Category Archives: social change

Girl power, personal

woman symbolIf you don’t know of it already, please google “kidlitwomen” and read at least a few of their posts.

These writers have been making me rethink some things and recharge my literature battery and, yes, inspiring me.  It’s not usually what I’d call “fun” to look back on lost opportunities to stand up for yourself or others, which has happened more and more as the #metoo movement has come and stayed and challenged us.  It can be a struggle to figure out what I personally can do to change all these rusty, hurtful, and broken cultural dynamics.  So what I love in these posts is that – while there is reflection on what has been – these amazing writers are very forward-thinking.  Change might be hard, but it will build a better someday for all kinds of kids, as well as us grown people, allies or not.

Life in Libraryland mirrors the struggles in the “real” world, because, well, it is the real world.  I often think about what I could have done differently in patron interactions that didn’t go as well as I’d like.  There’s a lot I can’t control, however.  Some people walk into my library world with no intention of showing me any respect or kindness.  Maybe they have had a bad day.  Maybe they don’t really know what they’re doing, but their boss is making them do some ridiculous online thing they don’t understand, and of course, the boss is assuming they have internet and computer access at home, which they don’t, and before they even walk in the door, they are angry at the world and, by extension, me, the person who is in front of them not doing exactly what they want as fast as they want.  There are all kinds of anger and despair and frustration that build up before people walk in the door.  I get that.

But sometimes there’s an added layer to it, one where mostly older, white men think it’s ok to bully, accuse, threaten to get you fired, or make other inappropriate and unhelpful remarks, all while you are supposed to be “helping” them.  Nobody enjoys being on the receiving end of that, and when I get around to thinking about it, I feel pretty strongly that they would not behave that way to the men I know, even if that man did not have a clue how to help them and I did.

Do we call that spade a spade, though?  It’s harder than you might think.  We all want to provide good customer service, and our society has been training women from birth to get along, be nice, not be aggressive, and so on, although we certainly like to think that’s changing.  I’ve occasionally been able to talk people down if I can figure out what’s upsetting them and what they need, so once in a while, it all turns out ok.  I spent years in social services, so I came into this gig with some previous experience dealing with really angry people.  If I could deal with that screaming and scary-on-a-good-day dad who was enraged we were trying to help his daughter graduate (long story), I know I can do all right for myself when jerks are in front of me now, although all bets might be off if I’m on cold medication or you’re the fifth person who’s making my day.

Anyway, these moments can seem unsettling and very not empowering.  I know I was socialized to try to make others happy first and be quiet when boys talked all through my youth and college years – you don’t want to see the list of long left-behind incidents that have been popping into my head these days – but things can change.  I can be forward-thinking, too.  I can find new ways to stand up for myself and the readers I have the luck to influence and the writers I have the privilege of reading.  So think about it, brothers and sisters.  Let’s find a way to leave the screaming hot messes in our worlds behind and boldly go somewhere new.

And also read some interesting essays and good books, too.  Always.

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Pain finds its voice

neverthelessOne of my library friends passed this on to me not long ago, suspecting that I might appreciate both the language and the art of it.  Many of us have revisited long-set-aside incidents in the wake of the #metoo movement, either in quiet moments on our own or while chatting with our previously labeled “feminazi” friends.  Now we are part of something bigger, right?

speakI started reading this new graphic novel version of Speak just a day or two after getting O:the Oprah Magazine’s March 2018 issue.  (I don’t read a lot of magazines these days, but once in a while, I’ve been known to splurge on a magazine subscription.  My $5 is paying off big-time now, too!) If you have time to seek it out, take some time to appreciate the #USTOO art on page 105. It is painful to read, but most women I know can relate to multiple incidents on it.  Key to what it and some of the pieces accompanying it relate is the fact that change will not come from silence.  We are not alone, but if we keep things quiet, we feel like we are, and things don’t change.

Melinda feels like she’s alone, despised, ignored, and so many other adjectives.  Her story – being raped at an end-of-summer party by a popular predator – comes out over the course of her freshman year.  The art in this version is brilliant, highlighting and connecting the words and story with images that make you feel it all the more intensely.  Can she see the people who would help her?  Can she trust the people who are supposed to be supporting her?

This moment is the perfect one for this book – one more opportunity to start some tough conversations with young people, as well as our friends, partners, families.

Speak: the graphic novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll

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In honor of…

gone crazy in alabamaI’m not the biggest fan of all the special months.  Theoretically, they help highlight authors and issues affecting different groups (African-Americans, women, Latinx, LGBT folks, Asians, etc.), and I have no problem with that.  But shouldn’t we really be looking for more diverse books ALL year?  Of course.

Anyway, it’s February, so this year, I’ve decided that I’m looking at this as an EXTRA reason to highlight great African-American and African authors and characters.  Below are some of my favorites of the past few years:



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These feet are made for walking…

her right footIf you are looking for fun facts about the Statue of Liberty and her history, it’s here.  If you’d like a reminder of our country’s diversity and ideals, that’s here, too.  If you’d like to know about one of her feet – also here.  Is it a beginning?  A reminder?  A call to action?

Never forget we are a people in motion.  Never forget we have a choice which direction we go and what we take with us.

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris

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Join the Parade

harlem-charadeHarlem is full of history, street life and art, and it’s endangered by a city councilman who’d like to turn it into a theme park.  A bit hard to imagine at first, but maybe not as crazy as it sounds.  Jin, Alex and Elvin come from different backgrounds, but they (and some of their family members) will lose if the theme park succeeds, so they band together and start peeling back the layers of a decades-old mystery.

It’s a perfect combination of classic kids’ mystery, middle grade friendship, and a walk through a big city with a little bit of history thrown in.  As the author notes, the people and some places are fictional, but there’s a lot about The Harlem Charade that rings true about big city life and kids who are becoming more independent.

What’s really wonderful about this book is the depiction of friendships, new and old.  It’s hard making and keeping friends, and we’re all imperfect in some way.  It’s not just Jin, Alex and Elvin who are working through lies of omission, hurt feelings, and moments of anger.  The adults in the book have their own struggles and moments of insight, too.  In the end, the hard work is worth it, the mystery is solved, the theme park is stopped, and friendships are strengthened.

The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley

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What’s personal is political

dreamlandWill and Rowan are separated by close to a hundred years, but their efforts to confront racial discrimination and adapt to society’s expectations for them are strangely similar.  In the 1920s, Will has a tough time resisting the verbal and physical threats of Ku Klux Klan members who will eventually burn down the African-American part of Tulsa.  In the present day, Rowan isn’t sure she’s the right person to stand up, either.  Both characters make mistakes, alienate friends, and eventually find their way.

I’ll be interested to hear how readers who are African American or Native American see this book.  For me, it started a little slow, but became very compelling, especially since both sections mirror real history and current events.  I don’t know a person who hasn’t messed up something in adolescence, immediately regretted it, but then struggled with how to fix it.  It could provide a great starting point for discussions on race, expectations, and how we make choices.  The parallel lives also do a nice job of illuminating how much and how little changes over what seems like a long time.  It worked for me.  Give it a look.

Dreamland Burning  by Jennifer Latham

For another perspective, see this review at American Indians in Children’s Literature.

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the-legendary-miss-lena-horne-9781481468244_lgLena Horne may have become a star, but her life wasn’t without hardship.  She grew up between her grandmother, who hoped for a respectable life for her, and her parents, who used her talent to pay the bills.  Being African American meant that even when she was headlining for white bands, she sometimes had to go in through the back door and sleep in the bus.  Standing up and speaking out meant that she was blacklisted.  Her talent took her around the world, but the challenges just kept coming.  Being a trailbreaker is hard work.

It’s a wonderful story of a life, and the art which accompanies it makes the words even brighter.  Enjoy!

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford and Elizabeth Zunon

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Nevertheless, we persist

des-moines-1728523_1280-2I’ve seen what teachers deal with every day.  I worked for the public schools for two years as an outreach worker. Then I followed around fifty “at-risk” kids for twelve years, spending a lot of time with them in their classrooms.  I also substituted as a school associate when I was between jobs, filling in for special education and library workers.  I’m now on my eighth year volunteering in an elementary school on my days off.

So, even if I had not had the absolute best first grade teacher in the world as a child, I would be a fan of teachers.  I am constantly in awe of how effective and caring and good at their jobs they are.  They teach kids who sometimes don’t come anywhere close to being ready to learn, deal with administrators who sometimes act like the only things that matter are test scores, and work with parents who sometimes aren’t helping.  And yet they still manage to shepherd loads of kids through academic and emotional growth every single year.   (Are there bad teachers?  Yes, I’m sure there are, but in the hundreds of classrooms I’ve visited, I can only think of one–in more than twenty years of being out there with them.)

Teachers have this tough job, doing something incredibly important for the public good, managing large numbers of people, and somehow keeping everyone moving forward.  Are they paid like the VPs of the insurance companies downtown?  No way.  Depending on how much extra education they’ve got, they might be paid a decent wage with decent benefits for some long hours and not a lot of gratitude.  Many of them work or take classes during the summer to keep up with the bills or the always-growing expectations of their jobs, so it’s not like their supposedly easy schedule is really even that.

Meanwhile, our state legislature has changed.  Republican members are now in control of the senate, the house, and the governorship.  They’ve decided they need to prove some kind of a point and are working on destroying collective bargaining rights, which will affect public school teachers, their benefits, and their working lives.  (As a public employee, I should note that it would affect me and probably my retirement, too.)

Here it comes.  I’m climbing up on the soap box.

Have these legislators actually spent time in the classroom recently?  I’m not talking about their 30-minute visit to AP Government.  Do they know what school is like for under-resourced schools, the staff trying to provide a great education, the average kids?  I’m sure many principals and teachers would welcome the interest.  While checking on the kids I worked with and now as a parent, teachers, counselors, social workers and administrators have always encouraged me to ask questions and get involved.  Spending time with the kids in school showed me both sides of the equation – how hard it could be for some kids and how difficult the job was for teachers.  Are public schools perfect?  Of course not.  But is the best way to make them better to punish the staff?  I don’t think so.

Politicians are fond of talking about how important it is for students to get a “world class” education, going on about the long history of strong public schools in the state.   Well, maybe they should quit mouthing the words and actually do what it takes to have great schools and great teachers.  They could start by visiting schools in their districts and spending the whole day (or week) in classrooms, seeing what teachers do, learning about the problems schools are facing.  It might give them a whole different perspective on what education is and how lucky we are.

Climbing down from the soap box. Putting on my marching shoes for an afternoon at the state capitol building.

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Yarn lovers and radicals

extra-yarnI’m guessing that if Annabelle were a real person, she’d be out wearing some spectacularly fabulous hats today.  She’s a community organizer, maybe without meaning to be.  She’s a connecter, knitting for one very familiar storybook bear, as well as mailboxes and birdhouses.  She understands the people in her community.  (Would everyone wear a sweater?  No.  But hats work nicely, too.)  She cares about more than the money some selfish archduke wants to lob at her.  In the end, her kindness is her power and her joy.

Rock on, Annabelle.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

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Insert inspirational quote here

bokeh-1835378_19201Every motivational saying that springs to mind today seems to not actually have been said by the person I think said it.   (Two examples — “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”  Do some quick research, and you’ll see what I mean.)  Oh well.  It’s not really about the inspirational quote anyway, is it?

The motivation is to find a way to create good in a world that just seems to be really NOT WHAT I WANT IT TO BE.

For those of you who know me or have read carefully, it will come as no surprise that in addition to being a pretty nerdy library worker who volunteers at an elementary school and likes to garden, I’m kind of a radical.  It might have been the time I spent living and working with nuns and other social justice activists that launched me in that direction, but later jobs in social services and volunteering gigs cemented those tendencies.  Sure, I’ve got degrees in economics and public administration, but a few of my more memorable moments in those studies came while listening to a Marxist talk about public policy and hearing a classmate drone on about how the marketplace would revolutionize education.  Did I agree with them?  No, but they made me think. Which made me think more.

So what do I do now?  Many people will protest.  I’ve done that.  (1990 – I tagged along with Sister Theresa to a protest against the first Gulf War.  And yes, we did sing “If I had a hammer”.)  Others will write letters or make phone calls to their representatives or donate to causes they care about.  I’ve done that, most recently last week.  More might get involved in something positive in their communities.  Done that, too.  Mentoring, working with kids, making copies, sewing things, planting flowers.

It doesn’t seem like enough this time.

When I was in college, one of my favorite professors told us that when we got older, we would feel less, that the emotions that seem so overwhelming and exhausting when you are young begin to fade.  I remember thinking that would never happen to me, because I didn’t want to lose that intensity.  And then I got older.  Not being so crushed by every single thing really did make life easier and more pleasant in some ways.  Do I miss the high drama of my college boyfriends or the slights of mean girls?  No way.

But I wonder if now is one of those times when more intensity might actually be a good thing.

Last year, my son had to come up with a six word phrase to describe his life.  (Ah, the fun that school counselors have!   Was that one really for the kids?   If I were a school counselor, I’d be doing that exercise to amuse me.  School counselors are probably better people than I am, though.)  And what he came up with fits me perfectly, now and pretty much always:

Work in progress; results may vary.

At least I know for sure where this quote came from.


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