Posts Tagged Activism

Diversity in MG Lit #7: Violence and the Response to it

I am keenly aware as I write this post that we are near the one year anniversary of the Parkland school shooting. It’s such a difficult topic. I wasn’t sure how or whether to address it here. And then I found a book about how six eyewitness survivors of a school shooting navigated their recovery. It’s geared for 12 and up, which puts it at the upper end of the MG range. Still I think the book is well worth a read for anyone who is curious about school shootings and the grief that follows an act of violence. 
It’s called THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENED by Kody Keplinger.
 
 In addition to a very thoughtful take on the school shooting crisis, THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENED has one of the more diverse casts of characters I’ve seen recently. The main character, Lee, identifies herself as asexual, meaning an individual who is is not sexually attracted to either men or women. The other characters are: a religiously observant Christian girl, a non-observant Christian presenting herself in a goth style, a boy whose race was unspecified with parents in prison for addiction, a black boy who is blind, and a Hispanic girl who is a lesbian. The author treats each of these identities as secondary to the main action of the plot but still vital to the identity of the character. If you are looking for an example of “incidental diversity or casual diversity” this is a good choice. 
 
My second recommendation this month is possibly the most uplifting book I’ve read all year. I love it because it’s lively non-fiction. Because it’s engaging and accessible activism.  Because it gives me hope for a kinder yet fiercer future where people of all ages will dig into the work of living more peacefully.  The book is called PUTTING PEACE FIRST: 7 COMMITMENTS TO CHANGE THE WORLD. It takes readers through concrete practical steps that other teens have used to make positive changes in their community. They include things like understanding the root cause of the problem you’d like to change and planning for bumps in the road. The young mentors profiled in this book include: a Muslim girl from California, a white boy from Arizona and one from Iowa, a young woman with cerebral palsy from Minnesota, a male Asian immigrant from Pennsylvania, a black boy from Maryland, a black girl from Georgia. Each one had a story of a specific goal they pursued in their community, from changing the social media culture of their high school to curbing gun violence in their neighborhood.
So many young people are not yet jaded. So many have energy and idealism and lack only mentors and the means to make a change. I’d love to see this book in every middle school and high school where it can have incredible impact. 

Change Makers

We are makers of change.

When we write, when we teach, or when we put books in the hands of kids, we are activists. Every day, we do what we do because we want to affect the kids who read the books we produce. Whether it’s STEM or historical or science fiction or fantasy or slapstick comedy or heart-breaking contemporary, we are agents of change. We are activists from the moment we put words onto paper. Words change lives.

Earlier this month, Kansas State University’s Indigenous Alliance hosted their 2nd annual Indigenous People’s Day. The theme revolved around restorying indigenous narratives through activism. One of the keynote speakers, Dr. Hollie Mackey (Northern Cheyenne) from the University of Oklahoma, talked about activism in education. One of the most striking points Dr. Mackey made was when she talked about her family’s historical connection to the Standing Rock Nation and how, as they were organizing their protests, she felt “a moral obligation to be a part of that.”

On these moral obligations and activism:

“Which all of you understand if you’re Indian educators because it’s the same moral obligation that you feel every time you stand in front of a child. The same moral obligation you feel every time you think about what your purpose is. Because we don’t take it lightly; it is a matter of life and death every time we think about teaching (our kids).”

As a writer, illustrator, teacher, librarian, or a reader of children’s literature, can you relate?

My guess is you can. We do what we do because of that very fundamental message about moral obligations. And we don’t take our purposes lightly. The future stands on our kids’ shoulders. Our purpose as makers of change is to produce content to educate, entertain, inform, and affect kids to make thinkers.  

November is National Native American Heritage Month. Join me in being an activist for change by reading and recommending the work by Native authors—work that provides historical and contemporary perspectives on the Native experience.

My challenge to you is to try at least one book by a Native creator. Celebrate this great body of work produced by Native authors and illustrators. Not only do they provide content that allows young Native populations to see themselves portrayed accurately, but they give non-Natives a glimpse to help better understand authentic Native lives beyond the monomythic version portrayed in mainstream U.S books, media, and culture.

Read. Learn. Share. Familiarize yourself with sovereignty, representation, colonialism, identity, and reconciliation in order to better understand the political and social issues affecting modern indigenous peoples.

Me? I’m going to expand my reading list by exploring Native comics and graphic novels. SUPER INDIAN by Arigon Starr (Kickapoo), CAPTAIN PAIUTE by Theo Tso (Las Vegas Paiute), HERO TWINS by Dale Deforest (Navajo), THREE FEATHERS by Richard Van Camp (Tlicho Dogrib), and the groundbreaking 1996 comic, TRIBAL FORCE, by John Proudstar (Yaqui/Mayan) and Ryan Huna Smith (Chemehuevi/Navajo) are my jumping in points.

Need help finding Native creators and their work? I highly recommend the American Indians In Children’s Literature (AICL) site. Dr. Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo) not only provides critical analysis of indigenous representation in children’s literature but gives a who’s who and what’s what of Native creators. From picture books and comics to middle grade and young adult novels, AICL has you covered.

For comics and graphic novels, I highly suggest checking out Native Realities Press, a relatively new publishing company run by Lee Francis IV (Laguna Pueblo) that is making a creative splash with its exceptional content. Lee has also expanded the Indiginerd experience into a bookstore, Red Planet Books & Comics in downtown Albuquerque, and on November 10-12 will host the second annual Indigenous Comic Con, also in Albuquerque.

Have a productive November! Be a maker of change in everything you do as a reader, creator, teacher, or librarian. Let your own work speak loud and true. Celebrate National Native American Heritage Month and spread the word about Native kidlit.

Kids need these books.

We need these books.