As promised, I wanted to speak a bit more about the author visit with Varian Johnson next month. I am super excited, as I finished The Great Greene Heist last night, and a lot of the students are really excited too! I have loaned out my ARC of To Catch a Cheat, so I am patiently (aka anxiously) awaiting my turn to read the sequel! Varian Johnson will be visiting with us Wed., Feb. 3rd. He will give a talk both 1st period and 2nd period, so multiple students will be able to attend. I look forward to a big crowd and an enlightening talk.
To summarize, The Great Greene Heist follows Jackson Greene, an 8th grader from a family of con artists. Jackson is smart, but has landed himself into a bit of trouble through some unfortunate conning that may have backfired. Jackson swore off the conning life, but when he finds out his best friend may lose the student council presidential election over some administrative bribery, Jackson can’t help but devise a plan with his team of friends and accomplices. There are many great features of this book, one being the humor, and another being the diversity of the characters. There is a cheerleader who speaks Klingon and runs the tech club, for example.
On the topic of diversity in literature, and because Varian Johnson is a strong proponent of diversity in literature, I think back to the Youth Media Awards last year. The Youth Media Awards are presented at the annual American Library Association Midwinter conference, and this is where the Newbery, Caldecott, and numerous other prestigious honors are awarded. Last year, not only were the books diverse in their characters, but also in their formats.
The Newbery Award was given to an African American author, Kwame Alexander for his book The Crossover, written in verse. The 1st Newbery Honor was given to Jacqueline Woodson, a prominent African American author who gives her experience growing up in the South in Brown Girl Dreaming, also written in verse. And, the 2nd Newbery Honor was given to Cece Bell, who tells of her life growing up deaf in El Deafo, an autobiographical graphic novel. Not only were the authors diverse, but the book characters and formats. Librarians, teachers, and readers were all so excited to see diversity at the forefront at the 2015 Youth Media Awards, and we hope to see the same outcome this year. I write this as a I prepare to attend the awards in Boston in less than a week!
I am a big proponent of diversity in youth literature, and think it’s so very important for children and teens to understand and respect the differences around them, but also to find connections to their own lives. Every student deserves to find a book that supports them and their background, and with more diverse books being published each day and being heavily promoted in libraries and through the media, students are able to use books as a mirror for their lives, and/or a window to someone else’s life. Ms. Liles had the students choose books for their recent project that was both a mirror and a window, and I often was able to suggest the Newbery winners from last year.
Since I don’t want to babble too much about books and the awesome diversity in literature in 2016, I will leave you with a 2014 Kirkus interview with Varian Johnson about diversity and stereotypes: Kirkus interview with Varian Johnson