Library People

People of Color Underrepresented in Children's Books

This post was originally going to be about "beauty" in children's books.  Inspired by Lupita Nyong'o's speech at the Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, I wanted to talk about picture books that tell children they are beautiful in real ways, like My People, Me Frida, Flora and the Flamingo or Jingle Dancer

But then I was invited to appear, Monday morning, on KQED's Forum program for a panel discussion on why people of color are underpresented in children's books.    According to statistics collected by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at UW Madison, a disproportinately small number of children's books each year are by, or about, people of color.  Why is this the case? And why hasn't it changed?  I started my studies in this profession exactly 20 years ago, and we were having this exact same conversation....and it wasn't new then either.  

I invite you to listen to the podcast of the Forum program.  It felt like the conversation had just gotten started there.  We started asking  how can we leverage the market to create a demand--in dollars--that publishing houses and big box bookstores will respond to.  One of my colleagues alerted me to The Birthday Party Pledge:  committing to give multicultural books to the children in her life for one year.  She started recently, headed to a 4-year-old birthday party, and stopped at a local independent bookstore in Oakland to select a book.  She could not find one book in stock that was age appropriate and featured any children of color.  Not one.  She settled on Jerry Pinkney's The Lion and the Mouse; a beautiful book that highlights another symptom of the problem, as Pinkeny is only the second African-American ever to win a Caldecott Medal.  (Others have been awarded a Caldecott Honor, but still too few.  Listen to the Forum program for my thoughts on that.)

If we'd had a few more minutes on the program, I would have wanted to say: not every individual book has to do everything for everyone.  But the body of work that we create, produce, buy, and read for our children--the best of children's books--must be better at addressing all of its readership.  Kids read and respond to things they identify with, and things that are different, in books--helping them craft their identity by reflecting it, and expanding it.  Kids also start to build prejudices from what they see in the world, and in books, from a very early age. What kinds of experiences are we denying children of all kinds by not showing them experiences of all kinds in their literature?  

This is everyone's responsibility.  What can you do?  Think about it when you're choosing books for kids (your kids, your classroom, a present, donations to the Oakland Mayor's Toy Drive, whatever!) and ask for it.  That's a start. 

Which book do you want to share?

Books for Wider Horizons - Taking Storytimes to Young Children

BWH VolunteersEvery week about 60 dedicated volunteers read to children in 40 preschools in Oakland. They have been trained, tested, and sent forth to share their joy in language and literature with some of Oakland's youngest children.

These wonderful folks have committed themselves to a pretty rigorous schedule. They spend more than 20 hours over a period of two weeks in training. Then, once they are ready, we ask them to read 30 minutes a week at a Head Start or other preschool. That may not sound like a lot of time, however most volunteers spend hours choosing books, songs and fingerplays the children will enjoy. 

One of our volunteers has been with the program for almost twenty years, as long as Books for Wider Horizons has been in existence. Others take on multiple time slots, because they love it so much. Several manage to fit their storytime reading into their lunch break. Others are retired but have multiple volunteer positions. 

All are dedicated, love literature, and enjoy young children. What a fabulous group of people to work with! 

If you are interested in joining this committed and caring group of people, call us at (510) 238-7453. We conduct training sessions once a year, during the fall. If you can't wait to volunteer, there are other volunteer opportunities we can suggest. 

ALA Youth Media Awards Announced!

The new winners of the Caldecott, Newbery, Coretta Scott King and other awards were announced early Monday morning at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference in Philapdelphia.

The winner of the Newbery Award is Flora & Ulysses, a short, graphically illustrated chapter book by Kate DiCamillo, who is also the recently appointed National Ambassador of Young People's Literature. 

The Newbery Honor winners are Doll Bones by Holly Black, The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes, One Came Home by Amy Timberlake, and Paperboy by Vince Vawter.

The winner of the Caldecott Medal is Locomotive by Brian Floca.  Caldecott Honors were awarded to Journey, written and illustrated by Aaron Becker; Flora and the Flamingo, written and illustrated by Molly Idle; and Mr. Wuffles!, written and illustrated by David Wiesner.  Miriam Medow, children's librarian at Oakland's Lakeview Branch, served on this year's Caldecott Award Committee!

The Coretta Scott King author award went to Rita Williams-Garcia for P.S., Be Eleven, the sequel to her award winning One Crazy Summer, which was set in Oakland.  The Coretta Scott King illustrator award went to Knock Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me, illustrated by Bryan Collier.  Oakland Public Library's Supervising Librarian for Teen Services, Lana Adlawan, served on this year's Coretta Scott King Award Jury!

The Pura Belpre Illustrator Award went to Yuyi Morales for Nino Wrestles the World; and the Belpre Author award went to Meg Medina for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass!, a book for teens.

We hope you explore all of the award winners, at your library!

Awards Excitement!

No, this isn't about who is custom-designing my dress for Oscar's night.  This is about the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, and other Youth Media Awards, soon to be unveiled, on Monday January 27th!

You met Miriam Medow, OPL librarian and member of this year's Caldecott committee, a couple of weeks ago.  Miriam, and members of many award committees, are now in their final weeks of re-reading their confidential short-lists, nominated from among hundreds of children's books published this year.   Around the middle of next week, they will pack their bags with warm clothes, books and notes, and head to Philadelphia PA for the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting. They will meet in closed sessions with their committees for 2 full days, often long into the night, discussing, voting, and coming to a consensus on which books will receive the gold and silver medals for their award.   Then, very early on Monday morning, those awards will be announced to the world at a press conference, which you can watch live at 8am ET.  Yep: that's 5am here.    

I will be there in Philadelphia and sitting in the press conference that morning, and can't wait to see books are honored. Your librarians will jump into action that morning to order more copies of anything we lack, so don't hesitate to request the books! Among the awards announced that morning will be: 

The Newbery Award for the most distinguished contribution to literature for children of any age.  It's an award for writing, but it doesn't have to be for a novel for older children, even if it usually is.   Poetry, nonfiction, easy readers and picture books have all been honored by the Newbery Award. The award was established in 1922.  (By the way...has your family submitted an entry yet to the 90-Second Newbery film festival?  The deadline is Monday January 20th!)

The Caldecott Award for the most distinguished picture book for children of any age. It's an award for art, but the books honored have ranged from books for toddlers to books for independent readers. The award was established in 1937. 

The Coretta Scott King Awards honor authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that "demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values. It was established in 1969.

The Pura Belpré Awards honor writers and illustrators whose work "best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth."  It was established in 1996.

The Robert F. Sibert Award honors the author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book for children.  It was first awarded in 2001.

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award is given to the author and illustrator of the most distiguished beginning reader book.  It was first awarded in 2006, and is named for Dr. Seuss!

And this only scratches the surface! Will you join us in celebrating great children's and young adult books on January 27th?  

In the photo: me, Nina Lindsay, to the left of the top hat; and OPL librarian Sharon McKellar to the right of the top hat, at last year's award celebration. 

Who chooses the Caldecott Medal?

Have you ever wondered how those shiny gold and silver embossed medals wind up on the year's most distinguished picture books?  

The Caldecott Medal has been awarded each year by ALSC, a division of the American Library Association, since 1938.  A different committee of ALSC members is elected and appointed every year to decide which picture book, by an American illustrator, will win the award.  You can watch the live webcast of the award announcments at 5 a.m. on Monday January 27th, and check in with us throughout that week for reports on the awards. 

This year, Oakland Public Library is very proud that Miriam Medow, children's librarian at the Lakeview Branch, is part of the committee.  It is a huge honor--and also a huge amount of work that Miriam commits to on mostly her own time.  I asked her to share with you all a little about what this year has been like so far.

"I've been reviewing books as part of my professional work for several years.  A couple years back, I attended a full-day workshop at ALA's Midwinter conference where we practiced book discussion and learned what it takes to serve on a media award committee. I was super excited by the idea of doing this work, and filled out a volunteer interest form for ALSC to serve on an award committee.

"Six months passed by silently, then one morning last August I received an email from ALSC telling me that I had been appointed to the Caldecott committee! I burst into tears at my computer and immediately called my parents. They're proud :) I then set out to prepare for a year of hard work.

"The more I know about what goes into making children's books, I figure, the better I'll be at evaluating them. Online videos showing artists working in their studios, articles about illustration technique, and interviews with picture book creators -- most notably Maurice Sendak -- have been critical to my (self) education. I've also looked at previous Caldecott winners to see what committees in the past have deemed to be the most distinguished contributions to children's book illustration. Sometimes I disagree with their choices.

"Publishers have been sending me envelopes and boxes of books to consider for the award throughout the year.  In March, they trickled in. By May, it felt like a full-on deluge. I'll admit that, at this point, I groan when I see the UPS delivery truck pull up! I've reviewed over 500 books so far this year, and expect to spend time with another 50 before this Caldecott year is done.

"I've been visiting 2nd and 3rd grade classes at a couple Oakland schools to read books with students, and have learned SO MUCH from those kids about what works and what doesn't work in picture books. They've been amazing audiences, so opinionated!  Over the next month, I'm having special reading times with my 5-year-old book-loving niece to discover what I can about these books in one-on-one sessions. Reading these books with kids has definitely been the best part so far!

"The most difficult and time-consuming part has been pulling together my critical analyses of the books in preparation for the committee's marathon meetings that will be happening January 24th- 26th at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. Everyone on the committee is doing the same, so when we're all in the same room next month we'll be ready for some intense discussions. We have a little over two days to hash it all out and vote on winners. A year of work, culminating in just over two days of decision-making. Yikes!

"Committee members hail from all corners of the country. We range in age from 30-something to 70ish, and mostly have experience in public and school library youth services positions. Some have been on award committees before, but more are newbies like me. From our practice discussions, I know that, though we share a passion for children's literature, we bring a great variety of opinions to the table! 

"Our decision will be made by Sunday, 1/26, and we're not to spill the beans until after ALA's big awards announcements that take place on Monday the 27th. It's as exciting as the Grammys for librarians :)"

If you'd like to learn more about the Caldecott Medal, try exploring the Caldecott Medal website, including resources developed for the recent 75th Anniversary.  

If you'd like to explore some of the eligible books for this year's award, check out the blog Calling Caldecott at the Horn Book. 

Thank You

Cover of Giving ThanksTwo of my favorite books in the Oakland Public Library children's collection are Thank You by Felicia Walker and Giving Thanks: a Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp. The gratitude expressed is with different words and for different things, but it is real and heartfelt. It occurs to me that this is a good time of the year for giving thanks.

So, here goes. Thank you to the tens of thousands of children and parents who come through our doors to participate in storytimes, attend one of our programs, play our Summer Reading Game, use the computers, and find books for research or to simply enjoy. Your enthusiasm and appreciation bring joy every day. 

Cover of Thank You by Felicia Walker

Thank you to all the teachers who bring in classes.  Sometimes you walk far but you bring them. Your commitment to your students and their life-long learning is wonderful, full of wonder.

Thank you to the writers of all the fabulous books we have here. I am overwhelmed with the abundance. 

Thank you to the incredible staff of Oakland Public Library. I have worked at places with more resources, but I've never worked with a more committed, imaginative, and creative group of people. I am honored to work here.

And thank you to the residents of Oakland. Through these past years, your support has kept all our libraries open. It has meant that we can offer new books, electronic resources, Wi-Fi, museum passes, streaming music, summer lunches at eleven branches, and work with other departments of the city and local agencies to enrich the lives of the children of Oakland. 

There is lots to be thankful for. 


The Right Book, the Right Reader: Science Guy

A friend and I have been doing a 30 Day Drawing Challenge; every day we draw from a prompt, then post the pictures to each others' Facebook walls. Results are somewhere between poignant and hilarious. In that spirit, I decided to draw today's story about a reluctant reader who finds a kind of book he'd never dreamed existed...... Enjoy!









Congratulations Summer Readers!

Fairyland Membership Winner

More than 5000 kids read for more than 8 hours each this summer in the Oakland Public Library Summer Reading Program, and collected wonderful rewards including a book of their own, and coupons to attractions all over Oakland.  

Two lucky kids are the recipients of this year's city-wide grand prizes.  For the under-5 category, Children's Fairyland generously donated a one-year family membership, and the lucky recipient is Kiran Beattie, age 4.  Here she is with her older sister Amba, who likes Fairyland too. Since the whole family helped Kiran read this summer, we're glad they all get to share in the prize.

Temuge BaatarIn the 5-14 category, the lucky winner of a iPad is Temuge Baatar, age 8.  He's pretty excited.  Congratulations!--and stop by if you need help downloading ebooks. 

If you didn't collect your 8 hour prize yet, call your library to make sure there are still supplies and come on down by this Saturday.  We know it sometimes takes until Labor Day weekend for you all to get back to us, and we can't wait to hear about your summer of reading!

The Right Book, the Right Reader: Last, She Bowed

My first story of finding the book that made someone a reader is one of my favorites.

I work closely with classes at Markham Elementary, and last year one class began visiting me at Eastmont every two weeks. They were a small class, first and second grade special ed, with a warm and attentive teacher who worked hard to help each student find a book they wanted to check out. 

One girl, a child of six I'll call Josefina, had not yet learned to read, and was not interested in doing so. 

It's not hard to identify the reluctant readers in a class visit. They're the ones who, every time you show them a book, look at you something like this:

A reluctant reader throws shade on an EXCELLENT book suggestion 

Josefina's very kind teacher was showing her books that she might like, and Josefina was giving her reluctant reader face. The teacher explained to me that Josefina was still learning to read, and needed something with very simple words to practice on. The books she wanted, though, were the DC Super Pets readers her classmates had swarmed upon like ants on a lollipop. Josefina wanted cute, cartoony pictures; she *needed* something with short, simple words, lots of open white space, and minimal sentences per page.

Well, I just did what any children's librarian worth her salt would do: I pulled out the Mo Willems books. I am especially fond of Elephant and Piggie, and the best part is, they're as good for struggling older readers as they are for little guys; superb cartooning, expressive linework, funny like a good joke. Josefina, though, went wide-eyed over Cat the Cat

Josefina LOVED Cat the Cat. 

Josefina checked out Cat the Cat. Her teacher read it with her, and then she read it on her own. Josefina came back wanting MORE Cat the Cat. Josefina checked out and read every Cat the Cat book in existence. (There are four)* And then, Josefina came in with her teacher all a-flutter and asked for the Cat the Cat book where she does ballet.

I searched; we reviewed all four books; we determined that there IS no Cat the Cat book where she does ballet. On the cover of Let's Say Hi to Friends Who Fly, Cat is striking a pose and wearing pink; Josefina had remembered that picture and invented a Cat the Cat book about ballet. Josefina deflated like a little polo-shirted balloon when I explained to her that, sadly, the book she was looking for did not exist. And then, I added my standard follow-up to that sentence: "...but since you want to read it, and it doesn't exist, you should write that book yourself."

I've said that to a bunch of kids over the years, and most of them have responded with the same look of hope and intrigue I got from Josefina. But I was in no way prepared for the phone call I got four weeks later from Josefina's teacher: they'd been writing, illustrating and binding the book for the past month, it was finished, and Josefina was bringing me a copy TODAY.

Also, the teacher told me, Josefina was so nervous about presenting me with the book that she couldn't eat her breakfast that morning, and the teacher wanted to make sure I knew how important it was to her so I could react accordingly.

When they came in, I was prepared with a thousand watt smile, a Cat the Cat poster I'd picked up from a giveaway, and a circle of chairs in case Josefina wanted me to read her book to the class. She did. In fact, because her book is so wonderful, I'd like to read it to you. I can never look at it without picturing Josefina shaking, hopping from foot to foot, clutching her first published work to her tiny chest, and then breaking out in a grin as she handed me one of four copies in the world of TINA, THE CAT BALLERINA.

I present it to you below in its entirety (though with her name redacted), with thanks to Mr. Willems and recommendations that you read every single book he's ever made (available at your local public library!). And as you read, I want you to pay attention to the author's already remarkable sense of narrative structure-- her pacing is spot on, and I challenge any seasoned children's author to craft a more perfect last line than Josefina's: "Last, she bowed."

Cat the Cat was the right book for Josefina. It made her not only a reader; it made her an author. Here's to many more right books in Josefina's future, including a long bibliography of her own.

--Miss Amy




First, Tina the Cat Ballerina went to ballet school.

Next, she was happy she went.

Then Tina was dancing in a ballet show.

 Last, she bowed.**

*Mo Willems, if you are reading this, please write more Cat the Cat books. Actually just write more of everything.

**Josefina, if you are reading this, please write more books and bring me copies.