#weneeddiversebooks for March Madness

For the past four years, the high school media specialists across the county have done a reading promotion featuring books set on a NCAA – style bracket.  We try to tie to a particular theme.  In the past we’ve done books with the most checkouts, popular series, books to movies, and this year, books with diverse characters.  Given the political climate, and some events that have happened in our county, we felt that it would be a timely and appropriate way to show that libraries are a supportive place for all students.

In the promotion, we select 16 books (the Sweet Sixteen) that fit the theme, and place them on the bracket.  Then, students who want to participate complete the bracket based on which book they think will win.  Weekly, students and staff can vote to move books onward in the competition.  Here are the books we selected this year:

  • Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash
  • If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
  • How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
  • None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio
  • More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
  • Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  • Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
  • Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapeins Agenday by Becky Albertalli
  • Every Day by David Levithan
  • Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

Student’s and staff members wouldn’t have to have read all of the books to make a bracket or vote because Mrs. Hamby typed up a synopsis of each of the books for students to read and make informed choices on their bracket.  The synopsis’ also came in handy because as books were checked out, we could use printed out synopsis as a place holder for the books on the display.  The books come from acclaimed lists including Black Eyed Susan Nominees and the 2016 Maryland One Book, and represent fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novel formats.

Regardless of which book wins, promoting diverse books is a cause bigger than our county.

The concept of books being mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors has become increasingly important to me.  This year, I became a finalist in the Maryland School Librarian of the Year award.  As a finalist, I was expected to craft a message that I’d want to give to non-librarians about the importance of my profession.  My message to non-librarians was that libraries are important because they teach us how to be our best selves. I want to copy part of my message here:

Libraries are places where we learn to open our hearts. Books have a tremendous power to be mirrors and windows.  Mirrors help us to see ourselves.  For some students, using a book as a mirror might be to read about a hobby they enjoy, or feel swept away by a romance that they wish was their own.  But for other students who are struggling with tough issues like depression, family problems, their identity, or substance abuse, they can turn to a book for some bibliotherapy.  They know that their reading record will be kept confidential, and that I can guide them to books that will help them to work through their complicated thoughts without judgment.  Books can also be windows that help us see into other lives.  Characters in books help us to understand what it might have been like to live in the past, have a different religion, race, class, or gender.  Often, student’s closest friends are people that are very similar to them.  Books allow students to walk along side of a person whose story they might not have otherwise known.  But, one person’s window will be another person’s mirror.  Campaigns like We Need Diverse Books are bringing more awareness to the importance of having literature that represents each of the students that comes through our library doors. 

The concept of books being mirrors and windows is not new. But, a few weeks ago, while engaged in a twitter chat called #titletalk, an elementary teacher named Laura Komos tweeted that reading could also be a “sliding glass door”.  I asked Laura to elaborate on what this meant.  She understood reading as “sliding glass door” to mean that reading helps us to see both sides of a story.  However, after thinking about it, I determined that it means that after reading we can go out and take action.  Mirrors and windows are one sided.  After peering through them for a while, we are finished.  But, a sliding glass door allows us to peer through, and then step into a new environment.  At South Carroll, reading truly became a sliding glass door through our One Book program.  Our first book was A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park which tells the true story of Salva Dut, who was a child when the civil war in Sudan separated him from his family, and ripped his country apart. After being granted a refugee visa to the US, he created a non-profit called Water for South Sudan, which digs wells in remote Sudanese villages, giving that village access to clean water.  Salva’s story affected our entire school.  We couldn’t just look through the window of his experiences, we had to open the door.  Through student led fundraisers, we were able to donate more than 2,000 to Water for South Sudan. Books and libraries teach us to open our hearts to issues that we are facing, and encourage empathy for issues that otherwise we may have been blind to.

Books and libraries are for everyone.  Hopefully, all South Carroll students can walk into our media center and find the mirror, window, or sliding glass door they are looking for.

Part of our diverse books display.

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