Last Stop on Market Street

There is a really great movement in the librarian world happening right now calling on publishers to publish more diverse books, basically meaning we want more books whose main characters aren’t always white.  We want books that better represent the communities that we serve every day. It’s a movement that’s been picking up steam in the last couple of years and hopefully will continue to do so. There is a strong need for children and adults to “see” themselves in the books they are reading. It’s important for teens and early chapter books as well, but especially important for children’s picture books since they are showing you that the child/all characters are white in the illustrations in the book. Granted, a lot of children’s book authors bypass this entire topic by having the story told by or featuring animals like Clifford the Big Red Dog, Arthur the Aardvark, or Peppa Pig. But, for those who choose to use humans, many librarians are hoping for a shift toward a selection of books whose characters better represent our country’s diversity.

Which brings me to another recommendation for a children’s book: “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt De La Peña and Christian Robinson is a gem of a children’s book. I highly recommend it. It features a grandmother and grandson relationship (which is wonderful for my particular community where many grandparents are the legal guardians of their grandkids) and the family is black. While the majority of my community members are of Hispanic descent, not black, it’s still a nice change from having everyone be white all the time in all the books the kids have access to in the library. Back to the story line: Every Sunday, Grandma and her grandson leave church and take the bus to the soup kitchen across town where they volunteer. The grandson is tired of taking the bus and wants them to get a car and buy new gadgets and wants to live in a nicer place and Grandma is such a beautiful character and the descriptions of the interactions she and her grandson have are so beautifully written. You can hear her laugh, you can hear the wisdom come through the dialogue. It’s just so great. She shows her grandson all the beauty that surrounds him. It’s a great inter-generational story as well as being classified as a “diverse” book. I particularly liked it and loved reading it to my storytimers because of all the ways it connects to many of their everyday lives:

A) The bus is a major mode of transportation in my community.
B) the aforementioned reality of grandparents being a huge part of the kids’ lives, and sometimes the main adult role models for kids in my community.
C) The book doesn’t only feature a black family, but the characters the family meets and interacts with on the bus are also wonderfully diverse. There’s the first tattooed man I’ve ever seen in a children’s book, for instance! And my community is chock-full of tattooed folks, so the kids are well-acquainted with seeing people inked up. The soup kitchen illustrations include homeless people, the streets include graffiti, etc. It’s a book based more in the reality of my community than many of the books that are published in picture book format.

Having characters in their book look more like the people they see each day is so wonderful. The kids were enthralled by the book. The other two books I read for storytime were a bit of a dud, and I was worried about this one because I was reading it last and I thought maybe their attention spans would be gone, but they were absolutely focused on the pictures and the story. It really connected, and I was soooo glad!

Here is a link to the campaign website for the We Need Diverse Books movement. http://weneeddiversebooks.org/ It’s not just librarians, there are teachers and parents and social workers and all sorts of people involved, but the librarians are loud and proud and since that’s my little corner of the world, that’s sort of who I associate this movement with. It’s a fantastic movement and long overdue. Having books that showcase aspects of all the different lives that humans experience, whether living with a disability, being part of a mixed-race family, being part of an LGBT family, having picture books translated into new languages and shared across the globe for all kids to experience…it’s all so important and so needed. Children are able to learn and grow and understand so much more than they are often given credit for and I think sometimes people feel like “children don’t see race”. This isn’t true. Children see it and of course they know when the characters in their books never ever look like them or like their family. And it’s not much to ask to want publishers to publish books from authors who write from diverse perspectives. It’s not asking them to STOP publishing authors who focus on traditional or white families; it’s just asking that the publishing industry’s scope for children’s materials be widened to allow for more stories to be told and shared, because the diversity and wider scope of content and viewpoints benefit us all.

Chin up.

I learned a good library work lesson the other day. A lesson about planning a program from scratch and believing it’s really something the community wants and then the day finally comes and… Nobody shows up for it. Nobody even asks about it after its over. Nobody even mentions that they had meant to come to the program. Nothing. Nothing at all!

It’s a good lesson for me. I was disappointed, but also hopeful. “Hey! Attendance can only go up from here!” I spent a lot of time over the last few months thinking and planning for this new weekly program for kids and families and it was discouraging to set it all up and then stand there for fifteen minutes before resigning myself to the fact that nobody was coming and packing all the props back up and cleaning up the room. I’ll try again this next week. Maybe with better marketing. I’d put it in all of our regular marketing things and I saw it was on the library’s website, but no go. Maybe it needs a better time than it’s scheduled for, but I was hoping to reach a slightly different audience than I get with my regular story time (although, if the families wanted to come to two different programs each week, that would be cool!)

Anyway, I think this is a good lesson for me. And maybe a good one for others, too. I think it’s really important to plan programs that your community could benefit from having available to them, but sometimes they might not take to the idea straight away. Maybe (hopefully) they will come around after a while? I am lucky in that I have a manager who is willing to let me try these kinds of things and when I sort of fall flat on my face, she is still supportive and says we’ll try again next week. I think the act of creating a weekly program and planning it and buying props and making an effort to create something that benefits a community is a good exercise. One that you hope is actually utilized by your community, but even without anyone showing up, I do feel more confident in my program-planning skills. I feel like I could do this sort of thing again. And now that I know what it feels like to create a program and market it and have nobody show up, I think I can handle that sort of experience again, too.

I’m a pout-pout fish with a pout-pout face.

This morning’s story time was nice! My story time crowds have shrunk significantly over the summer. I used to get between 20-30 children at my story time during the school year and into the early summer, but these last few weeks I’ve been getting less than 10. At first, I was worried about this, thinking that I didn’t really know how to work with such a small group. I had a few issues with attention spans over the last few weeks, so I’ve been adding more actions and more movement activities to try to keep their focus. But, I’ve also been able to actually get through three stories. I used to only try to get through two, because it took so long for the 25 children to make their crafts after story time ended that I would often have parents and caregivers still there long after the program was supposed to be over. But, today I had 18 people total, and about half were kids. And today turned out to be one of my favorite story times! I felt like the kids were interested in all the books, they were excited to sing the songs and do the movement activities I had planned. It was great! I’m definitely warming up to these smaller groups, now.

I know that some children’s librarians don’t use themes for their story times, but I still find it helps me to narrow down my book selection and songs and movement activities if I have a topic. Sometimes it’s not very easy to think of a topic and I’ve had some topics with some real duds, book-wise. But today’s theme was Back to School, because the city’s public schools begin tomorrow. Several of my families are enrolling their kids in preschool for the first time and I have one family who is starting homeschooling tomorrow, so it was a topic that the kids were familiar with and thinking about on their own.

I chose the theme not only for its timeliness, but also the GREAT selection of books from which to choose. I literally had dozens of books on the subject just in my branch library. There were three books I read for the kids today, but one specifically that I loved and that they seemed to like, so I thought I’d give it a shout-out on this humble blog. I love the Pout-Pout Fish and there’s a book about the Pout-Pout Fish going to school.

pout pout

Pout-Pout goes to school and he doesn’t like it at all. He feels like he can’t learn the things he’s supposed to learn, he’s a “fish out of water” (excuse the pun), and he decides to give up. He starts to leave and his teacher comes and finds him and tells him that he is smart and he can do it and he does belong at school. Also, she tells him that he’s not expected to know things that he hasn’t yet learned. It was cute and the kids seemed to like it, too. It really kept their attention. I don’t know how many of the kids are anxious about starting school (even if it’s a year or two away), but I think most people at some point in their lives feel a little nervous about starting new things. It’s a great book for anybody starting any new endeavor, I think. A Pout-Pout Fish book is always a good idea!

I’m gonna sit right down and write you a letter.

I’ve taken it upon myself to start writing letters to people again. I haven’t really written a letter to someone in a long time. I’ve been sending cards to people lately with little notes in them, but I haven’t sat down to write a letter to anyone.

It’s a hard thing to look at a blank sheet of stationary and start writing a letter when you have no real purpose behind the letter other than wanting to write letters. First, you have to try to think of who you want to write to. Then you have to try to think of what you want to write about. Is there something bugging you that you need to get off your chest? Is there something you’ve been wanting this recipient to know for a long time? Is there some difficult topic that you have to deal with? Some bad news you have to break to them? Or, like me, is this something you’re using to personally check-in with friends and family who you feel like you haven’t connected to in a while? A way to re-connect without computers? Something more personal than a social media mass update? Whatever the reason, the blank page staring at you can be tough!

I even checked out a book and read about letter writing! It said that letter writing is very much about you, not the recipient. It’s often a way for the writer to deal with things. Most of the book was about letter writing with a purpose. Not just friendly notes to say you’re thinking of someone. It focused more on things like angry letters, break-up letters, love letters, recommendation letters, etc. It talked about not only the act of writing letters, but the ways in which we expect a response. And whether it is better to write letters and send them through the post office (and so have the lag time/anxiety of waiting for a response), or by e-mail lessening the time before possibly getting a response (although, not necessarily! And if you don’t get a timely response by e-mail, the anxiety can be a lot higher than if you posted the letter).

It’s very interesting to me. Plus, who doesn’t like getting letters or cards in the mailbox? It’s nice. It’s personal. It’s cheery (unless it’s a dreaded angry letter).

I like to write and I’m finding that I like hand-writing letters to people I care about. I like that it’s a real, tangible note. A personal check-in with someone else. I like it and I hope I can stick to it.

Getting out there.

I’m the outreach person at my branch library and going out into the community is one of my favorite parts of my job. I always learn something, I get to meet people, I get to share information about the library, and I get to just hang out with other community organizations and learn what they offer. I always learn something and always meet interesting people and bring back new resources for community organizations to share in the library.

I’ve also started to do enough of these that I’m recognizing the outreach people for other organizations, which is kind of cool because we have pretty awesome conversations sometimes. Although, it can be a really depressing conversation. Usually the conversations are centered around the challenges of the community and we don’t usually come up with solutions, although we can use the other outreach participants as good sounding boards for odd occurrences in our own organizations.

Today I learned that there is an awesome organization in the city centered around helping children who are grieving. When a child loses someone close to them, usually a parent or sibling, this organization gives a place for them to go to be with peers who are going through a major loss as well. This is a fantastic organization! I had no idea they had something like this in town. It’s based upon a California organization, apparently. It’s for ages 5-25 and they actually even have a summer camp for kids who are grieving. Not focused on grief, necessarily, but just doing fun camp stuff. Trying to have a laugh and brighten the days of kids whose home lives are in major flux. I wish there’d been something like this for me. I think it’s hard to talk about grief with peers when you’re younger because not very many of your peers have dealt with that sort of loss, yet. Or rather, maybe there ARE peers around you but you just don’t know them or know they’re going through something similar. It’s a way for kids to work through the grieving process without being rushed by well-meaning friends who don’t really understand why you’re still sad after a few months. Why you haven’t snapped out of it. Why you can’t just move on. I’m going to remember this organization! It’s not centered exactly in my community, it’s on the other side of the city, but it would be of great benefit to the kids in my area, and I know of several families who might like to know about this right now.

It’s these sorts of organizations that I wouldn’t meet without being a part of these outreach events! It’s wonderful. When I became a librarian I didn’t give all that much thought to working out in the community. I thought of a librarian as a public service job, but mostly my thoughts were focused on inside the library. You know, just offering programs inside the library that I think people might enjoy. But a few years ago, I started to see the importance of being out in the community. Being visible. It’s less about bringing people in to the building and more about going outside the building and talking to people. Being visible in the community so that your library is quickly thought of when someone needs information. I think the library world as a whole is shifting more toward this idea. I like to think so, anyway. I see librarian jobs being advertised with titles now that are Community Engagement Librarian or Library Outreach Coordinator, etc. It’s a great shift in the right direction, I believe!

Take a little walk with me.

This morning I went hiking at Petroglyph National Monument. It’s got several trails, one of which is Rinconata Canyon. It’s not very long. It’s just 2.2 miles (4 km) and it’s a mostly flat and sandy trail. Albuquerque has had a lot of rain this summer and so areas that are often brown and dry are green and flowery.

I did not set out to walk this particular trail. I actually had gotten myself all packed last night and was planning on a day-long hike up La Luz Trail on the Sandia Mountains. I even went to bed last night really early so as to wake up and be at the trail head at sunrise (about 6:15). Unfortunately, I was not alone in my plans. About 400 runners were also at the trail head at sunrise, preparing for their yearly run up the mountain. No, no, no. I’ve never hiked La Luz and it’s not an easy hike. It’s very uphill along narrow paths and across a boulder field at some points. I had no interest in having runners shoving by me as I tried to hike up the 8 mile trail.

So, onward I went. And I ended up at Rinconata. I’d never hiked the canyon trail before and it was a really nice hour-long hike. Much less hiking than I had planned, and a lot less strenuous, but really nice. I’m hiking a lot more living here in the Southwest than I ever did living in the Midwest. There are simply more access points to well-maintained trails out in this part of the country, but also, I think there’s a culture of outdoorsy-ness out here that’s somewhat contagious. Although, most of my co-workers are decidedly indoor people, I think a lot of folks like to get out and explore the outdoors here. I’m trying to do more because in less than three months I am embarking on a hike across Spain. I’m planning to do the Camino de Santiago pilgrimmage. Not all of it, because I only have three weeks in which to walk, but I hope to get in about 200 miles of walking in those three weeks. So, I”m breaking in my hiking shoes, practicing walking with a hiking stick, and getting used to wearing my backpack.

Things I learned today:

  • My shoes are good. My feet didn’t hurt.
  • I started to get a blister on my hand from using the hiking pole. I’ll use a different one in Spain, but I might also need a glove or something.
  • My water bottle sucks. It is incredibly difficult to get in and out of the side pocket of my backpack and I ended up trying to attach it to the outside of the pack and try hiking and that was awful, with it swinging all over with each step. So, I carried it most of the way. Not doing that for 200 miles. I need a smaller one. Maybe one made of metal that will slide easily into the pocket.
  • My backpack is pretty comfortable, but I will definitely need to watch what I pack. It could get heavy really quickly.
  • I need a very slim camera to fit into the pocket that is most easiest for me to reach for prime photo-taking opportunities.
  • I need a tripod or something to help take photos of me + scenery. I don’t want a “selfie stick”. I want a real tripod or something equally professional/practical. I don’t want to have to be holding the camera at all to take the photo.
  • My backpack doesn’t dump everything out when I forget to zip up a giant pocket in the back. When I finished my hike and got back to the car, I saw that I’d left one of the main pockets open and gaping the entire time. It had my trail mix in it and so wasn’t a huge deal, but I laughed at myself and thought it was good that nothing else was in there that might have fallen out.

Here’s some photos of the beauty that is Rinconata Canyon right now! Seriously, the rain this summer has made for some beautiful wildflowers and the entire high desert seems to be in bloom. Very picturesque!

wildflowers

Some of the wildflowers along the trail.

wildflower

A pretty and tall wildflower along the trail. Lovely.

Trail

The trail with wild flowers lining it.

petroglyphs

A sheep family petroglyph! Most of the petroglyphs along the trail I had a difficult time seeing very well, but these were right next to the trail and I loved the sheep family.

Canyon rim

A view across the canyon floor. Lovely and green and flowery with all the summer rains we’ve had.

sandy trail

The sandy trail.

the hiker

The hiker and the trail.

rinconata canyon

A panorama of the Rinconata Canyon in Petroglyph National Monument on a beautiful summer morning.