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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Connecting Cultures and Celebrating Cuentos

It's the day after the Youth Media Award announcements, I'm back home in Lexington, and diversity issues are fresh on my mind. There are the observations and conversations from ALA Midwinter that I am processing, the important critique of this year's Caldecott winner Locomotive taking place at the American Indians in Children's Literature blog and on the ALSC listserv (though I fear may be largely ignored by those who don't already care about diversity issues), and yesterday's incredibly timely launch of Multicultural Children's Book Day - a grassroots event launched by bloggers with the support of publishers with no library/librarian participation that I could find. To succinctly sum up what I am thinking...however far we have come in terms of diversity and inclusion in the world of libraries and children's literature, there is still so very far to go.

But, there are some excellent opportunities out there to start on this work, and I'd like to highlight one of those opportunities in this post. March 13-14, 2014, you can do yourself a huge favor and attend the National Latino Children's Literature Conference in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This year the event will feature 2014 Pura Belpré winning author Meg Medina, 2014 Pura Bepré honor author Margarita Engle, and Latina literary agent Adriana Dominguez among many others.

I have attended this conference twice in past years, and I can tell you, it is a not-to-be-missed event. What makes this small conference so special is that it succeeds at immediately establishing a sense of familia among the participants. The people who are presenting and attending understand the incredible need for increasing the access to and visibility of high-quality children's literature by and about Latinos. As someone who cares about this topic deeply, but who is not Latina myself, I can share that what I have learned by attending this conference has had a direct impact on me, both professionally and personally. I can only know so much about the world from my direct experiences within in it, and by listening to varied authors and illustrators, as well as practitioners and advocates who share their experiences at this conference, I know that my worldview and understanding are broadened, which helps me learn how to analyze what is occurring in the world around me more critically and to make choices that are more inclusive of diverse voices. I leave this conference with my passion renewed, and I always make connections with new colleagues and old friends who are doing important work in various parts of the country to increase access to this literature. Some of the personalities are bold and loud, nationally recognized diversity advocates and authors. Others are quietly working to do what they can in parts of the country where in many cases there is no institutional support and even direct opposition to their efforts from restrictive, anti-immigrant based legislation. Anyone who considers him or herself an advocate of diversity and inclusion in children's literature should be at this conference.

If you have found this blog post, it's most likely that you are already a convert to the need for more inclusion in children's literature. Perhaps you already even attend the National Latino Children's Literature event. My challenge to you is this - share it with someone else who doesn't have these issues on his/her radar. If I have any professional take-away from 2013, it's that those of us who already care about these issues are bubbling over with frustration that the lack of multicultural inclusion in children's literature is still so real. But we have to find a way to reach out and bring the folks who don't even see it into the discussion. We can do that a number of ways, but my recommendation would be to get them so excited and passionate about these books that they too become converts, that they too have their worldview broadened, that they too begin to see the world around them more critically and start asking some important questions to their colleagues about who has a voice in children's literature and who does not. This conference can do that in a way few others can.

For more information, visit the National Latino Children's Literature Conference website, or contact conference Chair, Dr. Jamie Campbell-Naidoo, jcnaidoo@slis.ua.edu.

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