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#ILAchat: Why Students Need #OwnVoices Stories

Be Wesley Ford
 | May 07, 2019

As a white, cis male, I never had trouble seeing myself in the characters I read about in books as a child. I was Wilson Rawls from Where the Red Fern Grows and Jesse Aarons from Bridge to Terabithia and Jupiter Jones, Peter Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews from The Three Investigators series. And because I did not have issues relating to the characters in the stories I loved, I did not consider that people could not relate to these characters or not want to read about them.

It wasn’t until recently that my eyes were opened to how lucky I was to grow up around books and characters to whom I could relate and how so many young readers do not have that opportunity. Marley Dias, one of ILA’s 2019 30 Under 30 honorees for her work collecting #1000BlackGirlBooks, explained the power of representation at Children’s Literature Day at the ILA 2018 Conference better than I can. Go watch the clip, then come back. I’ll wait.

See? That is why we need diverse, inclusive books in all libraries, not only so that all students can find stories in which they also find themselves (as I did), but also so that students can find books about other cultures and people and places (as I did not). Our newly released 2019 ILA Choices reading lists reflect a variety of quality, diverse titles; these lists are the perfect place to begin creating a culturally sustaining library that will provide mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors (thanks to Rudine Sims Bishop for that metaphor) for all readers.

Which brings me to the topic of our next #ILAchat (which will occur on May 9 at 8:00 p.m. ET): #OwnVoices. The term #OwnVoices was created by author Corinne Duyvis to describe books in which the author and the protagonist share a marginalized identity. #OwnVoices stories are more likely to show an authentic representation of that marginalized identity and create realistic characters due to the author’s firsthand experience and personal knowledge about the topic. Furthermore, by supporting—and demanding more—#OwnVoices stories, educators are able to celebrate marginalized authors.

But no #ILAchat would be complete without our guests. For this chat, we have brought in Tamera Slaughter and Rhonda M. Sutton, who are copresenting the session “The Work Before the Work: Uncovering and Addressing Biases Before Engaging With Culturally Diverse Text” at ILA Intensive: Nevada in June.

Slaughter is a manager of educational partnerships with the Center for the Collaborative Classroom. She has worked for more than 10 years in the field of education as a K–5 teacher, instructional coach, literacy coach, professional learning facilitator, and gifted and talented coordinator in Dallas, Texas, and surrounding areas. She continues to support educators as they build and facilitate collaborative, equitable, and inclusive literacy classrooms every day.

Sutton has more than 30 years of experience in education having taught in public schools in New York and Pennsylvania and having been an elementary school principal and district supervisor of literacy. Currently, she is a manager of educational partnerships with the Center for the Collaborative Classroom, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the school experience of children across the globe by providing teachers with engaging curricula and ongoing professional learning that support the academic as well as the social and emotional development of the students we all serve.

Not only will we discuss why students need #OwnVoices stories during the chat, but also we will provide a list of stories to help get attendees started on creating a diverse, inclusive collection of books in which all students will find characters to which they feel a connection.

See you there!

Wesley Ford is the social media strategist for ILA.

This blog post was edited on 5/8/2019 to more accurately reflect the process by which books are selected for the Choices reading lists. Publisher participation in the Choices lists, and the titles they choose to submit to the project, are at their discretion and not selected by ILA as could be inferred from the original writing.

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