Poet Elizabeth Acevedo earned the UK’s award for children’s books for her novel, Poet X. As a former teacher, she found inspiration for her novel from one of her students.
Acevedo used to teach 8th grade English in Maryland and according to an article from The Guardian, it was her student, Katherine, who gave her the idea for her history-making novel, Poet X.
Born to Dominican immigrants, Acevedo was all too familiar with the lack of diverse representation in media. As a writer however, it wasn’t until she heard it from her student that it struck her to share her own story, and the story of many others, to the world.
Katherine, wouldn’t read any of the books Acevedo offered her, telling her: ‘None of these books are about us.’
So Acevedo set out to write ‘a story that sounds like and depicts the same kind of neighborhood’ she and her students are from.
–The Guardian, 2019
Image via Amazon
The verse novel takes place in Harlem, and follows the character Xiomara Batista, a quiet, but tough young woman who “let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.” Xiomara’s passion and words find a home when she joins her school’s slam poetry club, even though her mother and her religion tell her its best to keep quiet.
“Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.”
Acevedo shares her own words on what the book means to her with The Guardian, “it would be easy to forget all the things she’s thinking, things she won’t say. I wanted to be really close to those feelings and show the everyday magic and beauty that quiet folks can hold.”
The novel inspires young women to speak their minds and shows all people of color that their words do matter and ought to have a place in the world. With her incredible win as the Carnegie Medal’s first writer of color in its eighty-three-year history, her poetic words have been turned into action.
American Rapper Nas has turned to book writing in addition to his song writing. Announcing his new children’s book, he hopes to inspire our younger generation.
Through his Instagram account, Nas—full name, Nasir “Nas” Jones—announced the new book, I Know I Can, four days ago. The fan response has been amazing in this short amount of time, with over 90,000 people liking the post.
According to Pitchfork, a media company following the music industry, “the book will be part of a children’s series ’empowering kids to be whatever they want to be when they grow up.'”
For any of you Nas fans who may have already guessed it, Pitchfork also confirms that the title is also a reference to one of the Rap Artist’s song “I Can” from the 2002 album God’s Son.
The song spreads the message that we can achieve our dreams no matter where we’ve come from, so long as we put in the time and practice. Covering some heavy topics (e.g., drug abuse and rape), Nas’s lyrics also urge young kids to not grow up too quickly and make smart and responsible decisions to follow the right path. The book appears to promise the same message.
There is no release date for the book I Know I Can yet. Until then we’ll just have to hear Nas’s words in symphony, and share them with the children we know and wish the best and brightest future to.
It would be impossible to overstate the importance of summer reading and the threat of that pesky “summer slide” that affects each and every classroom. To combat this dreaded phenomenon, Scholastic came up with the idea for “Read-a-Palooza” to help inspire kids to read… and the town of Sapulpa in Oklahoma has come up with their own unique way.
A book & snack mobile has recently started making the rounds through the town of Sapulpa from 9:00AM to 12:10PM, making four stops to offer children books to read and snacks to munch on. One of the biggest challenges teachers face in Sapulpa is having to reteach material from the previous year for a month before being able to reintroduce new things. What this Book & Snack mobile does is offer children a book to read, any book, to help keep them up to speed. Even if this helps cut back on a week or two of reteaching, it is a huge step forward for teachers. In just its first week, the mobile has checked out over 200 books and gave out around 60 meals to children.
image via Caring Community friends
Julie Enlow, a Sapulpa Public School instructional coach, helped organize this project by reaching out for donations from Sapulpa Public Schools and Caring Community Friends, which is the largest food pantry in the county. With the monetary donations, they have found themselves able to buy books and meals to not only solve the ‘summer slide’ but also to combat childhood hunger in their neighborhood. She was able to secure a $37,000 donation from United Way in 2017, and she and her friends immediately got to work on making this concept come to life.
Sapulpa Public High School teacher, Jeremy Lusk, has spent a good amount of time riding around on this bus, commenting on the excitement of the children being “almost like it was an ice cream truck.” Kids should be this excited to read, and I am so happy that communities and companies are finding their own way to make this a reality. On his participation, Lusk added:
I heard that they were doing this, and being a reading teacher, I said I’d help in any way I can just because I love the idea.
What do you all think about Sapulpa’s solution to this problem? Would you like to see something similar in your community?
Bad dads are a massive inspiration when it comes to literature and media, a broad spectrum of general douchebaggery that ranges from King Triton’s overbearing & possessive nature to Anakin Skywalker’s… well, everything. Luke, I am the source of all your issues going into adulthood! The ones that aren’t actively bad are frequently absent or neglectful, perfect fodder for creating plot conflict or generating sympathy for the protagonist. So, happy Father’s Day weekend to the dads that don’t suck! While we could never compile each and every one of literature’s shittiest dads, these seven will make even the most mediocre among you glow in comparison.
(Obviously, spoiler alert for all the books featured below!)
Yup, it’s Oedipus’ dad—one of the only dads worse than Oedipus himself, whose behavior invited some intense scrutiny upon his two daughters, Ismene and the badass Antigone. It’s pretty f*cked up to abandon your child on top of a mountain, even if you HAVE heard he’s going to kill you and then nail your sexy wife, Jacosta. We all know that Oedipus’ fulfilment of the prophecy actually came about because of this blunder: not knowing his parentage, he murdered his father and bedded his mother without any recognition of what he’d done. But even if you’re pro-hillside-abandonment and think it was a justifiable move, why didn’t Laius just kill the kid and save everyone a lot of trouble???
With enormous power comes an enormous chance of being a d*ck to your children. We’ve heard of divorced daddies’ cliche-riddled ploys to buy their children’s love. Lear actually expects his three daughters to buy his love, saying that Goneril loves him twice as much as Reagan because she offers twice the number of soldiers. He also calls his daughters “unnatural hags,” which we imagine is an untrue statement, given the lack of Sharpie brows and lip fillers back in Shakespeare’s day. Also, maybe Reagan and Goneril would have gotten along better (and hated their father a lot less) if Lear hadn’t obviously favored Cordelia. Some people say the play is an exploration of nature versus nurture, but there wasn’t really a whole lot of nurturing.
And here’s Humbert Humbert at number three, proving that this list is not in order of sh*ttiness. Humbert Squared is an evil pedophile who tricks a woman into marrying him so that he can have easy access to her twelve-year-old daughter, Lo—a girl he calls Lolita. When the girl’s mother discovers Humbert’s perverted motives in his journal, she runs to spread the news and is hit by an oncoming car. Humbert destroys the journal pages and takes legal custody of Lo, a position of power he abuses to coerce her into sex with gifts and threats that life would be far worse in an orphanage.
My parents sure didn’t let me get a tattoo when I was in my senior year of high school. Now, obviously that’s secondary to raising your child in a cult centered around the concept of blood purity. While every parent has a responsibility to keep their children safe, Lucius got involved with Magic Manson, an irresistible leader so dangerous that he’d be safer in jail than facing Voldy’s wrath. (Not to mention, of course, that’s he’s obviously a massive racist and literal slaveowner who mistreated Dobby.) He also tried to force his son to murder someone, either by dangling the carrot of his approval in front of Draco’s nose or by reminding him, helpfully, that Voldemort would likely kill Draco if he failed.
Ideally, fathers would share words of wisdom with their children. Apparently, some say: “I’m right & you’re wrong. I’m big & you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Ideally, fathers would embody the values that they want from their children. Apparently, some sell dangerously broken cars to customers that will run for ten minutes and then break down. Mr. Wormwood is a verbally abusive sh*tbag who happily abandons his child with a random schoolteacher he doesn’t personally know. Is Matilda better off with Miss Honey? Um, obviously. Is it still pretty messed up that he didn’t care at all about keeping his only daughter? ABSOLUTELY.
Here’s a heads up that this depiction of parental abuse is pretty graphic. Considering that Humbert Humbert is on the list and THIS one needs a disclaimer, you can imagine the level of violence. Alphonso beats and violates his daughter, Celie, which has resulted twice in pregnancy. The first child, he took to the woods and murdered. Her father also steals the second child and takes a second wife—though he still keeps Celie close and abuses her physically. Despite his fixation on Celie, Alphonso frequently calls his daughter ugly and gives her away to a man who doesn’t love her. And the icing on the f*cked-up cake? Alphonso isn’t really Celie’s father: he’s her stepfather, pretending to be her father in order to inherit her deceased mother’s property.
The devil’s in the details, and Valentine certainly didn’t miss the smallest one. He fed demon blood instead of Gerber’s fruit goo to his firstborn Jonathan Christopher, basically guaranteeing that the newborn would be an unhinged, child-murdering sociopath for the rest of his life. After his wife ran off with their daughter, Valentine found a RANDOM CHILD (Jace), convinced Jace that he was Jace’s real father, and then faked his own death violently in front of the kid. When Valentine reappears and finds Jace and his daughter Clary, he lets them (falsely!!!) believe they’re biological siblings—which is definitely a problem, since they’ve been dating. Oh yeah, and Valentine also murdered Jace’s pet hawk before telling the boy: “to love is to destroy, and to be loved is to be the one destroyed.” Is that the reason Jace has a reputation of sleeping around? Who knows? It’s not like that kid ever saw a therapist.
If picture books are meant to give voice to the experiences of young children, then why aren’t girls and racial minorities speaking? Using data from the top 100 bestselling children’s picture books, researchers have noted a growing gender and racial disparity in terms of which characters speak in children’s books.
Over half of children’s books feature a predominantly male cast; comparably, less than a fifth such books feature a predominantly female cast. It’s evident that male characters are literally dominating the conversation: not only does the gender gap exist in picture books, but it’s also growing. The Guardianreports that “speaking roles for male characters rose by 19%,” and at the same time, “one in five bestsellers did not feature any females at all.”
Only five of the top 100 books feature a BAME (Black, Asian, & Minority Ethnic) character in a prominent role. Of those five, three titles’ spots rely on the same character: Lanky Len, a mixed-race “nasty burglar” who hardly represents the sort of relatable character that nonwhite children can connect to. Statistics regarding BAME characters in less central roles are just as grim: 70% of such characters never speak at all. Across all 100 titles, only eleven BAME characters have speaking roles. And among these eleven, only seven have names. Of course, we’re discussing the umbrella of ethnic minority identities—on this list, there’s only one black male protagonist. Off the list, the disparity isn’t any better. Of all the 9,000+ children’s books published in 2017, only 1% featured a BAME protagonist… while 96% featured no BAME characters, speaking or silent.
When it comes to picture books featuring LGBT+ families and disabled characters, it’s the same story. None of the 100 bestsellers featured same-sex parents. Only one title included a disabled character—but that character doesn’t speak or play any major role in the plot. We may be talking about fiction, but these statistics are unrealistic. Predominantly white, male stories for children deny the experiences of many readers, but they also don’t reflect the mathematic facts concerning the gender and racial breakdown of English children. Around 33% of English schoolchildren are from minority backgrounds; 48% are female. Our stories should reflect the varied experiences of the children they aim to depict.
What causes this disparity? Among the 100 books studied, not one author or illustrator is BAME. This lack of diversity extends beyond the list: only 2% of all children’s book illustrators in the UK, not just the bestsellers, are people of color. The lack of diversity in publishing is a capitalistic Ouroboros: because few children’s picture books feature diverse characters, publishers come to believe these books won’t earn large sums of money. At the same time, these books rarely earn money for their publishers because they are rarely published. But while the exact cause of this phenomenon may be unclear, the results aren’t—girls, minorities, and disabled children don’t see themselves in stories that are supposed to be for them. It’s also possible that these sorts of disparities in children’s media could reinforce disparity and bias as the children grow into adulthood.