GCDS News - Magazine



Literature is powerful. According to Rudine Sims Bishop, professor emerita at The Ohio State University, books can validate our own experiences as mirrors, provide new perspectives as windows, and take us into worlds we can only imagine as sliding glass doors. Uma Krishnaswami, an author and professor at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, expanded upon the metaphor, explaining that literature can also function as a prism, disrupting status quo thinking and challenging fixed ideas through “intersecting identities, settings, cultural contexts, and histories.”

When curating our school library collections, GCDS librarians ensure that students have access to a wide range of materials which represent mirrors, windows, sliding glass doors, and prisms for all members of our community. When possible, librarians preview advance copies of books, and they also carefully read reviews in professional journals, paying special attention to books with starred reviews and those that win literary awards. On January 24, the American Library Association’s 2022 Youth Media Awards were announced. The first and oldest book award for children’s literature, the Newbery Award, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. On the same day, the GCDS librarians hosted an evening presentation for parents about the power of literature.

This year’s winning Newbery Medal book, The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera also won the Pura Belpr Author Award, an award given to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose
work portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience. This year’s Newbery Honors included Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca; A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger; Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff, which also won the Stonewall Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature; and Watercress by Andrea Wang, which also won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Picture Book.

The manual for the actual Newbery Selection Committee was amended just six years ago to include guidelines asking jury members to be open to considering experiences that are both familiar and unfamiliar to them. The change in the Newbery jury manual and the shift to recognizing more diverse books has been a long time in coming. For many years, an often all-white Newbery jury would select titles that mirrored their own experiences. The result was that many outstanding books were overlooked, and thus awards such as the Coretta Scott King Book Awards and the Pura Belpr Book Awards were created. The purpose of these awards was not only to recognize and reward diverse authors who otherwise were not receiving these honors, but also to remind publishers that there is a larger reading public than represented by the Newbery winners of the past.

Here at GCDS, students in fifth grade at Upper Elementary and Middle School students are invited to join a Mock Newbery group and read selected titles that represent a range of genres among eligible titles. The librarian facilitators provide discussion questions, which include asking the readers to consider whether the books they read are mirrors or windows. (Did the characters remind you of you or your family? Did learning about the way the characters lived show you what life was like for other people?)

GCDS Mock Newbery Group
The GCDS Mock Newbery group voted last year and this year for books by diverse authors. Last year’s GCDS winning title was Class Act by Jerry Craft, and this year’s winner was Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca. The students are proud to see their sticker, a tiger’s paw, on the books they chose. For some students, these books may be mirrors and, for others, windows. Students consider this as part of the criteria of what makes a book distinguished.

It is very satisfying to see the overlap in the awards and to know that GCDS students recognize and affirm the value of diverse titles. As Jacqueline Woodson, winner of multiple Newbery Honor awards, said in 2014, “I would like for us one day not to have this conversation. I’d love for the word ‘diverse’ to one day be clich, redundant almost. . . . ‘We Need Diverse Books!’ Well, no. We need books, and those books are the books that represent all of us.”

This article is a summary of a Jan. 24 presentation to parents by Chrissy Colón Bradt, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Palmer Sloan, Lower School Librarian; Ellen Gittes, Upper Elementary Librarian; Susan Polos, Middle School Librarian; Emily Auerswald, Upper School Librarian; and Andrew Ledee, Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.