Libraries Serving Youth Meetup: #OwnVoices

(Originally published in Minitex News)

This year’s Libraries Serving Youth Meetup on June 15 included an author panel featuring four prominent Minnesota authors, a presentation from the Minnesota Department of Education on using data to better understand youth in your communities, and #OwnVoices book talks from Minnesota librarians. The event was moderated by Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen of St. Kate’s MLIS program and hosted on Zoom by the Minnesota Library Association.

One of the highlights of the day for me was hearing the authors read excerpts from their books:

Kao Kalia Yang – The Shared Room
Melina Mangal – The Vast Wonder of the World
Shannon Gibney – See No Color
Dr. Brenda Child – Bowwow Powwow
They also talked about what #OwnVoices means to them. This ongoing movement to diversify children’s books started in 2015 as an idea by Corinne Duyvis, and the hashtag has taken on a life of its own marking book recommendations, questions, and discussions.

Kao Kalia Yang shared a story in which as a child, she asked her neighborhood bookmobile librarian, “Do you have any books about someone like me?” “No, I’m sorry,” the librarian replied after not finding any books about Hmong children. It wasn’t until later while reading Ronald Takaki’s Strangers from a Different Shore that she finally saw Hmong people mentioned. She recalled running immediately over to her parents exclaiming, “We are real because we are in books!”

The other authors echoed the importance of seeing yourself in stories written and illustrated by cultural insiders. Indeed, the repercussions of not seeing yourself, Shannon Gibney stated, is a form of “epistemic violence.” As Sarah Park Dahlen and David Huyck’s now widely circulated infographic about Diversity in Children’s Books glaringly shows, there is still so much work to be done. This work is our work. As librarians and educators committed to equity, we must strive to get #OwnVoices stories into the hands of our young readers.

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