Slice of Life #23- #WeNeedDiverseBooks Local Book Drive!

Over the next few weeks my National Honor Society students will be running a book drive for Bridge of Books [501(c)3], which is a local grassroots organization whose mission “is to provide an ongoing source of books to underprivileged and at-risk children throughout New Jersey in order to support literacy skills and to encourage a love of reading.” Our focus will be on collecting new and like-new YA books that feature diverse characters because‪ #‎WeNeedDiverseBooks‬ and the teen population is historically under-served in most of the organization’s book drives.

Bridge of Books is a fantastic organization that serves children and schools all over New Jersey.  They stock classroom libraries, which is a cause near and dear to my heart.  They also distribute books through more than 100 agencies across NJ, through the NJ Youth Corp, directly to children through schools and community outreach events, and to adult correctional facilities (to support parent/child reading programs for incarcerated parents). The organization works in cities and rural areas, even providing book delivery in most cases, with the goal of ensuring that every child owns and has access to books of their own.

Interested in contributing but not able to get to HTHS? We have a public wish list on Amazon and books can be shipped right to the school. (I know, I know…Amazon. But we don’t have a local indie and I’m hoping to save people shipping fees because it’s for charity!)

Slice of Life #5- Snow Day Slow Day

Happy snow day!!!  Last night we got the call that today school would be closed due to the impending storm.  And it certainly was a storm!  The snow began to fall around 7am and didn’t stop until close to 7pm.  Over the course of the day we received almost 9 inches of snow, light and fluffy.  The flakes alternated between large and fluffy and light and heavy all day long.  As a result, my yard looks just gorgeous.  The bird feeders were packed all day (I spotted a new species!  A yellow-bellied sapsucker!), the dogs enjoyed playtime in the snow, and the people spent some time relaxing.

I love snow days because all of my to-do lists and schedules disappear.  I tend to be more productive on snow days and I think it’s because I have more time to relax.  Today I baked cookies, did a bit of grading, played outside, helped shovel the driveway, and read two books.  No snow day is complete unless I take advantage of the extra reading time.

My first book today was Aisha Saeed’s upcoming Written in the Stars, which will be released on March 24th.  I admit that I judged this book by its beautiful cover, but I also assumed it was just another YA romance.  I could not have been more wrong.  Naila’s conservative immigrant parents are furious when they discover that she has been seeing a boy behind their back.  But their reaction?  Suffice it to say that the family vacation to Pakistan comes with ulterior motives.  I read this in one sitting and had tears in my eyes during more than one chapter. It’s a harrowing story that left me angry, upset, and with the feeling that I need to do something.

I highly recommend Written in the Stars for high school classrooms.  Upon finishing it I immediately thought of pairing it with Patricia McCormick’s Sold, another stunning look at women’s issues across the world.  Books can open our eyes and Written in the Stars certainly does so.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see this on some award lists later in the year.  A powerful story that will inspire you to appreciate the freedom many of us have while becoming more aware of those who don’t have that freedom.

How did you spend your snow day?  Did you read any good books?

#WeNeedDiverseBooks in the Classroom!

In recent weeks, there has been a lot talk about the lack of diversity in children’s literature. Then the recent BEA BookCon nonsense in which an all-white male panel of “luminaries” in children’s literature was announced and the outrage was evident very quickly.

Yesterday, my students and I discussed the power of words and the effects our choice of words may have on others.  We are reading Things Fall Apart and The Purple Hibiscus and language plays a powerful role in both books, along with gender roles and expectations.  When I shared the Bookcon panel with my students they immediately realized the power given to a panel labeled as “luminaries”.  We discussed how money talks and that when an all male, white panel is described as luminaries then people will buy their books.  When people only buy books by white men or starring straight, white characters then that is what bookstores will stock.  And then those books will earn spots on popular lists and the cycle continues.

My students started sharing their own experiences of looking for books that never seemed to exist.  We don’t really have an indie bookstore in the area so it’s big box or bust for my teens.  They talked about a lack of Asian characters, a lack of LGBTQ characters, a lack of POC, a lack of Native American protagonists, a lack of their own reflection in the books available in those stores.  So we talked about getting involved and making a change.  I promised to be even more conscious of the books I offer in my classroom library.  They started following the story online and even tweeting about it.

The world is more diverse than panels, bestseller lists, and bookstore shelves would lead us to believe.  Heck, my classroom is a whole lot more diverse than those items would lead you to believe!  So when the awesome Kate Messner challenged her readers  to put their money where their mouth is, I immediately jumped on board.  And so did author Shannon Hale. And John Green.  And many, many others.  Now there are contests between indie bookstores over who can handsell the most copies of Varian Johnson’s awesome upcoming novel The Great Greene Heist.  There are authors offering prizes.  And the best part?  There is a huge Twitter campaign aimed at spreading the word about diversity in children’s literature and making sure the books that are out there get into our students’ hands.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is taking over Twitter and I’m joining in!

From their tumblr:

Now is the time to raise our voices into a roar that can’t be ignored. Here’s how:

On May 1st at 1pm (EST), there will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. We’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. We want people to tweet, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blog, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.

For the visual part of the campaign:

  • Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you.
  • The photo can be of you or a friend or anyone who wants to support diversity in kids’ lit. It can be a photo of the sign without you if you would prefer not to be in a picture. Be as creative as you want! Pose the sign with your favorite stuffed animal or at your favorite library. Get a bunch of friends to hold a bunch of signs.
  • However you want to do it, we want to share it! There will be a Tumblr at that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1stto with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on our Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day.
  • Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be your job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever you think will help get the word out.
  • The intent is that from 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word. We hope that we’ll get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets.
  • The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long we need to keep this discussion going, so we welcome everyone to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st.

On May 2nd, the second part of our campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.

On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of our campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign! More details to come!

Will you be participating?

Take a look at the bookshelves in your classroom.  How diverse are your offerings?  Can your students see themselves in the books on your shelves?

I’ve pre-ordered my copy of The Great Greene Heist.  I’ve ordered a second copy to donate to a local school.  What about you?