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    Marley Dias on Inspiring Activism, Diversifying Children's Literature, and Her Latest Reads

    By Lara Deloza
     | May 31, 2018

    Marley DiasMarley Dias made headlines as a sixth grader when she initiated the #1000BlackGirlBooks project to collect and donate 1,000 titles that featured black girls as the central character. Marley's drive has since yielded more than 11,000. Her first book, Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!, was published by Scholastic the same month she turned 13.

    Why was it so important to you to bring awareness to a lack of diversity in children’s literature?

    “Bringing awareness to the lack of diversity in children’s literature is important to me because there were so many students who have never and will never see themselves reflected in literature assigned in schools. I want to stop the intentional exclusion of some people’s stories, and I want every child to have a place in literature where they can see themselves and learn about the experiences of others.”

    Do you consider yourself a changemaker, and if so, why?

    “I consider myself a changemaker because I am working toward changing the systems in schools so that students are able to see diverse main characters. I have been able to achieve this on a global scale and I will continue until every student can see themselves and diverse people as the main characters.”

    How does your book encourage tweens and teens to become changemakers?

    “My book tells my story and shows my path. I started when I was 10 years old. I am now 13 years old. If I can do it then anyone can. Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! encourages tweens and teens to become changemakers by giving real specific tips for them to make a change in their communities. Instead of just saying work hard or believe in yourself, this book puts all of that information into clear and achievable steps.”

    What can their adult teachers learn from reading it?

    “Teachers, like parents, can learn that they must listen to kids voices and support kids’ actions so that they can succeed. Teachers can learn that by offering diverse books they are reducing ignorance as well as helping children become more confident. Being informed and being more confident will help children succeed in and out of the classroom.”

    You are often referred to as an advocate for literacy. What’s next for you in that area?

    “I believe that literacy is important because it gives you the tools to express yourself and share your ideas. I want parents and kids to know that reading is fun; it is not just about doing well in school. It’s about being a thoughtful person who positively contributes to the world. To make sure that this idea grows, I am starting the Black Girl Book Club. The book clubs can happen in schools as well as in community spaces. I want kids—and adults—to get together and talk about books and share ideas.”

    How does literacy play into your social justice campaign for racial harmony?

    “I don’t usually define my work in terms of racial harmony. To me, my work is really about understanding. I want to make sure that people are taking the time to learn about others. I also want people to imagine black girls as leaders and accept that we can be and are the main characters of our lives. I know that if this understanding happens, racial harmony may be the outcome, but racial harmony is not the first thing I think about when I think about my work. Achieving equity and opening spaces for black girls and others to learn are the core reasons for my campaign.

    Also, sometimes I think when we say harmony it can make people feel like they are being forced to get along. My work is about education and acceptance. I want people to develop the patience and tolerance to know that there are other ways of being. They may not agree with those ways but they still need to make and hold space for other thoughts, ideas, and possibilities.”

    What are three books you’re super excited about right now (and why)?

    “The books I’m super excited about are Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi because it shows the world that in fantasy books, black people don't have to die first, or be the slapstick character, but can be leaders. Next, I’m excited about An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green. It hasn’t come out yet, but Hank Green is my favorite YouTuber and now he has books, just like his brother, John Green. Last, I’m excited about Rebound by Kwame Alexander because he is one of my favorite authors telling stories about black boys.”

    Marley Dias will deliver the opening keynote at Children’s Literature Day at the ILA 2018 Conference, July 20–23, in Austin, TX. Learn more and register here.

    Lara Deloza is the senior communications manager at ILA.

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    Edcamp Literacy: The “Unconference” Within Conference

    Jacie Maslyk
     | May 24, 2018

    Edcamp LiteracyOften called an “unconference,” Edcamps do not have preplanned sessions, presenters, or subjects. Everything is created in the moment by those who gather to pursue new knowledge together. To start, the participants will often write topics of interest and lessons they are willing to facilitate on sticky notes, which are then displayed on a board.

    Edcamps are about the experience, not the experts, so the discussion values all contributions. The informal learning experience welcomes “new campers” as well as veterans. Edcamp Literacy at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits was my fifth Edcamp experience and I continue to be a believer in this type of learning for two reasons: connections and collaboration. 

    I love the opportunity to connect with educators, especially those whom I’ve only “met” through social media. One of the moderators last year was Jennifer Williams. I’ve followed her on Twitter for several years and have engaged with her through Twitter chats, but meeting in person creates another layer of personal and professional connection. I met education professionals from across the country who served in various roles—from primary teachers through college administrators.

    Edcamp 2017Edcamp kicked off with each participant writing their name, location, and an interesting fact on a sticky note. Each note was then added to a board, allowing participants to make connections through educational roles, interests, or geography. The end product demonstrated the interconnected nature of the Edcampers; the diversity of participants only magnifies the excitement of the experience.

    Edcamps also provide opportunities for collaboration. In one Edcamp Literacy session on professional development, participants connected around the idea of online learning and planned to meet later in the conference to continue their conversation. Another group of educators learning how to use Sketchnotes talked about exploring Twitter hashtags like #sketchnote and #readsketchthink to gain new ideas and practice sketchnoting techniques. The makerspace group shared ideas on how to foster maker learning through partnerships between classrooms and other institutions,  such as universities, libraries, and museums.

    My fifth experience only reinforced my belief that Edcamps are a powerful way to engage in professional learning. Edcamp Literacy provided a great start to ILA 2017 by kickstarting connections and creating opportunities for collaboration. Learn more about the Edcamp model here.

    Edcamp Literacy will return to the ILA 2018 Conference on July 20 in Austin, TX. Read more about the event in the iPlanner and register here

    Jacie Maslyk is an educator, presenter, and the author of STEAM Makers. You can find her on Twitter @DrJacieMaslyk or on her blog, Creativity in the Making.

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    A Lit Lover’s Guide to Austin

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | May 17, 2018

    Philosophers' RockAs it turns out, Austin, TX, is more than live music, bat watching, and breakfast tacos. The city is home to one of the most prestigious writing programs in the country and a vibrant literary scene that attracts major book festivals, author meetups, and other literary happenings. As one native gushes, “the city is a book lover’s paradise.”

    It makes sense, when you think about it; Austin has a reputation as an incubator for creative, inclusive, forward-thinking industries, and its book scene is no different. Amid challenging times, small-but-mighty presses continue to crop up and generate a new wave of publishing in Austin—one that elevates underrepresented voices, lesser-known talents, and niche tastes. The success of this countermovement is a testament to the city’s thriving literary community.

    Make the most of your time in Austin by visiting a few of these local literary lures before, during, or after the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) 2018 Conference, July 20–23.

    Literary landmarks

    The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin: Literary quotes are etched on the windows of this world-renowned humanities research library and museum. In addition to its rotating exhibits, the museum houses millions of literary artifacts, including extensive manuscripts of James Joyce, Anne Sexton, and David Foster Wallace; three copies of the First Folio of William Shakespeare’s plays; and a journal kept by Jack Kerouac while writing On the Road.

    The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection: Also at the University of Texas at Austin, this library holds the largest university collection of Latin American materials in total number of volumes in the United States. The collection features more than a million volumes along with a wealth of original manuscripts and media, including the papers of prominent literary figures such as Américo Paredes, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Rolando Hinojosa.

    The O. Henry Museum: A memorial to one of Austin’s most famous writers, the museum offers visitors a look at his colorful life, period furniture, and personal belongings, which include unpublished manuscripts. The museum is free and open to the public Wednesday through Sunday and often hosts literary events (including an annual “pun-off”).

    Philosophers’ Rock at Barton Springs: Created by sculptor Glenna Goodacre in 1994, this bronze statue depicts authors J. Frank Dobie, Roy Bedichek, and Walter Prescott Webb, who used to gather at the pool for “Austin’s first literary salon.” Today, Philosophers’ Rock welcomes visitors to Barton Springs, a popular swimming hole (and ideal reading spot).

    Events

    The 21st Annual ILA Poetry Olio: Join us on Saturday, July 21 from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for an evening of verse and skits performed by featured poets and surprise guests, interspersed with audience participation readings and skits, a poetry contest, and valuable prizes.

    ILA’s Informal Storytelling Gathering: Listen to factual and fictional stories or share one of your own at ILA’s annual Informal Storytelling Gathering, taking place on Sunday, July 22, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. During Part 1, featured storytellers will present a mixture of story types, including historical stories, ballads, and folktales that are appropriate for use in classrooms from preschool through secondary classes. Any audience member who wishes to speak may sign up to tell his or her story during Part 2 of the event.

    Austin Poetry Slam: Occurring every Tuesday night at the Spider House Ballroom, the raucous competition showcases 13–15 local and touring artists, whose performances are judged by members of the audience. Previous participants include award-winning poets such as Andrea Gibson, Sister Outsider, and Ebony Stewart.

    Shops and eats

    BookPeople: The largest independent bookstore in Texas, BookPeople is known for its friendly atmosphere, extensive inventory, handwritten recommendations, and almost daily events. The building’s stairwells are filled with pictures of well-known visitors, including Hillary Clinton, David Sedaris, and George Saunders. 

    Smaller independent bookstores: Save time to explore the city’s scattering of brick and mortar bookstores, most of which double as communal spaces to hold book readings, open mic nights, author presentations, book clubs, and more. The eclectic lineup includes Resistencia Books, a bookstore, small press, political forum, and performance venue that highlights Chicanx, Native American, and Latinx voices; BookWoman, a long-running feminist and queer bookstore; Malvern Books, which specializes in emerging voices and translated works; and Monkeywrench Books, an “all-volunteer, collectively-run, radical bookstore” that carries titles focused on social and economic justice.

    Academia: A thinking bar, the owner describes Academia as “a figurative faculty lounge for late, great literary icons.” The space is decorated with custom-designed banners that pay homage to Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Hunter S. Thompson. Each banner features a crest with unique iconography and symbolism representing the author and his or her works, personality, trademarks, and drink of choice. Projected animated graphics spotlight entertaining quotes from other famous writers.

    Bennu Coffee: This 24-hour coffee shop offers signature drinks named after iconic literary works. Popular orders include The Scarlet Letter, made with ancho chile-spiced chocolate and barista chips; The Raven, a dark chocolate mocha topped with whipped cream; and Don Quixote, an Azteca d’Oro spiced chocolate mocha.

    Alina O’Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Embedding Windows and Mirrors With Reyna Grande

    By Ally Hauptman and Michelle Hasty
     | May 10, 2018

    distancebetweenusThis is the second installment of a three-part series highlighting the winners of the 2017 ILA Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards, which honor newly published authors who show extraordinary promise in books for children and young adults. Young readers need books that provide a mirror in which they can see themselves as well as a window to understand the perspectives of others, especially those whose experiences differ from their own. In this series, award recipients Jeff Zentner, Aimee Bissonnette, and Reyna Grande share how their books may provide readers with “window and mirror experiences.” This week, Ally Hauptman and Michelle Hasty, chairs of ILA's Children's and Young Adult Book Award Committee, interview Grande.

    The Distance Between Us
    is a poignant memoir about the author’s life before and after immigrating from Mexico to the United States as a young girl. Through her struggles to hold on to family—set within the frightening realities of illegal immigration—Grande gives readers a firsthand account of survival in search of the American Dream. The book is funny, sad, and at times heartbreaking, and driven by themes of perseverance, persistence, and hope. This is Grande’s first children’s book and, as a committee, we feel she is a strong new voice for middle-grade readers. This powerful book reflects the experiences of undocumented youth and invites nonimmigrant readers to glimpse into hardships unlike their own.

    We were honored to interview Grande about how she sees The Distance Between Us being used in classrooms and how specific books, authors, and teachers influenced her journey.  

    How do you see The Distance Between Us being used in classrooms to expand perspectives?

    "I hope that my book provides a starting point for teachers and students to have powerful discussions about the human experience of migrating, the price that immigrants pay for a shot at the American Dream, and the push and pull factors of migration. Children are very perceptive, and I think we can teach them kindness and empathy, but most of all, teach them to respect and treat all human beings with dignity, regardless of where they come from. Most importantly, I want children to learn the complexities about immigration in a way where they understand that migrating isn't a crime, but rather, in most cases, an act of survival."

    You did not see yourself in books until you were 19 years old. How did this shape you as a reader and what was the impact of reading Viramontes and Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street?

    "I think about myself when I was a young girl, hungry for books that reflected my experiences. I never saw myself in books. I felt invisible. Voiceless. I felt that I didn't exist. I hope that by sharing my book with young people, especially readers of color, they can see themselves in literature and know that their story matters. I want them to know that their heartbreak and trauma, that their dreams and hopes, are important and they are not alone. It was a very powerful moment for me to open a book and see my own experiences reflected in the pages of that book. Those books told me, 'You exist. You matter.' Books by Chicana/Latina writers made my dream of being a writer feel more real. If they could do it, so could I."

    How does this book help people understand the immigrant experience in this country? This is particularly relevant to what is happening with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program right now.

    "I want more than DACA, which is a temporary program. You can't build a future on something temporary. What I want is the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, but unfortunately, to this day, it hasn't been passed. There are millions of young people who have experienced similar things I went through, made the same sacrifices, and suffered the same sorrows. These young immigrants are here in this country fighting for their right to remain, for a chance at the American Dream, to be accepted and included. I hope my book offers people insight into the plight of child immigrants and immigrant families in general, and that together we can advocate for an immigration system that treats immigrants with dignity and respect.

    Above all, I hope we can come together as a country to finally do right by our young immigrants and give them the opportunity to legalize their status and tell them, 'Yes, you belong here.'  My book is about how immigration tore my family apart, and the price—not measured in dollars—that I paid for a shot at the American Dream. Year after year the price just keeps getting higher. I want the American Dream to remain within the reach of all young immigrants. For that to happen, we, as a country, need to support a comprehensive immigration reform that is humane and fair."

    What is your advice for teachers who want to be a "Diana" for their students?

    "You don't have to take your students home to change their lives—but please be aware of the challenges that your students might be facing and try to be as supportive as you can. A kind word, a kind gesture, goes a long way. Listen to them without judging. Give them a safe space where they can thrive. Your classroom could be the one place where they can escape the troubles at home and out in the world. And don't judge your students based on who they are, rather, see their potential—help them visualize who they can be and how far they can go.

    If you were to talk to my teachers back in high school, none of them would have ever thought I would get this far in my life. I was the least likely to succeed. All it took was one teacher who believed in me and helped me believe in myself."

    Ally Hauptman is the chair of the ILA Children's and Young Adult Book Award Committee and a professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN.  

    Michelle Hasty is the chair of the ILA Children's and Young Adult Book Award Committee and a professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. 

    Hauptman and Zentner will copresent a session at the ILA 2018 Conference, July 20–July 23, in Austin, TX. Be the first to know the 2018 ILA Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards winners, coupled with ideas from committee members for implementing these important texts in the classroom. For more information visit ilaconference.org.

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    ILA 2018 Featured Speaker Colleen Cruz on Anticipating Barriers, the Reading-Writing Connection, and What it Means to be a Changemaker

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | May 03, 2018

    2018-M. Colleen Cruz-headshotIn addition to her upcoming title, Writers Read Better: Nonfiction, M. Colleen Cruz is the author of several professional development texts, including The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, Independent Writing and A Quick Guide to Helping Struggling Writers, as well as the young adult novel Border Crossing, a Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award Finalist. Cruz was a classroom teacher in general education and inclusive settings before joining the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project as director of innovation. She currently supports schools, teachers, and their students nationally and internationally as a literacy consultant.

    As director of innovation for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, much of your work is focused on increasing access to literacy through digital devices and tools. What do you believe are some of the tallest barriers?

    “I think one of the biggest obstacles is the notion of us, as educators, looking at the students and what’s going on with them as opposed to what obstacles we’re putting in their way. It’s looking at our classroom libraries and thinking not only about diverse books, but how do we make our libraries more inclusive? How do we make sure they are accessible to everyone—even to students we may not yet have in our classrooms? We want to be constantly inclusive of more voices and topics and interests, and make sure that we have audio books, visually supportive texts, and the like. We want to be sure that there are as few obstacles to learning as possible. I think sometimes we see an issue or a problem that shows up in our classrooms and we try to solve it as it comes up, but I’m definitely a fan of anticipating barriers before they come up and designing our instruction with access. Setting up our teaching to be inclusive of various learning needs, cultural backgrounds, economic experiences… It’s hard for me to not think of everything together. I’m a big intersectionality person; if there’s barrier for one there’s a barrier for all.

    I’m someone of mixed race, who grew up in a working-class home and is not straight. I saw how many obstacles showed up in my own path growing up, and it’s sort of hard for me to forget about them. Or even to decide which obstacle was harder or not as hard as another. I know firsthand it isn’t about ‘I just need to have these people in my seats’ or ‘I just need to have these books on my shelf and then everything will be OK.’ It’s about actively making sure there is access to literacy. For every kid.”

    Your sessions at the ILA 2018 Conference will focus on how the teaching of authentic writing with reading can help develop students’ reading comprehension. This is also the topic of your upcoming book, Writers Read Better: Nonfiction. What led you to write this book?

    “This is something that I’ve been playing around with personally and professionally for years. There was a game I would play with my friends, where we would read newspaper headlines and then try to guess the lede. It was pretty obvious that anyone who wrote would do it really well—it’s the idea that when you make something, you’re a better consumer of it. If you’re a chef, you know food better. If you sew, you’ll understand fashion in a different way.

    I never really thought about the instructional ramifications of this game until one day, a third grader was struggling with talking about structure in a nonfiction book she was reading. I looked around the classroom for something to help her, and I realized there were no reading charts to help with structure, but there were writing charts. I asked her to pull out the nonfiction book she was writing herself and to talk about the structure she used, and she was able to make the connection between her writing and the book she was reading. I started experimenting—if a kid was struggling with finding text evidence, I looked at the ways he used text evidence in his writing. As I started playing with this I found this whole body of research that I didn’t even know was out there—not just about how reading supports writing, but the other way around.”

    What can attendees expect to walk away with?

    “One of the things I’m emphasizing is how today, more than ever, educators are struggling with how we can get kids to be more critical as readers and not just passive receptacles of content. One of the ways to ensure our kids are wide awake and critical readers—and I think this goes to the notion of social justice as well—is first to teach kids how to find their own voice as writers and then to channel that know-how toward being more savvy when taking in content.

    [Attendees] will walk away with new tools they can use to teach critical reading comprehension. My hope is that they’ll leave with new ideas for how reading comprehension and writing skills can be tools for supporting student voice and a source of power in the world. These are things they can use tomorrow—strategies, resources—things they can do in real classrooms with real kids, even if their resources are limited.”

    What does it mean to be a changemaker?

    “This is where I lean on one of my biggest mentors, Lucy Calkins. One of the things she has said is that she wants to be known as a 'star maker,' someone who makes someone else’s voice heard, someone who lifts other people up. Part of being a changemaker isn’t necessarily going out and doing one specific thing, but rather, opening up doors for other people. Allowing kids to see what they’re capable of, giving them the tools to make the changes they want to make. I’ve always been about students’ independence and agency—my goal is to put myself out of a job. To make them so independent and skilled that they don’t need me.”  

    M. Colleen Cruz will be a featured speaker at the ILA 2018 Conference, July 20–July 23, in Austin, TX. To learn more, visit literacyworldwide.org/conference.

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

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