Oakland Unified School District’s Bret Harte Middle School Library circulated 298 books during the entire 2015-2016 school year. In 2016-2017 Bret Harte’s total circulation: 3,875.frickbefore.jpg

Frick Impact Academy began the 2016-2017 school year with 174 books checked out and circulated, and ended the year with 2,219 books circulated.

Both schools were closed the year before, for approximately 10 years.

What brings about this dramatic change that will surely influence student’s reading? 1. Great staff – thank you to Librarian Lolade Gbadebo at Frick and Library Technicians Maggie Rogers and Nida Khalil at Bret Harte, 2. Great books on the shelves, 3. “Weeding

frickcafe.jpg

 out” old tired and not great books from the shelves. Frick began the school year with a total of 5,878 books on the shelves and ended the year with a total of 4,946 books. That means 2,349 books were weeded and 1,417 new books were added!

Photos are of Frick – semi-before (before, before the library was filled with junk! ) and

AFTER!

please insure that all school libraries are not used for:
(1) punishment sites for tardy & other students,
(2) student/psychologist or student/counselor 1on1 meeting sessions,
(3) eating, snacks, drinks

and that school libraries are used for:
(1) individual work/study sessions,
(2) completion of homework/papers,
(3) low talking small group work/study sessions,
(4) allows students to print out assignments using printers that are in working condition,

(5) have books that are on the shelves and not in boxes

(6) are open before school starts, and after school ends – for student use to complete homework/papers/etc.

(7) have copies of all school textbooks available for use by students, especially at the beginning of school

Equity thanks to MK

Posted: May 11, 2017 in On Our Minds

This is the first time in the two years that I’ve been employed by Oakland Unified School District that I’ve been able to provide equal access. It’s the first time that I sent ALL high schools and middle schools the same opportunity:

  • A giveaway book for all students
  • A book teens are going to LOVE
  • An AWESOME book (not overstock, not something someone is trying to get rid of)21914livewire3.jpg

It’s Buck, by MK Asante.

Thank you MK (and Random House and donor) who made it possible for 10,000 or more kids in the Bay Area to get to read this book over the summer. For providing equity. It’s a super good feeling to not have to pick and choose and try to come up with some kind of formula to piece meal out something to deserving kids. It feels so liberating, so right to be able to send out to all schools and have principals aware of and experience the benefit of the library and the National and other connections we can bring.

It’s sadly a strange feeling, this liberation from constraint of scarcity. I guess this is what Marx was talking about?

Readers may remember that Buck won the top 10 In the Margins award and was one of my personal favorites –  as is MK.

As many of you know, my last day at the Juvenile Hall was in 2015. Yes, I miss the beloved children, AND… I’ve been lucky in my work to be on a school campus and to see kids I’ve known, give them a hug and hear about books they’ve read and what they’ve been doing.

I’ve taken a little break…. from reading, blogging and the rest, as I’ve been laying the groundwork at Oakland Unified School District to open libraries. More about that later. In the meantime I’ve been thinking about where I’ve been and where I’m going….

I’m passionate about opening up kids’ worlds through literacy and libraries. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with preschool to adult learners, often in communities where people actively hated or feared reading. I’ve attempted to establish relevant libraries all over Alameda County and create lifelong readers as a result.

During the years I worked with adult learners I consistently asked them what they identified as the root cause of their reading challenges. Every single person shared a story of a traumatic experience around books and reading. These negative experiences had one thing in common: they were at school.

National research continues to show that school libraries have a positive impact on student success, however California has occupied last place in every national metric that measures the health of school libraries. In 2014-15 California school districts employed only one teacher librarian for every 7,400 students, when the national average was one teacher librarian for every 1,100 students. California ranks 50th in terms of overall literacy development.

Over 50% of the children in the Alameda County Juvenile Hall are from Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) schools, where only 40 of the 88 schools have a school library, some with parttime staff. These youth in Juvenile Hall have difficulty navigating the public library system in terms of library cards, fines and access to relevant materials. What is the answer?

While at the Juvenile Hall I received many calls from teachers whose students had been released from Juvenile Hall and reentered their classroom as readers. I can honestly say that the culture of reading at the Hall was 99% positive when I left.  The library was a safe havens for exploration and a space for critical literacy.

Collection development is….well, everything. If the collection isn’t relevant, or if there are extraneous books on the shelves that aren’t relevant, or are dingy, or messed up, reading doesn’t happen, the culture doesn’t change. I did not accept donations,  or if I did it had to live up to my picky and high standards. I did not put a book on the shelf that someone might read. I only put books on the shelves that kids or a kid were reading or had read. The collection was so good that kids who were incarcerated for 2-3 and more years still found books on the shelves that they wanted to read. One of my greatest joys was a kid who had been there for 2 years or so and came to the library on fire, taking a stack of 10 books that he had never seen or wasn’t ready for before and now was. I know my students found books that reflected and enlivened their lives and that enabled their excitement about reading, sometimes for the first time in their lives. Meeting and having a dialogue with famous, not famous and local authors helped them to feel connected to the world of books and reading.

In answer to these calls from teachers, I was drawn to work as the District Librarian in the Oakland Unified School District. (I was also headhunted, and I have to say I appreciated that experience). I’m hoping I can have an impact on students before kids get incarcerated. In this way I can serve more students, those from K to 12. Utilizing the model  created at the Juvenile Hall, The Juvenile Justice Literacy Project ensures that teachers, librarians and families will have the information on how to develop relevant library collections for all ages, how to make them available and accessible on a daily basis, thus assisting all students to validate their lives and the lives of their families in the pages of a book.

Keep in touch, I’m working on it!

Hey!!! Here is the list! While I’m not actively working on this committee, I am thrilled that everyone is carrying forth the charge. Once this list is out it’s important that we advocate for the places that we purchase books to carry these titles. I’m about to email Follett and Ingram’s right now. For those of you who are still following stuff I’m doing… I’m now the District Library Manager at Oakland Unified School District. If I ever had any time I’ll start another blog about the wild stuff I’m doing over there.

who do you serveNow in its fourth year, the In the Margins selection committee has released its full list of 2017 winners. The book award committee identifies quality and meaningful resources for librarians and library workers who work with teens in lockdown, foster care, homeless shelters, and other nontraditional venues in the margins. In addition, for the third year, a Social Justice/Advocacy Award winner has also be named. Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?, edited by Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré, and Alana Yu-lan Price, has been recognized as the top book recommended for adults to highlight issues facing marginalized and resilient communities. The full list of the 25 chosen titles and its top 10 books can be found on the committee website. See the press release below for more information.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

01/30/2017

Contact: Dale Clark, In the Margins Book Award and Committee dngclark@shaw.ca

Burnaby, BC – We are thrilled to announce our fourth annual Fiction, Non-Fiction, Top Ten and Social Justice/Advocacy Awards along with our official list of 25 books published by and about those living In the Margins. Our list highlights a survival story of an often overlooked aspect of a teen’s life – aging out of the foster care system – as well as a stunning, self-published fiction debut with a great cover. In a world hungry for diversity in books, we strive to find small press and independent titles and bring them to light, while also acknowledging titles that may be more popular in the US and Canada but specifically resonate with youth living in the margins. Our Social Justice/Advocacy Award goes to the top book recommended for adults to highlight issues facing marginalized and resilient communities. Who Do You Serve, Who do you Protect? brings forth provocative and hard-hitting questions we collectively need to answer.

As we enter our fifth year, we are excited about our next year’s committee and are currently looking for an official sponsor.

In the Margins Official 2017 Top Ten List

  1. Abram, Christy Lynn. Little Miss Somebody. 259p. Humble Bee Publishing. July 2015. PB $9.99.  ISBN 9780692386224.
  2. McLellan, Michael.  American Flowers. 296p. CreateSpace Independent Publishing. August 2015. PB. $11.99.  ISBN 9781516830695.
  3. Carter, Alton. Aging Out: A True Story. 203p. Roadrunner Press. November 29, 2017. Tr. $15.00. ISBN 9781937054298.
  4. Glasgow, Kathleen.  Girl in Pieces.  416p. Delacorte Press. August 2016. Tr. 18.99.  ISBN 9781780749457.
  5. Westhoff, Ben. Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap. Hachette Books. September 2016. Tr. $28.00. ISBN 9780316383899. 
  6. Sterling, S.C. Teenage Degenerate. 252p. S.C. Sterling. January 2016. PB $14.99. ISBN 9780997017540. 
  7. Simone, Ni-Ni. Dear Yvette.  288p. Dafina. November 2016. PB $9.95. ISBN 9780758287762.
  8. Desire, C.  Other Broken Things. 256p. Simon Pulse. January 2016. Tr. $17.99.  ISBN 9781481437394.
  9. Johnston, Jeffry W. Truth. 256 p. Sourcebooks Fire. February 2016. PB $9.99. ISBN 9781492623205.
  10. Free Minds Book Club. The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison. 106p. Shout Mouse Press. October 2015. PB $14.99 ISBN 9780996927444.

In addition, for the third year, we have chosen a title for our Social Justice/Advocacy Award.  The winning title is:  Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? by Maya Shenwar

The Decision Making

This year’s choice for Top Fiction spot was highly debated amongst the committee members. Popular with our readers, Little Miss Somebody chronicles what so many of our young teens face in their daily lives. Wanting to belong, be part of a loving family and yet facing uncertainty in so many ways is a constant struggle for far too many of our youth. At the same time, American Flowers depicts the tragedy and downward spiral of drug abuse. This is a book which hauntingly highlights the consequences of a few bad decisions easily made by young people. The relevance of this book, in the face of the opioid crisis facing so many communities is undeniable.

Alton Carter’s book, Aging Out was chosen by the majority of our In the Margins committee. as Top NonFiction. We debated whether it best fit the Non-Fiction category or the Social Justice/Advocacy spot. However, throughout the discussions and as the year progressed, we realized that many of our youth were selecting this book to read and were recognizing so many areas of commonality with their own lives and experiences.

Across the continent, young adults face the desperation of racial inequality, social upheaval and economic disparity. Through reading, our young people can find solace in knowing that their struggles are the struggles of others. Most of us who work with marginalized youth are regularly amazed and inspired by the conversations and comments our kids make about the books that they read. (There is nothing more heartwarming than seeing a group of teenage boys debating the qualities of books in a juvenile detention center library.) It is incumbent upon us, as librarians, to provide them with the books that will continue to ignite their enthusiasm for reading.

The full list of 25 titles with annotations and more information on the committee, selections, and process can be found at:

http://www.youthlibraries.org/margins-committee

In the Margins identifies quality and meaningful resources for librarians and library workers who work with teens in lockdown, foster care, homeless shelters, and other non-traditional venues living in the margins.

2017 Committee Members

Sabrina Carnesi, School Librarian: Crittenden Middle School; Newport News, VA
Dale Clark, Teacher-Librarian: Fraser Park Secondary; Burnaby Youth Custody Services; Burnaby, BC, Canada
Marvin DeBoise Sr., Library Supervisor: Free Library of Philadelphia, PA
Susan McNair, Librarian: Birchwood School; South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice; Columbia, SC
Maggie Novario, Teen Librarian: Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, WA
Jean Smith, HS Library Media Specialist: Atlanta Public Schools, GA

Read the rest of this entry »

I haven’t been blogging lately as the nature of this blog is changing. To what? I am not sure, although today I am compelled to write.

Today I did my first act of successful witnessing.

Two black women  had been pulled over by the police.

I pulled up beside them, unrolled my window and asked if they wanted a witness. The driver said yes. I parked my car (illegally) and got out of the car with my cell phone. I kept a “respectful” distance away from the police and also from the women in the car.

The woman in the passenger seat looked to me as if she was having a  traumatized response. She was having difficulty breathing and was shaking uncontrollably.  I moved a little bit closer, slowly –  (after all, I am white, and I could be triggering her as well) and asked if they needed anything. The driver said “water” and reached out some money to me. I did not take the money. I went and got the water and gave to the woman. The driver said to me: “with all that is going on, we just don’t know, we just don’t know” inbetween trying to assist the passenger with breathing and calming. She said to me, “we will feel better when the cop leaves.” I moved away from their car.

The cop asked, “can I speak to you for a moment.” I moved towards him so that he would not come towards the women. He said, “she appears to be having a panic attack.” I said, “Absolutely. Are you done? I  think it would assist if you were able to leave.” He got in his car and left.

The driver then asked the passenger if she wanted to get out. I opened the door and held out my hand to help her to get out of the car, which was really difficult given how scared she was. She said, “hold me, hold me” and I reached out to hug her but realized within two seconds that she was not able to relax with me. By that time the driver was there and was able to hold her and calm her down. The driver also talked with me a lot about their fear, and I listened.

The passenger calmed down. Not totally, but enough that she was able to stop shaking. Her eyes were red. Her skin was clammy. I say these things because that was how it was when I leI asked if they needed anything else in the moment or if there was anything else I could do for them.

In case people don’t know or understand I want to break down the privilege part: 1. I was able to witness. 2. I was able to be calm around the cop because I personally have not had negative experiences with cops. 3. I was treated with respect from the cop. 4. I was able to leave and feel as if I were making a difference and that my day was richer for the experience. 5. I was not harassed or penalized in any way for parking illegally. 6. There may be even more I am not yet aware of how much privilege I had in this interaction. These 6 points are not given, are never if rarely the experience of my friends that are people of color in their interactions with the police. This is white privilege.

If a white person had been a driver and needed help would they have had their wits about them enough to offer money for what was needed? The fact that this woman offered me money in the midst of what must have been her own fear and trauma, the fear and trauma of her loved one, and the legacy of trauma she and her people have experienced from those in “authority”  not to mention the  basic hassle and frustration of being pulled over and given a ticket shows her amazing skill and resilience in the face of a huge amount of stress.  White people do not have this stress and trauma. This is privilege.

SLJTeen_ITMAwardsP.D. Workman’s fictional Tattooed Teardrops and Tewhan Butler’s nonfiction title America’s Massacre: The Audacity of Despair and a Message of Hope top this year’s In the Margins (ITM) Book Awards. The selection committee, operating under Library Services for Youth in Custody, selected these winning works among books by, for, and about kids living in the margins. Many of the books selected were either self-published or released by small presses. For the second time in the award’s history, the committee has also chosen a Social Justice/Advocacy Award-winner: Girls in Justice by Richard Ross. For more info about the award, the winning titles, the Top Ten list, and annotations, see the official press release below.

For Immediate Release

3/7/2016

Contact: Amy Cheney,  In the Margins Book Award and Committee

SAN FRANCISCO —The In the Margins Book Award and Selection Committee, (ITM) a committee under the umbrella of Library Services for Youth in Custody (LYSC) selected their top fiction book,Tattooed Teardrops by PD Workman and non-fiction book, America’s Massacre: The Audacity of Despair and a Message of Hope by Tewhan Butler as well as a list of Top Ten, an official list of books by, for and about kids living in the margins. ITM strives to find the best books for teens living in poverty, on the streets, in custody, or a cycle of all three.

Many people in the margins choose to self-publish.  We are dedicated to finding the best of the best of these titles that fit our charge. This is our third year of highlighting self and small press published books that validate, illuminate and humanize those living in the margins. We bring true diversity to bookshelves and libraries by reading, reviewing, debating, soliciting teen feedback and awarding honors for these titles. The majority of  our list may be unknown to you or have gotten little attention in traditional reviews, but are hits with our teens. This is a statement for the need for more of us to look for and highlight diverse books. This year we continue with our top fiction, top non-fiction, and Social Justice | Advocacy award category.  We are proud to contribute to bringing these voices out of the underground and into your libraries, and hope more and more librarians and awards committees will see the value and necessity of including self-published and small press published books.
In the Margins Top Fiction Award, 2016: Tattooed Teardrops by P.D. Workman
In the Margins Top Non-Fiction Award, 2016:  America’s Massacre: The Audacity of Despair and a Message of Hope by Tewhan Butler

In addition, for the second year, we have chosen a title for our Social Justice/Advocacy Award. The winning title is: Girls in Justice by Richard Ross

In the Margins Official 2016 Top Ten List

Butler, Tewhan. America’s Massacre: The Audacity of Despair and a Message of Hope. Raise UP Media. October 2014. PB $19.99. ISBN 9780692281826.

Carter, Alton. The Boy Who Carried Bricks: A True Story of Survival. Roadrunner Press. March 2014. 196p. HC $18.95. ISBN 9781937054342.

Deutch, Kevin. The Triangle: A Year on the Ground with New York’s Blood and Crips. Lyons Press. December 2014. 214p. PB $16.95. ISBN 9781493007608.

Frank, E.R. Dime. Simon Teen. May 2015. 336p. HC $17.99. ISBN 9781481431606.

Kern, Peggy. Little Peach. Balzer + Bray. March 2015. 208p. HC $17.99. ISBN 9780062266958.

Laboucane-Benson, Patti. The Outside Circle. House of Anansi Press. June 2015. 264p. PB $19.95. ISBN 9781770899377.

Lewis, Tony Jr. Slugg: A Boy’s Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration. Hanover Place Press. July 2015. 166p. PB $9.99.

Ross, Richard. Girls in Justice. The Image of Justice. 2015. 192p. HC $29.95. ISBN 9780985510619.

Voloj, Julian. Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker. NBM Publishing. May 2015. 128p. PB $12.99. ISBN 9781561639489.

Workman, P.D. Tattooed Teardrops. PD Workman. August 2014. 292p. PB $15.95. ISBN 9780993768750.

Annotations, the full list and further information on the committee and selections can be found at http://youthlibraries.org/2016-margins-official-list-0.

The 2016 Committee members are:

  • Sabrina Carnesi, School Librarian, Crittenden Middle School, VA
  • Amy Cheney, District Library Manager, Oakland Unified School District, CA
  • Dale Clark, Teacher-Librarian, Fraser Park Secondary, Burnaby Youth Custody Services, Burnaby, BC, Canada
  • Joe Coyle, Project Coordinator, Mix IT Up!, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL
  • Marvin DeBose Sr., Library Supervisor, Free Library of Philadelphia, PA
  • Lisa Goldstein, Division Manager, Central Youth Wing, Brooklyn Public Library, NY
  • Sian Marshall, Head of Teen Services, Oxford Public Library, Oxford Michigan
  • Maggie Novario, Teen Librarian, Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, WA
  • Kerry Sutherland, Youth Services Librarian, Akron-Summit County Public Library, OH

Please go to Library Services for Youth in Custody (LYSC) http://youthlibraries.org/  for more information.

By  on June 12, 2015  Leave a Comment

Throughout my library career, I’ve worked with disenfranchised and resourceful people of color (I don’t like the term at-risk), from preschoolers to adults. For a while, I was a children’s librarian and I implemented a bookmobile program serving a local Headstart and preschool centers with multicultural youth. I provided up to four to six storytimes a day. What I didn’t know about storytime and storytelling when I started, I learned by the time I left that job. By then, I was also keenly aware of how few multicultural picture books there were. I contacted Children’s Book Press— an independent publisher based in San Francisco (now owned by the fantastic Lee & Low)—to locate titles that would be relevant to the kids in my community.

Flash forward to today, and I’m teaching a group of max unit kids to read to their babies (or brothers, or sisters, or cousins). It’s mostly an excuse for me to share books with them. I start with one of my favorite books, Debra Frasier’s On the Day You Were Born (HMH, 1991). As I read, these young people—some of whom who are facing 15 or 20 years of incarceration (and, even, an unbelievable 80 years)—were sucking their thumbs and twirling their hair. In a group of six girls, only one said she’d been read to as a child. What a difference it would make to have positive and welcoming reflections of themselves in the books that we shared. Imagine if all industries, including publishing, were accepting and warm toward them. As Frederick Douglass observed, “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

PuffyLast month, I attended the Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California 2015 Institute. The event’s topic was “All Due Respect: A Dialogue about Diversity, Equity, and Creating Safe Spaces for All Youth.” There, I discovered several offerings that would make excellent read-alouds and storytime picks for incarcerated teens, and a few are included below. Check the organization’s Facebook pagefor videos of some of the presentations.

Aya de León’s Puffy: People Whose Hair Defies Gravity sold out in about 15 minutes, as attendees saw the value of this book. What fun! This title has photographs of real kids and real families with full heads of buoyant hair and the narrative is set to a Dr. Seussian beat. The back cover features honor society student Vanessa Van Dyke who was bullied, then threatened with expulsion, because of her hair. Vanessa says, “It’s puffy and I like it that way.” Buy this one in multiple copies.

Oh Oh BabyI sat next to Janine Macbeth of Blood Orange Press and she slipped me her 2013 book. I actually burst into tears as I read it. Oh, Oh, Baby Boy! is simply gorgeous, both physically— with illustrations of tempura paintings on craft paper—and emotionally. It’s on a topic that’s rarely addressed: baby boys and their fathers. Blood Orange Press is an independent publisher that believes “children and adults of all ages should have access to stories that recognize and lift up their individual power, dignity, and beauty.” This book does just that. It’s an absolute must-purchase for every library.

boy bricksBeing a good father is what motivated Alton Carter, author of The Boy Who Carried Bricks to write his story. His book tells the hard tale of how he was broken as a boy: his mom had five children by four different men and there’s a blank space on his birth certificate under father’s name. Raised in a violent, dysfunctional family living in desperate poverty, Alton finally ran away and ended up in foster care. He was sent to live on a “farm” where he and the other children were horrifically abused and mistreated.

The In the Margins committee that I sit on has been debating the merits of this book, and the biggest issue we’re currently having is over the cover. Committee member Dale Clark says, “If they can get past the cover, a lot of kids would be able to relate to the horrors of Alton’s life. But that cover has to go. Seriously, it could easily be mistaken as an elementary novel and it is anything but that.” I’ve booktalked it with a blank cover. So far, the feedback I’ve received has been positive. We also contacted the publisher with our opinions about the cover and they were receptive to our feedback for the next edition.

Burn-Baby-Burn-Kevin Craig’s Burn Baby, Burn Baby has a good cover and some great graphics inside, especially the chapter headings— a cool heart with flames. Francis’s face was disfigured when his abusive father set him on fire. Now, he’s being bullied by kids at school and doubts anyone can love him. But, Rachel, the new hot girl at school is totally into him. Can it be true? A short page count, appealing cover, and topics ranging bullying to abuse and a bit of romance make this a compelling choice for every library.

If you don’t know who Freeway Rick Ross is, I’m about to officially increase your cool quotient. RICK_ROSS_Rick Ross is the name of the one-time drug kingpin who goes by the name Freeway Rick Ross (to distinguish himself from the rapper Rick Ross). Ross was involved in the crack cocaine trade in Los Angeles, as well as in other areas of the United States, and made millions. His connections to the Iran-Contra scandal were first revealed in a series of articles published by the San Jose Mercury News. While in prison, he taught himself to read and write, and now teaches economics to kids in the Watts neighborhood of LA, and speaks as a reformed drug dealer and community builder. Despite some uneven and repetitive writing of his Freeway Rick Ross: The Untold Autobiography, this is a must-have for every urban library for its author, and its intro to the politics of the drug wars. Purchase multiple copies; it’s going to be popular.

Ghetto BrotherJulian Voloj’s Ghetto Brother is an important book, presenting the story of a once-broken child who becomes a whole adult. Part biography, part history, this graphic novel follows the young, Puerto Rican Benjy as he navigates the streets of the South Bronx as gangs form and develop peace treaties, to his marriage to a childhood sweetheart, and the start of the hip-hop movement. Looking back 40 years, Benjy is able to put gangs and gang life into a larger sociopolitical context that many youth can’t. In this narrative, the protagonist learns of secrets about himself and his family that add even more multicultural depth and dimension to his story. Black-and-white photographs of people and places and a foreword by Jeff Chang (Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, Picador; 2005) make this book both timely and relevant. The dark cover and fuzzy black-and-white drawings detract from the overall presentation, but the story is stellar. It’s a must-purchase for every urban and juvenile detention facility library.

Most of the kids I work with start out actively hating to read, primarily due to the dearth of materials that are relevant to their lives. I honestly believe that if there were more diverse books, there would be far less violence in the world. The fact that these books do not exist is in itself a hostile act that perpetuates violence.

Carter, Alton. The Boy Who Carried Bricks. Roadrunner Pr. 2015. Tr $18.95. 179p. ISBN 9781937054342.

Craig, Kevin. Burn Baby, Burn Baby. Curiosity Quills Pr. 2014. pap. $12.99 141p. 9781620076514.

de Leόn, Aya. Puffy: People Whose Hair Defies Gravity. CreateSpace. 2013. pap. $15. 23p. 9781494436773

Macbeth, Janine. Oh, Oh, Baby Boy! Blood Orange Pr. 2013. Tr $15.95. 32p. 9780985351403.

Ross, Rick and Cathy Scott. Freeway Rick Ross: The Untold Autobiography. CreateSpace. 2014. pap. $19.99. 282p. 9781499651539.

Voloj, Julian. Ghetto Brother Warrior to Peacemaker. illus.by Claudia Ahlering. NBM. 2015. pap. $12.99. 127p. 9781561639489.

Great interview. 

RAWing with Paul Langan answering the five questions of doom

  1. Tell me how you got started writing, in particular writing for teens. Why did you focus on writing books with an urban setting featuring youth of color?

I wrote my first short story in 6th grade. It was almost Halloween, and my reading teacher challenged our class to write a scary story. The winning story would be selected by the class and receive a $5 prize. I was a new kid in the school, and I wrote my story about the thing that scared me the most—a classmate who spent much of his time shoving me in the hallways and threatening me on the playground. In my story, he met a glorious end at the hands of a horde of bully-hungry zombies. He got attention, which he liked, but I got that $5 prize and discovered a new tool to deal with difficulties in my world: writing.

Many moons later, I worked for Townsend Press as a coordinator for a summer reading program for Philadelphia 8th graders. My goal was to get kids reading. To do that, we created a reading contest. Kids would select a book straight off teacher recommendation lists and bestseller charts. They’d read it and call our toll-free reading hotline where I’d confirm they finished the book. Prizes, including cash, were awarded based on the number of pages each student read.

We had fun that summer, but I discovered our students, mostly African American teens, seemed uninterested in the titles teachers recommended. Instead, they gravitated toward novels set in cities, featuring protagonists that looked like them (a rarity in the YA world in the late 1990’s). In retrospect, we should not have been surprised that they preferred books that spoke to their experiences. But at the time, this idea was revolutionary. The kids schooled us. The lesson was simple: if we want young adults to pay attention to books, we need to give them books that pay attention to them. That idea sparked the Bluford Series.

2.      Bluford is popular for lot s of reasons, but in particular often with kids who can’t or won’t read other books. In your opinion, what are the elements of a successful book for reluctant teen readers?  

Confession. I’ve never liked the term reluctant reader.  I’ve seen many with this label become avid readers—once they get the right book. Why don’t they have it? One culprit is reluctant publishers. For too long, mainstream publishers refused to acknowledge or embrace young readers of color. This is well documented by greater minds than me, and it is changing (finally). But traditional publishing still seems reluctant to address the issue of access. Listing a hardback book for $19.99 online or in a suburban bookstore is evidence of the problem. In crowded neighborhoods in Philly, Chicago, or Detroit, for example, bookstores are rare. Municipal libraries are underfunded. School libraries are being shuttered. Money for books and eBooks is limited. As a result, many teens don’t get to experience exciting YA books. Is it fair to call them reluctant readers? I don’t think so.

And sometimes we actually teach them to be reluctant. Kids without access to books tend to have reading experiences confined to what’s taught in school. Often these books are far removed from students’ interests, and they come with baggage: quizzes, writing assignments, worksheets, book reports, etc. These tasks make reading a punishable activity. For strong readers, this work can be dull. For struggling readers (more often boys), this work can leave them discouraged or frustrated. Years of this in school can destroy enthusiasm for reading. It may even lead students to conclude books have nothing to offer—or to give up on reading altogether.

The Bluford Series was crafted to change this. Bluford stories attempt to reintroduce reading to teens who have, for whatever reason, abandoned books. Each novel is set in bustling inner-city Bluford High School, a place one reader called “Hogwarts in the ’hood.” Each story begins with a situation that has emotional hooks that resonate for young adults: the desire to connect and be accepted, the longing for love and respect, the pain of loss or rejection, the feeling of being misunderstood by family or friends, the sting of betrayal and rivalry, the difficulty of being young and confused and uncertain, the magical intensity of growing up. These sparks burn bright in young adults.

In addition, the books are short (less than 200 pages), giving teens who may think they dislike reading a chance to finish a book. Many write to me saying Bluford novels are the first they’ve ever voluntarily completed. Some describe feeling as if something was wrong with them because, for the first time in their lives, they stayed up all night reading. A few have even said they thought they were ill because their hearts raced and they forgot about dinner while reading!

To produce this reaction, Bluford novels move quickly and include lots of action and suspense, starting on page one if possible. They also, I hope, pack an emotional punch, leaving readers with something to think and, perhaps, talk about.  This combination allows the books to compete with smart phones, social networking, and video games for teens’ attention—not an easy task. It might also convince them to give books a second chance. That was the intent from day one.

3.      Tell me a little bit about the deal with Scholastic coming out with the Bluford books with different covers, and in one case, a different title.  What, if any other changes, did you need to make to make the Scholasticable? (is that a word?)

I like the word! I may have to borrow it. Yes, Scholastic approached us years ago and expressed interest in distributing the Bluford Series. Townsend Press, my employer, is a small educational publisher. We lack the reach, expertise, and distribution muscle of Scholastic and were delighted they felt our novels were potentially Scholasticable.

We agreed to terms in which both Townsend and Scholastic could distribute the books. Their marketing team felt that photograph-based covers made more business sense. They also requested that we change the title of one of our books—The Gun—for fear some bookstore chains may refuse to carry it. To appease them, I renamed that book Payback, an alternate title I had all along.

4.      Okay, the big question:  so I reluctantly read a blog review of Outburst in my The Alternative series. This book tells the story of an African American teenage girl coming out of detention and going into a foster home.  The review began with “Jones, who is white …” and I wished I would have stopped reading there. Have you faced this being a white male writing stories for and about kids of color?  Most everybody seems to be onboard with we need diverse books, but not if those books are not written by people of color.  What are our thoughts on this issue?

Ah, yes. The Big Question—worthy of more than a few paragraphs!

I’ve been around the block for a while now. Early on, I visited schools where readers—teens and adults—didn’t know I was white until my pasty face appeared in the front office. I heard readers exclaim, “Oh my God, he’s white,” more than a few times. I have also heard my books described as “ghetto novels,” a racially charged term with positive and negative meanings. Still others have suggested I’ve “neglected” or even discriminated against white readers by not featuring white protagonists. Others are angry that I’ve written such books, arguing that I have no right to do so.

Race is our cultural third rail, and it is woven right into our national DNA, whether we want to admit it or not.  We are all impacted, and we all play a part. If you choose to avoid the issue or look away, you’re playing a part too, a passive one.

Most writers, myself included, are not passive. If we were, we wouldn’t choose this path. When you decide to write, you make a commitment to be true to what you are creating. That means doing your homework and research, mining your experience, and delving through your own creative process to tell the Truth. Your readers deserve all you can give (and sometimes more). So do your characters. If you get it wrong, both will abandon you.

For Bluford, I chose to set events in a city school, similar to the schools students in our summer program attended.  For believability and realism, I made this fictional high school mirror the population in those schools. As a result, few students at Bluford High are white. That’s reality! Unlike most YA books, especially in 2001 when Bluford appeared, nonwhite characters are not relegated to the sidelines. They are not minor players or token characters. Instead, they are the centerpiece, the heroes and foils, parents and children, principals and janitors, bullies and targets, veterans and neighbors, police officers and thugs in every story. Sometimes they are many of these things at once. Like all of us, they are complex and multi-layered with their own histories, secrets, and mysteries. They are also, I hope, full of contradictions, flaws, talents, fears, hopes, beauty and ugliness—traits that are authentically human. Real.

I get letters all the time. My favorites are those that say, “I know you’re white, but it’s okay because you totally get it.”  I treasure these because as a writer and fellow human being, Iwant to get it. It is the prime directive.

Of course, there are some things as a white man I will never fully understand. While I have many experiences which inform my work, my white skin makes my American experience different than that of my characters and many of my readers. This is complex territory too big to fully address here, but as a white writer, I must account for it, examine what it means, own up to it, and always remember it. This is our cultural backdrop, but it is not an excuse to avoid or ignore readers of color. That approach has been standard practice for far too long, and we see where it leads. Let’s change it. I think all writers should join in this effort. All readers matter.

Regardless of background or history, writers share a single challenge: to breathe art and Truth into their work. Readers get to decide whether we are successful. It’s that simple. To paraphrase the Bard, the story is the thing.

Does the story hold up? Does the writer get it? Does the art resonate? If yes, there’s nothing more to say. I aim for yes.

5.      What are you working out now?  In addition to writing Bluford books, what else do you do for Townsend Press?

We’re a small independent educational publisher, but we have a big reach. We produce materials—novels, leveled books for emerging readers, reading/writing texts for schools and colleges—that engage students and help teachers teach. The Bluford Series is just one part of that. We also sponsor various programs to assist schools with limited budgets. As an editor at Townsend Press, I have many responsibilities outside the Bluford Series. Lately I’ve spent much time working to digitize our offerings. But I am happy to say I’ll be returning to the Bluford Series full-time next year, and a new Bluford book, in the works for some time now, will be out this fall. We’ll post details about it soon on Bluford’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Bluford.Series

Programming: AR – Rapper

Posted: May 13, 2015 in On Our Minds

Arthur Renowitzky is the executive director and founder
of Life Goes On Foundation (LGO) a nonpolitical/nonprofit organization working in the Bay
Area to help bring an end to gun violence amongst youth. Arthur founded LGO in 2007
after he was shot point blank in the chest outside of a San Francisco night club by an
unknown assailant, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. The shooter took $20
dollars from Arthur and a $15 tin chain. The shooter was never found. Arthur forgives his
shooter and wishes for no revenge.
After the shooting, Arthur was rushed to the hospital and believes the first responders are
the reason he is alive today.   After a 23-day battle in a medically induced coma, Arthur
woke on Christmas Eve-day to learn he would never walk again. That news drove Arthur’s
mind in a direction he never imagined – not, my life is over, but “I can’t let this happen to
another kid like me”
Establishing his “line in the sand” against gun violence, Arthur knew the best route was
to found his non-profit, LGO, and aggressively hit the streets spreading his message of
peace and the real reality of gun violence, through special events and public speaking.