As school librarians, we have the honor and responsibility of knowing all of the students in our school. We watch them grow as young readers, we share their excitement finding books that speak to them and light a spark in their eyes. But we also have a responsibility of finding and promoting books that speak to all of our students—not just the majority of our students.
This weekend, I had the honor and responsibility of organizing the author events at the American Association of School Librarians National Conference (#aasl15). Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano spoke to a full banquet of librarians about their experiences growing up as young readers, and the impact they seek to make through their writing.
Matt de la Peña has received much praise and recognition for his realistic fiction for young adults, including his standout Mexican WhiteBoy. I have been thrilled that he has begun writing more for younger children, and have absolutely loved this year’s stellar picture book Last Stop on Market Street.
When Matt was growing up, he didn’t find many stories that spoke to him, didn’t like reading or writing—until he read A House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. This slim, powerful collection of stories spoke to him so deeply that he read it over and over again, nearly memorizing it. The story “Darius and the Clouds” particularly stayed with him, inviting him into the world of poetry, giving him permission to see poetry as something he could try.
Was it that Cisneros provided a mirror for Matt, or that she understood Matt’s heartbeat? She spoke in a language that he understood, filled with metaphors and imagery that connected to his experiences as a young Latino growing up in the United States.
And now when he writes, Matt wants to create stories that have diverse characters, yes, but really with characters full of heart, full of complex emotions, full of language and experiences from a wide range of backgrounds. Diversity is not the issue these characters wrestle with, but rather part of the fabric of their lives.
As we select stories to share with our students, we need to provide a number of ways in for our students, not just thinking about their race, but also thinking about what might create a spark for them, what helps them feel a character’s heartbeat, what helps them hear the language of their soul. It is essential that our stories have diverse characters, that we acknowledge and affirm our children’s lives and experiences, and that we say again and again that stories are for all of us.
Later this week I will share about the amazing impact that Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano had on our audience at #AASL15. Thank you so much to Penguin Random House for sponsoring Matt de la Pena this weekend. It was a truly pleasure having him as our guest.
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©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books