Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Walter Dean Myers Award: Challenge your students to read diverse books

Earlier this spring, a movement began on social media. Frustrated with the lack of diversity in children's literature and the fact that the organizers of the inaugural BookCon in New York City deemed “the world’s biggest children’s authors” to be all white males, authors Melinda Lo and Ellen Oh expressed their frustration via social media and shortly thereafter a hashtag was born: #WeNeedDiverseBooks, which was first tweeted by author Aisha Saeed and began trending on April 29th of this year. It created ripples all over the world of social media.

From this single hashtag, a movement began and now #WeNeedDiverseBooks has transformed beyond simple passive social media activism into something more tangible. Not long after the hashtag went viral, We Need Diverse Books was established as a nonprofit organization, and in October it was announced that they have created a new award: The Walter Dean Myers Award, which "will recognize published authors from diverse backgrounds who celebrate diversity in their writing and '[allow] children to see themselves reflected back' in those works," (Publisher's Weekly).

The award is currently limited to young adult literature and winners will announced in 2015, but there are plans for adding middle grade and picture books to the award in the future.

In the wake of all the racial tension happening in our country right now, reading widely from diverse perspectives is more important than ever. As Matt de la Pena said recently in a panel at NCTE called Reshaping the Landscape of Story: Creating Space for Missing and Marginalized Voices, "The quickest way to create monsters in our inner cities is by never showing them mirrors of themselves in literature." We need to be giving kids positive portrayals of all cultural backgrounds, not just the voices of the privileged. As one contributor to the video above stated, "We need diverse books because they are the vehicles for empathy and empathy is the best weapon against hate."

So just like many teachers and librarians hold mock Newbery and Caldecott awards in their schools, I would encourage you to hold your own mock Walter Awards. Not only will this give your students an opportunity to read from a variety of cultural backgrounds, allowing them to not only look through windows but also into mirrors, it will also give teachers and librarians a chance to add more diverse books to their own classrooms and libraries.

Even though the Walter Award is starting in 2015 with only young adult literature, I would still encourage you to hold mock Walter Awards for middle grade and picture books as well. Encourage your students students to read from a variety of books with diverse characters and authors, and then create a ballot to vote for their favorites. Not sure how to dig in? Here is a list of 2014 titles to get you started. This is by no means an exhaustive list, mainly because my canon of diverse books needs to increase, and also because I don't know what the exact award criteria will be other than "published authors from diverse backgrounds who celebrate diversity in their writing,"  but it's a good place to start so you can seek out further titles. And please let me know what 2014 titles I should add to this list.

Young Adult
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Fake ID by Lamar Giles
Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
Everything Leads to You by Nina Lacour
Knockout Games by G. Neri
Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela and Elaine DePrince
Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Leatherdale

Middle Grade
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth
Wrinkles Wallace: Fighters of Foreclosure by Marquin Parks 

Picture Books
Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan
Green is a Chile Pepper by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by John Parra
The Hula-Hoopin'Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk,illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Ninja! by Aree Chung
Soccer Star by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated Renato Alarcao
Bravo, Chico Canta! Bravo! by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez, illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling
A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Sugar Hill: Harlem's Historic Neighborhood by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

In the interest of full-disclosure, book links take you to my Amazon Affiliate page. If you buy any of these books through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound.  

Cross-posted to my teaching blog, Use Your Outside Voice

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