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Native Realities

Native Realities logoA lit­er­ary super­hero him­self and an indige­nous leg­endary com­ic cre­ator, a pro­po­nent of Native Pop Cul­ture, and cre­ator of a new Native pub­lish­ing ven­ture, I am excit­ed to intro­duce to you Dr. Lee Fran­cis IV and his pub­lish­ing house, Native Real­i­ties.

What kind of press is this? Think Comics, books, inter­ac­tive. Native Amer­i­can authors and artists. Think Indige­nous Com­ic Con.

This new pub­lish­ing house is an indige­nous imag­i­na­tion com­pa­ny ded­i­cat­ed to pro­duc­ing high qual­i­ty media that dra­mat­i­cal­ly changes the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of native and indige­nous peo­ple through pop­u­lar cul­ture.

Native Real­i­ties pub­lish­es books and comics fea­tur­ing super­hero tales of indige­nous icons, First Nations free­dom fight­ers, Abo­rig­i­nal astro­nauts, and Native Amer­i­can super­heroes. In addi­tion to edit­ing and con­tribut­ing a sto­ry to the graph­ic anthol­o­gy Tales of the Mighty Code Talk­ers, Dr. Lee Fran­cis is the author of the comics Sixkiller, Native Entre­pre­neurs, and the upcom­ing Moon­shot Vol.3.

Native Realities books

Dr. Lee Francis IV

Dr. Lee Fran­cis IV

Dr. Lee Fran­cis is also the founder of Indige­nous Com­ic Con, now a nation-wide event that was held this sum­mer in Den­ver, Col­orado, and will be in Albu­querque in March 2020.  Indige­nous Com­ic Con high­lights and cel­e­brates the imag­i­na­tive new pop-lit­er­a­ture being cre­at­ed by young Native artists and authors. Lit­er­a­ture pre­sent­ed in comics is acces­si­ble, fun, sur­pris­ing, and chal­lenges past stereo­typ­ing. Native Real­i­ties has brought the indige­nous expe­ri­ence to the world of pop­u­lar cul­ture and to read­ers of all ages.

Dr. Lee Fran­cis IV was born in Vir­ginia as an only child, from a remark­able fam­i­ly, who were and con­tin­ue to be lead­ers and activists in pol­i­tics, cul­ture, and lit­er­ary arts. Lee’s father, Elias Lee Fran­cis III, was the founder of the Word­craft Cir­cle of Native Writ­ers and Sto­ry­tellers. Lee’s grand­moth­er, Ethel Haines, was of Lagu­na Pueblo / Anishi­naabe and Scot­tish descent. His aunt, Paula Gunn Allen, was a schol­ar of both Eng­lish and Amer­i­can Indi­an lit­er­a­ture, a pro­fes­sor at UCLA, and one of the fore­most voic­es in Native Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture. And Leslie Mar­mon Silko is Lee’s Lagu­na cousin. 

Dr. Lee Fran­cis IV car­ries on the spir­it of his fam­i­ly in many ways, espe­cial­ly inno­v­a­tive ways that speak to young read­ers. I was for­tu­nate to meet with Lee at Red Plan­et Books and Comics in Albu­querque and ask him a few ques­tions:

What was the pas­sion that gave you the courage to form a brand new press?

The pas­sion was real­ly about my stu­dents. I want­ed them to have dynam­ic and pos­i­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Native peo­ple in the media they were engag­ing in. I want­ed them to see them­selves in the comics they were read­ing. I want­ed to cul­ti­vate their imag­i­na­tions and I was tired of wait­ing around for some one else to do it. So I start­ed pub­lish­ing.

What is most reward­ing about being a pub­lish­er? 

Being able to explore top­ics and ideas no one else is writ­ing about. Being able to see a fin­ished prod­uct, to hold it in my hands, to see some­one else tak­ing a copy home for their own library. Most reward­ing, indeed!

What are your chal­lenges as a pub­lish­er? 

Always dis­tri­b­u­tion. As Native folks, we are incred­i­bly cre­ative but there are still gate­keep­ers that con­trol access to the mar­ket.  

What are your visions and hopes for the future of your press?  

More books, more pub­li­ca­tions. We’d like to branch into toys and espe­cial­ly more games — table­top and role­play­ing!

 Who do you hope is read­ing and talk­ing about your books? 

Real­ly, every­one! Oprah? Oba­ma? Influ­encers of every sort? LOL. But seri­ous­ly, my hope is always that Native kid­dos and Native fam­i­lies are read­ing and talk­ing about our books and how they have impact­ed them in a pos­i­tive way. (But Oprah would be very cool.)

Tell us about a few of your recent pub­li­ca­tions and why they are unique.  

Deer WomanDeer Woman: An Anthol­o­gy is the only graph­ic anthol­o­gy com­plete­ly cre­at­ed by Native women. Native Entre­pre­neurs is a fun com­ic and entre­pre­neur work­book rolled into one. Ghost Riv­er (Decem­ber 1 release) is an incred­i­ble his­to­ry and teach­ing graph­ic nov­el about the mas­sacre of the Con­esto­ga peo­ple in Penn­syl­va­nia. Very proud of all the things we have worked on over the years.

How does one order books from Native Real­i­ties? 

You can find all our books as well as many more through Red Plan­et Books and Comics.We have lots of great titles and have begun to focus on dis­trib­ut­ing Native-cen­tric, Native-authored con­tent (books and comics) for insti­tu­tions.

For fur­ther read­ing, enjoy Cyn­thia Leitich Smith’s inter­view with Dr. Lee Fran­cis IV

or “The Stan Lee of Indi­an Coun­try: Comics Pub­lish­er Dr. Lee Fran­cis,” pub­lished by Indi­an Coun­try Today.

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Penny Candy Books

Imag­ine walk­ing into an old-time dry-goods store.  Hear the wood­en floor squeak.  Peer through the glass case at the won­drous dis­play of pen­ny can­dy.  Close your eyes and taste your favorite … root beer bar­rels,  red-wax lips, ropes of red licorice.

Penny Candy BooksInstead of sug­ary sweets, Pen­ny Can­dy Books offers a selec­tion of books that delight, engage, and chal­lenge.  Their books reflect today’s glob­al con­cerns.  Pen­ny Candy’s vision is to work with a vari­ety of authors and illus­tra­tors to offer impor­tant sto­ries well told by a diver­si­ty of voic­es. Found­ed in 2015 by poets Alex­is Org­era and Chad Reynolds, Pen­ny Can­dy released its first title in the fall of 2016.  Pen­ny Can­dy’s imprint, Pene­lope Edi­tions, released its first title in Jan­u­ary 2017.

I asked Chad Reynolds, head of mar­ket­ing, to describe the vision of this new press.  I was struck with how sev­er­al of his phras­es echoed how I would describe their wide vari­ety of books: “few words, impor­tant ideas … small press, big con­ver­sa­tions … not afraid to take risks … an engaged world view.”  As stat­ed on the Pen­ny Can­dy web­site, we will not exclude any­one from our cat­a­log, we focus on under­rep­re­sent­ed, unheard, or for­got­ten voic­es.

Tell us about a few of your recent pub­li­ca­tions and why they are unique.

HedyPCB: We are very proud of our Spring 2019 cat­a­log. We have five titles that touch on a vari­ety of sub­jects, such as Hedy Lamar­r’s work as an inven­tor; how a lit­tle girl feels when her grand­moth­er in India dies; a book about a boy with a phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ty; anoth­er one about depor­ta­tion; and a friend­ship book using com­pound words to tell a sto­ry. The “com­pound book,” Be/Hold: A Friend­ship Book,” feels both utter­ly unlike any­thing I’ve seen and also very famil­iar.

Intrigued, I asked Chad addi­tion­al ques­tions:

What is the pas­sion that gives you the courage to cre­ate and pub­lish books?

PCB: We were inspired by a series of op-eds in the New York Times sev­er­al years ago by Wal­ter Dean Myers and his son Christo­pher, who called out the lack of diver­si­ty in chil­dren’s lit. We want­ed to be part of a grow­ing num­ber of pub­lish­ers who val­ue real diver­si­ty and who want to have con­ver­sa­tions around that. It’s been grat­i­fy­ing and encour­ag­ing to see the enthu­si­as­tic respons­es our titles have been get­ting – and I don’t just mean sales.

A Card for My FatherFor exam­ple, when Saman­tha Thorn­hill vis­it­ed a school in D.C. to dis­cuss her book about a child who does­n’t know her father because he’s incar­cer­at­ed, there was one child in par­tic­u­lar who was real­ly engaged in the con­ver­sa­tion. Appar­ent­ly, this child had nev­er opened up, was always reserved and with­drawn, and in fact often got in trou­ble for pick­ing fights and talk­ing back. But when Sam vis­it­ed, he opened up and after­wards shared he could empathize with the main char­ac­ter because he too had vis­it­ed his father in prison and it was a scary place. It’s sto­ries like this that give us the pas­sion to cre­ate and pub­lish books.

What do you want librar­i­ans and teach­ers to know about your vision of a good book? 

Henry, the BoyPCB: We think our mot­to — small press, big con­ver­sa­tions — does a nice job of cap­tur­ing what our books are about. We want to remem­ber who our main audi­ence is — kids.  We want our books to spark big con­ver­sa­tions between kids and adults about time­ly, impor­tant top­ics. We feel that our titles — whether they be about parental incar­cer­a­tion, a boy with a phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ty, or the impor­tance of see­ing past stereo­types — will be a won­der­ful tool in many set­tings.

Also our aes­thet­ic is inten­tion­al­ly dif­fer­ent from most press­es. Our cus­tom­ary trim size at 6.5″ W by 8.5″ tall is a bit small­er than most pic­ture books because we want peo­ple to see a book and say, oh there’s a new Pen­ny Can­dy title! We don’t require our books to be a cer­tain page length — some have been 36 pages and oth­ers are up to 68! We don’t require peo­ple to sub­mit via agents. We want to cast a wide net, to give peo­ple out­side the nor­mal chan­nels a chance to let us fall in love with the sto­ries they’ve cre­at­ed.

We aren’t afraid to take risks.

What are your visions and hopes for the future of children’s lit­er­a­ture?

PCB: I think chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture is bet­ter than it’s ever been. We’re in a good moment, with the #own­voic­es move­ment offer­ing some pro­found sto­ries and per­spec­tives and with the high qual­i­ty of pic­ture books, mid­dle grade, and young adult nov­els. I think kid-lit has always had a vital role in deliv­er­ing hard truths to kids in ways they can under­stand. Think Aesop’s Fables or Grimms’ fairy tales or the work of Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­sen. I think kid-lit can remain rel­e­vant if it helps chil­dren make sense of their world — and there’s a lot to make sense of now. 

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Pie and Gratitude

Novem­ber is a month of grat­i­tude — and, for us, a month to cel­e­brate Pie. We all have a favorite. Many of us have child­hood mem­o­ries of good times and pie. We all wait for the days when we can eat pie for break­fast. So we two thought this would be the per­fect month to look at pic­ture books about pie. We so con­sis­tent­ly think of pie in Novem­ber that we also reviewed pie books last year. But we have a cou­ple of new ones this year. And who can think of pie too often?

How to Make an Apple PieWe want to start with the clas­sic—How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Mar­jorie Price­man (Drag­on­fly, 1994). We both love this book, love the idea of teach­ing geog­ra­phy through pie. If you want to make an apple pie and the mar­ket is closed what can you do? Well, you can go to Italy for wheat for your pie crust, France for an egg, Sri Lan­ka for cin­na­mon. Pick up a cow in Eng­land and on and on until you have col­lect­ed the ingre­di­ents for the pie. The two-page spread show­ing the mak­ing of the pie is charm­ing. And the last spread of shar­ing pie with friends — and the cow, the chick­en, a dog and cat is enough to make you want to get out and make a pie. And of course the book includes a recipe for an apple pie.

How to Make a Cherry PiePrice­man did anoth­er book—How to Make Cher­ry Pie and See the U.S.A. (Knopf, 2008) — which focus­es not on ingre­di­ents, but tools involved in pie mak­ing — pothold­ers, pie pan, rolling pin. It fea­tures the same spright­ly illus­tra­tion style and the same inde­fati­ga­ble char­ac­ter who will go to any lengths for pie.

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie by Rob­bin Gour­ley (Clar­i­on, 2000) is a “pie-shaped” sto­ry fea­tur­ing one of the stars of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry food world — African Amer­i­can writer and chef, Edna Lewis. The book fol­lows the child Edna through­out the sea­sons as she enjoys and com­ments on the foods that come with each. Spring brings wild straw­ber­ries and for­aged greens. Each sea­son also fea­tures a rhyme from Edna:

But I have nev­er tast­ed meat,
nor cab­bage, corn, or beans,
nor milk or tea that’s half as sweet
as that first mess of greens.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a PieSum­mer is hon­ey from the bees, cher­ries, berries and peach­es. “Six per­fect peach­es make a per­fect pie.” And then of course, toma­toes, corn, and beans. This is a book to get read­ers think­ing about foods and sea­sons. In a time when we can buy toma­toes and peach­es all year long, it’s good to remem­ber the best fruits and veg­eta­bles are the ones we find in their sea­sons.

When apple sea­son comes Edna’s poem reads:

Don’t ask me no ques­tions,
an’ I won’t tell you no lies.
But bring me some apples,
an’ I’ll make you some pies.

We learn in an Author’s Note that in her writ­ings Edna Lewis extolled the virtues of “pre­serv­ing tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of grow­ing and prepar­ing food and of bring­ing ingre­di­ents direct­ly from the field to the table … For Edna, the goal was to coax the best fla­vor from each ingre­di­ent, and the reward was the taste and sat­is­fac­tion of a deli­cious meal.”

Pie is for SharingPart of the sat­is­fac­tion of a deli­cious meal is in the shar­ing. And that is dou­bly true for pie. If we should ever for­get that and dream of eat­ing a whole pie all by our­selves Stephanie Pars­ley Led­yard and Jason Chin have writ­ten a book to jolt us back to com­mu­ni­ty—Pie is for Shar­ing (Roar­ing Brook, 2018). “Pie is for shar­ing,” this book begins. And we see kids and fam­i­lies gath­er­ing for a pic­nic. The best part is that the kids are all col­ors, all eth­nic­i­ties, and they are play­ing and eat­ing pie togeth­er. No one stands alone. No one is exclud­ed. They also share books, balls, even trees. They laugh and swim and build sand cas­tles. They are a flock of friends on a sum­mer day togeth­er.

This cel­e­bra­tion of pie and com­mu­ni­ty ends with, “Many can share one light. /And a blanket?/A breeze?/The sky?/These are for sharing./Just like pie.”

Gator PieShar­ing pie is the prob­lem and the solu­tion in Gator Pie by Louise Math­ews (illus­trat­ed by Jeni Bas­sett, pub­lished by Dodd, Mead 1979). We hope you can find this book. It is a charm­ing math les­son told with pie. Alvin and Alice are alli­ga­tor friends who hap­pen to find a pie “on a table near the edge of the swamp. /It was a whole pie that had not been cut. /’ I won­der what kind it is,’ said Alice. /’Let’s eat it and find out!’ cried Alvin.” But before they can cut it, an alli­ga­tor “with a nasty look in his eye” stomps up and demands some pie. They real­ize they will have to cut the pie into three pieces. Then comes anoth­er gator — four pieces. And four gators show up, “swag­ger­ing like gang­sters.” We see a pie cut into eight pieces. Then more gators — a hun­dred in all. Very tiny pieces of pie. Alice cuts the pie into one hun­dred pieces and you’d think that would be the end, but Alvin has an idea…

Per­haps we can tell this is an old­er book because it’s Alvin who’s in charge here. Alice could have had that brain­storm and if we were writ­ing this book now, she would. Still they are good friends, the math is fun, and so is end­ing up with a pie for two friends to share.

This month let’s be grate­ful for friends, for inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty in a world rat­tled with oth­er­ing, and for the chance to make and eat pie.

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Do Over

The notion of a “do-over” is alive and well on school play­grounds across the coun­try. Ask any recess super­vi­sor and they will con­firm this. You hear it being request­ed on four-square courts, under bas­ket­ball hoops, and on foot­ball fields… “Awwww, that should be a do-over!” Kids know that some­times you just need anoth­er chance to get it right.

As an edu­ca­tor with near­ly three decades of teach­ing expe­ri­ence, one might think that by this point in my career, my wish-list for “do-overs” in the class­room would be get­ting small­er and small­er. Yet, the truth is, it’s the exact oppo­site. That list of teach­ing regrets, what I wish I could “do over,” con­tin­ues to grow. You see, as I become old­er and wis­er, I real­ize more than ever the impor­tance of reflec­tion. Whether I am pon­der­ing the effec­tive­ness of my lessons, exam­in­ing for­mal or infor­mal data, or spec­u­lat­ing on my abil­i­ty to be proac­tive ver­sus reac­tive, I find myself feel­ing like a 4th grad­er on the play­ground, plead­ing for a chance to do it over.

Do Over

This school year I’ve been giv­en an incred­i­ble oppor­tu­ni­ty to raise my racial con­scious­ness and learn what it means to become an inter­rupter of racial inequal­i­ty. My school dis­trict invests heav­i­ly in pro­mot­ing this unique and very nec­es­sary form of pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment. (See more infor­ma­tion below.)

As part of my racial equi­ty jour­ney, I am writ­ing my “racial auto­bi­og­ra­phy.” The ulti­mate goal for com­pos­ing this per­son­al nar­ra­tive cen­tered on race is to dis­rupt the cur­rent state of affairs by elim­i­nat­ing the racial pre­dictabil­i­ty of the achieve­ment gap. My per­son­al goal in writ­ing a racial auto­bi­og­ra­phy is to pos­i­tive­ly impact how I approach my role as a cul­tur­al­ly respon­sive edu­ca­tor. With­in this pro­gram, I’ve dis­cov­ered that cre­at­ing and shar­ing per­son­al racial iden­ti­ties is an effec­tive way for edu­ca­tors to pro­mote a greater under­stand­ing of our col­lec­tive racial expe­ri­ences. It pro­vides a chance for us to engage in coura­geous con­ver­sa­tions cen­tered on race.

Brian's SongIn writ­ing about my life in terms of race, I’ve dis­cov­ered that until my senior year of high school, the inter­ac­tions I had with peo­ple of col­or were only through books and movies. Grow­ing up in Dubuque, Iowa, it wasn’t until I plopped down in front of the TV in Novem­ber 1971, for the ABC Movie of the Week, that I met a black per­son for the very first time. I was eight years old when I watched the tear-jerk­er about can­cer-strick­en Bri­an Pic­co­lo and his team­mate, Gale Say­ers. Brian’s Song depicts the expe­ri­ences of two Chica­go Bears foot­ball play­ers who became the first racial­ly inte­grat­ed room­mates in the NFL. Sit­ting next to my old­er broth­er who just want­ed to watch a foot­ball movie about his favorite team, the sto­ry cap­tured my atten­tion for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons. I was full of ques­tions as my racial con­scious­ness was stirred. My child­hood naiveté about race left me won­der­ing why it was such a big deal for a white man and a black man, play­ers on the same team, to share a room. I was curi­ous and con­fused. After the movie end­ed, I could not stop think­ing about the friend­ship between the two men.

The sto­ry of Pic­co­lo and Say­ers stayed with me. What for some was an ordi­nary week­ly TV-watch­ing expe­ri­ence, this movie remains one of the most vivid mem­o­ries from my child­hood.  I recall going to the pub­lic library five years lat­er as a junior high stu­dent to check out the book I Am Third by Gale Say­ers. As a teenag­er I had begun hear­ing about and wit­ness­ing more exam­ples of big­otry and stereo­types, racism, in sub­tle and not so sub­tle ways. I want­ed to get to know this man of col­or who I had encoun­tered years ear­li­er. It wasn’t until just a few months ago that the sig­nif­i­cance of that Tues­day evening in 1971 would be ful­ly under­stood. In writ­ing my racial auto­bi­og­ra­phy, I dis­cov­ered that this ini­tial expo­sure to peo­ple who were intent on inter­rupt­ing racial injus­tice con­tributed in pro­found ways to my racial con­scious­ness.

So what does want­i­ng a “do-over” have to do with my racial auto­bi­og­ra­phy? My desire to have anoth­er chance stems from the real­iza­tion that, as an edu­ca­tor, I missed out on far too many oppor­tu­ni­ties to cre­ate crit­i­cal lit­er­ary expe­ri­ences, as well as lived ones, that were focused on racial aware­ness and racial equi­ty. The idea of teach­ing about “white priv­i­lege” in an explic­it way was bare­ly on my radar. My class­room was filled with most­ly white stu­dents for years, yet I did lit­tle to help those kids learn about and appre­ci­ate oth­ers who not only looked dif­fer­ent but expe­ri­enced life in a much dif­fer­ent way. Yes, there were sto­ries about Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., Ruby Bridges, and Rosa Parks and there were lots of books brought out for Black His­to­ry Month. How­ev­er, now I see that those min­i­mal efforts actu­al­ly may have done more harm than good. By iso­lat­ing the teach­ing and learn­ing about peo­ple of col­or to just a few indi­vid­u­als and one month out of the entire school year, what mes­sage was I send­ing to kids?

If I had to do it all over again, I would be inten­tion­al in my teach­ing about race, racism, and white priv­i­lege. In a class­room full of six-year-olds, I would seize oppor­tu­ni­ties to talk with kids about these issues. I would devote time to help­ing my stu­dents gain an appre­ci­a­tion for racial equi­ty by explor­ing the need to embrace diver­si­ty in peo­ple, thoughts, and approach­es to prob­lem-solv­ing. We would learn about how talk­ing about race and work­ing towards social jus­tice ben­e­fits every­one. As for­mer Spel­man Col­lege Pres­i­dent Bev­er­ly Daniel Tatum puts it, “It’s not just under­stand­ing somebody’s heroes and hol­i­days.”

As a white, female edu­ca­tor, I rep­re­sent the demo­graph­ic of approx­i­mate­ly 75% of pub­lic school teach­ers in this coun­try. Since do-overs are much eas­i­er to come by on the school play­ground than they are in our class­rooms, I invite all who read this essay to join me in my effort to get it right from here on out. Let’s embrace the oppor­tu­ni­ty for learn­ing and teach­ing about racial aware­ness in order to address the urgent need for racial equi­ty in today’s world.

Resources

I offer this list of resources to help you with your racial equi­ty teach­ing and learn­ing jour­ney:

Be a ChangemakerWhat I’m read­ing with kids

A is for Activist by Innosan­to Nagaro

Heart and Soul: The Sto­ry of Amer­i­ca and African Amer­i­cans by Kadir Nel­son

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Be a Change­mak­er: How to Start Some­thing That Mat­ters by Lau­rie Ann Thomp­son

What I’m read­ing for per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment

Born a CrimeBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah

Just Mer­cy: A Sto­ry of Jus­tice and Redemp­tion by Bryan Steven­son

Wak­ing Up White and Find­ing Myself in the Sto­ry of Race by Deb­by Irv­ing

The mis­sion: Putting more books fea­tur­ing diverse char­ac­ters into the hands of all chil­dren. Vis­it We Need Diverse Books.

The vision: A world in which all chil­dren can see them­selves in the pages of a book.

More infor­ma­tion about Glenn Sin­gle­ton and Coura­geous Con­ver­sa­tions.

To learn more about writ­ing your racial auto­bi­og­ra­phy, check out this link.

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?Author of the book, Why Are All The Black Kids Sit­ting Togeth­er in the Cafe­te­ria? Bev­er­ly Daniel Tatum offers insights on col­or blind­ness, racial stereo­types, and the media in this PBS inter­view.

60+ Resources for Talk­ing to Kids About Racism” by Lorien Van Ness, pro­vides a lists of books and activ­i­ties to help adults begin the dia­logue, start­ing with birth to three-year-olds.

An exten­sive list com­piled by The Wash­ing­ton Post, offer­ing arti­cles, resources, and research, “Teach­ing about race, racism and police vio­lence: Resources for edu­ca­tors and par­ents.”

More about the St. Louis Park (Min­neso­ta) Equi­ty Coach­ing Pro­gram

Every edu­ca­tor in St. Louis Park schools works one-on-one with an Equi­ty Coach, who offers sup­port, resources, and train­ing in a num­ber of ways. Through con­ver­sa­tions, work­shops, obser­va­tions and coach­ing, teach­ers learn about the impor­tance of rais­ing their racial con­scious­ness in an effort to dis­rupt sys­temic racism.

 

In Sep­tem­ber, 2013, the St. Louis Park School Dis­trict start­ed a pro­gram called Equi­ty Coach­ing to help address the achieve­ment gap and to improve edu­ca­tion­al equal­i­ty in its schools. Grant funds from the state-spon­sored Qual­i­ty Com­pen­sa­tion (Q Comp) grant (also known as ATPPS; Alter­na­tive Teacher Pro­fes­sion­al Pay Sys­tem) help fund the Equi­ty Coach ini­tia­tive.

The Equi­ty Coach­ing blog fur­ther describes the St. Louis Park Schools Equi­ty Coach­ing Mod­el:  “Sys­temic racial equi­ty change tran­spires when edu­ca­tors are giv­en the space and sup­port to crit­i­cal­ly reflect on their own racial con­scious­ness and prac­tice. Equi­ty coach­ing pro­vides sus­tained dia­logue in a trust­ing envi­ron­ment to inter­rupt the pres­ence of racism and white­ness. Using Coura­geous Con­ver­sa­tions Pro­to­col, tenets of Crit­i­cal Race The­o­ry, and instruc­tion­al coach­ing meth­ods, edu­ca­tors, and coach­es engage in this.”

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Windows, Mirrors, Sliding Glass Doors, and Maps

There seems lit­tle chance of devel­op­ing the humil­i­ty so urgent­ly need­ed for world coöper­a­tion, instead of world con­flict, as long as our chil­dren are brought up on gen­tle dos­es of racism through their books.” —Nan­cy Lar­rick

When chil­dren can­not find them­selves reflect­ed in the books they read, or when the images they see are dis­tort­ed, neg­a­tive or laugh­able, they learn a pow­er­ful les­son about how they are deval­ued in the soci­ety of which they are a part.” —Rudine Sims Bish­op

Per­haps this exclu­siv­i­ty, in which chil­dren of col­or are at best back­ground char­ac­ters, and more often than not absent, is in fact part of the imag­i­na­tive aspect of these books. But what it means is that when kids today face the real­i­ties of our world, our glob­al economies, our inte­gra­tions and over­lap­pings, they all do so with­out a prop­er map. They are nav­i­gat­ing the streets and avenues of their lives with an inad­e­quate, out­dat­ed chart, and we won­der why they feel lost.” —Christo­pher Myers

Three pro­found quotes, all con­tem­plat­ing the trou­bling real­i­ty of the pre­dom­i­nant­ly white world of children’s lit­er­a­ture. These quotes appeared in three sep­a­rate arti­cles that were writ­ten decades apart in 1965, 1990 and 2014, respec­tive­ly. It has been more than 50 years since Nan­cy Lar­rick penned “The All White World of Children’s Books.” And then, 25 years lat­er, Rudine Sims Bish­op addressed the same trav­es­ty in her arti­cle “Mir­rors, Win­dows and Slid­ing Glass Doors.” Skip ahead anoth­er two dozen years and we hear from Christo­pher Myers when he dis­cuss­es “The Apartheid of Children’s Lit­er­a­ture.” It is a sad real­i­ty that so lit­tle progress has been made over so many years.

bk_courageeousconversationsYet, I am com­pelled to feel opti­mistic. I have sin­cere hopes and dreams that big­ger change is pos­si­ble. One rea­son for this pos­i­tiv­i­ty comes from the invest­ment and effort my new school dis­trict has made towards racial equi­ty and pro­mot­ing the equi­ty jour­neys of every dis­trict employ­ee. The two-day “Beyond Diver­si­ty” work­shop I recent­ly attend­ed, based on the work of Glenn Sin­gle­ton and his book Coura­geous Con­ver­sa­tions About Race, was one of the most pow­er­ful “back to school” pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment ses­sions I have ever expe­ri­enced. Sim­ply put, race mat­ters, and so do our dis­cus­sions, beliefs, feel­ings, thoughts, and actions relat­ed to race. 

Emmanuel's DreamSo how do I grap­ple with the cur­rent real­i­ty, my role as a white woman work­ing in class­rooms with a mix­ture of pre­cious brown, black, and white faces, eager to share a side of children’s lit­er­a­ture that hon­ors each and every one of them? We are in our sec­ond week of school, estab­lish­ing class­room com­mu­ni­ties, dis­cussing our hopes and dreams. I pull out a trea­sured book, one that packs a pow­er­ful mes­sage about the impor­tance of not let­ting dis­abil­i­ties become inabil­i­ties. A true sto­ry that deliv­ers an uplift­ing mes­sage of brav­ery, respect, deter­mi­na­tion and love. As I read the first few pages of Emmanuel’s Dream by Lau­rie Ann Thomp­son, the lit­tle guy right in front of me asks the ques­tion, “Hey, how come every­one in that book looks like me?.” I dream of a day when this expe­ri­ence, the shar­ing of a pic­ture book filled with chil­dren and adults of col­or, does not prompt a child, any child, to feel this is an unusu­al occur­rence, but rather one that is com­mon­place and expect­ed.  

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Books for My Grandbaby and Me

Reading to my GrandbabyIt’s no secret that I am a big fan of books and read­ing. I am actu­al­ly an even big­ger fan of babies. I am instant­ly smit­ten. I can think of noth­ing bet­ter than cud­dling an infant, blan­ket­ed by that new baby smell, read­ing to an audi­ence of one. You can imag­ine how thrilled I am to announce that there’s a new baby in town! My incred­i­ble daugh­ter-in-law and son are cel­e­brat­ing the joy of tran­si­tion­ing from lov­ing cou­ple to lov­ing fam­i­ly and I am a first-time grand­ma.

A sweet, lit­tle baby boy (well actu­al­ly, not so lit­tle, with a birth weight of 11 lbs. 12 oz. and length of 24”) to bounce on my knee as we cre­ate read­ing mem­o­ries togeth­er! I’ve looked for­ward to shar­ing my pas­sion for lit­er­a­cy with a pre­cious grand­ba­by for a very long time. And so, with my heart full of  more love than I ever thought pos­si­ble, I will set­tle into this esteemed and hon­or­able role as grand­ma by reach­ing for a trea­sured stack of books. Care­ful­ly select­ed books that will begin a life­long adven­ture of dis­cov­ery, won­der, snug­gles, and joy. Books filled with lessons for my grand­ba­by and me!   

Book and Les­son #1: On The Day You Were Born
Books help us cel­e­brate and learn.

On tThe per­fect first book to share with my grand­ba­by offers this sweet greet­ing: “Wel­come to the spin­ning world… We are so glad you’ve come.” Debra Frasier’s love­ly pic­ture book will, with­out a doubt, become a tra­di­tion for us. The mir­a­cle of nature explains the mir­a­cle of a very spe­cial baby’s entrance into the world. Each year on the anniver­sary of his birth, we will mar­vel at the uni­verse as it is depict­ed in page after page of charm­ing nature col­lages. An extra­or­di­nary book to com­mem­o­rate an extra­or­di­nary event in our lives!   

Book and Les­son #2: More! More! More! Said the Baby
Books help us cher­ish mem­o­ries from the past and cre­ate new ones.

More! More! More! Said the BabyLit­tle Guy, Lit­tle Pump­kin and Lit­tle Bird, tod­dlers from More! More! More! Said the Baby, by Vera B. Williams, bring out the silli­ness and play­ful fun that are essen­tial qual­i­ties for grand­mas and grand­pas. After read­ing this delight­ful sto­ry to my grand­son, I will share anoth­er sto­ry, one about his own dad that I will call “Lit­tle Fish.”  Cen­tered on the mem­o­ry of an ener­getic, not quite two- year- old, I’ll rem­i­nisce and recall the gig­gles and squeal­ing “I do gan, I do gan” as my son jumped off the dock into the lake, again and again. You can bet that each time I read this book it will be grand­ma who pleads for “more, more, more” tum­my kiss­es and toe tick­les!

Book and Les­son #3: Snowy Day
Books help us find new friends.

The Snowy DayIntro­duc­ing my grand­son to a curi­ous lit­tle boy named Peter will be the begin­ning of what I hope will be many friend­ships sprout­ing from the pages of a good book. While read­ing Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, we will get to know an adven­tur­er who loves build­ing smil­ing snow­men and mak­ing snow angels. It won’t be long before my grand­son and I enjoy win­ter days doing the same. And though he will be too young to under­stand the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of this book (con­sid­ered to be the first full col­or pic­ture book fea­tur­ing a child of col­or as the main char­ac­ter), it will always be a reminder to me about the impor­tance of pro­vid­ing a pletho­ra of books with diverse char­ac­ters, books that offer “win­dows and mir­rors,” books filled with friends my grand­ba­by has yet to meet.

Book and Les­son #4: Four Pup­pies
Books help us under­stand life and the world around us.

Four PuppiesThis grandma’s “must read to grand­ba­by book­list” would not be com­plete with­out the book that was my very first per­son­al favorite. As a kinder­garten­er, I fell in love with this clas­sic Lit­tle Gold­en Book. My hope is that my grand­son will delight in the antics of this ram­bunc­tious pack of pups as they learn about the chang­ing sea­sons. Even­tu­al­ly my spe­cial read­ing bud­dy and I will talk about the wise red squir­rel and the pos­i­tive life lessons he pass­es on to his young pro­tégés.    

Book and Les­son #5:
The Lit­tle Mouse, the Red Ripe Straw­ber­ry, and the Big Hun­gry Bear
Books help us have a lit­tle fun.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry BearThis deli­cious sto­ry by Don and Audrey Wood pro­vides anoth­er walk down mem­o­ry lane. It seems like just yes­ter­day when my three-year old preschool­er begged for anoth­er read­ing of this high­ly inter­ac­tive tale. This time around, I plan to wear a pair of Grou­cho fuzzy nose and glass­es as I read it with my grand­ba­by. The cap­ti­vat­ing tale that mix­es a bit of fear, mys­tery, humor, sneak­i­ness and, best of all, shar­ing with oth­ers, will like­ly find a spot on grandbaby’s “read it again” list!

Book and Les­son #6: The I LOVE YOU Book
Books help us express our feel­ings.

The I Love You BookUncon­di­tion­al love is a nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­non for par­ents and grand­par­ents all over the world. The I Love You Book by Todd Parr describes the pow­er­ful, unwa­ver­ing affec­tion that I will for­ev­er feel for this child who has cap­tured my heart. With bright, col­or­ful illus­tra­tions, the mes­sage is sim­ple: I love you whether sil­ly, sad, scared, or brave. I love you whether sleep­ing or not sleep­ing. I love you and I always will, just the way you are!

Once Upon a Time BabyBooks for my grand­ba­by and me will offer a wide range of lessons on all sorts of top­ics. How­ev­er, the great­est gift they will pro­vide is a chance to share mean­ing­ful moments, a chance to relive fond mem­o­ries, a chance to cre­ate new mem­o­ries. Books for my grand­ba­by and me are a gift that will last a life­time, a lega­cy of lit­er­a­cy and love, for my grand­ba­by and me.

Two of my favorite baby lit­er­a­cy gift sites:

I ordered a per­son­al­ized copy of On the Day You Were Born with my grandbaby’s name print­ed on the cov­er and through­out the book.

Adorable t‑shirts for my grand­ba­by, encour­ag­ing lit­er­a­cy and learn­ing

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Dear Peacemakers

In recent weeks, we’ve had many requests for books about anger and fear and con­flict res­o­lu­tion.

Book by BookI was imme­di­ate­ly remind­ed of an excel­lent resource pub­lished in 2010 called Book by Book: an Anno­tat­ed Guide to Young People’s Lit­er­a­ture with Peace­mak­ing and Con­flict Res­o­lu­tion Themes (Car­ol Spiegel, pub­lished by Edu­ca­tors for Social Respon­si­bil­i­ty, now called Engag­ing Schools).

Peace edu­ca­tor Car­ol Spiegel has gath­ered a use­ful, impor­tant, and intrigu­ing-to-read list of 600 pic­ture books and 300 chap­ter books that will spark your imag­i­na­tion and help you find just the right book to use in your class­room, library, or home.

When Sophie Gets AngryAs she says so well, “Sto­ries can gen­tly steal into the lives of young peo­ple and show the way to peace and con­flict res­o­lu­tion. Children’s lit­er­a­ture is rich with such tales. As an exam­ple, pic­ture this. Annie strug­gles with her anger and then she hears about Sophie who gets just as angry. Annie is heart­ened when she learns how Sophie copes. Had some­one tried to talk direct­ly with Annie about ways to deal with anger, Annie may have been defen­sive. This pos­ture was unnec­es­sary when Sophie was being fea­tured.”

Of course, the book Ms. Spiegel is describ­ing is Mol­ly Bang’s book, When Sophie Gets Angry — Real­ly, Real­ly Angry … (and check out the 2015 book When Sophie’s Feel­ings Are Real­ly, Real­ly Hurt).

There is an Index of Book Themes in the back mat­ter that will help you find books with themes such as:

  • Elder­ly, respect for
  • Emo­tion­al lit­er­a­cy: accept­ing lim­i­ta­tions and gifts
  • Explor­ing con­flict: nature of con­flict, con­flict styles
  • Friend­ship, inclu­sion and exclu­sion

You’ll find good books that will be use­ful for your read­ing and dis­cus­sions, such as:

  • First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez, illus by Robert Casil­la (Over­com­ing Obsta­cles, Bul­ly­ing)
  • Why Mos­qui­toes Buzz in People’s Ears by Ver­na Aarde­ma, illus by Leo and Diane Dil­lon (Lis­ten­ing, Rumors or Sus­pi­cion)
  • Prob­a­bly Still Nick Swan­son by Vir­ginia Euw­er Wolff (Accept­ing Lim­i­ta­tions and Gifts, Respect for Elder­ly or Dis­abled, Rumors or Sus­pi­cion)
  • The Reveal­ers by Doug Wil­helm (Bul­ly­ing, Prej­u­dice or Dis­like, Non­vi­o­lent Response)
  • REVOLUTION is Not a Din­ner Par­ty by Ying Chang Com­pes­tine (Non­vi­o­lent Response, Oppres­sion)

Book by Book books

In our cur­rent world, where books have a shelf life of less than five years, you may not read­i­ly find some of these books (because they were pub­lished six or sev­en years ago). Get the book you’re inter­est­ed in on inter­li­brary loan from your pub­lic library, read it, con­sid­er whether it’s impor­tant to have it in your school or class­room library, and then find a used copy online.

The folks at Engag­ing Schools were kind enough to send me two down­load­able PDFs that may help to con­vince you to obtain this book: Table of Con­tents and Sup­ple­men­tal Index. You can order the book from Engag­ing Schools online.

I hope they will update this book … it’s a crit­i­cal ref­er­ence in our unset­tled, grow­ing wis­er, open­ing our minds world.

Seri­ous­ly, you’ll won­der why you don’t already have this ref­er­ence book on your shelf.

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All Different Now

All Different Now

Do you know how some­times your hands hov­er over a book, want­i­ng to open it, sens­ing that this will be an impor­tant book, and you hes­i­tate, want­i­ng to pro­long your inter­ac­tion? I did that, turn­ing All Dif­fer­ent Now this way and that, then exam­in­ing the title page, the jack­et flaps … and final­ly allow­ing myself to read the book.… more
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Gifted: Walk This World

Walk This World: a Cel­e­bra­tion of Life in a Day
Lot­ta Niem­i­nen, a Finnish-born graph­ic design­er and art direc­tor
Big Pic­ture Press, an imprint of Can­dlewick Press, Novem­ber 2013 As you con­sid­er gifts for this hol­i­day sea­son, we sug­gest … (book #2 in our Gift­ed rec­om­men­da­tions) … Vis­it 10 coun­tries in one book! This styl­ish lift-the-flap book is a chal­leng­ing work of art in all the right ways.… more
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Peace

Peace is elu­sive. It is a goal of some peo­ple at some time in some parts of the world. As John Lennon wrote: “Imag­ine no pos­ses­sions / I won­der if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A broth­er­hood of man / Imag­ine all the peo­ple shar­ing all the world …” Is peace pos­si­ble?… more
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