The last few months have been tough for mirror-books where marginalized readers can find a reflection of themselves, and their history, culture, and joys. In some states these books have been pulled from library shelves and banned from classrooms, which leaves me wondering, “What are we afraid of?”
Because as an educator I have always believed that the point of education is to guide children to become independent, thinking, autonomous adults. People who can hear another’s point of view, observe differences, make inferences, and draw conclusions. These critical thinking skills should be taught not only in the sciences, but especially in the language arts.
The truth is, if you are a diverse reader, you will sometimes read books that make you feel uncomfortable. You might meet some main characters with whom it is hard for you to identify. You might see a point of view that opposes yours. That's okay. Keep reading. Because that is exactly why reading diversely is important. Reading books about characters, circumstances, or paradigms different from yours leads to questions. Hopefully those questions will lead to introspection, conclusions, and greater understanding. And deeper empathy for your neighbor.
Diverse readers become kind people.
Here we are, more than halfway through Black History Month, and I wonder, have you read anything this month that offers a window? Do the kids in your life have access to both windows and mirrors?
Here is a list of my recent reads by black authors or featuring contemporary black main characters. Check them out!
The Me I Choose to Be by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, art by Regis and Kahran Bethencourt
Boogie Boogie, Y’all by C.G. Esperanza
The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars by Rachel Montez Minor, art by Annie Won
Change Sings: a Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman, art by Loren Long
Zuri Ray Tries Ballet by Tami Charles, Art by Sharon Sordo
Me &Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera
A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliot, art by Noa Denmon
All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, art by Bryan Collier
Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, Art by Ekua Holmes
Brown Sugar Babe by Charlotte Watson Sherman, art by Akem
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, Tristan Strong Destroys the World, and Tristan Strong Keeps Punching by Kwame Mbalia
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
Clean Getaway by Nic Stone
The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert.
Black Boy Joy edited by Kwame Mbalia
Twins: A Graphic Novel by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright
New Kid by Jerry Craft (The first graphic novel to win a Newbury Award)
Class Act by Jerry Craft
Me (Moth) by Amber McBride
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (All Elizabeth Acevedo’s books are fabulous!)
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Swing and Solo by Kwame Alexander (He also wrote Middle Grade Newbury Winner The Crossover. All his books are fantastic!)
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Yes, you want to read everything (everything!) Nicola Yoon wrote.)
Also check out books by Angie Thomas and Tomi Adeyemi.
To find out more about new books by black authors, sign up for Kwame Mbalia’s Black by Popular Demand newsletter here.
Last year, when the Writers’ Loft posted the call for submissions for the anthology FRIENDS AND ANEMONES: Ocean Poems for Children, I knew right away that I wanted to participate. I was brand new at the Loft when their previous anthology AN ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS was in the planning stages, and I missed the submission window. Once AN ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS launched, my social media was filled with exciting group book events and library visits.
That was the experience I wanted. I needed to learn about the book making process, marketing, organizing book events, and presenting to an audience. How perfect for an introvert like me to learn with other authors and illustrators by my side.
This year I obviously didn’t get the book launch experience I had wanted when FRIENDS AND ANEMONES launched virtually in November. Nor are we having book store events, school visits or library story-times, yet. However, I gained so much more than I had bargained for when I’d first decided to participate:
One of the biggest gains for me was meeting the talented Leanne Leutkemeyer and Jodie Apeseche, who illustrated my words. I absolutely love their illustrations, and getting to know these artists on a more personal level was really meaningful to me. I always love learning from artists about their process and techniques, and as an extra bonus, I got to pick the brains of a slew of illustrators while doing guest blogs and cover reveals for 24 Carrot Writing.
The benefit of participating in a collaborative project like the anthology, is that it strengthens community. Our connections grow, names become friends, and we see more deeply the rich talent of the people within our community. Making new connections, and strengthening existing ones with fellow Lofters, are great advantages of the anthology. And we will continue to celebrate one another’s talents and future successes.
Even though we didn’t have a live launch, we did have a fantastic online launch, sponsored by The Blue Bunny Bookstore, and expertly presented by Kristen Wixted, Heather Kelly, and Bob Thibeault. No, I didn’t get the learning experience I expected, but I did learn a lot about virtual book events – something that might very well be here to stay.
Being part of this anthology, also made me think more about the protection of our oceans. I have always been a proponent of buying sustainable products. Learning about our partner, the Rozalia project and the environmental work they do, reignited in me the desire to be a more conscientious consumer. What a privilege to be part of a bigger goal, and to help show children, in a fun way, how small changes could make a big impact towards ocean protection.
To order FRIENDS AND ANEMONES click here, or at the Blue Bunny, or on Amazon. The first month’s proceeds will be donated to the Rozalia project.