professornana (professornana) wrote,

If I were king of the forest...

I hope everyone recognizes the opening line of the song The Cowardly Lion sings in "The Wizard of Oz." Somehow that was the song that ran through my head today as I sat and listened to a speech by Jacqueline Woodson as she received the Medallion from the University of Southern Mississippi in recognition of her lifetime of work in the field of literature for children and young adults. Woodson spoke movingly of Keats' work that for the first time showed her a reflection of her own self in the pages of a book. She spoke of the wonderful work being done by kids today and how we need to respect their efforts and to remember that not all kids have things like 2 parents, a home, a bed to sleep in, food, and so much more. She urged us at this critical time to vote. She said all the right things. And she also spoke about the new laws in NC and now in Mississippi and why she had decided to come to the conference despite what those new laws said. I needed to hear those words as I have been conflicted since learning about the governor signing the law after I arrive here at the conference. Jackie spoke eloquently and without rancor. A bit later Melissa Lambert took time in her remarks on receiving an Ezra Jack Keats honor medal to echo similar sentiments. Both of these women demonstrated grace and courage and commitment. I was honored to be there to hear them speak. And I applaud that they did just that.

When I think of how we might diminish the world of a child by not having books that represent their SELVES and their world, when I think of how we diminish the OTHER when we reject their place in literature or in the community, when I think of how we diminish the voices of those strong, courageous people, I am saddened. Readers need MIRRORS says Rudine Sims Bishop. They need to see themselves reflected in the pages of a book. Their reality needs to be the reality of the story. Kids also need WINDOWS to see the larger world around them. I grew up in the city. I knew nothing of farm life, suburbs, expanses of lawns, or anything other than the row house neighborhoods of my youth. Books allowed me to see those other places as well as other times, other states, and more. And they can do the same today to the child sitting in an apartment in San Angelo, Texas, or sitting in a coffee shop on a street in Brooklyn or sitting at a table doing homework before it is time to go out and do the afternoon chores.

I also think kids need DOORS, books that offer them a sense of how to be powerful change agents. They need to know the stories of Ruby Bridges and Claudette Colvin. They need to see how children, tweens, and teens make a difference in the world around them. They need to read GEORGE and LILY AND DUNKIN and learn how to celebrate each person for who that person is and wants to be. Books can be powerful windows and mirrors and doors. In a time when government seeks to restrict, books can EXPAND. As educators, we need to make sure we are providing books that are windows and doors and mirrors, stories that can expand the world of our readers, books that make anything seem possible, tales that provide comfort and solace. We need to be King of the Forest when it comes to putting books in the hands of children. As the Lion sings in "The Wiz,"

If on courage
You must call
Then just keep on tryin'
And tryin'
And tryin'
You're a lion
In your own way
Be a lion

Here's to all the library lions!
Tags: books, censorship, reading
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