Beware the summer slide. That’s a warning about the decline in reading skills that kids can experience when they’re out of school for the summer. How do we cure it? Books. Hooray for reading!
But telling a kid to pick up a book because they need it is much different than inviting them to have a blast in a story of their choosing. What if we flipped the script? Instead of being a warning, what if the summer slide was a metaphor for a whoosh into adventure, drama, history and magic? What if instead of using books as medicine, we offered them as opportunities for kids to fly?
June has been full of celebrations: LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, Juneteenth, Black Music Month, Father’s Day. There are amazing book lists that explore these themes and many others. Here are a few to help kick off the summer slide into reading fun:
This post is for the kids. The ones who feel unseen and unheard. The ones who feel less than compared to others. The ones who worry that a better day will never come.
I’m here to tell you that your voice, your smile, your beauty, your brilliance fill this world with hope and love. Hold your head high, young heroes. Now strut. That’s right. Do you. For real. Bump what people think. Put some swag into your walk. Put some stank into your steps. You just made them look. Guess what they saw? A leader. A trailblazer. A difference maker. That’s what you are. Check you out. Proud, brave and bold.
I went to a violin vigil recently put on by the United Strings of Color. Between the stirring violin performances, young poets stood up and gave voice to their feelings. As they shared their pieces about the pain of colorism, the hurt of racism, the heartbreak of kids their age being murdered, something important was born. Each poet became a beacon, radiating courage, commitment and capacity to bring change.
You’re a light too. What’s your story? Put your heart on the page. Share your struggle and your song. Give us the weary blues and the sweet sunshine. Show us who you are.
Not sure how to start? Look in the mirror and say that you believe in yourself. You know what? Say it and then shout it. Really mean it. Then, sit down and get to work. Write your thoughts in a notebook. Type them on your computer or phone. Record a rap breaking down how you feel.
Do you, my friends. That’s what the world needs. Amazing, incredible, special you.
Here are some places to share your voice:
SKIPPING STONES: AN INTERNATIONAL MULTICULTURAL MAGAZINE
Skipping Stones accepts essays, stories, letters to the editor, riddles and proverbs, etc. Submissions should be typed or neatly handwritten and limited to 750 words and poems to 30 lines. They also accept illustrations, drawings, photos or paintings. Guidelines say to include your name, age and address along with your submission.
”Stone Soup welcomes submissions by young people through age 13. Include your name, age, home address, phone number, and e-mail address if you have one. Please do not include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Send copies of your work, not originals. If we need the original, we will request it. You do not need to include a photo of yourself.”
Send submissions to:
Stone Soup Submissions Dept. P.O. Box 83 Santa Cruz, CA 95063
The contest is open to students in grades 7-12. Works are judged on originality, technical skill and voice. Categories include science fiction/fantasy, journalism, personal essay/memoir, painting and photography.
This year marks the 101st anniversary of Children’s Book Week. More than 1,000 bookstores, schools and libraries participate around the nation. The spring celebration kicks off Monday, May 3 and runs through Sunday, May 9. Here are seven ways you can be part of the magic:
The 2021 theme for Children’s Book Week is Reading is a Superpower. Share the Superpower Challenge with kids you know. There are fun activities for children to explore and themed reading lists focused on topics from Science and STEM to Identity and Culture and Social Activism. Cap it off by downloading the superpower certificate for your super kids.
Looking for a free children’s book to read and share? Disney’s Tales of Courage and Kindness, a collection of 14 original stories, debuted April 27. Each one focuses on a Disney princess or queen. It’s available as a free download through the end of August. I was honored to write the story about Princess Tiana. I love the art by Tara Nicole Whitaker.
Shop for children’s books at one of our many wonderful indie bookstores in the Triangle. Congratulations to the newest, Rofhiwa Book Cafe. This Black-owned bookstore in Durham has this as its mission: “We endeavor to foster a spirit of heightened engagement by curating a living, active, and affective collection of books that capture the dexterity of black writers across classic and contemporary works.”
Download the free Children’s Book Week posted designed by acclaimed illustrator Bryan Collier. Don’t forget to download the activity sheets too. They include a checklist, name the superpowers of your favorite character worksheet and a create your own comic strip template.
North Carolina is home to wonderful children’s book authors who are also poets. Their work shines at any time of year. But in honor of National Poetry Month, here are three you should know:
Called the godfather of the poetry slam in the Southeast, acclaimed writer Allan Wolf has been a performer for more than three decades. His outstanding work for young people spans from picture books and poetry to young adult novels. His latest offering, No Buddy Like a Book (Candlewick), is a rhyming tribute to the power of imagination and joy of reading. Check out his fun, musical performance of poems and book excerpts. Visit Allan at his website.
New York Times bestseller Carole Boston Weatherford has been called the dean of the nonfiction picture book biography. Author of dozens of award-winning titles, she uses poetry to illuminate the stories of people and events that belong in the spotlight. Marilyn Monroe. Fannie Lou Hamer. Arturo Schomburg. She has won countless accolades for her work. Her latest honor is having two of her books, Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom (Candlewick), and By and By: Charles Albert Tindley, the Father of Gospel Music (Atheneum) named to NCTE’s list of Notable Poetry Books and Verse Novels. Hear her read excerpts of Box and Beauty Mark, her verse novel about Marilyn Monroe, here. Visit Carole at her website.
An inspiring group of young musicians, the Philharmonic Association’s United Strings of Color, asked me to offer tips on selecting poetry to accompany their Violin Vigils, a series of performances in music and verse “to commemorate Black lives lost and call for equal justice for all.” We discussed figurative language, rhythm, meaning and more. I was moved by the powerful poems and their thoughtful ideas about connecting the themes with their violin pieces. The first Violin Vigil, an outdoor event at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, takes place Saturday, May 1. Space is limited to honor Covid-19 guidelines. You can get a sample of their music here. You can register to attend one of the Vigils here.
Behind the Books: 5 NC Creators Talk Writing & Illustrating for Kids
If you’ve ever thought of writing a children’s book, this event’s for you. Join me for a conversation with nationally acclaimed North Carolina children’s book creators John Claude Bemis, Clay Carmichael, Jacqueline Ogburn, and Donna Washington about the whole children’s book creation process. We will share our publishing journeys, offer tips on creating for children, and provide insight into the children’s literature field.
This event is part of the Piedmont Laureate program, and is co-sponsored by the Orange County Arts Commission, the Chapel Hill Public Library, the Orange County Public Library, and Flyleaf Books.
Carrie Knowles Has First In-Person Quail Ridge Event
Join Carrie J. Knowles, the 2014 Piedmont Laureate in Short Fiction, for Quail Ridge Books’ first in-person event since the pandemic started on Sunday, May 23 at 2 p.m. She will talk about her novels, A Musical Affair and The Inevitable Past. You don’t want to miss it. Details here.
Carrie Jane Knowles has published five novels, a collection of short fiction, a memoir about her mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s, and a writing workbook. She writes a personal perspectives column for Psychology Today: Shifting Forward. Learn more about her work here.
She wrote about the kinds of kids she saw around her. Funny, adventurous, opinionated and brave. Sounds like common sense, but it was ground-breaking. With more than 90 million copies sold, Beverly Cleary‘s books have touched people around the world and influenced generations. National Book Award. Newbery Medal and Honors. The world lost a great when she passed away last week. But the impact of her characters lives on: Ramona Quimby. Beezus. Henry Huggins. Names etched in many hearts and minds, they allow kids to see themselves and each other, to explore, problem solve and celebrate life. Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for your genius, heart for children and vision.
Here are some articles and essays celebrating her incredible contributions:
Want to follow in Beverly Cleary’s footsteps and write for children? Here are a few events, classes and resources.
In celebration of Children’s Book Week, join me in conversation with three acclaimed Black children’s book creators on Thursday, May 6 at 5:30 p.m. Panelists will include author Fracaswell Hyman, author-illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton, and author Carole Boston Weatherford. A Q&A will follow the discussion. The event is sponsored by the Durham Public Library and Durham Arts Council. Details here.
John Claude Bemis. Does his name sound familiar? He’s one of our amazing past Piedmont Laureates and an acclaimed children’s book author. There are a few spots left in his Creating Stories for Young Readers workshop at the Table Rock Writers Workshop. John is generous, talented and has won awards for his teaching. Check out this chance to learn from one of the greats. Learn more here.
Want to learn how to use techniques from cinema to engage readers? Cinda Williams Chima is leading a webinar titled Lights, Camera, Action: Using Cinematic Techniques to Deliver Character and Story on Thursday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. It’s sponsored by SCBWI-Carolinas. Find out more here.
SCBWI – “The international professional organization for authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults.”
The Authors Guild – “. . . the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization of writers.”
Highlights Foundation – ” . . . helps children’s authors and illustrators hone their craft through intimate and inspiring workshops.”
Children’s Book Council (CBC) – ” . . . the nonprofit trade association of children’s book publishers in North America, dedicated to supporting the industry and promoting children’s books and reading.”
The Brown Bookshelf – “ . . . designed to push awareness of the myriad Black voices writing for young readers.”
We Need Diverse Books – ” a 501(c)(3) non-profit and a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”
The African American Children’s Book Project’s “I Read to See Me” program recently invited me to do a virtual author visit with Folk Arts – Cultural Treasures Charter School in Philadelphia. It’s a school dedicated to “equity and justice for Asian American students and immigrant and refugee students of all races.” The principal, Pheng Lim, shared that the kids learn about community organizing and how to be upstanders instead of bystanders. They have a Black Heritage Day each year and sing the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice & Sing. They teach kids the importance of having cultural pride, compassion and commitment to creating a loving world. What is an essential component of this learning? Children’s literature.
That wonderful school is not alone in teaching kids to stand against hate and celebrate diversity through reading. Around our state and nation, there are amazing educators, librarians and parents doing the same. Northside Elementary in Chapel Hill. Conn Magnet Elementary in Raleigh. Pearsontown Elementary in Durham. Those are just a few of the outstanding schools making sure the books kids read look like the world around them. Through children’s literature, kids can see themselves and their families, explore each other’s cultures and experiences, find connections and gain new understanding, strength and hope.
There’s so much going on in the world right now that’s heavy and heartbreaking. More children than you realize know about the hate-fueled massacres, domestic terrorism, racist, sexist and homophobic slurs poisoning our country. They talk about it online and in texts. They bring it up during playdates. Some are survivors of verbal or physical attacks themselves. Or have family members who have suffered or even been killed.
In response to the violence against the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) community, Newbery Honor-winning children’s book author Alicia D. Williams posted that we can offer support by reading their stories: “Reading creates understanding,” wrote Williams whose novel Genesis Begins Again explores colorism. “Breaks down barriers. Erases fear of different. Focuses on the similar. Writers write stories from the heart to open doors of our hearts and minds.” I was nodding before I even finished reading her powerful words.
Acclaimed author Kathleen Burkinshaw, who lives in Charlotte like Williams, donated a hardcover copy of her moving novel, The Last Cherry Blossom, for the Kidlit Against Anti-AAPI Racism Auction. The book is based on her mother’s story of being a young Hiroshima survivor and is a United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs Resource for Teachers and Students. The auction is closed, but we can keep making a difference.
Stack your home, school and library shelves with books by creators who represent the rich tapestry of our nation. Read these books to young children. Read them with older ones. Gift them to kids you know. Talk about the stories. Explore the experiences, the joys and the struggles. Discuss how your child(ren) and the characters are alike and different. Advocate for equity. Make sure classroom reading lists are inclusive and that everyone can see themselves and each other.
Where do you find the stories? They’re all around.
Here are some resources to get you started:
KiBooka – A website created by Newbery Medal winner Linda Sue Park that celebrates children’s books by creators from the Korean Diapora.
The Brown Bookshelf – A website that centers and raises awareness of books by Black children’s book creators.
We Need Diverse Books – A nonprofit organization that “that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”
Cynsations – “Blog of award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith.” Smith, is the author-curator of Heartdrum, a new imprint at HarperCollins highlighting the voices of Native creators. Cynsations features resources, articles and insights in the kidlit world and is committed to diversity, inclusion and social justice.
American Indians in Children’s Literature – A website “established in 2006 by Dr. Debbie Reese of Nambé Pueblo, American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) provides critical analysis of Indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books.”
Latinxs in Kid Lit – A website that promotes books by Latinx creators and offers important perspectives and resources about Latinx children’s and YA literature.
Asian Author Alliance – “A group to celebrate Asian Kidlit and the diversity of stories that originate from the Asian Continent.”
Las Musas – “A collective of women and non-binary (identifying on the female spectrum) Latinx authors whose mission is to “spotlight the new contributions of Las Musas in the evolving canon of children’s literature and celebrate the diversity of voice, experience, and power in our communities.”
Social Justice Books – “a project of Teaching for Change, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide teachers and parents with the tools to create schools where students learn to read, write and change the world.”
The Conscious Kid – “an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to equity and promoting healthy racial identity development in youth.”