Making Way…

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A couple of weeks ago I participated in one of my favorite events, the Simmons Center for the Study of Children’s Literature Summer Institute. This year’s theme was: Make Way. When I first read the conference title I immediately thought of Robert McCloskey’s picture book, Make Way for Ducklings. But there are many ways to make way – for new ideas, new friends, new directions, and sometimes, as the conference description said: “in order to Make Way, we might need to get out of the way.”

Among the conference speakers were: Duncan Tonatiuh, Jessica Love, Padma Venkatraman, Carole Boston Weatherford, Mitali Perkins, Oge Mora, Elisha Cooper, Jarrett Krosozkia, Eric Gansworth, and Linda Sue Park. Grace Lin and M.T. Anderson were also on the roster, but I was unable to attend those sessions.

Here are some of the highlights:

Duncan Tonatiuh spoke about the ways in which he draws on his Mexican heritage in his distinctive artwork. He demonstrated the process he uses to create his illustrations and talked about the influence of pre-Columbian Mixtec culture on his work. Soldier for Equality, based on the diary of a Mexican American soldier during WWI, will be published on September 3.

Elisha Cooper focused his session on the creation of Big Cat, Little Cat, his 2018 Caldecott Honor picture book about friendship and the life cycle. It is a quiet book that Cooper says he wanted to be “wood-blocky and serious.” One of the interesting things he shared was the original cover sketch for Big Cat, Little Cat:

Cooper described it as looking “too much like a puffy blanket,” and knew it didn’t work.

His new book, River, is totally different from much of his other work. This one, Cooper said, “slowed me down.”  It’s about a woman taking a solo journey on the Hudson River. I haven’t seen it yet, but the pictures Cooper showed look beautiful.

I was really excited to hear Oge Mora speak.Thank You, Omu!, Mora’s debut picture book, is a 2019 Caldecott Honor Book. She told us that her mother was the inspiration for the story of Omu and her delicious stew. The first time I saw Mora’s colorful cut paper illustrations in Thank You, Omu!, I thought – this artist is someone to watch. Fortunately, Mora has two new books:

Saturday, a story about a mother and a daughter’s Saturday routine, will be published in October and

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read (illustrated by Oge Mora) is due out in January.

Mitali Perkins was an especially inspiring speaker. The hour seemed to fly by in about ten minutes – and I think everyone in the room felt the same way. Perkins writes books for middle grade and young adult readers, but her first picture book, Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story From the Border, will be published on September 10.

The only book I had read by Perkins before the conference is Rickshaw Girl, her well-known story about a Bangladeshi girl who disguises herself as a boy so that she can drive her family’s rickshaw, but after hearing her speak, I bought an armful of her books.

Part of the reason I found her presentation so moving was its theme: crossing borders.  “All stories cross borders; fiction is about someone else or it’s a memoir,” she said. Perkins also spoke about the importance of kids finding their own mirrors and windows. As a child growing up in India, Perkins read many novels that may not seem to be obvious mirrors for her, but she connected with many of the characters feelings and hopes, if not their specific situations.

A conference bonus was Make Way for Dumplings: 20 Years of the Art of Grace Lin. Her work is lovely in books, and in person it is even more magical.

Happy Reading…..




What I’ve Been Reading….

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Hot days. Cool coffee shops. I’ve finally had a good reading stretch and don’t want to be reminded that August begins this week!

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca Solnit – a retelling of Cinderella by the author of Men Explain Things to Me. This one stresses kindness and the true meaning of beauty. As I read, I thought about how much I would have loved this version of Cinderella when I was a young girl and how much I’m looking forward to eading it with students during the school year ahead. It’s exciting to read Cinderella as a young woman with power over her own life and decisions.

Turbulence by David Szalay – I heard Dwight Garner, a book critic for the New York Times, talking about this short novel on the NYT Book Review podcast and it intrigued me enough to buy it that day and read it immediately.  Sometimes it’s good to trust your instincts – and this was one of those times. Szalay’s book plays with the idea of “six degrees of separation” in a really interesting way. Plane flights are what connects these stories together, but most of the “turbulence” is on the ground.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds – Sometimes I read interviews with “book people” in which the person is asked to name a book they should have read by now, but haven’t.  Until last week, this would have been my answer. Reynolds’ books received lots of starred reviews. It won awards. I’ve read many of the author’s other titles. I reviewed one of them for School Library Journal – and yet, Long Way Down was still in my “to read” stack. As Kirkus described it in their starred review, the book is truly “astonishing.”  The story centers on Will, a 15-year-old boy who sees his brother killed on the streets. Will decides to seek revenge, but he has to go down the elevator of his apartment building first.

The New Yorker – It’s kind of strange to include this on my list of reading, but I had set aside weeks of articles and finally got through them – until a new issue arrives this week. Particularly notable was Jane Mayer’s article, “The Case of Al Franken” in which the writer thoughtfully explores the accusations against Senator Franken that led to his resignation from the U.S. Senate. It appears in the July 29 issue.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei – A graphic memoir about Takei’s family’s incarceration during the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.  I have never seen one episode of Star Trek, the show that made Takei famous, but I knew about his work as an activist. Takei’s memoir feels urgent. The story he tells of his own experience is moving, but the parallels he draws with the present are powerful reminders that every person deserves to be treated with respect and fairness.

What I finished:

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips – This will be the highlight of my reading this year. A demanding and immersive novel that led me to stop between chapters to “youtube” videos about the  Kamchatka peninsula where the book takes place. Phillips’ book is, on one hand, a suspenseful story about two sisters who go missing. But to read it as a mystery is to miss what it is really about: people living in a remote and complex place, community, the lives of women, ethnicity.

And what I’m now reading:

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead – I’m not far enough in to talk about this novel, but it moved to the top of my list based on Frank Rich’s glowing front page review in the New York Times Book Review.

Summer is also about bookstores!  And I was recently able to visit one of my favorites: The Bookloft in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

And a new one…

The Book Barn in Niantic, Connecticut is a used book store that is more like a theme park for books. It’s set up like a little village and each location is stacked floor to ceiling with used books. Given the amount of stock they manage, the store is remarkably well organized. After we spent an hour (and a few dollars) there, the staff member caring for the goats gave us directions to an ice cream shop!

The Book Barn also wins the prize for the best book shop sign ever!

Happy Reading…

Highlights from our Middle School List….

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve been featuring some of the titles on Inly’s summer reading list, beginning with picture books for young readers. This week – our middle school students. Books for “tweens” have changed a lot over the past ten years. The books still focus primarily on identity and self-discovery because that’s what kids between the ages of 12 and 14 are figuring out. The difference is that contemporary novels grapple with issues on the front burner far more directly than they did when I was in middle school (or junior high as we called it in Ohio). Today’s young adult books tackle, among other issues: gender identity, social media, climate change, refugees, race, social justice issues, and sexual orientation. Young people have a lot to navigate, but there are lots of good books to pave the way.

Here are five of my favorites on Inly’s middle school list:

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

“…Alicia D. Williams’s stunning debut novel…explores racism within the black community, creating a fully realized family with a history of complex relationships to one another, and to their own skin colors. The suburban school where Genesis finds herself navigating a diverse cast of friends and foes is no less vivid…But the standout voice in this tender and empowering novel—reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, but appropriate for a much younger audience—belongs to Genesis herself, as she discovers a truth that we adults would do well to remember: Growing up isn’t just about taking responsibility for the happiness and well-being of others. It’s also about learning what you can and should fix, and what you cannot. As Genesis discovers, there is no true reinvention without self-acceptance.” (New York Times Book Review)

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

“Gansworth, himself an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, explores the boys’ organic relationship with generosity and tenderness and unflinching clarity, sidestepping stereotypes to offer two genuine characters navigating the unlikely intersection of two fully realized worlds…. And although Gansworth manages the weighty themes of racism and poverty with nuance and finesse, at its heart, this is a rare and freehearted portrait of true friendship.” (Booklist, starred review)

Beast Rider by Tony Johnston

Beast Rider is a short book, coming in at 176 quick pages, a good choice for readers toward the younger end of the Y.A. spectrum…Given that the plight of Latinos fleeing to the North is such a big and important subject, it’s impressive how much information Johnston and Fontanot de Rhoads are able to share, so economically: the violence migrants face during their journey to the States, the help from strangers they receive along the way, the danger that can be found at the border, and the challenges that new immigrants face when they’re in the United States. This novel is as sharp as it is brief.” (New York Times Book Review)

Operatic by Kyo Maclear

“Taking on friendships, crushes, cliques, and music culture, Maclear offers an honest, deeply respectful look at what is at the core of belonging and isolation for teenagers. Charlie Noguchi narrates her middle-school existence through the lens of her music teacher’s assignment to “choose a song for this moment in your life and write about it.” She pines for Emile, a quiet aspiring entomologist, and wonders about the mysterious prolonged absence of Luka, a femme boy who sings like an angel and once disturbed kids and adults at school with his unapologetic fabulousness…When Charlie, Emile, Luka, and friends find the courage to express themselves together, their music creates a rainbow. With poetic words and pictures, Maclear and Eggenschwiler create a synesthetic experience that captures all the high and low notes of youth.” (Publishers Weekly)

White Rose by Kip Wilson

“Sophie Scholl was a young German student who wanted to see the end of Hitler and the Nazi regime. She gave her life for that cause. As children, Sophie and her brother Hans were enthusiastic members of Hitler Youth organizations. But as the Nazis’ chokehold increased and the roundups and arrests of dissenters and Jews escalated, they became determined to resist. After conscription into the National Labor Service, Hans, Sophie, and trusted university friends formed the secret White Rose resistance group. Hans began to compose treasonable leaflets, promoting an uprising against Hitler. Sophie helped get the leaflets out to influential people as well as to other university students. Their work attracted the attention of Nazi sympathizers, who informed the Gestapo of suspicious activities—and they were ultimately caught by a university custodian. Intensive interrogation and imprisonment, followed by a sham trial led by a fanatical judge, led to the sentence of death by guillotine. Organized in repeated sections that move forward and backward in time, readers hear Sophie’s thoughts in brief, pointed, free-verse poems in direct, compelling language…..Real events made deeply personal in an intense, bone-chilling reading experience.” (starred review, Kirkus)

School is out for the summer so I’m going to step away from the blog for a few weeks. I have lots of reading to do! And so, apparently, does this baby —

Happy Reading!

Summer Reading: Part Two

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Last week I listed some of the new titles for young children that are on Inly’s summer reading list. This week – middle grade. There are so many critically acclaimed books being published for readers between the ages of 8 and 12.  Here are ten highlights, listed in order from books for kids on the younger side of middle grade to more challenging reads.

Cilla Lee Jenkins (a series) by Susan Tan (I reviewed the second book in this delightful series for School Library Journal.)

“Cilla Lee-Jenkins is back. The spunky protagonist readers first met in Cilla-Lee Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire is now writing “a classic” with a focus on family traditions. Cilla, who is half Chinese and half white, is now in the third grade and Gwendolyn, her baby sister whose arrival Cilla was dreading in the first book, is beginning to crawl. Cilla is an observant child, an important quality for an aspiring author. She recognizes and is curious about the differences between her Chinese-American grandparents and her white grandparents, and she wonders about her place in a biracial family. While Cilla is trying to understand how families work, she’s increasingly jealous that her “best best friend,” Colleen, is beginning to share jokes and playdates with another classmate. Cilla loves the traditions she shares with Colleen, but she experiences a few bumps and bruises while learning that it’s possible to remain friends with Colleen while welcoming others to join them. The most important event of Cilla’s third grade year is her Auntie Eva’s upcoming wedding, a celebration that gives Cilla many opportunities to explore traditions, romance, and adventure….Cilla’s year is full of lessons about family and friendship, and Tan successfully gets into the head of an inquisitive and exuberant young girl.”

The newest installment is Cilla Lee-Jenkins: The Epic Story

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech (This was one of the top check-outs in the Inly Library this year. A gentle and sweet story about a boy and a baby donkey. Recommend this one to fans of Charlotte’s Web.)

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome (When I met the author at a conference last month, I told her that Finding Langston reads like a love letter to libraries. Set in 1946, Finding Langston is the story of a young boy who, with his father, moves from Alabama to Chicago where he discovers that, unlike in Alabama, he’s welcome in the public library. The Horn Book review read, in part: “Written in short chapters, this crisply paced book is full of historical details of the Great Migration and the role a historic branch library played in preserving African American literary culture.”)

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (I love this book. It’s fun and fast paced and the perfect summer time read. The story of two brothers who have a new neighbor – Styx Malone – who encourages them to participate in a scheme that doesn’t turn out well!)

Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes (This is a quiet book, but it sneaks up on you. I find myself thinking about it more than other books I’ve read in the past few months. The story centers on Amelia, a seventh grade girl who wishes she were going away for spring break like other kids in her class, but when she goes to the local art studio and meets Casey, things begin to change.)

A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata (Kadohata, the author of many excellent books for young readers, won the Newbery Medal for Kira-Kira. Her new novel focuses on twelve-year-old Hanako’s journey back to Japan after WWII.  The Kirkus review reads in part: “Superb characterization and an evocative sense of place elevate this story that is at once specific to the experiences of Japanese-American expatriates and yet echoes those of many others. . . . Full of desperate sadness and tremendous beauty.”)

Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby (I reviewed this one for School Library Journal)

“Eleven-year-old Fig craves normalcy. But with a hurricane approaching, both literally and figuratively, Fig will have to navigate her way to calmer waters. She lives with her father, a once-renowned pianist, who now suffers from dramatic mood swings that make it impossible for him to work or for his daughter to connect with him. Although she is more comfortable in the science arena, Fig enrolls in an art class hoping it will shed some light on the way her brilliant but troubled father’s mind works. Through the class, Fig meets three people who guide her to a deeper understanding of herself: a supportive art teacher, a boy who genuinely wants to be Fig’s friend, and Hannah, a high school student on whom Fig develops a crush. It is Fig’s introduction to the works of Vincent van Gogh, though, that inspires her to learn more about mental illness….”

How High the Moon by Karyn Parsons (Set in the mid-1940s, eleven-year-old Ella lives in South Carolina with her grandparents. Her mother lives in Boston where she is pursuing a jazz career. When Ella goes to stay with her mother in Boston, she discovers a very different world.)

Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis (I reviewed this one too!)

“Eleven-year-old December not only knows everything about birds, she’s convinced she is one. As December, whose mother left her as a young child, moves between a series of foster homes, she’s waiting for the moment when her “wings will finally unfold” and she is strong enough to take flight. But when she arrives at her newest foster home and meets Eleanor, things begin to change. Eleanor has bird feeders and volunteers at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. She is also patient and kind, giving December the space and time she needs to build trust. Among her many acts of gentle support, Eleanor introduces December to Henrietta, a red-tailed hawk who, like December, is recovering from trauma and needs encouragement to fly. Despite her reluctance to hope for a real home, December finds herself wondering if living with Eleanor could be permanent. Of course, that would mean abandoning her dream of flight and December wrestles between her pull skyward and the emotional and tangible comforts of life on the ground. At school, she befriends a trans girl named Cheryllynn. When a group of girls December refers to as “the Vultures” cruelly mock Cheryllynn, December stands by her new friend who is, like December, experiencing transformation. Throughout it all, December holds on tight to the one gift she has from her mother, a book called The Complete Guide to Birds Vol. 1, but painful memories of her mother slowly emerge, allowing December to embrace her rich new life.  A heartbreaking and hopeful story about a young girl who learns the power of kindness and the beauty of belonging.”

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Told in verse, the story of a young girl who leaves Syria for a  new life in America.) Two of the glowing reviews:

“Warga portrays with extraordinary talent the transformation of a family’s life before and after the war began in Syria.… Her free-verse narration cuts straight to the bone… [and] confront[s] the difficult realities of being Muslim and Arab in the U.S. Poetic, immersive, hopeful.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Warga’s middle-grade debut puts its hands around your heart and holds it, ever so gently, so that you’re aware of your own fragility and resilience: just as Jude is while her life changes drastically… Other Words for Home should find its way into every middle-grade reader’s hands.” (ALA Booklist (starred review)

The picture at the top of the post highlights the number of books checked out by our 1st through 3rd grade students this year!

Happy Reading…

Summer Reading Season Begins….

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“The library was two miles away, and walking there with a lot of heavy, already-read books was dull, but coming home was splendid —walking slowly, stopping from time to time on different strange front steps, dipping into the different books.” Edward Eager, Half Magic

Memorial Day Weekend: the official beginning of the summer reading season!  I’ve got a very ambitious stack of books ready to go. Of course, I won’t get through all of them, but I appreciate how aspirational it is.

Inly’s summer reading list has been released, and I’m imagining our students scrolling through it this weekend.  I can’t copy the whole list here, but this week I’ll list ten new titles on the picture book list. New books on the upper elementary and middle school list will be on next week’s post.

Picture Books

Olive and Pekoe In Four Short Walks by Jacky Davis  (“Davis’s understated, just-the-facts text. . .is the perfect foil for Potter’s expressive art. The illustrations capture the ups-and-downs of canine life and friendship with understanding and humor—especially when it comes to Pekoe’s innocent naiveté. The book will touch the hearts and tickle the funny bones of dog-story readers and friendship-story readers alike. Horn Book, starred review)

The Cook and the King by Julia Donaldson  (The king is hungry and wants to hire a cook. Into his life walks Wobbly Bob who isn’t really up to the task. In fact, making fish and chips scares him!  Luckily, the king becomes Wobbly Bob’s collaborator.)

The Last Peach by Gus Gordon (Two bugs find the most perfect peach and have to decide what to do with it. A lovely fable about temptation and conflict resolution.)

The Good Egg by Jory John (a very funny story about the dangers of perfectionism – with lots of fun wordplay!)

Vroom! by Barbara McClintock (“Writing with cadences plucked straight out of Sendak’s playbook, McClintock never wastes a syllable . . . The book doesn’t just put readers in Annie’s shoes. It dares them to find shoes of their own and let their imaginations take the wheel. Max had his wolf suit and Llama Llama his red pajamas; Annie has her racing togs. She fits right in.” Kirkus, starred review)

Hey Water! by Antoinette Portis (a beautiful celebration of water and all of the roles in plays in our lives)

Good Boy by Sergio Ruzzier (“Now this is how to train a dog! . . . One or two words per page and help from the illustrations make this an accessible easy reader. What, at first, appears to be a customary story of a boy and his dog turns out to be so much more—and so much more fun.” Booklist, starred review)

Llama Destroys the World by Jonathan Stutzman (a totally silly book about a llama who eats a lot of cake!)

Ruby’s Birds by Mya Thompson (a little girl learns how to bird watch – and then teaches her family)

How to Give Your Cat a Bath by Nicola Winstanley (An “off-screen” narrator gives a little girl five steps to bathe her cat, Mr. Flea. To put it mildly, Mr. Flea has other ideas!)

Mary took the picture at the top of the post.  It is one of my favorite pictures of the year….

Happy Reading and Happy Summer!


Say Something!


Inly’s third graders have something to say….

Based on the author and illustrator Peter Reynolds’ new book, Say Something, the third grade students made posters delivering their messages to the world and shared them with the author during his visit last week.

In anticipation of his visit, they have been preparing since January: learning about picture book illustration, selecting their own Caldecott winners, and designing their posters. It all came together when Peter Reynolds walked in the door, and the kids were able to give him a tour of their artwork.

He also read The Dot, one of the books featured in our beautiful doorway…

During the questions, a student asked Peter how he thought of the name Vashti, the young artist’s name in The Dot.  I had wondered about that too.

Here’s the answer:  he was working on the book that would become The Dot in his bookstore in Dedham (The Blue Bunny), and a young girl asked him what he was doing. Peter told her he was drawing pictures for a book, and then he heard someone call to her – Vashti. It’s a Persian name, one I had not heard before reading The Dot.

Three more pictures from last week….

A few months ago, this third grade boy came into the Library and said he wanted to try reading The Lightning Thief, the first title in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Since then, it seems like he finishes a book every few days. He raced through the Percy Jackson series and rolled right into the Heroes of Olympus.  It’s been so fun to watch him come into the library and ask: “what’s next?”

This note made me laugh. He is so sincere in wanting to let us know that he took a book, but what book?

Finally, a parent sent me this picture of her twins who are at the end of their kindergarten year – and they have discovered chapter books!  When she went in to say goodnight, this is what she saw…

Happy reading!


A Day to Be Inspired and Informed…


The JFK Library’s annual conference for educators took place last Thursday, and I had the pleasure of serving as co-coordinator. It was a pleasure in every way: the satisfaction of watching teachers and librarians talk about their work, the panelists sharing their stories, the keynote speaker who gave an inspiring presentation, and most of all, the chance to reconnect with an institution – and people – that mean so much to me.

This year’s theme, We the People: Stories of Strength and Struggle in Challenging Times, had a special resonance in this polarized era. Teachers and librarians are navigating the choppy currents of passionate feelings and hard issues, and the opportunity to step back and talk with others is a gift – especially when you are joined by the conferences’ award-winning participants:

Erica Armstrong Dunbar: the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University and author of Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge, a finalist for the National Book Award.

Joseph Bruchac: Bruchac has been writing novels and picture books that reflect his Native American heritage for over thirty years. His most recent novel is Two Roads, which Horn Book calls a “tautly paced and compelling story of self-discovery, family, belonging, and friendship.” He is also the author of Code Talkers, a novel About the Navajo Marines of World War II.

Lesa Cline-Ransome: the author of many picture book biographies, many of them about prominent African Americans, including Frederick Douglass, Louis Armstrong, and Harriet Tubman. Her two most recent works for young readers are Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams and Finding Langston, the story of a young boy growing up in Chicago who discovers the poetry of his namesake, Langston Hughes. In January, Finding Langston was named a 2019 Coretta Scott King Honor Book.

Pam Muñoz Ryan: the author of over forty picture books and novels for young readers, including Echo, a Newbery-Honor book. Esperanza Rising, a fictional account of her grandmother’s immigration story from Mexico to California, is a modern classic and has received multiple awards, including the Pura Belpré Award and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award.

Megan Dowd Lambert is a Senior Lecturer in Children’s Literature at Simmons University. She is the author of Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See, which introduces the Whole Book Approach that she developed in association with the Eric Carle Museum in Picture Book. Megan has also written several notable children’s books including A Crow of His Own. She also writes for The Horn Book and Kirkus Reviews, and is a Staff Blogger for Embrace Race: A Community about Race and Kids.

During Erica Armstrong’s keynote address, she talked about the process of writing both the adult version of Never Caught and the new Young Readers Edition.  She also shared more about Ona Judge’s story and the questions that guided her search to learn more about Ona. Dunbar first “met” Ona through a small ad in a New Hampshire newspaper that caught her attention:

“I was totally geeked,” Dunbar said. “Who was this woman and why did she run away from the President’s house?”  Dunbar spent the next nine years trying to answering that question. When George Washington was elected president, he had to leave Mount Vernon to live in Philadelphia which was then the capital. He took several of his enslaved people with him, including Ona Judge. The problem Washington faced was that Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after they had lived in Pennsylvania for six months. Washington decided to work around that law and would rotate his enslaved people between Mount Vernon and Pennsylvania.

Ona Judge was in Philadelphia long enough to meet free blacks and naturally wanted that freedom for herself. “The black freedom,” Dunbar said, “was palpable for a young woman who only knew life at Mount Vernon.” Ona Judge took part in this “slave rotation plan” for six years according to Dunbar, but when she learned that she was to be given as a “gift” to Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Judge had a decision to make: stay in Virginia or try to escape.  In an 1845 interview with a New Hampshire newspaper, she said “I was packing and left while they were eating dinner.”

“I was attempting to re-center the story,” Dunbar said, “to reconcile the Father of Our Country with the fact that he was a slaveholder.”  She challenged us to think about “how image and myth are created.”

One story I found especially interesting is the one about the title of Dunbar’s book: Never Caught. The publisher, she said, had other ideas, but to the author, the words “never caught” tell a story. Ona Judge was not caught; she died in New Hampshire at the age of 75. But, Dunbar said, “she was never free; she spent two-thirds of her life as a fugitive slave.”

Dunbar’s keynote was both illuminating and inspiring – in fact, both the adult and young reader editions of her book sold out about an hour after her presentation concluded. She raised important questions about the books we select for our students to read, the history we teach, the news we hear.

Dunbar’s new project – which she emphasized is in its early stages – focuses on Mary Bowser, a former slave who ultimately worked as a Union spy in the home of Jefferson Davis.

Following Dunbar’s presentation, the panel discussion focused on timely questions about who tells stories. “There are more books being published about diverse people, but not typically written by people in that group,” Lesa Cline-Ransome said.  All of the authors agreed that there is a heightened awareness about who is writing stories. Pam Munoz Ryan spoke frankly about her acclaimed picture book, When Marian Sang. “Could I write that story today?” she asked. “I approached my subject with great respect and lots of research,” she said, “but I was writing outside my own history and culture. Today I would ask myself hard questions before I undertook it.”

Later in the panel, the conversation focused on sensitivity readers, Megan Dowd Lambert introduced a new term – targeted expert readers – that is increasingly being used in publishing.

Overall it was a wonderful day and I have pages of notes, but this is a long post so I’ll stop here!  If you’re a teacher or librarian, put next spring’s conference on your calendar. You will leave with a renewed commitment to teaching and reading books that reflect the lives of all children.

Finally, a few pictures from the day –

The lunchtime discussion leaders: Natacha Scott, Director of History and Social Studies for Boston Public Schools and Dr. Kim Parker, Assistant Director of Teacher Training at Shady Hill School:

Lesa Cline-Ransome signing books:

And me with Dr. Dunbar: