Summer Children’s Literature Institute at Simmons University: Make Way for Diverse Books

The Summer Children’s Literature Institute is a four-day symposium with outstanding authors, illustrators, editors, and publishers. The institute is held at Simmons University. Esteemed faculty and enthusiastic students do an incredible job running this remarkable event.

This year, the theme of the institute was “Make Way.” Some presenters shared how they made their way into book publishing; others described how they found their way to tell an important story.

What resonated with me was the idea that school librarians are literary influencers. We make way for relevant books by inviting authors and illustrators to our schools. We have great debates about diverse literature and think deeply about the best books for our readers. Social media elevates our power as we share news about children’s literature.

Make way to contemplate your power. Read a few of my takeaways below to learn how diverse literature can impact readers.

Grace Lin and Alvina Ling

What are your thoughts about #Ownvoices? This social media conversation brings awareness to diverse books and their creators. Author/illustrator Grace Lin and editor-in-chief Alvina Ling talked about the hashtag. They shared their perspectives as Asian-Americans working in the book industry. Essential questions fueled a robust discussion. Who should write diverse books? What makes these books authentic? How do we define “authentic”? Here’s what I gleaned from the conversation:

An Author/Illustrator’s Perspective:

  • Grace Lin described her relentless efforts to find a job as an illustrator. She shared one story about an editor who dismissed her work. “We already have a guy that does Asian illustrations for us,” he said. This statement gave her pause. Did the illustrator have a connection to Asian culture? Why was there only one person dedicated to this work?
  • Lin implored educators to invite authors and illustrators of color to their schools. She explained that learners need many opportunities to connect with and learn from diverse book creators.

An Editor-In-Chief’s Perspective:

  • Alvina Ling explained her process for finding books as the editor-in-chief at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Ling does a first read without knowing who the author is. If she loves a submission, she inquires about the author’s connection to the story. If there is no connection, she does not reject the draft. Ling feels that important stories should be the initial focus, not the authors.

Be on the lookout for the recorded version of this discussion on their podcast “Book Friends Forever podcast.” Watch for episode 25.

Duncan Tonatiuh

Author/illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh expressed genuine gratitude to those who share his books. He explained that diverse books build empathy in children. Books have the power to change prejudiced ideas and humanize what we hear on the news. The resources below may build empathetic learners in your school.

Mitali Perkins

Author Mitali Perkins lived in six different countries. She spoke of her hope for readers to “love without boundaries.” All attendees received a free copy of her book Rickshaw Girl. This enlightening story takes place in Bangladesh. We meet young Naima who is desperate to earn money for her poor family. Being a girl works against her. Only boys work for money in her village. Naima’s determination helps her find the perfect job. Bangla words are introduced in the story and defined in a glossary. Look for the movie version of Rickshaw Girl this fall.

Linda Sue Park

Author Linda Sue Park explained how powerful educators are promoting important books. Park’s book A Long Walk to Water made its way on “required reading” lists throughout the country. Her book compelled readers to take action.

Share books that explore worldly conditions with curriculum directors and classroom educators. You have the power to make a difference in the lives of your community just by promoting these treasures. To learn how A Long Walk to Water impacts learners, read “Books That Can Make A Difference,” a Knowledge Quest blog post.

What kind of stories will make way to your school library? What books will you promote? Please share titles of impactful diverse books. Here is a list from the Seattle Public Library: #ownvoices YA Favorites


Author: Maureen Schlosser

Author: Lessons Inspired by Picture Books for Primary Grades and Social and Emotional Learning for Picture Book Readers published by ALA Editions
Skillshare Teacher:

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Professional Development

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