The Texas Library Association and the Black Caucus Round Table celebrated the message of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, winner of the 2017 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. Multiple conference programs reflected Dr. Bishop’s famous words that books can at times be windows or other times mirrors in which children might see themselves. Books can also be sliding glass doors, an entrance to a different world. African American authors and illustrators conveyed this message to hundreds of librarians. The CSK blog is proud to highlight four of those programs: The Brown Book Shelf with Kelly Starling Lyons and Gwendolyn Hooks; Speed Dating the Bluebonnet Books with Don Tate and Crystal Allen; Illustrator Sketch-off with Christian Robinson and Shadra Strickland; and My Life Beyond ‘Good Times’ with actress and author Bern Nadette Stanis.
Part One of Four
The Brown Book Shelf at the Texas Library Association Conference in San Antonio, TX
Presenters: Kelly Starling Lyons (CSK 2013) and Gwendolyn Hooks (NAACP Image 2017)
What a treat for a room of more than 200 librarians to learn about The Brown Book Shelf from Kelly Starling Lyons and Gwendolyn Hooks. In February 2017 the Brown Book Shelf celebrated its 10th anniversary by recognizing authors and illustrators of color who have paved the way in order to heighten the awareness of the many Black voices in the world of books. Each day in February, an author/illustrator was featured with an in-depth profile and list of his/her body of work. There is currently a collection of 280 featured authors and illustrators from the past decade.
Kelly Starling Lyons from Raleigh, North Carolina, shared that the first time she saw an African-American child on the cover of a book was in third grade. The book was Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Seeing a girl that looked like her let her know that her experiences and history mattered. It ignited her dream of writing too. Lyons didn’t see another book featuring a black child until in her 20s when she read Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. That book made her want to write for kids. Lyons shared that family relationships are the heart of what she writes about, but her latest book, One More Dino on the Floor, showcases her love of fantasy and dance. The counting story features colorful dinosaurs dancing the disco, limbo, hip hop, Cupid Shuffle and more.
Gwendolyn Hooks from Oklahoma City shared her career path from military brat to middle school math teacher and on to her full time writing job. Her 2016 title Tiny Stitches: the Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas was inspired by the 2004 HBO show Something the Lord Made. In the 1940’s, Vivien Thomas was instrumental in the successful surgery and development of procedures to treat young children with “blue baby syndrome.”
Hooks shared about her own family of readers. She explained that as a military family, the only constant in their lives was the library. No matter where they lived, they could always go to the library. After the debut of Tiny Stitches, her son, who is now in the military, phoned from Kuwait to ask her why he had to learn about this book from his commanding officer? A friend of the officer’s wife discovered the book and told her that this pediatric heart surgery had saved her own baby from “blue baby syndrome.”
Lyons and Hooks had several takeaways for their attentive audience:
- Librarians should feel comfortable and confident choosing diverse books for diverse children.
- Children’s books by Black authors and illustrators are books for all children.
- Librarians must be intentional about their purchases and the power of their dollars, demanding that publishers produce more diverse books and bring back ‘into print’ popular diverse series from the past.
- They stressed the message of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, winner of the 2017 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the value of “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.” Librarians need to make sure that there are books on the shelves with pictures and images of children and people who look like they do.
- Books should have ‘cultural authenticity’ with people of color telling their own stories.
Lyons and Hooks shared a history of images in children’s books going back to painful pejorative titles from 1875 to a celebration of Ezra Jack Keats’ Caldecott Award for The Snowy Day in 1969. They referenced the Cooperative Children’s Book Center published statistics, demonstrating the great need for more books by and about people of color.
Finally, they made sure that this audience had tools ready to use back in their libraries by sharing favorite strategies for promoting diverse books. These included choosing fun stories like Nikki Grimes’ Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel; focusing on “who was that person” such as Schomburg, The Man Who Built a Library; using Riding Chance to demonstrate decision-making and consequences; and drawing kids in with the unexplainable such as The Jumbies, a Caribbean fantasy.
Afterwards Lyons and Hooks reported that they were pleased with this first presentation at the Texas Library Association and with not only the size of the audience, but the attentiveness and the follow-up questions at the end. Lyons was very happy to get the opportunity to eat and perhaps have a margarita at one of Maya Angelou’s favorite San Antonio restaurants, La Margarita. Texas librarians were very fortunate to have the opportunity to hear from these national speakers and to learn more about celebrating diversity in their own libraries.
Post by Mary Jo Humphreys