Buy your books from Black-owned bookstores. Here’s a list of them by state. If there’s one near you, please become a regular customer. If not order from one once in a while and have them ship the books to you.
- Support Indie bookstores. Most new voices are first discovered and promoted by indie booksellers. Indie bookstores are a venue for book events for local authors not given a publisher-sponsored tour. And indie bookstores selling books at their cover price are the ones that give an author their full royalty. Those venues on line or elsewhere that offer discounts on books are giving the author less in royalty. Royalties are what make it possible for an author to continue writing.
Donate to BINC. BINC is the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. They provide assistance to booksellers which helps them stay open in the face of difficulty. The assistance includes help with serious medical expenses, eviction prevention, funeral expenses, disaster assistance, domestic violence survival, utility shut-off prevention, and many other things. Donate here. Every little bit helps, especially now when so many book stores are struggling.
Read books from Small Presses. Even the big publishers agree that the most daring and diverse books come out of small, independent, regional, and university presses. If you are a librarian, especially one on a book award committee, please give equal attention to the small press gems from Amistad, Just Us Books, Cinco Punto, Orca, Charlesbridge, Lee & Low, Enchanted Lion, Lerner, , and the many others listed here.
Get involved in small business politics If I could wave a magic wand I’d love to give every neighborhood and town it’s own vibrant independent bookstore. Sadly many people live in a book desert. If that’s your community, spend some time at your town’s council meetings. Ask the local small business association what you can do to bring a bookstore to town, The American Booksellers Association has a small business issues section that offers, state-by-state some suggestions for advocacy for bookstores. This kind of advocacy can be boring and feel far removed from the heat of the moment but if we want Black businesses to flourish in the future we have to lay the groundwork for it now.
Use and promote your public library. Librarians are often at the forefront of advocating for diverse books. If your local library is not as inclusive as you’d like, The American Library Association has materials to help a library conduct a self audit and take steps to diversify the books on the shelf. If the books on your state reading lists and battle of the books lists are not reflecting Black lives, speak up. Librarians choose those lists; they need to hear from you. If they’ve consistently done a good job of serving the Black community—give them that feedback too. Help your library by using it regularly, requesting Black-authored books regularly, and supporting it with your votes when the library levy is on the ballot.
Advocate for a full time teacher-librarian in every public, private, and charter school. Librarians pay a key role in introducing young readers to diverse voices. They also support diverse authors by buying their books. Show up at school board meetings. Pay attention to how school funding is allocated. Make sure there is always budget for diverse books and the librarians who support them.
- Most important of all–Vote. Vote in every election, especially the local ones. Be a well-informed voter, drawing your information from a variety of sources. Be a passionate voter, advocating for free access to the ballot box for all. Speak up when voting abuse happens. And always, always, keep in mind the readers you serve as a parent, teacher, librarian or bookseller. Serve not just your immediate interest but their long term benefit.
Last night, my son asked for something extraordinary. He requested I read him a goodnight story. From my shelves, I pulled out a picture book, The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco. At first glance, this might not seem that unusual.
Except my son is a ninth grade, a newly minted 15-year-old, and I couldn’t more proud. He wasn’t afraid to ask for what he needed– the comforting ritual of a bedtime story read aloud by a parent. He wasn’t embarrassed. His ears didn’t pinken. This wouldn’t have happened pre-COVID. Well, it would have but like six or seven years ago.
This was not an isolated incident.
My oldest son, who graduated from college last year and is a software engineer for a celebrated car company, is back home and after reading some non-fiction, picked up The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman. My son had first read this very book and the rest of His Dark Materials series when he was ten. He said he relished re-reading it even more because “there was so much that I didn’t understand” the first-time round.
My middle son, a 20-year-old, and college sophomore has been asking for back rubs after sitting in his chair digesting his third Zoom class for the day. He also has been introducing us to some of his favorite board games.
In fact, all three of my sons have asked that we play family games at least once a week. Our favorite is definitely Exploding Kittens, which is silly, involves a little strategy and a lot of luck.
I’m not trying to glorify sheltering-in-place. It’s been, at times, incredibly stressful and full of grief. Two of my students have lost their grandparents. Three of my students have been hospitalized. Childhood friends are struggling to recover from COVID-19. My youngest son may have had COVID-19 for a month in March, but at the time we couldn’t get him tested. But I don’t need to tell you of all this woe. We’ve all experienced heartbreak in one form or another, collective grief and loss in many forms.
So I’m really trying not to be a Pollyanna.
But I do feel like COVID-19 has helped me put priorities and values into sharper focus.
Health. Wow. That’s important.
Friends. Community. Books. All Vital.
And it’s clearer than ever before that children’s books are not just for one particular life period. And reading aloud shouldn’t have to stop when you’ve graduated from the HarperCollins I Can Read Level 4. Nope. The pleasure of children’s books are for every season of life. The idea, for example, that you read middle grade just when you’re 8-12 is merely a state of mind.
And as creators of children’s books, it’s especially imperative to embrace this perspective.
Next month, starting on June 15, I’ll be teaching Middle Grade Mastery, a four-week interactive, remote course for the The Children’s Book Academy with Rosie Ahmed (Penguin Random House/Dial Books) and Mira Reisberg (Clearfork/Spork). It’s a class I’ve taught for several years now, and one that I love. We focus on craft and mentor texts. But this year, I plan to remember what I’ve learned from this sheltering in-place. I want to emphasis more reading aloud at any age. And to remember that no one is ever too old for children’s books; they open hearts and minds, pose and answers questions, as well as (perhaps most importantly right now) mend and delight the spirit.
Hillary Homzie is the author of the Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She’s also a contributor to the new Kate the Chemist middle grade series (Philomel Books/Penguin Random House 2020). During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University and in the summer she teaches in the graduate program in childrens’ literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy. She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.
Six months ago if someone had told me I’d be writing a blog post titled “Journaling in the Time of Covid-19” I would have said, “What’s Covid-19?”
We could all start sentences that way now… “Six months ago, if someone had told me…”
“… schools would be closed for months…”
“… I would not see my parents for months …”
“…. Zoom would be part of everyday life…”
“… a mask would be part of my wardrobe…”
“… people would run out of (WHAT?!) toilet paper…”
Times are rapidly changing and that means we are all having new and unforeseen experiences. There’s no better time than now to be journaling. I have written in diaries and journals off and on since this date:
Not long ago, I shared the following story in a Facebook post:
In February of 1977, I was a fifth grader in Westerville, Ohio when the Energy Crisis coincided with weeks of unusually cold weather. Today I found this diary entry from that very strange winter. We were out of school for two weeks and when we returned, we could not go back to our own buildings. Instead, the district utilized the newest buildings with electric heat, and closed the older ones with big fuel oil furnaces. So we went to school half a day, every other day, in order to allow four elementary schools to use the same building. I don‘t recall how long that lasted. I do recall how unsettled I felt.
Okay, here you go. Straight from the mouth of fifth grade me:
Feb. 1, 1977 – No fair! I really don’t think it’s right. For the past month there has been a gas shortage. It’s awful. The weather is down to 20 degrees below zero and sometimes the chill factor is between 40 and 50 below. Our heat is down to 60 degrees inside. School has been closed for 8 days. Don’t people realize children NEED schooling? More than 1,000 workers are laid off. This is a mixed-up world and I wonder if I have to grow up in such a crazy place.
Some of my memories of that winter are fuzzy. Some are crystal clear. I remember sitting in someone else’s desk at someone else’s school building. I was glad my teacher was the one standing in the front of the room, and I was happy that my friends were sitting in the desks around me.
I’m really glad I was keeping a diary during that unusual time in my childhood.
Parents, teachers, librarians, anyone with a young person in their life: Gift a child a blank notebook, an empty journal, or even a diary with a lock and key. Tell them to fill the pages.
“With what?” they will most certainly ask. “With words,” tell them. “With words only you can write.”
Then, help them out with this list of questions that pertain to our current world situation.
Do you miss going to school the usual way?
What do like about having school online?
What’s the best thing about staying at home most of time?
What’s the worst thing about staying at home most of the time?
How do you feel about wearing a mask in public places?
Who do you know that has gotten Covid-19?
Are you worried about getting sick? Are you worried about someone you love getting sick?
What do you think it’s like for people in other countries?
What activities have you missed because of the pandemic? How did you feel about missing them?
What have you done to stay busy while at home?
Who do you miss spending time with?
What is different about the grocery store now? The library? The movie theater? The playground? The street where you live? How you and your family go places?
Journal prompts on many general topics are easily found online. Hopefully, they’ll want to write about more than just life in the time of Covid-19. And, hopefully, like me, they’ll find that journaling is fun.
Here’s a bit from Day 2 of my diary-keeping life, 1975 (third grade grammar and all!)
Who knows? Forty-five years from now, your youngster could be reading from their first journal. All they need to get started is a nudge from someone who cares. (Thanks to Mom for giving me my first diary and apologies for calling out sister Lisa, who was only a first-grader at the time.)