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An Open Letter to the Middleton School District from Authors in the Latinx in Kidlit Community

Last week we learned that educators from the Middleton Heights Elementary School had celebrated Halloween by dressing up as the border wall and in racist stereotypes.  Images were shared far and wide on social media. If you aren’t familiar with the incident, you can find some information about it here:

https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/education/article221015995.html

Over the weekend, I was approached by one of my favorite authors, Jenny Torres Sanchez, and asked if TLT could post the following open letter to the Middleton School District in hopes that members of the Latinx authors in the Kidlit community could make an attempt to counter the hate that was on display last week in this school district. We at Teen Librarian Toolbox are happy to post this open letter and hope that you will all read and share it widely. The best way to counter hate and bias is by speaking love, and these authors are offering to do just that. I sincerely hope that the Middleton Heights School District will take these authors up on their generous offer in an effort to undo the damage that these teachers have done to children who are developing their view of self and others and their place in our world.

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Superintendent of Schools

Middleton School District

5 South Viking Avenue

Middleton, ID 83644

 

November 5, 2018

Dear Superintendent,

We are a group of award-winning Latinx children’s and young adult authors. We are writing to you to express our love and concern for the children of Middleton Heights Elementary School. While we are disheartened and dismayed by the decision of staff to wear offensive and racist Halloween costumes, we are also writing to extend a generous offer, an offer of compassion that we hope you will see it in your heart to accept.

Children, their welfare, their education, and the shaping of the world, is our business. Many of us are or were educators in addition to being authors for children and young adults. To hear that the children at Middleton Heights Elementary School were subjected to this offensive behavior by the very people they trust and look to for education and guidance was beyond disappointing. And we feel such a drastic offence requires drastic measures to remedy.

While your teachers should know better, their actions show they do not. While we question their intentions at wearing such, in your words, “clearly insensitive and inappropriate” costumes, we are willing to accept your conclusion that they had no “malicious intent.” However, their poor decisions also clearly embraced close-minded and hateful thinking. And worse, modeled it for young impressionable minds.

All of your students deserve better than this. We are sure this was painful and confusing for many of them, and especially for Latinx students. Not only are they subjected to this kind of thinking outside of their school, but now within their school too, a place where they should feel secure and loved. Not excluded.

We take you at your word that you would like to learn from this and change. In that spirit, we would like to help you.

We are extending an offer to visit your school. We would like to talk to your students and staff about the richness of our culture. To show a positive and realistic representation of the very people this costume depicts as one-dimensional beings and implies should be kept out. To show that there is no danger in opening our hearts and minds to ALL people and displaying empathy and love to all mankind.

To this end, we propose a school visit where we will:

  1. Give a presentation to a general assembly where we will give motivational speeches to inspire students to accept, love, and respect each other as we build community in our country.
  2. Read excerpts from our books—books which we created to help children understand and treat others with love and compassion.
  3. Speak to and support your faculty and staff in a meet and greet apart from the general assembly.
  4. Bring and donate books by Latinx authors to enhance your classroom and school libraries.

We implore you to take us up on our offer. We are eager to visit your school and hope you will welcome us.

 

Most sincerely,

Jenny Torres Sanchez

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Angela Cervantes

Reyna Grande

Erika L. Sanchez

David Bowles

Diana Lopez

Carmen Tafolla

Jennifer Cervantes

Isabel Quintero

Lulu Delacre

Yamile Mendez

Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Xelena Gonzalez

Lilliam Rivera

Lidia Gil

Pablo Cartaya

Celia Perez

Meg Medina

Aida Salazar

Hilda Burgos

Emma Otheguy

Anna Meriano

Debbie Reed Fischer

Julissa Arce

Full Circle Literary Agency

YA A to Z: The Long Road to Gentrification, a guest post by author Lilliam Rivera

Today we are honored to have YA author Lilliam Rivera join us for YA A to Z to discuss gentrification. Lilliam Rivera is the author of The Education of Margot Sanchez.

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When the Lyft driver veers the car to the first right on to Willis Avenue, I notice the large billboard sign. “New Luxurious Condos.” The billboard stands erect in front of a large empty lot. I try to remember what was on the empty lot before. Was it a tenement building? Was there a bodega? It’s only been six months since my last visit to the South Bronx, New York and I already see so many changes. It’s hard to keep up.

Although I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the past fifteen years, my heart is closely tied to where I grew up in the Bronx. My young adult novel The Education of Margot Sanchez (Simon & Schuster) is set in the Bronx with our protagonist Margot Sanchez being forced to work at her father’s failing supermarket. All around her, a slightly privileged Margot sees how the Bronx is quickly changing. The affects of gentrification are taking its toll on the neighborhood and on her family’s livelihood. This is the Bronx I see as I exit the car and walk to my parent’s house and notice yet another new boutique hotel promoting its grand opening.

When I set out to write my coming-of-age novel I knew I would write about gentrification. Like many I have my preconceived notions of how gentrification occurs. You see new buildings being erected, millions of dollars being funneled to rebuild parks, or a new police station sets up shop on a once abandoned lot and you think gentrification is here. It happened in Brooklyn. The same happened in the lower east side and Harlem. Detroit. New Orleans. What seems so sudden is actually an economic system placed to improve an urban neighborhood at the cost of the families living there.

Gentrification and the Criminalization of Neighborhoods – The Atlantic

Below, I’m sharing books that might help readers understand the history of gentrification as well as young adult novels that dig deep on how this can shape a young person’s life.

The following nonfiction books can give any reader a starting point in to the sordid history that pits the economic growth of a city on the shoulders of working class and poor families.

CDC – Healthy Places – Health Effects of Gentrification

How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood by Peter Moskowitz

Moskowitz breaks down the history of gentrification in Detroit, San Francisco, New York and New Orleans. The author writes: “What Gentrification is not about individual acts; it’s about systemic violence based on decades of racist housing policy in the United States that has denied people of color, especially black people, access to the same.”

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Rothstein argues that federal, state, and local governments create and reinforce neighborhood segregation. “To prevent lower-income African Americans from living in neighborhoods where middle-class whites resided, local and federal officials began in the 1910s to promote zoning ordinances to reserve middle-class neighborhoods for single-family homes…”

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Desmond follows families in Milwaukee as they try to keep shelter. “After a few weeks, the city found Arleen’s favorite place ‘unfit for human habitation,’ removed her, nailed green boards over the windows and doors, and issued a fine to her landlord.”

As proven every day, young people are at the forefront of change. The following young adult and middle grade books tackle gentrification in a nuanced and intelligent manner:

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

Set in Miami, this Pura Belpré Honor book is full of humor and love as a young boy fights against a land developer encroaching on his family’s restaurant.

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Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

An urban fantasy, Older creates a city that is not only under attack by dark forces but can only be saved by a young Afro-Latina Sierra Santiago in a changing Brooklyn.

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The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

While stuck working at her father’s supermarket, Margot Sanchez witnesses first hand how gentrification is blanketing the Bronx with the help of the young activist Moises.

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The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano

Set in 1969 New York, Manzano’s novel depicts the rise of the Puerto Rican activist group The Young Lords and one girl’s own political awakening.

Realistic Teen Fiction: Racism and Gentrification

This Side of Home by Renee Watson

Watson takes on gentrification in a Portland neighborhood as twin sisters try to carve a space in their slowly unrecognizable home.

Also, don’t forget to add the following forthcoming young adult book to your TBR pile:

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Pride by Ibi Ziboi

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable.

When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding.

But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all.

Meet Lilliam Rivera

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Lilliam Rivera is the author of The Education of Margot Sanchez, a contemporary young adult novel from Simon & Schuster available now in bookstores everywhere. Named a “2017 Face to Watch” by the Los Angeles Times, her work has appeared in Lenny LetterTin House, and USA Today, to name a few. Originally from the Bronx, New York, Lilliam currently lives in Los Angeles where she’s working on her second young adult novel, Dealing in Dreams, forthcoming from Simon & Schuster in March 2019.

About THE EDUCATION OF MARGOT SANCHEZ

educationof
Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sánchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moisés—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

See Also:

4 YA Books That Deal With Gentrification – Book Riot

3 On A YA Theme: Social Justice in YA Fiction – Book Riot

The 5 Books You Need to Read to Understand Gentrification | The Nation

Take 5: A YA Puerto Rico Booklist and the #PubforPR Auction

As they often do, the KidLit and Publishing community has come together to help the people in Puerto Rico after being hit by a devastating hurricane. You can visit the #PubforPR auction here to bid on a variety of amazing packages and help them raise money for the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Please visit and bid today to help them in their efforts.

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Also, here are a list of authors and YA titles that hail from and uplift Puerto Rican voices that you may want to check out and add to your collections if you don’t already have them.

Adam Silvera

they both

Adam Silvera is an amazing author who writes compelling YA including More Happy Than Not, History is All You’ve Left Me and They Both Die at the End.

Publisher’s Book Description:

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

Kiera Cass

selection

Kiera Cass is the author of the wildly popular The Selection series.

Publisher’s Book Description:

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Miles Morales: Spider-man by Jason Reynolds

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In this version of Spider-man, the boy who can sling webs is played by a teen of Puerto Rican descent. And you can never go wrong with a Jason Reynolds title, or superheroes.

Publisher’s Book Description:

“Everyone gets mad at hustlers, especially if you’re on the victim side of the hustle. And Miles knew hustling was in his veins.”

Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He’s even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he’s Spider Man.

But lately, Miles’s spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren’t meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad’s advice and focus on saving himself.

As Miles tries to get his school life back on track, he can’t shake the vivid nightmares that continue to haunt him. Nor can he avoid the relentless buzz of his spidey-sense every day in history class, amidst his teacher’s lectures on the historical “benefits” of slavery and the importance of the modern-day prison system. But after his scholarship is threatened, Miles uncovers a chilling plot, one that puts his friends, his neighborhood, and himself at risk.

It’s time for Miles to suit up.

I am J by Chris Beam

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Chris Beam writes about the experiences of a Puerto Rican teen who is also transgender.

Publisher’s Book Description:

An inspiring story of self-discovery, of choosing to stand up for yourself, and of finding your own path – readers will recognize a part of themselves in J’s struggle to love his true self.

“Hola, Jeni.”

J spun. His stomach clenched hard, as though he’d been hit. It was just the neighbor lady, Mercedes. J couldn’t muster a hello back, not now; he didn’t care that she’d tell his mom he’d been rude. She should know better. Nobody calls me Jeni anymore.

J always felt different. He was certain that eventually everyone would understand who he really was: a boy mistakenly born as a girl. Yet as he grew up, his body began to betray him; eventually J stopped praying to wake up a “real boy” and started covering up his body, keeping himself invisible – from his family, from his friends…from the world. But after being deserted by the best friend he thought would always be by his side, J decides that he’s done hiding – it’s time to be who he really is. And this time he is determined not to give up, no matter the cost.

An inspiring story of self-discovery, of choosing to stand up for yourself, and of finding your own path – readers will recognize a part of themselves in J’s struggle to love his true self.

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano

revolution

The beloved Maria from Sesame Street writes about the experiences of a teen with Puerto Rican heritage.

Publisher’s Book Description:

One of America’s most influential Hispanics — ‘Maria’ on Sesame Street — presents a powerful novel set in New York’s El Barrio in 1969

There are two secrets Evelyn Serrano is keeping from her Mami and Papo? her true feelings about growing up in her Spanish Harlem neighborhood, and her attitude about Abuela, her sassy grandmother who’s come from Puerto Rico to live with them. Then, like an urgent ticking clock, events erupt that change everything. The Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group, dump garbage in the street and set it on fire, igniting a powerful protest. When Abuela steps in to take charge, Evelyn is thrust into the action. Tempers flare, loyalties are tested. Through it all, Evelyn learns important truths about her Latino heritage and the history makers who shaped a nation. Infused with actual news accounts from the time period, Sonia Manzano has crafted a gripping work of fiction based on her own life growing up during a fiery, unforgettable time in America, when young Latinos took control of their destinies.

Plus a Bonus 2017 Debut Author

The Evolution of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

educationof

Publisher’s Book Description:

Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sánchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moisés—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

As always, if you have authors or titles to add, please share with us in the comments.