We’re very close to releasing the 3rd We Are the People Summer Reading list. I’m thankful for the reception this list receives every year and hope it makes a difference in the books young people are reading. When we released the first list, we were so excited about the quality of our work that we failed to mention who “we” were. Knowing who is behind a project certainly makes all the difference, doesn’t it? We added bios to the list and the next year went a step further to create a permanent site where we would post the list and ancillary information. This would help us measure how many people were linking to and downloading the list, something quite significant when at that time there were three pre-tenure faculty members working with us, Dr. Saran Park Dahlen, Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas and myself. Sujei Lugo is the talent behind the webpage as well as the downloadable pdf.
I cannot remember what words I used to recruit such outstanding talent to this project but, I do know it was Dr. Debbie Reese’s insight that led us to create a list that of books that we could put into any reader’s hands without any hesitation. Debbie gave us the tool of critical book reviewing to accomplish this task and in our second year, we began requiring two readers on each book who would read to eliminate books with any microaggressions or misrepresentations. We continue to require that the books on the list be written or illustrated by a First/Native Nations or Person of Color.
Along the way, we lost Nathalie Mvondo who brought us wonderful self-published titles as well as an ability to read critically. Lyn Miller Lachmann has been here from the very beginning, bringing a wealth of knowledge regarding multicultural books. Last year, we added Ed Spicer and Tad Andracki to our little staff. Everyone here is so incredibly busy and truly dedicated to children’s literature. I am truly grateful to their commitment to this project, to finding the time to read, seeking out books, maintaining open and honest discussions and working like crazy to meet a deadline to get it done. This year has truly been a challenge with three of us on selection committees and dividing even more of our limited reading time.
Over the next few days, I’m going to post interviews with our current staff (Sujei, Tad, Lyn and Ed) to give you an opportunity to know more about us and maybe to whet your appetite for the We’re The People Summer Reading List. Today, we’ll start with Ed’s interview. There’s no magic to this formula, I’m simply going alphabetically by first names. Ed was that first grade teacher you’d want your child to have. He’s that guy who is over educated for his position (crucial for being a great teacher), compassionate and firmly dedicated to literacy in all its forms. He retired last year. He is on Facebook [facebook.com/spicyreads] and Twitter [@spicyreads], both are great places to connect with him.
Reading has been your passion for a very long time? What is so critical about reading?
It is very much a cliche to say things like “Reading saved my life.” Yet cliches become cliches because of the kernels of truth at their roots. Fortunately for me I learned at a very young age that reading is transformative and healing. Not only does this mean that reading served as a survival technique for dealing with and understanding abuse, but as a pleasure dome for those days in which escape is more important than confrontation. Gradually that notion of lost potential that, unfortunately, we see all too often with young people and especially young people of color became inextricably linked to our limited view of reading. We don’t see the problem of 80% of our books (and even worse for people of color) not having women characters who take charge (or even exist in the book AT ALL) because visualizing lost potential is such a speculative, difficult to prove proposition. My reading years and life experiences, however, convinces me that the same saving transformation that books produced in me, have the potential to transform our entire world. Reading saved my life and reading will be the saving factor in a world that is trying to put a disconnect between thinking and living at this time in our country’s existence. Because reading saved me, I have dedicated my life to insuring others have the same chance, and that chance should be fair for all or it is not worth pursuing.
Why do you look forward to the WTP list?
Our list is filled with seeds! I have been involved with young students for most of my life. The last two decades have been directly tied to encouraging students to think of reading as a full contact sport and to assume ownership of building our own brains. I have been in this pursuit long enough to know that we cannot predict which book will serve as the trigger for large epiphanies about the truth of our world and our place within it. I do know that ALL of these books have that potential and ALL of these books will be featuring authors, illustrators, characters, and more that allow readers to see a much bigger world than in the past.
You are a speed reader! Did you take a formal course or develop strategies on your own? What tips could you give to help someone read faster while maintaining comprehension?
I have never taken any speed reading courses. In fact, now that speed is (once again) a primary factor in reading instruction, I got into trouble for telling students that speed is nowhere close to being as important as understanding and even savoring the text. These days I am really trying to savor more! I think more important than trying to be faster, is making sure that one has a consistent time to read or a consistent quantity to read daily. If I need to go slow, I go slow and so should anyone. We can always read more tomorrow! That said, I do bring my A-Game to our committee books. I am predicting (and changing predictions) from the get go. I am asking myself questions as I read. I am anticipating events (which may also help anticipate language, which speeds things up). I love to read so I always want more!
Do you have a reading ritual: a spot, time of day or noise level that help you relax into your reading?
I read everyday! At least something. Often, I read in bed. Often I read at night. Sometimes I like having background music on. Sometimes it must be quiet. However, I read The Hate U Give just recently day and night, in bed and out, with music and without!
As soon as I am finished typing this, I will be downstairs. It will be before 1:30 p.m. I will be reading Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith. I will be sitting in my recliner, ready to take notes on my smart phone. Although now that I am retired, whether this reading means that I am up, showered, and dressed—or in my pajamas and robe—is left to you!
Oh, the visuals!! LOL Thanks, Edi