Sunday, August 20, 2017

Stop it! (and do better!)

This weekend I finally got to read Kelly DiPucchio’s newest picture book, Super Manny Stands Up!, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (Atheneum).  Given the current political climate, this book really resonated with me.  I have been searching for the perfect book with which to start the school year, and upon reading this book, I’ve decided that I will use it as the first read aloud in my library.  I will read it to every student during the first week of library classes.  Together we will learn that it’s ok to say “Stop it” when we see people treating others unfairly. Together we will learn to say ”Stop it” when we see or hear hateful actions or comments.

And most importantly we will learn to LISTEN when someone says “Stop it!” to us.  That if someone tells us to “Stop it”, instead of getting mad, instead of getting defensive we will, indeed, stop.  We will take a closer look at our words and actions.  We will try to see things as others see.  We will try to hear things as others hear.  We will try to feel things as other feel.

I know that this is something that I’m always striving to do:  Let’s face it, I’m a white, straight, Christian, middle class male.  I’m about as privileged as they come.  I have never been marginalized because of the color of my skin, my gender, who I love or where/how I worship, and I absolutely need to be cognizant of this.  I need to been keenly aware that the lens through which I see life is not the lens available to many people.  So I always want to learn more. I always try to be better.  But here’s the thing….sometimes I’m not.  Sometimes my privileged life causes me to clumsily say or do something that could be interpreted as hurtful by someone.  And when this happens, I count on other people to tell me…to "stop it and do better”.  When they do, I have the opportunity to stop and reassess something I’ve said or done.  I have the opportunity to see why someone might have been offended.  Most importantly, I have the opportunity to make it right…to do better. 

Last spring I was commenting on social media about the amazing lineup of authors that had come to my school for author visits.  I was fortunate to have had five authors/illustrators come visit my school and talk with my students.  After reading many replies like “Wow!”, “Lucky kids!” or “What an amazing group!”, I received this reply from an author friend: “Next year you should have some women or people of color.”  Upon reading that comment I didn’t get mad.  I didn’t get defensive.  I became reflective.  Someone had basically told me to “stop”…and I did.  Upon reflection I realized that the fact that my authors were male was, indeed, a conscious choice.  In all the previous years, I had only invited female authors and illustrators to our school, and I wanted to make sure that my students were getting a balance.  So, I invited two male authors to visit. (The other three were sent by publishers…which I know is another issue!) However, my author friend WAS absolutely right…My students weren’t being exposed to culturally diverse authors.  This was something of which I needed to be aware.  I needed to do better.

Lately, my Facebook feed has been spotted with things like:  “Get over it.”, “Just move on”, “I didn’t own a slave…” and to that I say “Stop it!!”.  Those are ignorantly, privileged statements.  They are hurtful.  I ask you to reflect upon what you’re saying.  Better yet, reach out to someone who is not as privileged as you are and try to understand why it’s ignorant, why it’s hurtful.

This past summer there were some very heated racial issues in the kid lit world being discussed on Twitter.  I didn’t agree with them. Upon reflection though, I realized that the reason I didn’t agree with them was due to the fact that I didn’t understand them because of my privilege. My disagreeing (without understanding) was unfair and quite frankly ignorant.  I needed to learn more.  I needed better understanding.  So, I sat down with a dear friend, a friend who is part of the marginalized group that was taking issue, and we talked.  I asked questions.  I dug deeper.  I was empathetic.  I left the discussion with a richer understanding.  It was an understanding that my lens alone would have never brought into focus.  I know that I can never fully understand because I haven’t lived that life or had those experiences. However, I will always strive to gain as much understanding as I possibly can.

It’s very easy block or unfriend people who continually say or post hurtful, privileged things (and at times I have).  It’s easy to not go to a particular gathering because things will be said with which you disagree. Let’s face it though, the easy thing isn’t usually the right thing…and we need to do the right thing.

To those of you who are part of marginalized groups (or have kids that are part of marginalized groups), I see you.  I care about you.  I want to learn more about you and your story.  I want to be like Manny and protect you by saying, “Stop it!”…and I promise that I will.  I know that I can always be better!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Readers and Friends

I just returned from an annual camping trip that we take with some of our dearest friends and their families.  Now, a lot of my friendships have developed around books and the love of reading. However, the relationships with these amazing friends have been built through years of shared experiences with our kids: chaperoning events, planning school functions, serving on parent/booster boards, being there for each other in times of crisis...Rock-solid friends.

This year's camping trip was it always is. Fireside conversations, game playing and more laughing than you can imagine. And while our initial connection didn't happen because of reading, I couldn't help to notice that our weekend was filled with books.

There were numerous discussions about the books people were currently reading (or had recently read). The reading included a wide variety of topics and genres;  the building of the Trans-Continental Railroad, a person's escape from a village that practiced witchcraft, the struggle of caring for people with dementia, the Chronicles of Narnia, Trevor Noah's journey from apartheid South Africa to the desk of the The Daily Show, a fantasy story set in Medieval times, a child learning the truth about her father while coming to understand the horrors of racism during the 1960s. Throughout the weekend these "book talks" would spring up naturally in conversation, often with people joining in on the discussion and asking to learn more about each book.

At one point I looked around the campsite and I couldn't help but smile...

...everyone was reading!

So, while books may not be what initially brought us together, our shared love of reading continues to deepen these already beautiful relationships.  

Like Kate DiCamillo says, "Stories Connect Us".