Ashley Franklin

Have a Heart: Using Children’s Literature to Create More Dynamic and Inclusive Classroom Discussions (Part 1)

On April 28, 2019, I had the honor of doing my very first conference presentation. The occasion: AAIM (Arkansas Association of Instructional Media) 2019. My presentation was well-received (THANK YOU!), so I wanted to share it as a series of blog posts for anyone interested, who wanted a recap, or who might have missed it. I hope these posts encourage you to think about your role in helping to shape our youths’ minds as they learn the truly transformative power of books.

My First Conference: AAIM

What’s on your bookshelf?

A Deceptively Simple Question

“What’s in your wallet?” -Capital One

Commercials have to work extra hard today in order to be memorable. Let’s be honest. Most of us skip them whenever we’re able. However, let’s not overlook the beauty of this question. The basic answer is not truly the goal–money, cash, credit/ debit cards, and many a tiny picture of a loved one if you haven’t gone fully digital.

But that’s truly not the goal. The goal is to get you to question if what’s in your wallet is doing its job. Is it meeting your needs? Is it fulfilling its purpose? And if it’s not, what do you plan to do about it?

Today, my librarian friends, I want to ask a question of you that’s essential to your profession: “What’s on your bookshelf?”

By taking a closer look at the children’s literature on your shelves, you’ll be able to assess if your collections are:

  • Meeting your students’ needs
  • More reflective of your personal tastes than the tastes of your students
  • Providing students with the emotional tools to navigate their environments
  • Instrumental in starting and/or continuing difficult conversations

and of course, helping students to have a heart.

The Beginning

Thanks to constant rezoning and the uptick of fairly homogeneous neighborhoods, children’s literature could be a child’s first encounter with someone from another culture. For many children, those first literary experiences are rooted in fairytales.

**Coming in Part 2: Fairytales, the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s, and restructuring your bookshelves**

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Look, Ma, that boy is brown like me!

We were watching an episode of Goldie and Bear on Netflix yesterday. Both my 5yo and 2yo love the show. This particular episode had Jack and Jill at a sleepover with Goldie and Bear. Before I’d even had a chance to fully recognize it, this is what my 5yo yelled:

“Look, Ma, that boy is brown like me!”

The thing is, he didn’t stop there.

“His head is brown, like mine. His arms are brown, like mine. Do you think his legs are shaped like mine too? I think we’re twins!”

Yes, Jack and Jill were brown. He was so excited, all I could do was smile. Moments later, I was a bit sad. If he was this excited, this also meant that he’d noticed a lot of the things he watched had characters that didn’t look like him. Mind you, children’s television has lots of animal and inanimate object characters. That sort of equals the playing field. However, if those same animal and inanimate objects typically have grey or blue eyes, it’s kind of implying the same thing.
Some people think that when we call for diversity, we want to do away with what has typically been the norm. That’s not the case. We want the norm to be more inclusive. We want to share the spotlight. We want our children to see they can be and do anything too.
This experience reminded me of why I am striving to become a published picture book author. I know that I won’t be able to control the artwork, as I’m not an illustrator. But, I will work tirelessly to write stories that may help to widen the types of representations that are available for young kids to see. It’s time for diversity to go beyond being an idea in our heads and something we can tangibly see. Isn’t there a common saying that goes something like  “You have to see it to believe it.” Well, I’m already at the believing part, and I am truly ready to see it.

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It's not a competition, but it is.

Having a writer friend is awesome when you are a writer as well. You have someone who understands what it’s like to work endlessly throughout the day and still sometimes feel like you’ve done nothing. You have someone to maybe bounce ideas off of. You have someone who knows when you need a little extra support and when you need space to vent.
It can be quite the emotional ride when you are sharing in someone else’s successes and setbacks. There may even come a time when you have to admit that you are a tad bit jealous of someone else’s success.
After all, haven’t you worked just as hard, if not harder? Haven’t you attended just as many workshops, conferences, and inspired gatherings? How many agents are even still open to queries? How many books do publishers even want to publish this year? What about you? When is it going to be your turn? It’s not fair!
Well, you’re right. It’s not.
The weirdest thing happened when I signed with my agent. I was over the moon excited, but I also felt a bit guilty. While at first I thought that was crazy weird, maybe it’s not. I’m a part of several Facebook writing and kidlit groups, and I’ve seen people post about the hundreds of agents they’ve queried and the years they’ve spent writing and revising their masterpieces.
I wanted them to win too. That’s when I made a realization that I probably should have made earlier on. This is a competition, even if we don’t want it to be. There are several finite variables on the path to publishing, and there are a great deal of us with the same goal.
There’s nothing that I can change about that. But, there is still something that I can hope for. I hope that when those moments of self-doubt, frustration, and jealousy do happen, that each of us will recognize them for what they are–moments.
Those moments will pass. Don’t let them distract you from your upcoming moment when it is your time to shine. That’s the beauty of a spotlight. It highlights us at our best. You know what they say, the best is yet to come. Don’t forget that.
That’s a reminder for me just as much as it is for anyone else.
 

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