Tag Archives: thoughts

The Ever Expanding Bubble of Knowledge and Facts

A former student shared this article by Jef Rouner, “NO, IT’S NOT YOUR OPINION. YOU’RE JUST WRONG” on facebook and I reshare this here.

It is definitely a quick and worthwhile read, especially for those who are in the profession of educating young minds and often struggle with how to guide young people toward more fact-based opinion forming, something that I have to face frequently.  As mentioned in the article, young children often believe that what they know is the totality of certain area of facts (about dinosaurs, about Star Wars, about the Civil Rights movement, etc.,) and thus they easily believe that their opinions, based on all that they know, are 100% accurate and valid, even sacred, and cannot be challenged: by peers or teachers whose knowledge bases are a lot bigger.

But my students are in their pre-teen and early/mid-teen years and are still quite flexible in becoming better informed. I just have to keep pointing out (and sometimes bursting) the bubbles they find themselves in.  In fact, we all operate within our own knowledge/information/social bubbles.  All our knowledge bases have to have some sort of limitation, even when we are well-informed.  In order for me to be less limited, I need to keep identifying the boundary of each bubble and see how to expand the size of that bubble to include more facts and thus strengthen or even alter my opinions.  I hope I can continue modeling this behavior in front of my students so they can accept when their bubbles are being challenged or burst!

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Not Just a Book, The New Jim Crow is a Call for Real Action and a Movement

newjimcrowThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander

audiobook read by Karen Chilton

It took me a long while to finish listening to this.  My heart would shrink a little when the thought surfaced that it’s time to listen to the next chapter or section.  Why would I want to torture myself knowing more aspects of how UNJUST the United States Criminal Justice System has been to our black fellow citizens — especially black men, especially black young men?  Why would I want to hear more stories that confirm how color-blindness, racial indifference, and lack of information of myself and millions of kind-hearted Americans contributed more to the creation of a lower racial “caste” in our society (convicted felons for minor or nonviolent drug offenses) than overt racists.  Why would I want to feel powerless when informed of the institutionalized sanction so our law enforcers may commit atrocious acts (seizing and keeping of properties of those who might or might not have committed a crime, for example and the incentives to use military grade weapons and tactics against unarmed individuals.)

But I kept at it.  And kept learning.  And kept finding more supporting evidences from the chatters and opinions in social media and other information sources.  And kept talking to whomever would listen.  Until the book was done.

And I promptly bought the paperback copy of the book so I can refer back to it whenever I need.

The book was published in 2010.  And in 2015, we read about president Obama’s bipartisan-sanctioned plans for Justice Reform and listen to reasons behind his granting clemency to unjustly sentenced minor drug offenders.  It will be great to see new policies that address the long-time injustice in the Criminal Justice system.

Watch Obama’s speech at the 2015 NAACP Annual Convention.

A collection of videos about this topic can be found on CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/14/politics/obama-naacp-speech-philadelphia-justice-reform/


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The INjustice in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 8.04.06 AMI posted this to Facebook just now, thinking that it has little to do with Children’s or YA literature so the paragraphs do not belong on this blog. However, when I consider the reason for We Need Diverse Books movement and the imagery of young black males portrayed in some “gritty” modern teen novels, I found myself compelled to post my facebook update here as well:

Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” for status update. What’s been on my mind so much lately (because I’m listening to Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow) is the INjustice in our Criminal Justice system. Looking to verify some of the scenarios she cites in her book, I looked up the current prison fact sheet and found this (and other facts) on the NAACP site:

Drug Sentencing Disparities

  • About 14 million Whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug
  • 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites
  • African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.
  • African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months). (Sentencing Project)

What I now realize is that — these African American prison inmates do not just serve time and endure unfair punishment, they also lose many of their civil rights: including the basic right to vote to change the societal bondage of such unfair conditions.

We need to be aware and demand and SEE change in our Criminal Justice system and not allow the local and federal governments to keep funnel precious resources and huge amount of money into maintaining a penal system that does nothing to improve our society for all (building more prisons instead of training teachers and supporting education, for example!)


Link to the PDF of “Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: A Manual for Practitioners and Policymakers” by The Sentencing Project

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Whom To Thank? Considering The Caldecott/Newbery Acceptance Speeches

Sunday evening, June 28th, was a highly anticipated night for those involved in Children’s literature:  the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet at the American Library Association’s annual conference where honor authors and illustrators were recognized and received their official citations from the Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC) and the three winners gave their acceptance speeches.

The speeches have always been the highlight of the evening — they are often enlightening, finely crafted, and always genuine.  This year was no different.  We heard how Kwame Alexander wooed his wife with sensual poetry, how Dan Santat turned down a cushy job at Google to continue his passion as a children’s book illustrator, and how Donald Crews collaborated with and still misses his late wife, the brilliant Ann Jonas.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.41.11 AMAnd of course, they thanked many people.  Their agents, editors, publishers, loved ones, and the librarians who bring books to young people.  The usual.  And they thanked the Committees for their collective work. But this time, as I sat in the room, listening with rapt attention to Dan Santat: his Google story, his conquering of the relentless self-doubt, his Asian identity (Dan is Thai,) I also noted the way he thanked several bloggers and twitterers (is this even a word?) who publicly supported his work through the years, personally acknowledging those individuals by name. In contrast, his appreciation of the Caldecott Committee, although heart-felt, seemed formal and definitely not personal.  Later on, I was reminded by a friend that in 2013, “my own” Newbery winner, Katherine Applegate, also specifically and heartily thanked the same group of social media children’s book promoters by name in her acceptance speech.  (I myself had no recollection of this and had to read the speech in the Horn Book to confirm.)

I have been pondering this in light of the author/reader relationship (especially via social media) ever since.

It is simply natural for the authors or illustrators to want to thank people whom they consider champions of their books, and with whom they have formed close bonds via social media and real life interactions.  However, I do hope that naming book champions (and sometimes it feels like they are also “author champions”) does not eclipse the fact that public opinions or support from certain individuals or blog sites have absolutely no influence over the Award Committees or Committee Members in selecting winners and honor books.  I also hope that all who listened to or read the speeches realize that just because most librarians or teachers do not promote specific titles on public forums such as blogs or twitter feeds or interact with authors directly on social media, it does not mean that the front-line librarians are not also champions of the winning titles, before or after the award announcement.  (Librarians are usually also thanked collectively in the formal and generic “you’re good people who bring books to children, yay” way.)

I am probably one of those who straddle a bit of both worlds: when I I LOVE love love a book (which I do, a lot!) I might write a really positive review of the book and tag “highly recommended” here on this blog.  And then, I go into my real life, school librarian mode and “push” the book like mad. The beloved book goes on my summer reading lists, it is purchased for a bunch of teachers who attend my monthly faculty children’s book club, and gets recommended whenever I book talk or conduct one on one reader’s advisory. It might even make its way to become a finalist of SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books.

The difference?  I simply do not record all these enthusiastic actions in details on my blog or twitter feed.  I also rarely become close friends (online or in RL) with children’s book creators, even when I absolutely admire all their work with all my heart.  Partly because I’d like to maintain my objectivity when reading and writing about their next books.  Thus, I know that I will probably never be thanked by name as a champion for a particular book or book creator in an award acceptance speech.

My name will especially not be cited individually if I have served on that year’s Newbery or Caldecott Committee.  Why?  Because serving on these major children’s literature award committees means to go into a sort of review hiatus and anonymity.  According to ALSC regulation, during the year of service, Committee members can not publish personal opinions on eligible books (as blog posts, tweets, or in published reviews with bylines.)  There are multiple reasons for this regulation. One is to avoid public perceptions of inappropriate lobbying of any specific title.

After serving on two wonderful Newbery Committees with great Chairs, I came to truly value the process.  I value that we collectively examined hundreds of books in a wide range of genres, themes, age brackets, styles, and forms, from large and small publishers (and self-published work.)  I value that we always adhered to the criteria and discussed the literary merits and drawbacks of each and every nominated title with care.  I value that we all understood that the discussion would change our original thoughts on many books and that not one single book was a shoo-in, ever.  I especially value that we all went into the discussion without knowing much (if any) of each other’s opinions on the group of books we had to discuss, so we could really listen without preconceived biases. This is why I came to value ALSC’s tough rule against reviews, online or in print, by Award Committee Members.  Since social media have greatly enabled instant, and continuous, connection between readers and book creators, it is much easier for an author or illustrator to note what has been the reception of his or her book and who is or isn’t supportive of that title.  It does not help the process (or the perception of the process) if some of the Committee members appear to have close ties with certain authors or have shared strong opinions on eligible titles in the public arena.

Newbery or Caldecott award committee members must come to terms with the fact that in the winners’ minds (and in the acceptance speeches) we are just that: a collective whole.  In 2012-2013, I served, along with 14 other dedicated, thoughtful, passionate book champions, on the Newbery Committee.  We voted and decided that the Newbery Medal would go to Katherine Applegate for The One and Only Ivan.  I could not have interacted with Applegate when Ivan was published (early in 2012) or when it gained wide appreciation through the year in the blogsphere. I could not have told her how I might have thought her skill in getting inside Ivan’s mind stunning. Or how much attention I might have paid to the rhythm of the sentences.  Or how I might have felt that everyone, regardless of age, should read this book because it is important and because it possesses layers of meanings.  And I could not have shared with her how lovingly my students might have reacted to Ivan.

So, it was only natural that Katherine thanked the Committee as a whole and thanked individually a few bloggers who were free to gush publicly and to tell of their acts of admiration for her to witness and appreciate.

No one can dictate whom the authors or illustrators feel compelled to thank in their speeches.  In the formal speeches, the Committee as a whole often comes across as a collective, impersonal, cool headed group who sit in judgment of books.  I simply wish to emphasize that Award Committee members are just the opposite of cool or impersonal: they are as warm and passionate and would incessantly push books wherever they go (much like the individually thanked bloggers and twitterers) even if they do not publish blog posts, tweet, or form close individual relationships with the award winners.

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Haven’t had a chance to read all the…

Haven’t had a chance to read all the abusive words thrown at Andrew Smith that caused him to shut down both his twitter and facebook accounts. I did have the chance to read the VICE interview and saw what he had said (as published by VICE) and simply couldn’t fathom how an honest, although tongue-in-cheek, and quite humble remark such as, “I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though” would have been the cause of so much personal attack and pain. I read couple of responses that more or less match what I think: Andrew Smith is a brilliant author who deals with issues in his books mostly through male perspectives: raw, honest, frequently biased or myopic (because it IS raw and honest) — and is obviously aware of the criticism that he’s not fleshing out his female characters as much as his readers would have liked. I’m trying to make sense of all this… I have not read Alex Crow — but I did read 100 Sideway Miles and found Julia to be independent, mature, and an incredibly strong and positive influence over Finn — an entirely different female character from Shann in Grasshopper Jungle. I need to do a lot more digging to figure out why the outcry and also whether I find it justifiable to condemn a human being and his character simply by the characters they put in books and also by some sentences in an interview that, to me, seem to be interpreted to carry very different meanings than intended.

Here are links to the original interview and some responses:

The original interview:

An interpretation that states Andrew Smith, by saying (tongue-in-cheekly) that he’s ignorant of how women function, Andrew Smith is admitting that he considers women “LESS THAN HUMAN.” I can easily, by the same ignoring-all-logic-or-facts method used by Tessa Gratton here, claim that he is considering women “MORE THAN HUMAN” and thus harder to grasp and he’s trying to do a better job at learning how to WRITE THEM as characters. Sorry. Grrr…. :

A well-argued essay in response to the twitter witch hunt and Gratton’s attack

A long list of thoughts that present many ideas that I think about what Andrew Smith had said:


March 13, 2015 · 10:43 am

I am not happy with the WIWIK tag…

I am not happy with the WIWIK tag — I don’t think it expresses the correct sentiment. So bear with me as I change it to What I Wish We All Know. Either something that I know that I wish others do, too; or something that I have questions and wish to be informed: all of them should be something that is under each practitioner’s belt. So, perhaps, it should be WIWWAK: What I Wish We All Know! And it is still pronounceable.

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March 13, 2015 · 9:46 am

WIWIK – What I Wish I Knew

I have been thinking how I may contribute to the #weneeddiversebooks movement. One strong belief of mine is that we not only need diverse books but amazing and accurate diverse books. Two more blog posts in the Doing The Diversity Thing Diversely are forthcoming. More thoughts have been brewing. In the meantime, is there something I can do on an ongoing basis? And how do I gather all of these under one thread?

Last night, reading Wendy Mass’s The Candymaker and encountering this declaration: “alphabet is the foundation of every language” gave me an idea. This is an incredibly fun book, extremely popular with my students. I am thoroughly in love with the intriguing plot line and mesmerized by the candy factory! But reading that sentence, my instinctual reaction was, “um, no, the Chinese language is not built on a system of the alphabet. And there are more than a billion people who use this language daily!” I know that this is from Miles’ mind, a 12-year-old boy in a book. The author must have known that there are languages in the world that were not built on alphabets! She just made her character think this way. And yet, I wonder. Miles is a highly intelligent, book-loving, code-making, language-creating child. So it is also highly likely that he does know that “not every” language in the world is founded on a set of alphabets. A simple “almost” before “every” in this sentence would have been more accurate without sacrificing the authenticity of the character.

But, could it be possible that the author and the editor really did not know that there are non-alphabet based languages? If so, then perhaps I can contribute by questioning and discussing such matters for practitioners — authors, editors, librarians, teachers, etc.!

Thus a new TAG on Fairrosa Cyber Library was born. wiwik — What I Wish I Knew. With this tag, I can collect questions I have regarding cultural references in children’s books and give myself homework to research and find out accurate information. Others can join in to discuss and enlighten me, too! (I’m also adding this tag to some older posts and the link to the sidebar.

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