Thoughts on Newbery: This Monday’s Announcements

I was delighted to be in the room where it happened (well, where it was announced) this year in Seattle. I was 2nd in line due to the energy of my roommate, the irrepressible Susannah Richards, who — as she does — helped the ALSC and convention center staff — manage the line. Meanwhile, I ate donuts offered by another front-liner, agent Barry Greenblatt, and had some fantastic conversations with members of this year’s Notables committee and others.

Oh, and also was talked into this photo. Why this guy was there, I’m not really sure.

Anyway, the real point was the announcements. Sitting directly behind the committee members (due to my hardworking roommate) was great fun. Having been in their seats, I know how incredibly exciting and moving it is to have your selections announced.

Now as to those selections — a reminder: every committee is made up of a group of individuals. A different group of individuals would probably make a different selection. This year’s committee members worked hard all year and then really hard last weekend to make their decisions. Having been there I know how difficult it is to reach consensus. You have to give up beloved titles to get to those that you all can agree on. So while we observers may be surprised and perhaps disappointed in the results, I urge that we respect those who made them. (A few years ago I wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club that is still relevant: “Top Ten Things You May Not Know About the Newbery Award.”)

While the Newbery winner, Meg Medina’s Merci Suárez Changes Gears, was not among my personal top choices, I had read it with pleasure and think it a terrific choice, one I’d easily have gotten behind if I’d been on the committee. Here’s what I wrote on goodreads last April after reading it:

Lovely spot-on middle grade featuring a close extended Cuban-American family, a realistic middle school, and a warm story. Merci is a delightful character to spend time with along with her friends and family.

Also had read and liked the honors, Veera Hiranandani’s The Night Diary and Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s The Book of Boy.

I was glad some of my personal favorites were recognized in other awards.

  • Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X received the Printz Award, the Pura Belpré Author Award, and an  Odyssey Honor (which is how I experienced the book).
  • Kekla Magoon’s The Season of Styx Malone received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award
  • Jonathan Auxier’s Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster received a Sydney Taylor Book Award
  • Varian Johnson’s The Parker Inheritance received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award and an  Odyssey Honor (narrated by Cherise Booth).

But it was the Children’s Literature Legacy Award that meant the most to me. It was posthumously given to Walter Dean Myers, one of the great men of this tiny word of books for children.



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Thoughts on Newbery: Hopes for 2019

This past year has been an odd one for me in terms of Newbery possibilities. You see, I’m chairing the Boston Globe-Horn Book award committee and we consider books published in an unusual timeframe: June 2018 — May 2019. As a result, I’ve had to focus my attention on books that came out the second part of last year. I did read a number of the earlier ones in ARCs before that, but not as many as I would have otherwise. So with that caveat here are some titles I’d be happy to see recognized a week from tomorrow. (I should also say that, unlike Newbery committee members, there are no restrictions on BG-HB committee members as to stating preferences on social media:)

Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X.  Because this title was not up for my committee (having won last year) and because it seemed above the Newbery age range, my copy sat staring at me for a long time. Finally, because it was a novel in verse celebrating spoken poetry, I decided to listen to it. (I listen to a lot of books as I walk to and from school mostly for adults.) And I was smitten as well as convinced that it was absolutely within the Newbery age-range which is through age 14 which can mean a few days shy of 15. (Interesting to see that Common Sense media puts it at 13+.) The issues in this book are completely within the interest and concerns of upper-range Newbery age readers. Nothing in it is inappropriate or too old for them.

Kekla Magoon’s The Season of Styx Malone. I fell madly in love with this title when I read the ARC last August. I’m now reading it aloud to my 4th graders which makes me appreciate it all the more — the sentence-level writing is a delight, the characters — main and secondary— superbly delineated, and the clever plot riveting. You can read my gushing review of it here.

Jonathan Auxier’s Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster.  BG-HB eligible, but will say I loved it on first reading and agree with all the accolades.

Jarrett J. Kroscoczka’s Hey, Kiddo.  Also eligible for BG-HB so I won’t say much other than I was very impressed with it and will definitely be looking at it more closely when time to consider our choices. As for it being a graphic novel, I’ve become swayed by others over the years as to how to consider the story more than staying rigidly to only the text.

Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Journey of Little Charlie.  While not eligible for the BG-HB I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC and read it last spring. You can read my admiring review here.

Kwame Alexander’s Rebound.  Another not eligible that I was fortunate to read anyway in ARC. I thought the themes, the poetry, and the comics were seamlessly interwoven. I did read elsewhere that there were some factual errors in the ARC and hope those were corrected in the final book.

Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me.  Another eligible for my award and one I admired greatly. Woodson excels at tiny moments and those set in the school range true for me. There was one in the lunchroom where something happened and then the kids moved on that was so real to this teacher. Beautiful.

Kate DiCamillo’s Louisana’s Way Home. Also eligible and also one I will consider seriously come time for our deliberations. DiCamillo is the master of the not-quite-real story. In following discussions on this title over at Heavy Medal it occurred to me that her stories are somewhat like filmmaker Wes Anderson’s — hyper-fable-folk-real-tale. Think The Grand Budapest Hotel. 

Varian Johnson’s The Parker Inheritance.  Another I was fortunate to read early on. Thought I’d reviewed it, but evidently did not. I did blurb it for the author (something I only do if I can be completely honest and I was): The Parker Inheritance is a remarkable and rich book, one that kept me reading late into the night, absorbed and captivated. Fresh, original, timely, it is an outstanding read.” 







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Fabulous Upcoming Conference: “Diverse Voices in Latinx Children’s Literature”

This one-day conference at Bank Street College here in NYC looks amazing and I plan to attend. You can register here.

The Center for Children’s Literature at Bank Street College of Education is thrilled to announce its second mini-conference focusing on Latinx Children’s Literature.  The event will take place this year at Bank Street’s 112th Street address.

Author and illustrator  Duncan Tonatiuh will be our keynote speaker.


Duncan is the recipient of the Pura Belpré and Sibert medals as well as the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. He is the author and illustrator of Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight (Abrams) Amalia Hernández and Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet (Abrams)  The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes (Abrams) as well as many other amazing books!

The conference will be in English and is for Spanish and English speaking librarians, elementary school teachers, publishers, authors and parents who want to expand their knowledge and better serve their populations.

Thanks to KidLit TV portions of the program will also be live streamed.

Registration $55.00


9:00 – 9:30

Breakfast and Registration

9:30 – 9:45

Opening Remarks:

Loida Garcia-Febo, President, American Library Association

9:45 – 10:30

Fantasy and Illustration in Graphic Novels and Comics

Raúl the Third, Lowriders Blast from the Past

Liniers Macanudo, Buenas Noches Planeta

Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, La Borinqueña

Moderator:  Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

10:30 – 11:20

Elevating Our Heroes Through Picture Books

Duncan Tonatiuh, Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México

Raul Colón, Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote

Eric Velasquez, Schomburg: The Man Who Built the Library

Anika Aldamuy Denise, Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and StoryTeller Pura Belpré

Rudy Gutierrez, Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World

Moderator:  Sonia Rodriguez, LaGuardia Community College

11:20– 12:20


Lunch on Your Own

Book Sales

11:45 – 12:20

Author, Book Signing Begins

12:20 – 1:10

Soy yo: Developing Identities & Relationships in Latinx Coming-of-Age Stories

Pablo Cartaya, Marcus Vega Does n’t Speak Spanish

Emma Otheguy, Silver Meadows Summer (tentative)

Angela Dominguez, Stella Diaz Has Something to Say

Hilda Eunice Burgos, Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle

Aida Salazar, The Moon Within

Moderator: Carla España, Hunter College

1:10 – 1:30

Keynote: Duncan Tonatiuh

1:30 – 2:00

Authors Sign Books


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Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility

In 2011 white educator, scholar, and diversity trainer Robin DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility” to describe white folks’ responses to discussions around race, especially when asked to consider their own racism. Now she has taken her long experience and knowledge to create a potent publication: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Crisp, to the point and chock-a-block with useful information, DiAngelo digs deeply and effectively into the difficulties encountered by white people when it comes to white supremacy and this country’s long-unresolved history with race. She unpacks language, defines difficult ideas, presents recent research, addresses triggers, white women’s tears, millennium racism, and more with clarity and accuracy. Especially effective are the anecdotes she provides as they make explicit the ideas she is discussing; these include her own personal experiences, those of friends and acquaintances, and situations that happened during her diversity work. This succinct book, full of food for thought, is one of the best I’ve read by a fellow white person on today’s urgent need for us to deal with our own racism, white supremacy, and what we can do about it.  Highly, highly recommended.


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And Now, Sir Philip Pullman!

Congratulations, Philip!

Author Philip Pullman has said he is “very surprised and honoured” after being awarded a knighthood.

The Oxford-based writer of the His Dark Materials trilogy has been recognised in the New Year Honours for his services to literature.

Pullman, 72, said he was “proud” to be in the company of many people he admired.

Pullman, who studied English at Exeter College, Oxford, is in the middle of writing a new trilogy of novels.

In a statement, he said: “I believe the profession of letters should be recognised as having a proper place in the life of the nation, along with science, and sport, and music, and scholarship, and many other human activities.

From this article.

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Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief Series: An Appreciation

I first encountered Megan Whalen Turner‘s remarkable Eugenides in her 1997 Newbery Honor The Thief.  I was hooked and, since then, have read and reread this title and the following four in The Queen’s Thief series: The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings, and Thick as Thieves. Now, in preparation for the May 2019 publication of The Return of the Thief, the final of the series, I have just finished listening to the first five. While I have reread the books numerous times I had never listened to them and I must say doing so was a treat. Narrator Steve West was outstanding, managing to inhabit the different characters beautifully.

Listening to the books made me regularly sigh in contentment for, among other things, Turner’s plotting is remarkable. I did not listen to these in order, but started with The Queen of Attolia, went on to The King of Attolia and A Conspiracy of Kings before going back to the beginning with The Thief and then finishing up with Thick as Thieves. By doing this, knowing the storylines, I was able to appreciate even more Turner’s assured and shrewd managing of each book’s individual plot along with the overall arc of the series. These are mysteries, thrillers, and smart novels with sneaky twists and turns. Seeing how cleverly Turner seeds her stories, throwing a teeny moment in here or a small clue in there (if you know what you are looking at)  is an incredible pleasure. I suspect after reading the final book I will go back and listen to them all again.

I once asked Turner if she was someone who wrote without knowing where the story was going or someone who planned. She told me she did the latter and I can’t imagine her pulling these books off any other way. What struck me especially when listening to The Thief after several others was how perfect it was as the first in a series. I have no idea if Turner planned the whole series before starting the first book, but whatever she did, the development of characters, politics, and world feels seamless.

Speaking of the fictional world of these stories, her building of it is impeccable. From descriptions of places, garments, and culture, it is completely and consistently believable. One element that listening really elevated for me was the mythic stories that are told throughout the books. In Thick as Thieves, they are from the predatory Mede Empire. These felt inspired by such sagas as Gilgamesh while those in the previous books of Attolia, Sounis, and Eddis seemed more along the lines of Greek mythology.

Something else that came out when listening was Turner’s elegant wordsmithing. After reading and listening to the Harry Potter books I became hyper aware of adverbs. At one point I felt Rowling, having been oft-criticized for her use of them, was overly using them in spite. Since then I’ve been very conscious of authors’ use of adverbs and when they do it well, I cheer. Such is the case with these books; Turner uses adverbs judiciously, purposely, and perfectly. I recommend looking at these if you want a lesson on how to use them well. Also, there is the way she uses figurative language. Too often I’m distracted by fantasy authors’ use of our-world imagery for their imagined places. And so when someone is described as the color of ebony, I start wondering if that wood exists in that world.  Turner keeps everything believably within the world of Eddis, Attolia, and Sounes. Her images, metaphors, and similes are from that world. It’s these little things that raise a work from good to great.

I’m a character-driven reader and those in these series are so elegantly developed. We are never told about them, but always learn more about them through their actions — sometimes from their point of view (not always reliable when it comes to Eugenides), but often from someone else. Using a bystander or a smaller actor in the complex developments in these stories is such a clever approach. Each is fully realized while also helping develop even more the main characters of the series — the royals, the thief.  Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

Finally, the themes of these books, oh the themes. They are big ones indeed, relating to power, to politics, to concerns about bigness and smallness, to how to be a person, belief, and more. I’m thinking and reading a lot these days about African enslavement during the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and so re-experiencing Thick as Thieves had me marveling at Turner’s consideration of slavery from within and without.

For those who are not yet familiar with these books, you have a treat in store. For those who already know and love them, we wait together for the fate of those three small kingdoms and the wonderful characters we’ve gotten to know and love. Thank you, Megan Whalen Turner, for creating such a memorable and brilliant work of art.


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A White Teacher’s Reflections on Attending POCC (NAIS’s People of Color Conference)

My New York City private school has supported faculty and staff attendance at NAIS’s People of Color Conference for many years. For those unfamiliar with it here is their overview:

The NAIS People of Color Conference is the flagship of the National Association of Independent Schools’ commitment to equity and justice in teaching and learning. The mission of the conference is to provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional, and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike.

While POC colleagues, knowing of my commitment to the work, suggested I go I hadn’t, thinking it wasn’t a space for white allies. Finally, this year I decided to go, learning that there would be a place for me to learn and grow in my white allyship, and feeling the greater and greater urgency of the work we need to do regarding white supremacy and race in our schools. I am so grateful to my school’s commitment to sending any faculty or staff member who wants to go. I believe we were between 30 and 40 strong. Additionally, a group of our high school students attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference that runs in tandem with POCC.

It was great to see how this conference is so fortifying, empowering, and so much more for my independent school POC colleagues. Connecting, reconnecting, feeling seen, heard, having a safe space to testify, and so much more was going on. The celebration of POC heads of school was wonderful to see — so many standing on the stage. And even more, to start this coming year, one of them the remarkable Lisa Yevette Waller who is leaving my school to head the Berkeley Carroll School.  (Happy for them and her, but she is going to be missed terribly:)

Here are some of the workshops and sessions I attended:

  • The Opening Session with wonderful speakers including journalist Lisa Ling.
  • Black Boys Doing What? Evaluating, Selecting, and Incorporating Children’s and YA Lit Featuring Black Boys with educators Dr. Kim Parker and Jack Hill. This was an outstanding workshop — if you get an opportunity to see these two, run!
  • Old School Diversity to 21st Century Cultural Competency featuring Rosetta Lee.  Lee had done work at my school and so I knew this session would be worthwhile. I wasn’t disappointed — so much to process in what she said and shared.
  • Black Male “Privilege”: The Highs and Lows of Hyper Visibility. This was perhaps the most significant workshop for me, both because of what was said, but also because most of the panelists were current or former colleagues. Brave, honest, insightful — these are just a few of the words I have for this important panel. Thank you Brandon Guidry, The Berkeley Carroll School (NY); William Fisher, Trinity School (NY); Kenneth Hamilton, The Dalton School (NY); Dwight Vidale, Riverdale Country School (NY).
  • Marian Wright Edelman’s keynote “The State of America’s Children” was such a call to action as well as heartening as she shows so much confidence in our being able to make the future better at a time when it feels overwhelming to do so.
  • Marc Lamont Hill‘s closing keynote. With only a few wry references to his firing by CNN a few days earlier, he focused in on what this audience needed to hear. He was fierce, strong, and fortifying.

However. I’m not sure about my being there as a white ally. I had expected to be one of a few, but there were 1400 white folk among the over 6,000 attendees. That seemed bizarre to me, but it was explained to me was that many private schools have few diverse staff and faculty so roles such as diversity directors are held by white folk. Another reason I observed was that administrators were attending (certainly a good thing) and they are still very white overall. And then there were many whites attending because their schools, like mine, are committed to doing the work. So I can’t fault the reasons we were all there, but it is still troubling to me that a conference for POCs was so full of white folk.

Related to this is that I had very mixed feelings about the white affinity group meetings. These were enormous — over 1000 people so kudos to the planners for managing that so well. Still, for all the warning of discomfort, I didn’t feel much at all. I get that we white folks there were in different stances and situations, but I have to say I was disappointed. I’d been told that white allies at the conference were farther along on paths of action, but the work we did in the white affinity group meetings felt very cautious and overly sensitive to participants. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I wonder how much participants came away with that will be helpful when we go back to our schools. It was difficult. Some were overly complacent about fellow white colleagues, others didn’t seem to register microaggressions, and still others were depressingly unaware about all sorts of things. It felt all incredibly careful, scripted, and vague to me.  Not sure what the answer is, but if that many white folks are going to be coming, there must be something more that can be done?

And as for coming — I don’t plan to go again. I thought it was amazing and I got a huge amount out of it, but this is NOT a conference for white person me. It needs to be a People of Color Conference and that isn’t what I am. The importance for independent school POCs to come together was visible at every moment. That needs to be honored and respected overall.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to go to POCC, to spend time with colleagues I didn’t know (at the airport and other moments:), to learn, to stretch, to force my thinking, to undo ideas, and so much more. Thank you to my school and NAIS for this important event.



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Learning to Do Better as a White Ally at NAIS’s POCC

This week I will be attending NAIS’s People of Color Conference after having heard about it for years from my POC friends and colleagues. Participating in some incredible workshops led by some of our high school students who had attended in previous years and being told that there was space for white allies had me eager to go. And so now I am, hoping to learn, listen, and to come back a better ally for my school community and outside as well.  If anyone familiar with the conference has recommendations for me, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


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Orisha Priest Jaye Winmilawe’s Review of Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone

The rave reviews and accolades for Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone have been many. And while I too appreciated the book, I did wonder how someone who practiced Orisha and came from the culture being represented would feel about it. And so I was very pleased to read Jaye Winmilawe’s insightful review in Africa Access Review. She begins:

Adeyemi’s ashe or power as a writer is expressed in the success of her debut novel Children of Blood and Bone. She was awarded a groundbreaking seven figure YA book contract and a movie deal, at 23 years old.  The book has been well received, note the numerous reviews and the NY Times Best Sellers listing for over 34 weeks (presently).  So, what new could another reviewer say about this work?

Not many can assess its representation of African Yoruba Orisha culture, history, diaspora and modernity. Thus, since I am a scholar, children’s book author, and priest of the Orisha (Yoruba and Africa), it’s fair that I chime in.  My own questions about this book upon it’s March 2018 launch were:  1. How does it represent Africa and the African Diaspora? 2. How does it represent the Orisha (Orisa) and Yoruba?  3. Is this book appropriate for my elementary school-aged children and/or their library?

I highly recommend her review (and, actually, all the Africa Access reviews).

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The Book That Made Natasha Tretheway What She is Today

I was fortunate enough to meet and work with former poet laureate Natasha Tretheway years ago when she was an artist-in-residence at my school, a memorable experience that has stayed with me ever since.  And so I was delighted today to see her in the current New York Times Book Review’s By the Book feature.  While all of it is worthwhile reading, one answer stood out for me as I might answer with the same book though from a different point of view.

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

“The Diary of Anne Frank.” I read it when I was in the fourth grade and it showed me how a young girl from another time, place, race, culture, experience and situation could be so like me, that I could connect to her through a shared need, the necessary utterance of her words, and that my capacity for empathy could be deepened by reading the intimate account she left us in her own voice.


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