#WNDB: supply and demand in education.

Throughout my tenure at Books of Wonder, my responsibilities shifted and evolved. When Covid-19 forced the store to close and left me jobless, the work was perfectly in line with my personal values. I had become the school outreach manager—a job that seamlessly wove together school & library marketing, professional development trainer, and event planning .

I collaborated with parent volunteers and our school book fair book buyer to create book fair events unique to each school community. I created timelines for the events, handled logistics, and managed sales staff for the book fairs.

I booked authors for school events and created an educator night at the store for publishers to pitch their newest titles.

But the aspect of my job that I really loved was meeting with teachers and administrators to talk about the importance of diverse books. We talked about the Lee & Low Baseline Survey and the CCBC statistics and infographic. I pitched the newest #ownvoices titles and made a few sales. We had honest conversations about parents who might throw up obstacles to LGBQIA+ content. (Most often, the administrators who invited me in said, “Send them to me.”)

Now, I’m thrilled to see that lists (that have existed for a long time) of #ownvoices books are making the rounds on social media. Educators are jumping in and that’s a great thing because increasing and constant school & library demand for these books will ensure that they continue to be published.

I have long advocated for changes to required reading lists to include newer and more diverse titles but there are a series of arguments that keep these lists frozen in time. (BTW: You can replace “lists” with “classroom libraries” in all of the following arguments.) Some of these lists are frozen in time with the excuse that the books on them appear on state and national tests. Some of them are frozen in time because the school has class-sets of those books and has not/will not allocate resources for new titles. Some say they cannot change the list because the books are “classics.” (I urge those teachers to ask themselves, classic for whom?) Some think that because their classrooms are filled with majority white students, that their lists are just fine. Some say they just don’t have the time.

But some of them are frozen in time because educators are used to teaching those books or feel like an imposter teaching other books.

A couple of stories:

  1. I once taught at a school where a teacher had a file of 180 index cards each with her daily teaching plan. She was a veteran teacher, and while I don’t know how long she’d been using those cards, she didn’t deviate from her plans in the five years I taught at that school. That meant any student-led inquiry had to be contained within her box of index cards.
  2. I advocated for new more diverse literature to be added to my son’s AP English required reading in 2017. My plea started when I saw the list at an open house and continued back and forth with the teacher and my school board member until the teacher finally emailed this:

Teachers, at least teachers like me, select art from an extremely personal place. I am not capable of teaching certain books well, because I don’t have a deep connection to them. 

AND:

Since your question at open house I have been trying to nail down why I don’t teach more authors of color; why I don’t feel a strong enough connection to many authors who are not white Europeans. The answer is simple: I’m a white woman, educated in Canada and Europe, with a focus on Slavic languages (still white, though).  The literature I know I can teach well (which may be different from the stuff I read) comes out of those European traditions.

AND Finally:

The other truth that rushed in before I shut the door on this insight was that what we need isn’t so much white, middle-class ladies teaching about the African or Hispanic or Asian experience to our very white population, which always seemed a little fishy to me–what we need is to hire teachers of color. That is the perspective we are actually missing, in my opinion. 

Absolutely, schools that hire all white faculty need to do better. But in my opinion, that is not an excuse to rob all children from reading widely. To me, teaching literature, teaching anything really, is not about knowing everything. It is about curiosity, passion, lifelong learning, and being vulnerable to new learning in a way that inspires your students to do the same.

If your reaction to updating your required reading lists, your classroom libraries, and your curriculum is, “I don’t know enough about these books,” here are some suggestions.

  • Use this summer as an opportunity for professional development and take a Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+ literature class at your local university.
  • Read more.
  • Research more.
  • Invite local scholars to talk to the class and pay them.
  • Plan virtual visits to museums that highlight the author, history, or the culture depicted in the text.
  • Plan virtual author visits and pay the authors.

Or…say to your students on day one. “This year we are changing our required reading list and I’m learning too. Over the next three weeks we will come up with a list of criteria together, do research, and change this list to reflect diverse, high-quality, literature.” Students are amazing. They are demanding change.

And where there is demand, there needs to be supply.

#BlackLivesMatter: Call your elected officials and vote.

Dear Friends,

Because of the massive Black Lives Matter protests, we may (finally) have a moment for real change at the highest levels. Everyone needs to write to their senators to express their support to increase funding for programs that have a foundational effect on communities: healthcare, housing, youth services, and education. A shift in priorities requires the money to come from somewhere.

For years upon years, we (primarily white people) have supported candidates who shifted monies from these community-building programs into expanding and militarizing the police, incarcerating Americans generally, and Black Americans specifically.

Together, we have built a culture that pours money into the hands of corporate prisons, detention centers, home detention, and bail on the backs of the Black community.

We have defunded conflict de-escalation, social work, education, health, addiction treatment, and mental health. For years it was under the guise of “balancing the budget” and “lowering the debt.” Since monies were always found for more weapons here and abroad, that seems (to use a military term) like a smoke screen.

And now, when we as a people are saying that we want to shift those monies, shift those priorities, the Senate majority is talking about needing yet another study. Enough is Enough.

We have had study after study. It is time to listen to the people. Democrats, it’s time to go big. It is not time to pussyfoot around the issue with minor fixes to placate swing state voters. We need to ask for everything we want—an anti-racist society.

We must keep pushing through to November when we can flip the Senate and get a new president who will sign a bill that makes substantial changes to the racist allocation of funds that support our systems.

If you don’t want to call it “Defund the Police” call it something else. I offer, The Investment for a Better Future bill or the Trying to Undo Some Bad Shit bill. I don’t care. What I do care about is that this is not the America I’ve been working to give to my children or your children.

We can do better. We must do better. Please register to vote. Please vote. Please call your Senators and Representatives today or test “Resist” to 50409 and the bot will help you get in touch with your elected officials.

Quaranterms

I’ve been enjoying the journaling prompts from Suleika Jaouad’s, Isolation Journals Project. Day 56 (for the project) prompted that we coin terms appropriate for our times ala the Washington Post’s longstanding neologisms. Here are my ten in alphabetical order.

Cattoyitis: the persistent condition of purchasing various cat toys and scratching posts (often from Instagram) in the hopes that one might engage your cat in independent play and keep it from scratching the couch to hell. All attempts are likely to fail. (see KittyMommyDearest)

DoleScroll: the act of constantly looking and re-looking for job postings in your field of work when you are unemployed due to quarantine. You know that people rarely get posted jobs, but you do it anyway instead of stalking your LinkedIn network.

FelineThistemper: cat behavior characterized by random hand biting or scratching. Often happens during forced Cattoyitis play sessions with KittyMommyDearest.

KittyMommmyDearest: when an otherwise kind, caring cat parent rages at their cat for misbehavior which is actually just the cat being a cat. Exacerbated by constant isolation with only said cat for company which leads one to believe the cat has human reasoning skills (if/then).

Muffintopless: walking around the apartment with jeans unbuttoned and unzipped. The jeans fit fine in March.

NewsBlues: feeling you get from ingesting too much negative news. (see Newsopti)

Newsopti: person who is ever hopeful that the next time they check the news there will be a vaccine, miraculous cure for COVID19, or that humans will be kind to each other and the Earth. (see NewsBlues)

Overhold: the process of putting a hold on too many e-books from the public library’s Libby App and not reading them.

Taxjolt: the realization that the potponed tax deadline approacheth.

WoeisMomMe: 1. the angst of being isolated away from your children. 2. the eye-roll inducing requests from a mother for increased communication by said children.

5 Naps To Master for Fame and Fortune

I can sleep anywhere—anytime. 

My father used to assure me that this was a very important skill especially if one was a soldier. In WWII one had to be able to sleep standing up or sitting down, night or day, five minutes or fifty, tired or not because you never knew when you’d have time to sleep horizontally in a true bed when the moon and stars were out. 

I appreciated his approval in all things but pursued this skill with a passion, so today, I’m pleased to avail you of five types of naps you’ll want to learn to be successful in life whether or not you are interested in military service. 

  1. The Cat Nap: No cat is necessary for this nap but sunshine is critical. People often misunderstand this nap as a short sleep but nothing could be further from the truth. A cat nap can last as long as the sun warms the napping space. I’ve been known to take these naps on a dock, a patio, a window seat, and on a horse (Don’t try this at home). Like a feline friend, the secret of the cat nap is to a) not care about others and their use of the sun drenched space and b) to be able to wake quickly if threatened. Stretch to your full length permitted by the space. Allow the sun to warm your limbs. Become one with the sleeping surface. Beginning nappers who say they cannot sleep during the day need not try this one.
  2. Resting Your Eyes: To the everyday viewer, a person who is “resting their eyes” seems to have just recently drifted off to sleep. The accoutrement of daily life is still present. The glasses you wear are still on your face, your book is still open (or the book you were reading to your child), your final paper is open on your computer, the movie is on, or the newspaper is still on your lap (the paper kind or a tablet version). During an otherwise productive moment your eyelids seem to have been replaced by weighted blankets and there’s no way you can keep them open. Your head droops and the next thing you know your child, spouse, partner, friend is jabbing you in the ribs and telling you you were snoring. Check for drool and tell them, “I was just resting my eyes.”
  3. The Idea Nap: Einstein, Dali and others have been listed as proponents of creative productivity naps. I too like to take idea naps when I’ve come to a question or roadblock in my own creative writing. This type of nap takes some preparation. First, create the optimum napping environment. For me (as previously mentioned) that means anywhere but other less accomplished nappers may need low lights, a comfy pillow, and a soft, warm blanket. Close your eyes. Ask your question to the universe. Example: “WTF is supposed to happen next in the novel I’m writing.” Breathe deeply and imagine the question hovering just above your third eye. When you wake, it will be much later in the day and time to put away your work. Problem solved.
  4. The Bathtub Nap: Like the nap on the horse referenced above, this requires advanced napping skills as you don’t want to drown. A certain body type is advantageous. My own body is quite long and doesn’t fit in any normal bathtub. That doesn’t stop me from taking baths so warm that my white skin pinks—similar to a boiled lobster. Anyhow, I’m rarely concerned that I will slide under the water. You may find this nap is easier to achieve if you consider it a subset of the “resting your eyes” nap and pair the bath with a book, magazine, or glass of wine. Once the steam does its trick you may find you skip the heavy-eyelids step entirely. Next thing you know, you’re as wrinkled as a raisin and not at all clean. Warning: tell a housemate to check in on you if the bath goes on past an hour.
  5. The Quarantine Nap: COVID19, the novel Corona virus, has given us access to what may seem like a novel nap but actually it is just a tumbleweed of tried and true mental health manifestations including stress, isolation, anxiety, and depression. The Quarantine nap often starts as any one of the taxonomy of naps above but upon waking, the napper looks at the clock, notices how many hours in the day still have to be filled, and chooses to go back to sleep. This can continue any number of times. Resting one’s eyes can become a cat nap when the sunbeam hits which can become an idea nap when the sun shifts and can become a quarantine nap when one decides that the day would be better off done. Movement from one piece of furniture to the next is standard. This nap is harder to accomplish with children in the house. See your doctor if your Quarantine Nap lasts a week or longer.

There you have it. The art of the nap. By the way, I have earned neither fame nor fortune with these skills but if you manage to leverage naps into either, at least credit me when you are rich. 

Remnants from another life

After two full weeks of being inside
only
inside,
and tripping over my backpack
in the entrance nook
on the way to the kitchen
multiple times,
I decide to empty it for storage.
I find
a small hairbrush
earrings
lip balm
nail clippers
dental floss
mint gum
a bandaid
pain medication
wrappers from a used roll of Tums
a Diva cup
multicolored pens
my work planner
a New Yorker with a spring illustration cover
a new monthly MTA fare card
and

hand sanitizer.

If I were the president’s speech writer…

(…for a different president. Note: This is a fictional post based on facts.)

VIDEO FEED FROM THE WHITE HOUSE RESIDENCE. PRESIDENT (I’m imagining Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren) BY FIRESIDE WEARING BUSINESS CASUAL.

My fellow Americans. We find ourselves in the middle of national emergency, but as with past emergencies, our strength and generosity will prevail. First, I’d like to thank all of the health professionals and scientists who have harnessed their years of experience and education to provide knowledge, care, and comfort to all of those affected by COVID-19. In order to help health professionals succeed at their jobs and to support their efforts, all industries who are capable of manufacturing and providing health equipment have been ordered to do so. The National Guard, Army Corp of Engineers, and SeaBees have been deployed to build new hospitals. Military medics and nurses have been deployed to the areas hardest hit. I’ve also asked Congress to provide monies to NIH as well as other public, educational, and private labs to continue their work on fast and effective testing, cures, and vaccines.

Unfortunately, that is not enough.

We are the United States of America and while the Governors of each state have been performing to the best of their ability, the experts in the field tell us that there is more we could do.

For the next twenty-one days, everyone must stay at home. We will reassess this order regularly. The only exceptions to this order are those who work in the medical field, grocery, grocery or pharmaceutical delivery, first responders including police and fire-fighters, and grid workers including internet, gas, electricity, and sanitation.Those who fail to follow this order will receive a ticket equal to one month of your current rent or mortgage and will be sent home.

To all of those who have been self-isolating, I thank you for your sacrifice and your service. It is frustrating to see others out and about conducting business as usual when you are at home. It is not business as usual. To those of you who have not been self-isolating, I call on you to put people before profit. Close your business and go home. To help workers and businesses, I’m instituting a 30 day pause on all rental and mortgage payments and ask people to conserve rather than consume.

We must put the long-term survival of all Americans of all ages and ethnicities ahead of temporary pleasure or immediate gratification.

If we do not, our spirit of hope and potential will be killed as the number of fatalities increase. And they will. I do not have time the twelve minutes it would take to read the names of all 588 people who have passed away, 183 in New York alone, but I do want to tell you about just a few.

Oliver Stokes, Jr. who was New Orleans Bounce DJ. He was 44 years old.

Four members of The Fusco Family in New Jersey ages 55-73.

Dale Joseph Witkowski of Fond du Lac, WI who was 55 and worked making outboard motors.

Dez-Ann Romain, the school principal at Brownsville’s Brooklyn Democracy Academy in NY. She was 36 years old.

We mourn their passing and honor their lives by proceeding with compassion towards our fellow Americans of all cultures and creeds.

I will continue to speak to you regularly about how the virus is affecting legislation and security but from now on, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has the most up-to-date and factual information about the spread of COVID-19, will provide all daily updates via live feed from his home.

Doctor…

Holiday Selling at the Bookstore

Yesterday’s Christmas holiday was a great time to relax after four crazy days on the bookstore sales floor. I love customer service and enjoy every minute that I get to use my experiences as an educator, parent, and writer to inform people about the developmental, pedagogical, and entertainment value of quality books for children.

Here are a few take-aways from the last week:

Parents:

  • Graphic novels are valid reading! I can’t stress this enough. The world we live in today (and the world that children inhabit) is filled with a range of text and images that work together to create narrative. Sequential art and narrative follow complex rules and patterns. The form takes years to master and each title takes years to create. For more on this please take a look at Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. ETA: If you need some suggestions, the “THE 2019 NERDIES: GRAPHIC NOVELS” is a great place to start.
  • It’s okay for kids to read on or below their reading level. I know we are all obsessed with “challenge” and “progress,” but reading something that is “easy” also provides text comprehension and analysis. Moreover, it provides enjoyment and entertainment. Ultimately, we want reading at home to be fun. Your child will be challenged in school. Don’t worry. And remember, plenty of adults crave an airport mystery or romance from time to time.
  • On that note, give your kids the tools they need to pick their own books. Teach them to read the flap copy, read the first page (or a random page) and see if the story is engaging. Help them remember the books that they’ve enjoyed. Encourage them to try other titles by that author or look for other books on a similar subject. Is it too hard or too easy? Kids can use the five finger test—if they have a hard time decoding five times on the first page, it might be too hard. If they want the challenge then let them move forward. Regarding content: people will self-censor. Unless the book is assigned, if a person doesn’t feel comfortable with the violent or sexual content of a literary work, they will often stop reading.

Editors and publishing professionals:

  • Thanks for the diversity that we’re seeing on our shelves!
  • We need more black boys in picture books and middle grade novels.
  • We need more positive representation of black and brown bodies in books generally.
  • We need diverse stories about creators and problem solvers.
  • We need more middle grade and YA books about contemporary teens who play instruments, sing, dance, and are in theater.
  • We need more middle grade and YA books about sports. All kinds of sports for both boys and girls. Gymnastic, lacrosse, baseball, bowling, rowing (hey, I’ve got one of those manuscripts!).

Scaffolding

Sidewalk sheds that support scaffolding in NYC are ever-present due to a facade inspection and maintenance law. (Law 11) While contractors fix bricks, mortar, frames, and flashing many stories up, the sidewalk sheds below provide temporary shelter from summer thunder storms. For the homeless, they provide more regular protection from the elements.

The other day, as I climbed the subway stairs to Union Square, it struck me that something was very different. I stopped and took in the space, circling in place, before I realized that scaffolding had been removed from the building with a ground-level PetCo. Had that store been there for the past ten months? The Square felt lighter and brighter. I’m sure the PetCo owners are relieved too.

The Proper Way to Celebrate a Poet

My dear friends, in January I got a job as the Special Events Coordinator at the children’s book store Books of Wonder. I love the work I do, creating book events for authors and illustrators for both our 18th and 84th Street stores. In the first two months I’ve been there, we put on a successful birthday party for Dr. Seuss that celebrated early readers, picture book bonanzas, launches, and middle grade panels. It’s been very satisfying and extremely busy.

I’ve been so immersed in presenting the work of other authors and artists that I’ve completely failed to celebrate my own work. This week, the poetry anthology, The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-to Poems from Candlewick launched! The beautiful book with illustrations from Richard Jones is now in the world with two of my poems included. I’m grateful to be listed in the table of contents with poets I’ve long admired.

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Our editor, Paul B. Janeczko, passed away just before publication and I wasn’t sure what it would look like to celebrate this book in the face of his death. Watching others on social media, I realize that selling the book is a celebration of his life and work. I hope you’ll support your local poet and local independent bookstore with your purchase.

If you are my Mom (hi, Mom!), or my sister, or a past roommate, and you’d like me to personalize your book, order the book from Books of Wonder and write in the comment section of the order form that you’d like Anna Jordan to sign it. I’d be honored.

Until then, perhaps everyone could write a poem or find one you love to keep in your pocket—a few words that you can take out on the subway, or while waiting in line at the grocery store, or before a test at school. A small slip that takes up space to remind you that there are poets and poetry all around us and that you are one too. I think that Paul would like that.