by Mariela Rodriguez
Here at BookSpring we are always eager to learn about the latest reading strategies and to uncover newly released children’s books!
On Thursday, July 21, the Reading Summit for Educators was held by Scholastic in San Antonio, Texas. Two staff members and I hit the road that day eager to mingle with other professionals and nationally acclaimed educators and authors.
The professional learning conference is designed to inspire attendees. Oh boy, was I inspired!
The keynote speaker was critically acclaimed author Matt De La Peña. Although the majority of his books are young adult novels, he was awarded the 2016 Newbery Medal for his latest book Last Stop on Market Street. De La Peña is the first Hispanic author to win the Newbery.
The story centers on CJ, a young African-American boy, and his grandmother riding the city bus one Sunday morning. Despite it being routine, on this particular day, CJ has plenty of questions. Why don’t they own a car? Why doesn’t he have an iPod? Why do they always get off in the dirty graffiti filled part of town?
Every question was met with an encouraging response from his grandma, who helped CJ see the beauty in the mundane. At the end of the story, we see that the two are headed to volunteer at their local soup kitchen. In the end CJ says, “I’m glad we came.”
The simple poetic language would be incomplete without the vibrant artwork by Christian Robinson. De La Peña and Robinson created this masterpiece as a homage to their grandmothers.
In his presentation, De La Peña highlighted the need for cultural diversity in children’s books. As he recalled growing up and his inability to connect with reading, he pointed out that he simply could not relate to the books he was exposed.
This prompted me to reflect on my own childhood and realize that, aside from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, I never read anything I could relate to. The people in the picture books I read looked nothing like me, they didn’t do the things I did, nor speak the way my family and I did.
I can’t help but feel that I would have had a different relationship with books at a younger age had I had access to relatable narratives and illustrations. Who is to say that there are not countless children, to this day, all across the United States who feel the same way? Children who are being deprived of a precious relationship with books.
There is a need for more accessible colloquial books that address class in such a subtle way; books that illustrate life as it is for many minorities.
The most important point made by De La Peña was that picture books are for everyone! They have the capacity to teach inspiring life lessons to all ages. I highly recommend this book!