Voces: Diverse Books or Honest Books?

Saludos friends!

As you might have gathered from my recent introductory post, I’m coming to Vamos a Leer with a deep commitment to finding diverse literature and bringing it directly to classrooms. I hope in the coming months to use the blog to share the voices of others who are equally if not even more deeply committed to this cause. But before I dive into that effort, I wanted to take a minute and tap into the bigger questions that underlie all this work.

I’m going to start with an assumption with which I think many of our readers would agree: We need diverse books.  But what are diverse books? How do we pick them? And how do we use them?Updated info graphic.jpg

A couple of years ago I started working in an after school program at a bilingual elementary school in Oregon. In my conversations with educators I learned that there were a variety of questions and concerns that commonly prevent diverse books from being used in the classroom.

In her article and conversation with two other authors earlier this year, Tanwi Nandini Islam wondered whether all the “buzz” about diversity had made the word become hollow. Daniel José Older, author of the young adult novel Shadowshaper (previously reviewed by Katrina), told her: “I’m fighting for diverse books, I’m fighting for honest books. When we have books or shows about New York City and it’s all white folks, there’s a lie inherent to that. It’s a question of honesty.”

When I was working with the school, though, I heard a common set of responses: But how do I (as an educator, a librarian, an administrator, a parent) find this diverse and honest representation in books? How do I pick a book about a group I don’t know anything about? How do I choose “quality” diverse books? What do I do if a book has stereotypes? What if I say something wrong? It turns out many educators and others around the country are asking similar questions.

Luckily, there are a growing number of resources to help you out – whether you are a parent, a friend,  an educator, or someone who just loves to read (and of course, none of these are mutually exclusive!).

To start, check out this short Oregon-based video called Choosing Diverse Literature that hopes to address some of these concerns! (Friendly disclaimer: I helped produce it and owe a great deal to all those who made the project possible!)

Ready to choose and use diverse books in your own classroom? Here are some more tips and resources to help get you started:

  1. It’s helpful to start by considering how books can act as mirrors and windows – Rudine Sims Bishop’s theory of books as Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors can help you start to think of books in this way. You can hear her talk about this idea in an interview with Reading Rockets.
  2. Why are diverse books important in your classroom? Katie Cunningham’s guest post on Lee and Low’s blog explains why mirror and window books are important for all readers.
  3. Okay, I get it – diverse books are important – but how do I choose them? Educators at the University of North Carolina have created a critical lens to help educators make diverse and equitable choices about the books they choose for the classroom. Their lens combines the “mirrors and windows” theory with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s single story frame to consider issues of equity and power.
  4. Ready to consider how reflective your own book collection is? Sam Kane, a school librarian committed to anti-bias education and a participant and facilitator in S.E.E.D (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) groups tells us about how she is creating her own windows and mirrors collection, and provides some questions and guidance to get you started.
  5. Keep your eyes peeled for We Need Diverse Books’ new Our Story App which will aim to help educators and children identify quality books with diverse characters, themes, and by multicultural authors. The app will launch in January of 2017!

For further reading about diverse books:

Buena suerte,

Hania

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Reading Roundup: Loss and Resolution in Latinx YA Literature

Vamos a Leer | Loss and Resolution in Latinx YA LiteratureBuenos días a todas y todos,

Happy fall!  I hope this finds you each doing well and enjoying the changing of seasons.

Fall, my favorite time of year!  For me, it is characterized not only by the falling leaves, the crisp air, and the distinct scents that come with the changing temperature, but also with a gentle nostalgia, heightened reflection, and sense of calm.  In accordance with our theme for this month, we’re honoring this moment of reflection by pulling together a Reading Roundup that highlights strong protagonists who have experienced some form of loss and resolution in their lives. We hope that this will also be good preparation for teachers who are looking for resources that can help bring these difficult topics into the classroom.

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Book Review: Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper | Daniel Jose Older | Vamos a Leer BlogShadowshaper
Written by Daniel José Older
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015
ISBN: 0545591619
Age Level: 12 and up

BOOK SUMMARY
Paint a mural. Start a battle. Change the world.

Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of  making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.

With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come.

Full of a joyful, defiant spirit and writing as luscious as a Brooklyn summer night, Shadowshaper introduces a heroine and magic unlike anything else in fantasy fiction, and marks the YA debut of a bold new voice.

My Thoughts:

Older’s Shadowshaper has received wide-acclaim, and after reading it, it’s easy to see why. There aren’t many books out there that do what this one does. I’m not sure I’ve ever read an urban fantasy book, certainly not for young adults. I also can’t think of a single fantasy book whose characters are based almost entirely on a group of urban youth of color. As we talk more and more about the need for authentic and quality diverse literature in the classroom, it’s easy to see why a book like this is so important.  Continue reading

¡Mira Look!: Author’s Corner: Daniel José Older

Daniel Jose OlderSaludos, todos! This week we will be showcasing the life and work of Daniel José Older, author of this month’s Featured Book, Shadowshaper. Shadowshaper has been hailed as one of the best new urban fantasies, and lauded for its diverse protagonists. However, Older is a man of many trades and, aside from his career as a young adult novelist, he is also a musician and composer. Older also spent nearly a decade working as a New York City paramedic, and he has turned some of the dispatches and memories from those years into creative non-fiction pieces, or “Ambulance stories.” Older’s time spent as a paramedic exposed him to a variety of social conditions and narratives, which, presumably, have influenced the political and sociological aspects of his creative work. His imaginative fantasy is grounded by real-world social critiques and commentaries. Older lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, which is also where his most recent novel, Shadowshaper, takes place.

According to a review of Shadowshaper by The New York Times, “In the best urban fantasy, the city is not just a backdrop, but functions as a character in its own right, offering up parallels between personal histories and histories of place. That is certainly true in Daniel José Older’s magnificent ‘Shadowshaper,’ which gives us a Brooklyn that is vital, authentic and under attack.” Indeed, Older’s own Brooklyn hometown emerges as a dynamic character full of artistic wonders and sociopolitical complexities, such as gentrification and racism. Continue reading

Our Next Good Read: Shadowshaper

Join us JanuarShadowshapery 11th at Bookworks from 5:00-7:00 pm to discuss our next book.  We are reading Shadowshaper (Ages 12 and up) by Daniel José Older.

Here’s a sneak peek into the book from Goodreads:

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.
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Book Giveaway: Shadowshaper

Vamos a Leer | Book Giveaway

We’re giving away a copy of Shadowshaper written by Daniel José Older–our featured novel for January book group meeting!! Check out the following from Goodreads:

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.
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