I’m headed toward the Pennsylvania School Library Association conference today, where I’ll get to connect with (and hug!) the people who get books into the hands of those who need them most.
This year, I’m not only on Authors Alley, I’m part of a panel on diversity with authors Maria Andreu and Jeffrey W. Johnston on Saturday, which is both a huge honor and an intense responsibility. Has this issue ever been more important?
Along with topics such as We Need Diverse Books, In Our Own Voices, and Window & Mirrors, we plan on sharing lists of books and activities (which I’ll update here after the conference!) Most importantly, we hope to facilitate a safe environment where attendees feel comfortable discussing topics which often feel, well, uncomfortable.
Because discussion is key. We can’t change anything without talking – and listening – to each other.
The conference’s focus this year is on “curiosity.” In this case, I think we can learn a lot from the children themselves. How many times do we shush someone’s questions, saying it’s “not appropriate to ask such a thing”?
Kids notice. Kids ask. It’s their job.
And it’s our job to answer them.
When our boys were toddlers, we read a story featuring an African American family. About halfway through the book, Alex pointed to an illustration, his forehead crinkled. “Why doesn’t that daddy look like mine?”
There was no malice in his question. He was curious.
“Some books do show Daddies that look like yours,” I answered. “But how do you think Wesley feels (one of his best friends, who is African American) if he never gets to see Daddies that look like his?”
“Oh.” Alex nodded with a smile. “That makes sense.”
And that was it.
Because that does make sense.
People need to see themselves reflected in books to know they’re not alone. And people need windows, to see – and hopefully venture – outside of their own walls: to appreciate, to understand and to connect.
Stop shushing. Start talking. Start sharing.
Children aren’t born with prejudices. They are, however, born with curiosity. They’re born to ask questions. Books can help answer them.
We need diverse books.