Word on Words, Books, and Reading

“Choose words carefully.”

Ellen Oh co-founder, President, and CEO of We Need Diverse Books (WNDB)

Two of the keynote at AASL 2019 National Conference Ellen Oh and Dr. Adolph Brown III give inspiring words of wisdom. These inspirational speeches are not only from research and best practice but also from their father and grandfather. For both speakers, the family is an incredible influence.

Ellen Oh, the co-founder of We Need Diverse Books, recounts advice from her wise and storytelling father. “Choose words carefully.” Oh explains her father’s advice about the impact of responding with eloquence. She describes how diverse books can fill the need for an eloquent response, can provide representation, and can help develop empathy. She believes books can provide characters of color that children can look up to. And most importantly, all people need to read about diversity and tolerance. Because empathy doesn’t just happen, it must be learned, and children’s books can help.

We discovered throughout the keynote that not only is Oh’s father a beautiful storyteller, but so is her daughter. She recounts an adorable story about wanting a “skinny coat” her daughter shared that made for a very persuasive speech.

“Guard our mouths against our brains.”

Ellen Oh was the opening general session, and the Friday morning opener was Dr. Adolph Brown. He talked about choosing words, as well. Dr. Brown encouraged us to “guard our mouths from our brains.” He spoke of research about how implicit bias can turn into confirmation bias, and then to microaggression. Brown encouraged us to challenge our brain, and in true librarian fashion, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Before the speech, long-serving AASL librarian Hilda K. Weisburg approached and introduced herself to Dr. Brown’s alter ego. Brown connected instantly with Hilda, who represents some of the best traits of our profession.

Dr. Brown had a great mentor in his grandfather. There are so many quotable quotes from this keynote. His granddad’s three Rs for getting smart, “Read, Read, and Read.”  Another quote, “live every day like it was your last because one day, you are going to be right!” A powerful message from Brown’s granddad was about “good people.” Dr. Brown mentioned that his research writing is clear that “sometimes really good people say really stupid things and that one racist statement does not a racist make.”

Dr. Adolph Brown III

After quoting Freud regarding positive and negative energy, Brown referenced a book published in 1983 by Joyce Landorf Heatherley titled Balcony People. Simply defined, “the balcony people are able to rise above the stuff.” The importance of surrounding ourselves with people who will lift us up is emphasized at the same time we should understand that the “basement people” are simply folks who haven’t unpacked their stuff. We are all encouraged to do some “me work” and unpack the “invisible backpack” of our own past pain and trauma.

I left both Oh and Brown’s sessions with an inspired spirit. I am ready to seek words of eloquence, find my balcony people, and do the “me work” so that I can serve and provide for my students the best this world has to offer!


Author: Hannah Byrd Little

I’m a dedicated Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle, leveraging my background in higher education libraries to guide students through the crucial transition from school to college and beyond.

I am honored to have served as the AASL Chair for the Independent School Section in 2023 and am excited to begin my upcoming role as Director-At-Large for the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) later this year, following my previous experience as a Member Guide in the AASL Emerging Leaders program. These appointments reflect my commitment to advancing library education and professional development on a national scale.

With experience in state-level leadership through the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL), including serving as TASL President in 2012, I bring a wealth of knowledge to my role. My educational background includes certifications as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, a Bachelor of Science in Communications (Advertising & Public Relations), a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies (Education & Information Systems), and a Master’s in Library and Information Science.

Categories: AASL National Conference, Blog Topics, Community, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

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