A Reading the World Interview
The following is an email Q&A exchange between AACP and Dr. Marianne M. Halpin, Reading the World, Program Chair, about the Reading the World Conference.
Q. What is the "Reading The World" conference about and what is its purpose/mission statement?
A. We are a conference of educators, librarians, writers, illustrators, and publishers who come together to celebrate multicultural literature for children and young adults.
Our Vision Statement of Reading the World is: To create a national and international awareness of our annual conference, Reading the World, at the University of San Francisco as a sphere for study, reflection and dialogue on the potential of literature for children and young adults to bring about a greater understanding of the human experience in all its manifestations, and to develop a respect for cultures and diversity and the promotion of the values of equity, justice and peace.
The conference name comes from the writings of Paolo Freire, the great Brazilian educator and philosopher, who encouraged learners to challenge and change the world.
The Mission of Reading the World is: To create a forum welcoming scholars, students, authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, editors, book sellers, and anyone interested in the field of literature for children and young adults. The main topic for this forum is the presentation, study, analysis, and celebration of books of literary and artistic merit created for children and young adults that present the human experience with respect for its multiplicity and diversity and that specifically promote unlearning biases and prejudice, counteracting racism and exclusion, fostering solidarity and respect for all human beings, and protection of all living beings; books that question and address problems, that do not propose merely happy endings but responsible solutions, that in short, invite children and young adults to see themselves as protagonists of their own human experience and unite them to embrace it with trust, love, and hope to contribute to the creation of a world of equality, justice and peace.
Q. What do you want to achieve through this conference? What are the conferences' past accomplishments and goals and inspiration for the present and the future?
This conference is a significant contribution to the Bay Area, as there are currently only one or two children's literature conferences west of the Mississippi and none that focuses on the multicultural aspects of the field. The goal is to invite speakers of all ethnicities and nationalities and to acquaint our audience with the rich materials available. The conference committee is very proud that all the artists, authors, and presenters stay for the two days to converse and interact with the participants, a feature unknown at other conferences.
Presented by the International and Multicultural Education department at the USF School of Education, Reading the World is a creative and imaginative addition to the goal of seeking to develop critical literacy geared to promote social justice, equality, inclusion, and peace, objectives in line with the mission statement of the University.
We strive to enhance the "magical encounter" between children and books - our hope for all children.
Q. What types of people will be in attendance and what do you want for the participants to get out of the conference?
A. We hope to inspire participants to greater understanding of the wonderful array of diverse perspectives in children's literature. Speakers are selected to provide their points of view and ways in which specific multicultural literature can be used to enhance a reader's appreciation of diverse voices. We hope the teachers, librarians, authors, and illustrators who come to Reading the World will celebrate that diversity and share its richness with their students and readers.
Q. What is the current status and future predictions for multicultural education and curriculum (as opposed to standardized, mainstream education)?
Teachers and librarians seek to be inclusive in their choices of literature. Attendance of between 400 and 500 educators at each Reading the World Conference for the last 7 years is testament to that! Research shows that good readers do better in cognitive ability and creative and critical thinking. If a child doesn't see the relationship between herself and the content of a story, a great opportunity can be missed. Reading should be like a mirror or a window, a chance to see yourself or others more clearly, to provide a better understanding of the world in which we live. If a child never has the opportunity to see herself reflected in story, there is an assumption made that her existence is less valued than the lives of the people who are reflected. Do we, as educators intend to say that? I think not, but failure to understand that this happens leads to making the same choices of assigned literature that can be very hurtful and marginalizing. Inclusion of authentic multicultural literature in the classroom leads to greater understanding and acknowledgment of personal value accorded to all people. The more engaged the reader, the greater the awareness is of the depth of story. The more a child reads, the better student she becomes. She is no longer in the shadows but in the limelight!
Q. What are the pros and cons of multicultural education and curriculum when compared to standardized education and curriculum? What are the benefits of having a multicultural education?
A. There is absolutely no reason why any place of learning should not always teach the diverse voices of many people. Standardized education should include those voices as a "standard of excellence." Instead, we hear the term and tend to think about less content and more testing, as if content were meaningless. Inspired teachers should be able to draw out opportunities to read stories about growing up in the Mexican community (Francisco Jimenez, Gary Soto), in a Cuban family in the 50's (Ada, Osa), Asian American protagonists (Milly Lee, Ruthanne Lum McCunn, Linda Sue Park, Lawrence Yep, Ed Young), South Asian characters coming of age (Rachna Gilmore, Uma Krishnaswami), African American protagonists in literature (Joyce Carol Thomas, Virginia Hamilton, Leo and Diane Dillon, Nikki Giovanni, Ashley Bryan, Patricia McKissack), Japanese American sisters coming of age in the 1950s (Cynthia Kadohata), Cherokee, Keresan, Hopi or Abenaki stories (Joseph Bruchac, Michael Lacapa, Simon Ortiz, Gayle Ross), growing up Palestinian American (Ibtisam S. Barakat, Naomi Shihab Nye), Mixed Heritage families (Cynthia Leitich Smith, Greg Leitich Smith, Toyomi Igus). There are so many more excellent literary works for all ages. These are only a few to draw from. So many of these authors have come to Reading the World to share further insights of their work. Educators are seeking these authors out more and more due to the efforts of educators who promote the exchange of ideas through literature.
Q. Is multicultural education alive?
A. Yes, most definitely! The wise administrator and teacher both know it is important to nurture the whole student no matter what the current methodology. It takes support, however, from parents, publishers, universities, and writers themselves if the government is not going to promote understanding through reading. Is it getting shut out? Not if teachers are still seeking ways to be inclusive. It is certainly our mission at Reading the World to see that multicultural education is supported. Are there any requirements in California law to include such teachings in the school curriculum? Not to my knowledge.
Q. What are some current issues/"hot topics" with multiculturalism and multicultural education today?
Certainly authentic voice is an important aspect of choosing excellent literature. The perspective should be knowledgeable and honest. If the author says she is describing a particular perspective, it should be her own, I believe. If you are telling someone else's story, say so. "Who can tell my story" is a big topic of discussion. Another critical discussion is about citation of folktales. Authors of picture book format folktales now give extensive notes about the origin of the folktale they are retelling. This extends the story historically, culturally, and gives further meaning to the story. My own personal area of interest is literature that portrays contemporary Mixed Heritage characters. My family is Mixed Heritage and I never saw "someone like me" in a story when I was growing up. I did sometimes feel marginalized when everyone else claimed membership in a particular cultural group, which left me out. My children sometimes had a similar experience. If there had been a character in literature who mirrored my perspective I think it would have been great. Since the 2000 Census we know how many Mixed Heritage children there are in the U.S. I am always looking for authors who can tell a good story from that perspective! I think, above all, no matter what the perspective, to be good, it first must be an excellent story!
Q. What is your take-home or inspirational message to the next generation of advocates for a multicultural education?
A. We are teaching equality, justice, and peace through multicultural literature for children and young adults.
When we demonstrate our respect for all people by being inclusive in our choices of multicultural literature it sends a message to the community:
Q. Can people still sign up and/or drop-in? How much is it?
- Here is a place where you are honored.
- Here is a place where you are treasured for yourself.
- Together we can promote peace and understanding through our willingness to share insights, trust, and hope.
- We can start by Reading the World around us!
A. People can still register by visiting the Reading the World website. Registration is $175.00
Q. For future reference, how does someone get on the mailing list to get invited as a conference attendee or as a guest author?
A. I'm the Program Chair and am always seeking presenters for the next Reading the World conference. Dr. Beverly V. Hock is Conference Chair. She will take proposals from authors, illustrators, publishers or educators who are interested in becoming keynote speakers. You can reach us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org in care of one of us.
Thank you for asking me to share thoughts about Reading the World. I'm looking forward to the wonderful feeling of solidarity the conference promotes. I know I'm part of a large effort to make the world a better place!