversity of Latin@ people in the US and shows readers the roots of racism and how it continues today.  Like Still I Rise, Latino USA presents multiple perspectives within and among Latin@ communities about historical and contemporary issues, demonstrating how Latin@s aren't a homogeneous group and encouraging critical thinking.

Granted, simply reading a book won't convince everyone of our dire need for racial justice and healing in the US -- but an engaging piece of literature can be a wonderful springboard.  Coupled with deep discussion, reading can be a transformative act.  So share books like these with your high school students, your children, your adult friends.  Read and discuss.

Do you know of any other good books that explore history and racism and want to recommend them?  Let me know!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Gyimah Gariba: Illustrator of the Week

This week's illustrator is Gyimah Gariba, who grew up in Ghana and currently lives and works in Toronto.  Instead of writing a description, I'll let him speak for himself: 

To my eye, his style looks like comics + mural art + watercolor = a really fresh and interesting blend that's different from anything else out there.  If you'd like to keep track of his daily doings, he has great Instagram and Tumblr accounts where he posts his art frequently.  In the meantime, here are some of his pieces:

 "Ghana" (video)

Mr. Gariba is also an animator.  Until recently, he worked on the Adult Swim show, Black Dynamite, and now he's apparently developing a slightly mysterious animation project called Anansi.  I haven't been able to find much information about it, but here are some character shots from his website:
I'm intrigued!  But here's the thing -- as far as I can tell, Mr. Gariba has never illustrated children's books.  I would love to see his style in the pages of a picture book, so, if he's interested in that kind of work, we might see some of that in the future.  Here's hoping!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Jing Jing Tsong: Illustrator of the Week

This week's illustrator is Jing Jing Tsong!  Ms. Tsong lives in Hawaii with her husband, Mike Austin, who's also an illustrator.  According to their website, her artistic technique combines printmaking with digital illustration, and she focuses heavily on multicultural subject matter.  In addition to creating art for children's books, she also does some advertising and stock image work.

I love how she fills her crisp lines with so much color and pattern, making her images clean yet nuanced.  Plus, her style is SO CUTE:

If you're interested in taking a look at some of her books, I've compiled a list below.  The first four are board book written and illustrated by Ms. Tsong, and the following three are collaborations with other authors.  I'm particularly excited about Shanghai Sukkah, which is the story of a Jewish boy who escapes the Nazis and relocates to China with his family.  It releases in August 2015, so we don't have to wait too long for it!

Up in the Hawaiian Sky (Lavonne Leong)

A Bucket of Blessings (Kabir Sehgal & Surishtha Sehgal)

Shanghai Sukkah (Heidi Hyde)

Happy reading and art appreciating!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Zineb Benjelloun: Illustrator of the Week

This week's illustrator is Zineb Benjelloun!  Ms. Benjelloun hails from Morocco, attended university in France, and currently lives in Casablanca.  According to an interview with OkayAfrica, inspiration comes from the world around her and is influenced by her work in television and documentary film-making.  Another major influence is her desire to explore her Moroccan identity and to depict real Moroccan people as diverse individuals "in the international visual landscape" (as cited in Sefa-Boakye, 2015) -- an important task considering the stereotyped, essentialized representations of Moroccans (and Africans in general) floating around in illustrations and texts created by outsiders. 

Here are a few examples of her work from her website:

I love how she uses seemingly simple line work to create extraordinarily complex visions.  There's something so appealing about the geometry of her pieces -- whether she uses color or keeps things black-and-white, her images grab the eye and hold it.

Also, Ms. Benjelloun has created art several online books for children for a website called eMadrassa.  These books feature animated illustrations, sound effects, and text that changes color as the words are read aloud by an audio reader -- very cool!  The only catch is that the books are in French, but don't let that stop you from checking them out.  And if you know any children who speak French or are learning, then these books can be a very helpful resource, not only for their language development, but also for learning about culture, history, science, and more:

Sauvons notre patrimoine (children learn about remembering Moroccan history and culture by preserving architecture)

Des animaux pas bêtes (a class learns about animals and conservation during a trip to the zoo)

Mille et une répliques (a group of friends puts on a play of 1001 Arabian Nights)

I can't wait to see where Ms. Benjelloun's art takes her -- I hope she keeps illustrating children's books!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Manuel Monroy: Illustrator of the Week

This week's illustrator is Manuel Monroy!  Mr. Monroy received his degree in graphic design from la Universidad Autónoma Metrpolitana in Mexico City and has created art for children's books, magazines, advertisements, and animations for the past twenty years.  During that time, he's also won multiple awards and has shown his work in exhibits around the world.  Here's a sampling of his artwork from his website:

His images are all about balance -- they're soft yet expressive and combine earth tones with pops of bright color.  Also, they're just so dang cute, soothing, daydream-y, and perfect for picture books.  If you'd like to add some of his illustrations to your home or classroom library, hit the links below:

What Are You Doing? (Elisa Amado, also available in Spanish)

Why Are You Doing That? (Elisa Amado, also available in Spanish)

Be a Baby (Sarah Withrow, also available in Spanish)

Rooster/Gallo (Jorge Lujan)

Daybreak, Nightfall (Jorge Lujan, also available in Spanish)

When I Was a Boy, Neruda Called Me Policarpo (Poli Delano, also available in Spanish)

Un pueblo lleno de bestias (Francisco Hinojosa)

¿Quién pasó por aquí? (Martha Duhne)

Happy reading!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Summer Break & Shouting Out Illustrators

Well, it's summer break (according to my school calendar), so I'm on vacation.  HA right, I'll be spending the next few months going to friends' weddings, going to my own wedding, taking a three-week intensive class, and reading for comps, meaning that I'll have to take a break from my (not really) strict blogging routine.

via quickmeme

However!  Since this blog is one of the ways I stay sane, I'll still post.  Instead of my usual fare, though, I'll be keeping things light and easy by posting "Illustrator of the Week" pieces.  Picture book art is one of my favorite things about children's literature, so I'm going to celebrate a different illustrator every week (or so) in order to introduce you to or remind you of great artists from diverse backgrounds.

I'll start this week with an illustrator from -- surprise surprise -- Mexico, so stay tuned!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Review: Angela Johnson's All Different Now

Title: All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom
Author: Angela Johnson
Illustrator: E.B. Lewis
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Age Range: 8+

Attempting to learn about history from a textbook can be a dull, even futile effort.  As social studies education scholar Bruce VanSledright points out in his book The Challenge of Rethinking History: On Practices, Theories, and Policy (2011), textbooks present students with a number of obstacles that can hinder their acquisition of historical knowledge.  First, textbooks often gloss over historical happenings, "condensing rich, complex events into [...] compressed accounts" (p. 39) -- rushed, shallow, paragraph-long blurbs that can't possibly help readers build deep, nuanced interpretations about the past.  Instead, kids need to read various accounts (primary and secondary sources) that present different perspectives about historical events.  When they do so, they learn that history isn't quite as simple as a textbook might present it, and they begin to be able to handle constructively the dissonance that varying points of view can create -- a skill they'll need in the real world, a place full of diversity and sundry ways of being and thinking (Barton & Levstik, 2004).

Another problem with textbooks is that they often present history as a "fait accompli" (VanSledright, 2011, p. 79), a done deal or an open-and-shut account of events that can leave readers bored and wondering whether the past has any relevance in our present lives.  "Why should we care about what happened back then?" they might ask.  "Let's just memorize this boring story and get it over with."  But history has so much more to offer, and utilizing resources like All Different Now -- Angela Johnson's moving poem about a young girl learning on June 19, 1865 that she's free -- invites teachers and students to move beyond the textbook and reclaim the fascinating work of doing history.

What I really love about this book is how it brings the past to life and presents the first Juneteenth as a dynamic, open-ended occasion.  E. B. Lewis' illustrations -- watercolor representations of photographs -- look incredibly realistic, showing readers what people might really have looked like as they experienced their freedom for the first time.  Whereas textbooks often rely on flat, black-and-white photographs to represent the nineteenth century, these images are colorful and alive.  Children can clearly see that slaves were real people who had families, "worked [...] under the hot Texas sun" (Johnson, 2014, n.p.), and felt real joy when they learned about emancipation.

Moreover, Johnson's words and Lewis' illustrations convey to readers that the first Juneteenth and the following years were a complex period in history by implying that, after emancipation, things were "all different now," not "all better now."  Yes, readers will see the people in the book experiencing relief and happiness as they "ate as free people / laughed as free people / and told stories as free people" (Johnson, 2014, n.p.), but they will also see the uncertainty that many people felt as they moved forward into their new lives.  In the last two pages of the book, we read the words "all different now" and see the narrator's family leaving their slave quarters.  Their faces display a variety of emotions -- hope, concern, ambiguity.  While emancipation released Black Americans from the bonds of slavery, it wasn't the end of trouble, and many (if not most) former slaves faced continuing racism and violence.  I like how All Different Now acknowledges this reality and leaves the ending open.  The story isn't over; it's not an open-and-shut chapter in history; it's not a "fait accompli."

Introducing this book in the classroom and constructing lessons around it can provide students with learning opportunities to foster not only their historical thinking skills but also other academic abilities.  Reading All Different Now and other primary and secondary sources about Juneteenth (in addition to or in place of textbook reading) can allow students to compare multiple perspectives about the event, encouraging them to develop a more nuanced understanding about emancipation.  Also, teachers can help students connect past and present by investigating how Juneteenth is celebrated today.  For example, if some students observe this holiday themselves, they can invite family members and friends to teach their classmates more about contemporary celebrations.  Furthermore, engaging with this book can strengthen children's literacy skills (Duke, Bennett-Armistead, & Roberts, 2003).  Encountering new words can build vocabulary (Dreher, 2003), while teachers can encourage students to develop their writing skills by creating their own poetry about a historical event (Ray, 2004).

Juneteenth celebration in Austin, 1900

With all of the great nonfiction and historical fiction children's literature out there, teachers don't have to worry about relying on textbooks.  By welcoming books like All Different Now into the classroom, we can give our students all kinds of wonderful opportunities to connect with the past.

Helpful Resources
  • An article by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., containing several quotations (primary sources) from former slaves about Juneteenth and emancipation
  • Some examples of how Galveston, Texas (where emancipation was announced) celebrates Juneteenth today  


Barton, K. C., & Levstik, L. S. (2004). Teaching history for the common good. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Dreher, M. J. (2003). Motivating struggling readers by tapping the potential of information books. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 19, 25-38.

Duke, N., Bennett-Armistead, V. S., & Roberts, E. M. (2003). Filling the great void: Why we should bring nonfiction into the early-grade classroom. American Educator, 27(1), 30.

Johnson, A. (2014). All different now: Juneteenth, the first day of freedom. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. 

Ray, K. W. (2004). Why Cauley writes well: A close look at what a difference good teaching can make. Language Arts, 82, 100-109.

VanSledright, B. (2011). The challenge of rethinking history education: On practices, theories, and policy. New York, NY: Routledge.