Monday, August 27, 2012

Where did we go wrong?

The first thing I read this morning was about a teenager being shot by another student on the first day of school in Baltimore County. I wonder if the victim was excited to head to school today, to see friends he hasn't seen all summer, to start new classes, to try out for a varsity sport and get ready for Homecoming. I even wonder if the shooter knew what he was going to do when he woke up this morning or if he had planned this act all summer. Did he feel bullied or threatened or just wondered what holding a gun would feel like?

Perry Hall High School is like many other high schools across America. It's located in a middle-class community and suffers from overcrowding. It has decent sports teams with an especially impressive baseball program. It boasts academic and art clubs, theater and dance. It was even where the 1987 version of Hairspray was filmed. And now it will forever be marked by a school shooting. The name of the victim has not been released as he is a minor, but I'm sure that he is loved by many people, probably a lot more people than he realizes. Classmates and teachers will worry until his status is released, and all of the parents who have students who attend Perry Hall will sigh in relief when they are able to see and hug their children again.

This was especially sad for me to read as just a few days ago, an honors student in Prince George’s County was killed in her home. I didn't know Amber Stanley, but I'm sure many of her classmates at Charles Herbert Flowers High School felt her absence when they returned to school the next day. After all, school has just started and they are already missing one of their own.

I can't help but remember the loss of one of my tutoring students to a senseless shooting almost two years ago. I often think about what Prince would be like today, how his family would be different, how his friends would be different. A shooting has far more victims than those who feel the impact of the bullet. Even a teen shooter represents a life lost as s/he will more often then not be tried and sentenced as an adult, end up committing suicide or spend the remainder of her/his life under psychiatric care rather then finishing school, getting a job, having a family of her/his own.

Too often we take children for granted. We think of them as future resources or in terms of their potential instead of looking at what they offer and accomplish in our communities today. We lump all teens together and call them lazy or ungrateful, that we adults were a better version of them in our day. In essence, we are teaching them that they do not deserve respect, encouragement or our investment. It's no wonder teens see themselves that way and treat other teens with the same contempt.

I'm not a parent and I no longer work with teens on a daily bases, but when I wake up to a news story like this, I can't help but feel like I have failed. Like we all have failed.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Making Some Noise

I'll be honest, I didn't really feel qualified to post about ethnic diversity in children's books, but then I read Linda Sue Park's blog post about this and she encouraged me to "make some noise." So while she probably said it much better than I'm about to and has a lot more experience with this issue, here's me, making some noise.

After reading NPR's list of "100 Best-Ever Teen Novels," I couldn't stop asking myself, "Where is the diversity?" Where's Matt de la Peña, Coe Booth, Lisa Yee, Walter Dean Myers, Rita Williams Garcia, Pam Muñez Ryan and Cindy Pon? Seriously, not even Maya Angelou, Alice Walker or Toni Morrison? I could keep naming YA authors of color for pages.

Granted Sherman Alexi manged to make the list at number thirty-one. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird is third on the list, but that is still a white perspective on race. But this issue goes so far beyond books dealing with race issues that I'm not sure where to start. Many of the above mentioned authors don't even write books that address race relations--they simple write books with characters of color who represent the diversity and melding of cultures that make America great. We are stronger for our differences, and history has proven we are capable of change, even if it is hard and slow in coming.

Maybe we can excuse this because it is an NPR list, and their audience tends to be middle-class white people like myself (which is probably why I knew about this list in the first place). But isn't that even more of a reason to include diversity in our reading experience? We read to learn, explore, escape, so why are we reading so many books about the exact same type of people? Sure, you want to relate to the main character, but it shouldn't be skin color or even heritage that makes a character relatable.

In writing this, I also became fairly disappointed in myself. Why couldn't I think of a single YA author of Middle Eastern heritage? (Although I did think of Suzanne Fisher Staples's Shabanu, which is an amazingly powerful book.) I even checked my list of ten favorites on GoodReads, and not one of them features a character of color. So why is diversity missing from my own list?

The more I think about the NPR list, the more questions it raises about my personal reading choices, what books we expose children to and why we gravitate towards books featuring main characters of our own race. I don't know how to fix this problem other than to make a conscious decision on my part to read more diversely, but at least that's a place to start.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

First Grad School Reading List

My friend Heather Demetrios inspired me to post my reading list for grad school. As I don't have a lot of time to write in-depth posts and I won't write about the content of my grad program, I thought posting my annotated bibliography is the best way to keep everyone informed about what's going on in my life. After all, my life pretty much revolves around reading and writing now. Maybe you'll even get some hints about my current projects.

My Father’s Summers: A Daughter’s Memoir by Kathi Appelt: I’m fascinated by creative nonfiction, especially since we seem to like making nonfiction as boring as possible for kids. The prose poems and timeline of this memoir were fascinating, and I love how the author dealt with the themes of love and forgiveness.

Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayler and Ted Orland: This book was recommended to me because I tend to become paralyzed by fear, so this book was very much written for me. The solution I discovered? The best remedy for fear is to work.

The Elephant Wish by Lou Berger, illustrated by Ana Juan: I usually don’t read picture books unless they are recommended to me via friends, awards or reviews, but this one I picked up because I liked the illustration on the cover. While this book was imaginative, it was a little too abstract and metaphorical for the lack of content.

D Is for Dancing Dragon: A China Alphabet by Carol Crane, illustrated by Zong-Zhou Wang: Now I know why they say if you're going to rhyme in a picture book, do it well. The informational sidebars were good, and the illustrations were okay, but overall, this book is kind of forgettable.

George Washington: Soldier, Hero, President by Justine and Ron Fontes: While this book is decently written and a good overview for the intended age group, I was disappointed by some of the historical content. It glossed over some of the most important details of Washington’s life and even had some, not necessary inaccurate, but most certainly misleading information.

Rapture of the Deep: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Soldier, Sailor, Mermaid, Spy by L.A. Meyer, narrated by Katherine Kellgren: It's fascinating how the author increased tension and developed characters in ways that are only obvious when the book is read aloud.

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter: Potter uses simple words to convey vivid images—you almost don’t need the illustrations. And the characters practically hop off the page (bunny pun intended).

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter: I loved how the narrator would sometimes switch to second person and directly address the reader to bring it to a personal level for a child.

The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordon, narrated by Kevin R. Free and Katherine Kellgren: Riordan utilizes all of the sensory descriptions to surround the reader with the action. His stories might not be unique or moving, but they sure are fun to read. Listening to this as an audio book is also a fun experience as the protagonists are “recording” their experience for Riordan to publish, so it lends itself to the medium.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, narrated by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham: The characterization in this novel is brilliant. By using humor juxtaposed to harsh reality, Stiefvater makes Puck a unique, relatable character. I also love how she grounds us in a physical place in the present before inserting flashbacks and memories.