A Long Time Coming: Fictional Depictions of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Desiree W. Cueto, Western Washington University, WA, written in collaboration with Megan Robinson, Western Washington University, WA

Cover of A Friend For Henry depicting a young boy with black hair playing with colored blocksIn 1965, Nancy Larrick wrote “The All-White World of Children’s Books,” which called publishers to task for limited, almost non-existent representations of diverse characters. Fast-forward nearly 50 years and the same sentiment is conveyed through the hashtag, turned movement, turned non-profit, We Need Diverse Books. According to its website, We Need Diverse Books serves as a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers who advocate for essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people. The ongoing work of readers, reviewers, authors and publishing houses connected to the movement has changed the industry in significant ways. However, there is still a long way to go before inclusivity is the industry standard. This WOW Currents post highlights newer titles that move the work forward by reflecting the lives of marginalized groups with depth and complexity. We also consider how some representations in children’s books have remained stagnant and limited to heroic or stereotypical representations. In each segment, we feature the perspectives of cultural insiders: Megan Robinson, Alicen Anijo, Gavin McCormick and Ana Casillas-Sanchez, who enrolled in Desiree Cueto’s Culturally Relevant Materials for Diverse Learners course at Western Washington University. Drawing on their inquiries, we examine representations of Autism Spectrum Disorder, LGBTQAI+, Islam/Muslim Religion and Depression. Continue reading

WOW Recommends: Book of the Month

WOW Recommends: Under The Broken Sky

Cover of Under the Broken Sky which depicts two young Japanese girls carrying backpacks and embracing each other, looking out to the viewer on a background of desert and blue sky.Written in free verse, Under the Broken Sky is the story of a family of Japanese settlers in the historical context of Manchuria in northern China in World War II. Manchuria is a forested and rich agricultural land that Japan invaded in 1931 for raw materials due to a lack of resources in Japan. In 1945, twelve-year-old Natsu lives with her father and little sister, Asa, on a quiet farm in Manchuria. Natsu’s mother died while giving birth to Asa, leaving their father in raise them. But Japan is losing the war, and the Soviet Union invades in the summer of 1945, and Natsu’s father is drafted to fight for the Japanese Empire. Natsu, Asa, and Auntie (their neighbor), along with other Japanese settlers, become refugees, fleeing on foot to the city of Harbin, where they live in an abandoned school. Facing a harsh winter, hunger, exhaustion, illness, and bullets from Soviet planes, many die, including Auntie. Natsu and Asa are left destitute and alone. Natsu survives by begging on the streets, and like other Japanese parents, is faced with the agonizing decision of selling her little sister Asa, to a Russian woman in hopes that Asa will be fed, cared for, and kept safe. This story gives readers insight into Japanese refugee families during World War II as well as families today who are forced to leave their homes. -Recommended by Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District. Continue reading

All Listening Together: Biographical Picturebooks About Global Musicians

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

Last Sunday, I attended my first virtual dance party put on by D-Nice on Instagram Live, dubbed Club Quarantine. I’ve seen conflicting reports that there were 50,000 to 150,000 virtual attendees from all over the globe all listening to music and dancing alone together. It was a true stress relief, as music can often be. It also reminded me that music is often a social act. Most of us grow up with some music, and many of us grow up surrounded by music. Music is one way that our identities get formed–through identifying with others who share the same musical interests or culture. Our families raise us with their own musical interests, but we explore on our own, forming our own musical identities. In this post, I will explore picturebook biographies about global musicians that relate to my own musical upbringing and identities. Continue reading

Resources Around Epidemics and Pandemics

Cholera warning posters by seventh gradersMany readers are looking for virtual escape as movement is restricted due to the spread of COVID-19. Schools nation-wide are closed, but they will soon open either on line or face-to-face and teachers will be keen to help young people make sense of current events. The Executive Board of Worlds of Words came together to determine how we might assist in the effort to find quality literature for young people around epidemics and pandemics.

This post includes a booklist of recently published fiction and non-fiction books as well as links to previously published WOW Currents posts with this focus. We’d love to hear from you too! Provide your comments and recommendations of books and other resources below. Continue reading

Literary Arts Biographies for Young Readers and Writers

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

Cover of Sounds and Silences, depicting two trees, one drawn realistically and one drawn abstractly.When I was fourteen, I loved poetry. I always loved it, having grown up on a steady diet of recited nursery rhymes and children’s poetry like A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. But something happened in junior high school: The anthology, Sounds and Silences: Poetry for Now, edited by Richard Peck. I loved that it included song lyrics by Woody Guthrie, Leonard Cohen and The Beatles–verses I recognized. What I really loved about this book was that it was my introduction to writers who shaped and continue to shape how I think about the world, my life and the lives around me. “The Rebel” by Mari E. Evans was practically an anthem for the duration of my adolescence. Langston Hughes, e e cummings, Dylan Thomas, this book was my introduction to modern poetry. But, most importantly, it was my introduction to Gwendolyn Brooks. Continue reading

Dancing On The Shelves: Biographical Picturebooks About Dancers

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

Cover of Swan depicting a young girl with black hair in a pink dress dancing with one arm above her head and the other extended to the side, where wings appear, on a black background.There are countless forms of dance around the world. Ceremonial dance, liturgical dance, social dance, performance dance, and all the countless variations within. For this look at biographical picturebooks of dancers, I look specifically at dancers who have practiced ballet, and some who have moved through ballet to other forms. Continue reading

Theater Arts Biographies for Young Readers

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

Cover of The Legendary Miss Lena Horne depicting a black woman in a black dress in front of a red background.This month, Wow Currents will focus on artist’s biographies in children’s literature. There has been a significant increase in biographical picturebooks throughout the last decade, and trends have shown that biographies of women have been particularly sought out by publishers. Initially, I wanted to focus solely on biographical picturebooks, however there are a few biographies that I want to highlight that don’t fall into that category, including longer form biographies, graphic narratives, and verse biographies. Continue reading

WOW Recommends: Book of the Month

WOW Recommends: Frankly In Love

Cover of Frankly In Love is yellow with blue-green 3D lettering and text onlyFrank Li is, in many ways, like any boy at his high school. He has a best friend and a great desire to have a girlfriend. His best friend is Black, which produces discomfort with his traditional Korean parents, and Frank’s new girlfriend is also non-Korean. Frank, fearful of becoming a pariah like his older sister, hides his relationship from his parents, but soon hatches a plan to work with Joy, one of the “Limbos” who also has traditional Korean parents and a boyfriend who is non-Korean. Joy and Frank “date” one another, which frees them to meet with their respective love interests. This arrangement has its drawbacks. As Frank negotiates his identity as both Korean and American, and all the issues that come with being a savvy teen living in a home that falls back on old prejudices and biases of race and ethnicity, Frank’s story is imbued with humor, profound insights and adolescent sensibility that produces an enjoyable and realistic experience that both delights and challenges readers. -Recommended by Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati Continue reading

Authors' Corner

Authors’ Corner: Cynthia Leitich Smith

By Rebecca Ballenger, The University of Arizona

Color portrait of Cynthia Leitich SmithIn recent months, Cynthia Leitich Smith won the American Library Association’s American Indian Youth Literature (YA) Award for her book Hearts Unbroken and became author-curator of a new imprint, Heartdrum. She is also author of the Tantalize series, the Feral trilogy, Jingle Dancer, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, Indian Shoes, and a number of other books for children and teens. She is core faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and editor/publisher at Cynsations. We first connected with Smith when she attended the 2019 Tucson Festival of Books and then again at USBBY where she spoke on her outreach as an author on school visits. Continue reading

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MTYT: The Dark and the Light

By Susan Corapi, Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL, and Deanna Day, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

Last week, Susan and Deanna looked at how companionship develops as a result of crossing borders in The Garden: A Novel. This week, they give their takes on The Light and the Dark by Kerstin Hau and how this fantasy picturebook depicts borders not as something that separates people, but as an instrument that creates a possibility of bringing people together.

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