A Celebration of Diverse Books and Readers

The National Education Association [NEA] and Reading is Fundamental recently joined forces in the District as part of this year’s nationwide observance, “Read Across America.”
The event featured author Jesse Holland, poet/author Kwame Alexander and illustrator Gene Luen Yang on Thursday, March 1 at the NEA headquarters during which they shared their love and passion for reading with students from selected public school systems in D.C., Maryland, Virginia as well as with those in other cities via social media on Facebook Live.
The program also featured a Facebook Live panel discussion with the three authors moderated by Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the NEA.
Questions were posed about the challenge of finding books more diverse in both subject matter and characters, how the featured panelists come up with ideas for their work and their thoughts on identifying ways to capture the interest of children, so they’ll be more interested in reading.
“When I first began reading when I was a little boy, I didn’t know what I was missing by not seeing myself represented in books,” Holland said. “As I got older, I began to see how few characters in most books included people who looked like me. Today, it’s easier to find books that are inclusive and include characters of all races,”
“The more a child can see herself or himself in a book, the more eager they will be to read it and perhaps even write. I try to remind children that if there’s a story they want to read that they can’t find, they can be the person to write it. I write books that I want to read,” he said.
Yang, who attended a junior college and did not receive a degree to become an illustrator, advised the youth to look for and to become engaged in communities that better represent their artistic interests. He says that’s how he received his training that led him to become a cartoonist.
Alexander suggested that children consider picking up a poetry book adding that they may be pleasantly surprised.
“A poetry book has so much white space on its pages and so it’s not as intimidating for children,” he said. “Ironically, poetry can say so much in so few words that you can still get the full arc of an idea, or an emotion, or a story and it’s enough to pull you in, grabbing your attention.”
“Books are like amusement parks – sometimes you have to let the children choose the ride.”

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