Monday, November 23, 2015

NCTE Conference Post #1: Equity and Social Justice Panel

 I'm not sure where to even start with how amazing the NCTE conference in Minneapolis was.

There were SO MANY fantastic authors present.  Some I saw speak on panels.  Some I got books signed by.  Some I talked with for a few moments.  Some I asked for photos with.  Some I missed entirely.

I knew that one person I wanted to interact with in some way was Margaret Peterson Haddix , because my fifth period class is obsessed with our read-aloud of her book Found.  Haddix was on the first panel I attended, which was focused on writing for and about equity and social justice.  Chris Crutcher talked powerfully about abuse--more on him later--Chris Crowe talked about civil rights issues, and Haddix talked about kids in prison and/or with parents in prison.  When they were done, I asked Ms. Haddix if she'd take a selfie with me for my students, and she did.   I sent it to my sub, and I wish I could show you the picture she sent of my students' thrilled response.  I can't because a) they're minors and someone else's kids, and also b) I can't figure out how to get the picture from the text message to my computer.

 She was very nice about it.  She is definitely an author that can get kids reading, because even though she's dealing with important topics and themes, it's all within the framework of a fast paced thriller, which is more immediately accessible to reluctant readers than some, shall we say, quieter works might be.

Chris Crutcher--oh my word.  I've loved the books I've read by him, and I thought somehow he'd be younger than me, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because he's been writing for awhile.  But he is SO GOOD at capturing teen voices.  Then this white-bearded guy limping on his hip replacement gets up.  And first he makes us laugh a bunch.  Then he talks about how he and his brothers had voices, and they went out into the world and used them, but his sister was always denied a voice.  He went from there to telling us about his work as a therapist, and having a client whose dad had sexually abused her, and how when she and another girl asked him to write about that topic, so other kids like them would know they weren't alone, and that you could get help and overcome this, he made them his beta readers, so they could call him on any cliches or BS.  Then he read us a scene from his latest book (and just as you might expect, hearing an author read their own work live is ELECTRIFYING), warning us that we'd be able tell right away at which point he'd recognized he's just written another banned book.  It was pretty clear, and so he talked to us about why he chose to phrase things that way, and what he said is that when teenagers are alone without adults, and they're dealing with something that is a big deal, "the native tongue gets used."  It made me think of a student who told me recently that her book had words in it she'd never seen in a book before, and that it made it more believable, because that's how people really talk.  And my final bit of great Chris Crutcher wisdom is that he met a reader at a school event who told him how much his book on abuse resonated with her, and how she'd like to be able to talk with him as a counselor, but that wasn't practical.  He asked her, "Where'd you get my book?"  She told him her teacher gave it to her.  He asked her, "Did everyone read it, or did the teacher recommend it to you individually?"  She said it was just her.  He said, "There's your resource.  Go talk to that teacher about getting help."  She did.  It was a theme many authors brought up--that when we as teachers put the right book into a kids' hand, when we say to a kid, "You might like this," or "This might mean something to you," or even just, "I thought of you," it can have a huge impact.

 Chris Crowe is not an author I've read, although I want to now.  He told us a horrendous story about a family in the 1950s.  He interviewed the son later in life (I think).    I might have details wrong, but not the main event.  The father was abusive and alcoholic and awful, and then mom left and had a child with another man.  A biracial child, because her new lover was black.  The husband had a fit. Mom's lawyer told her to go to court on a certain date, but it was an ambush.  The judge told her that by having her white seven-year old in the same house as her biracial baby, she was proving her unfitness as a mother.  She could either give her older son up for foster care and keep her baby, or visa versa.  As Crowe said, Sophie's choice.  Before she could formulate an answer, her older son said, "I'll go.  The baby needs you, Mom, and he wouldn't know where to find you.  I'll find you again."  Which he did, running away many times to spend time with her and his brother.

The stories these three all told.  I'm not doing them justice, but they were powerful stories, and they are powerful story tellers.  What a gift.

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't even heard of Chris Crutcher, but this post has inspired me to check him out. Thanks for introducing me to a new author!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction


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