JACQUELINE WOODSON WON THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD

a learnable moment in the kidlit community

sky chillthese days I wake up wondering if Darren Wilson is going to be indicted. it’s a strange thing to have in the back of my head as i get up to take care of my one year old, sky. but it reminds me where we are as a people right now and what’s real. i value realness and –acknowledging what is- as a step toward change.

equally real, sky pops awake and greets me with a giddy smile and ALL her basic human needs. like always, she wraps her arms around my neck and we begin the day. me sneaking peeks to see if there’s any news regarding the Michael Brown case, sky laughing and feeding and playing and everything.

i marvel as i watch Sky feel safe. sky feels the world and the people in it love her and take care of her. it is clear that sky feels that she belongs. the world and its people are her home. when sky walks out the door into san francisco, she perceives everyone as an ally and everything as an adventure.

because of this, sky will know things that I never had a chance to know at her age or all the other ages she will pass through. sky is sky. free to BE. free to belong.

this morning when I woke up, sky and I did our thing. still no news about Darren Wilson. there was however news about last night’s award ceremony for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

i read yesterday that Jacqueline Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING WON!!! so exciting! i had just highlighted her work in the heart of it/creating children’s books that matter course last week, so Woodson’s gifts were fresh on my mind. but when i heard how Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler made more than one racist ‘joke’ at the ceremony toward both Jacqueline Woodson and Sharon Draper, it felt like a shade of what I’m bracing for in relation to Darren Wilson. the constant classic narrative that plays out in our society related to privilege and maintaining the status quo.

Snicket/Handler has of course apologized this morning after being slammed on twitter, etc… for his blunder, but that’s all just part of the classic narrative too, a continued way to dismiss and turn attention away from the real issue at hand.

in fact, part of the purpose of the classic narrative and how it plays out (apology or not) is that Jacqueline Woodson no longer stands alone in the shining light of her work and the honor it gleans. Snicket/Handler is getting tons of attention, albeit some of it negative. but no matter, putting a glitch in her public experience of respect and honor does not affect the well-established pillar of privilege in and out of the children’s book industry that he enjoys. within this system he is a perfect example of someone who is praise worthy. he is supported by the safety net of privilege that our society is based on.

i want to imagine that Snicket/Handler meant no personal harm to either women, like most well meaning, structurally privileged people. in fact, he seems to be on some kind of ‘terms’ with woodson. but the truth is that these constant microagressions do have a very real impact, on the ones they’re played out with AND on the larger social discourse.

quite simply:

Snicket/Handler made sure publicly that Woodson was associated with watermelon (and all that historically and culturally symbolizes) and Draper with having received a recognition that Snicket/Handler feels excluded from and will claim at some point. all wrapped up in the easy to apologize for and dismiss ‘joke’ context. with just a few simple words, he reframed them from award winning authors to something less than.

at this point, we don’t need another part and parcel apology, what we need is a move beyond this classic narrative in which privilege consciously or unconsciously is maintained.

as storytellers i know we can find a way to acknowledge the privilege structure that exists in our society and how it plays out in these micro and other macro ways in the children’s literature community. i know we can find a way to have a social discourse that moves beyond the moment’s transgression into perceiving how we got here, how all the systems in and out of the kidlit community are connected to this kind of ‘joke,’ the very real affect it has and how do we learn through it into a new narrative.

the morning has passed and sky is down for her nap. i’ve been writing this on the side as I make breakfast, cleancleanclean up after and do the kerjillion things you do with a little. i’m tired, but it’s totally worth it. sky teaches me that when we feel safe in our world everyone is an ally and each step an adventure. i want sky to keep that feeling. i’m a children’s book author/artist/activist because i know that children’s books matter and can make very real contributions to the quality of our children’s lives. i’ve been having conversations like these for 20 years in classrooms, libraries, with allies in the kidlit community, in my curriculum… but the time is now for this conversation to hit the streets.

we need a new story. we need to have the bigger conversations. we need more than diverse books! we need a healing.

In my imagination,attends 2014 National Book Awards on November 19, 2014 in New York City.

last night at the ceremony for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, Jacqueline Woodson did everything exactly the same! holy smokes, she’s AMAZING…and everyone just stopped.

and respected her and loved her and thanked her, including Snicket/Handler.

 

 

and if i go deepdeep in my imagination,michael brown

Michael Brown is having just another regular day, doing whatever Michael is doing.

 

 

 

sf am skyand when I wake up tomorrow morning,

all I can see is sky.

the revolution is always now.

see past the distractions and

begin the real conversation.

xomaya

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The Underlying Image

Claiming Face blog series with Maya Gonzalez - Part 5

Claiming Face with MayaAll art is self-portraiture. It is unavoidable. Through my Polka Dot Theory, we can come to see that something as simple as a polka dot expresses something, however minute, about ourselves. My polka dot is different than your polka dot. Each dot potentially expresses everything from what kind of mood we are in, to how we hold a pencil, to how our entire life’s story is subtly expressed in how we touch a surface and more.

I came to this knowing simply because I have had the opportunity to see literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of folks mark paper. It is always different. It is always unique to that person, that life, that moment. So, no matter what an art project is, we can always trust this. It is unique, singular. It reveals, expresses. It is self-portraiture.
(Recall the Polka Dot Theory was discussed in Part 4 of this series)

Now I generally like to really drive the point home and work with art projects that are in fact images of ourselves. But trusting that even in as much of a polka dot we are expressing ourselves, we can explore absolutely anything as self-portrait. One of my all time favorite projects is the Frida Mirror. Now this project never fails to amaze me. I have dozens of stories from grown-ups to littles about the power and breadth of this project.

The Frida Mirror project goes like this:
You can download the image I use via the link at the end of this post.
It is a pencil drawing from Frida Kahlo The Brush of Anguish by Martha Zamora, pg. 85

I introduce Frida and her work. You can choose how much you want to share about Frida relevant to the age of the kids you’re working with. I focus on how she used self-portraiture as a way to see and understand herself and express her experience.

I share the image of Frida and we look closely at it. We wonder about why she chose to turn her eyebrows into a bird. We look at the hand earring, which was a gift from another artist, Picasso. We look at her hair, the dedication, the plants growing, everything.

I often use the idea of looking in the mirror in the morning and imagining that this image of Frida is the mirror you’re looking into. What do you see of yourself?

The Frida Mirror ProjectI used this project with educators at the local conference, Teachers 4 Social Justice. I focused the project a bit more this time because we were going to do two other similar projects as a way to more deeply explore the experience. I often stay open to how I’m going to frame a project based on my experience of the class and what seems most effective and relevant to the moment. Artists were asked to use the Frida Mirror to show what they found ugly this time.

I once did this project with 600 kids at the same time in an assembly. At the end I had them all stand up and hold their Frida over their head. I was deeply moved to see a sea of Fridas, each different, each beautifully expressive facing me and telling the tale of each artist, each child. I have seen Frida as a wrestler, a devil, an angel, a flower. I have seen her rendered delicately, idealistically, covered in miniscule geometric shapes, whited out, covered black, made to weep more, laugh more, scare more. I have seen someone try to render her ugly, grief-stricken, bereft. The stories that Frida can tell about us are sometimes different than the stories we can easily tell about ourselves.

Based on the effectiveness of this project, I have recently expanded to include other valuable images to use as mirrors. At this conference I also used Martin Luther King Jr.’s image and the Burrowing Owl. For the MLK Mirror, artists were asked to show something themselves that cannot be discerned just by looking at them. We talked about what we can and cannot see about someone by looking at them.

Although we sadly didn’t have time to do the Animal Mirror, there was so much enthusiasm and interest in it, people were actually pleading to take it home as homework. I had to laugh my head off with them. For the Burrowing Owl Mirror I asked artists to show what their greatest strength, their wisdom was in “the night.”

Martin Luther King Jr. Mirror HandoutUsing images like MLK as a mirror is obviously a great opportunity to learn more about the person and his work and how to continue that work. When I chose an animal image, I looked for an animal specifically relevant to our geographic area. What was great about this, is that different women shared their current experiences about these interesting owls. On the back of this handout, I included basic information about the owl and its habitat. In the future I’m also going to include symbolism, myth and indigenous stories. But this was a last minute idea, so I just got to the basics.

Creating art like this not only serves to bring each artist greater understanding and expression of themselves, it can also help us relate to concepts, like equality and the Civil Rights Movement or the courage to stand for what you believe in non-violently. Martin Luther King Jr. then becomes a part of us and we a part of him, making learning about him more personally relevant. I was so excited to see what the Burrowing Owl would reveal. I know for myself nature serves as a great teacher and reflection. Not a day goes by that I am not captivated by a tree or charmed by a bird. But I guess I will have to wait until the next time I get to play with a group of artists to use this one.

You can download all three of these images to use for yourself or in your classroom.
Have fun artists!

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keys and library cards

all things return in good time

sometimes babies ‘disappear’ things. so it was with a particular set of keys. they vanished for a very long time. we assumed they’d show up, but after months, it seemed they never would.sky for blog then something weird happened.

they showed up! matthew had to dig his hands down in between the cushions of the back seat of the car to install a new baby seat and out he pulled the disappeared keys!!! yay!

with the keys back we could check our PO box at the lovely women’s building! and there, dated all the way back to august was a card from the irwindale library. i got all excited! not just because i could see rhinestones poking through the envelope, but because i could sense some bulk in there. i guessed i might have something more than just a flashy card!!!!

so excited to open it! i found my copy of the library card i designed for them!!!

irwindale library card

i’m thrilled and so honored. i love them!!! i think i might have to make earrings out of the little, detachable, key chain versions on the sides!

i have always loved libraries. we have one just two blocks away that we visit regularly! next time i’ll wear my new earrings!!!

irwindale-thumb
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renegotiating “creative blocks”

perceiving the deeper currents of our creativity

*( i wrote this for the authorartists in my HEART OF IT/creating children’s books that matter course. it’s still a little ROUGH, but i wanted to share)

Often we think of creative flow as this fantastic high of great productivity and inspiration pouring out of our being. This can seem like the ‘goal’ for many of us, the ultimate, the whole point! But how do we get there and what does it mean if we’re feeling the total opposite?acorn eye

I remember in college, creativity seemed wild and out of control to me. it would hit and then vanish. I made sure to ride it as hard as I could while it was in town because it might be gone by morning!

eye of the mushroom copyThe very nature of the experience, and seemingly of creativity itself, fascinated me. why did it hit when it did? Where did it go? Could I still access it? how? What is creativity? Why are we so compelled by it? is there a limit?

All these questions led me to look closely at what I did know about my moments of creative expression.
The experiences had the enormity and power of nature; they often contained wildly intuitive connections, meanings and understandings and they could make me feel everything! elated, devastated, ascendant, free, empty…

Over 30 years of concerted study and practice, I learned that our greatest, most honest and transformative power lies in our creativity. This is a power we are each born with and flows through all being. Tapping into it and learning to let it flow with grace, in a sense, is no less than the secret to life.aqua agua eye drop copy

our creativity is connected to nature, spirit and our hearts as well as our bodies and our minds. It is also connected most definitely to the unknown. Creativity is all about the unknown.

When we begin to engage with our creative force with this level of awareness, everything within us rises to be transformed, to naturally join in the process and create wholeness within us and without us, placing us inside and outside in the perfect creative position to fulfill the meaning of our life.

With this framework in mind, we can better understand ourselves and how creative energy is flowing through our whole system and what different experiences mean. Becoming aware of our creative flow on all of the levels is key.strawberry eye copy

Many creatives talk about the non-making time. it is often as vital if not more so than the creative act. Everything is born within and from there moves outward into physical reality. so much of the creative process happens within.
But ‘within’ is a vast and often unknown terrain. There is no known limit to the within.
when I experience what is commonly called a ‘creative block,’ I have found that a very deep, unknown layer of my inner being, my within, is beginning to create.

I have learned that having this level of awareness of my creative flow changes everything. I do not see block. I see depth. I do not focus on the more superficial or recognizable levels of creative expression, but attempt to discern the deeper source from which my creative expression arises.eye leaf copy

Creativity can integrate our whole system if we allow it. slowing down and bringing awareness to our multiple levels of experience supports our creativity to move through us and not remain at these core places of origin, often unacknowledged. This process literally allows creativity to come into its true purpose in our lives: Integration of our entire being, healing on all levels of experience and fluid creative thinking and expression to live our best lives, which is why we are here.

When I experience what can be called ‘creative block’ I assume a deep aspect of my being is rising to come into expression and balance. So I slow down and attend to all levels of my being, essentially in this order. I’ve found following this order helps develop a strong container using my own being and creates a pattern of stability in how I approach everything. I return to it again and again and it always holds me.

eye of the cupcake copy

Begin with the body (physical)

Slow down, pay attention, feel.

Super important and not supported or modeled in our current culture which is why a lot of us don’t know how to navigate this piece.

If you’re feeling heavy, then feel the heaviness. Let it be there. Don’t try to make it go away. It’s ok to feel heavy. There is a wisdom and a purpose to it. just pay attention to it. notice everything about your heaviness, or whatever other body feeling you’re having. Trust that it is your creative force moving at such a deep level that you must slow down enough to be aware of it. this awareness is what supports it moving.

Another common body feeling is ‘down in the mouth’ or the feeling that you can’t speak or that speaking is a huge effort. Of course there are many other feelings too. panic or the edges of panic is a big one! slowing down and being present with all levels of anxiety is extremely powerful.

Make room for emotional expression, not dwelling on, but pure expression (emotional)
there are feelings and then there emotions. We are often unfamiliar with the true nature of our emotions.brown flower eye copy

There are four “basic” emotions, according to this study: happy, sad, afraid/surprised, and angry.

If you’re ‘feeling’ Overwhelmed or Stuck, see if you can get to the underlying core feeling. Being present with the body really helps with this part.

Feeling feelings can seem tricky, but to begin with, if you feel fear, play with “feeling” it, like shivering! Or if you’re “feeling” stuck, be curious what’s at the heart of it. Fear? Anger? Sorrow?

With anger, you can begin small. Clench your fists. Feel the tightness. Fear, Shake a bit!
Sorrow, hang your head, touch your heart, frown.
Your body will also naturally express an emotion if you relax into it enough.
Your body is here to support you.

open eye heart copyRemove judgment from the mind and become aware of self (mental)

We often have small stories that we tell ourselves internally. Try to hear what these are. What are you constantly saying to yourself? There’s no time. I can’t do this. I need more education. No one will listen. And on and on.

As you become aware of these, take a step back. Notice that these are judgments and begin playing with the concept that you can see through them. Don’t try to make them go away. Don’t even consider them as bad. Just notice them and see through them. The rest will take care of itself.

Listen to your inner self, intuitive connections (spiritual)
We all get hunches and knowings that seem to come from someplace beyond our regular understanding of something. Learning to listen to our wise inner self can take some practice. Sometimes we have to filter out some of the judgment so we can hear what is true at our deepest level. intuition and inner truth belongs to everyone.

Trust that your bigger creative mind will guide you (unknown)
The more familiar we become with the creative process and allow ourselves to really drop into it, the more we learn the shapes and patterns that our creativity takes. We begin to develop our own understanding of our creative flow and experience. this develops trust in our self, our creative power and the way things move through us and our life.flower soul communion copy

I make it a point that whenever I am experiencing a strong feeling of discomfort, disorientation, feelings of pressure or overwhelm to pay attention to the deep creativity that is moving through my entire system. The more I see all of my self and all of my life as part of my own unique creative flow and manifestation, the more creativity I have access to and the more I can use my creativity to integrate and heal me. as I do this, I naturally create stories and images that reflect my experience, myself, my power, my natural flow and belonging.

When I’m in this state, I follow any and all inclinations toward creativity if and when they arise. Once I begin creating again, there will often be a noticeable shift or even a great leap in my creative expression. What might have initially been perceived as a block, becomes quite the opposite. Learning to understand our deep creative currents always opens us up to an overall feeling of greater creative flow in all areas of our life.

xomaya

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life art death art life art death

dia de los muertos

today i find myself falling deeply into inner ritual. it’s not a conscious act. it’s much more than that. dancing-calevera-girl copyit’s my bones. the blood pumping through the muscle that is my heart. my teeth, my hair, my dress, my BEing, my life, my every breath. it’s as if a hidden door in the back of my mind opens up and i am with my dead and my near dead.
this year one of my best friends then my father in law, and finally my father all did a slow waltz with my old teacher death. they used their hearts to learn. they nearly stopped their song. one restricted the flow to a near tear drop, the other two pooled the flow in one spot until everything else cried out for more. all of them nearly dropped the bod.
tonight i call in the 5 directions, i invoke my old teacher, death and i surrender to the ritual that is occurring in my heart this minute. walk the night. invite the unknown. open the hidden places and learn the secrets of life. this is dia de los muertos. this is where i find the parts i have forgotten. this is where i express my gratitude that my people have stayed. i know one day they will go.

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gender free multicultural children’s book!

call me tree!!! (a note to my readers)

call-me-tree-gender-free

call-me-tree-cover-200You may or may not notice something different about my new book, Call Me Tree. Nowhere in the story are boy/girl pronouns used. No ‘he’ or ‘she’ anywhere! I found it easy to write this way because that’s how I think of kids, as kids, not boy kids or girl kids.

I even requested that no ‘he’ or ‘she’ be used anywhere else in the book, like on the end pages or the back cover when talking about the story. I also asked the publisher to only refer to the main character as a child or kid when they talked about my book out in the world. Because I wanted Call Me Tree to be gender free!

Why? I’m glad you asked

Two reasons come to the top of my mind.

First, I know a lot of people. Some don’t feel that they fit into the boy or the girl box and of course, some do! By not using ‘he’ or ‘she,’ I could include everyone! This is very important to me. I want everyone to know that we all belong!

And second, I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk about the main character in Call Me Tree. Let’s call them ‘Tree.’ Tree is like a lot of people I know, including my own kids! Strong, curious, free! Now, if you were going to guess if Tree is a ‘he’ or a ‘she,’ which do you think?call-me-tree-maya-gonzalez

I’m going to guess you’d say ‘he’ first, maybe because Tree’s already been called ‘he’ by folks who have given Call Me Tree some really awesome reviews. Tree could be he, but maybe not! A lot of times we make guesses based on what we think is true, but sometimes that can leave people out.

Tree’s reminding us there are lots of different ways to be!

I just remembered another top reason.

People who don’t fit into the boy or the girl box get teased more than anybody. This is extra not cool to me. I happen to know all kids rock, so I want to make sure the ones that get picked on the most know they rock! Right?!

So Call Me Tree is gender free! Because all trees belong!

Try it on for a day. Play with not being called ‘he’ or ‘she,’ but only Tree, tall and strong! Just for one day, or even one afternoon. Would anything feel different? Would you be different?

Let’s call it Tree Day.

Let’s all be free. Let’s all be trees!
Whatdya think?

Call me Tree!

Love,   mayatree

When sharing this book, you may want to include that it’s gender free as part of the conversation in your classroom, library or home if:

Download this post in PDF to share
****you can download this whole letter to share, including the resources below!****
  • you have a child, family or community member who does not fit into the boy or girl box they were assigned at birth
  • you want to expand the boxes to include more ways of being a girl or a boy
  • you want to be inclusive of everyone regardless of boxes because everyone belongs

 

For more resources:
www.reflectionpress.com/our-books/gender-now-activity-bookschool-edition
www.welcomingschools.org/pages/resources-on-gender-identity-and-children
www.tolerance.org/gender-spectrum
www.genderspectrum.org
www.outproudfamilies.com

Call Me Tree (official release date is November 13, 2014)
written and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez
published by Children’s Book Press
an imprint of Lee&Low Books, 2014
ISBN 978-0-89239-294-0

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in front of the camera

the heart of it

deerheart thumball my life i have not loved the camera. as a child i was always the one making the weird face in photographs. my mother loved to tell me ‘you’re not ugly.’ but there was something in her voice that made me only hear the word ‘ugly.’

my face felt highly vulnerable to me. exposed. telling stories that i didn’t understand and couldn’t control. my face has been such a source of lesson for me that my art practice developed as a place to claim my face, my existence, my experience. working in the classroom my personal art practice translated into a curriculum to support children like i was to claim their face, claim themselves.

my face is my country, my home, where i belong, even where i come from. round, chicana, femme. i try to show my face even though it’s still not my favorite thing to do. because today at the kidquake event, i saw what i always see when i work with kids…little girls who look just like i did, watching me. watching me closely. seeing themselves in me. seeing something new in themselves through me. i don’t take that lightly. i know all too well what it’s like to not even know that you long.

so i show my face and continue my personal practice of claiming.

this photo shoot        ordered by my new business manager was a bit mind blowing for my shy face. i did my best to just be there.

jeannies studio first time

thankfully i LOVED jeannie o’connor, the photographer and her lovely assistant, pedro. her personal work was everywhere stunning. huge photographs in architectural frames, doors, windows. we talked about india and creativity and humanness and art, queerness and galleries. i forgot i had a face. i just opened my heart, which i guess is really the point of claiming face.

jeannie and pedro
jeannie and pedro

move beyond my face into just being.

there’s no telling where all this photographing will go. i often think i’m heading in one direction only to find it was really a trick to gather more and head in another direction altogether. that’s cool. i get a kick out of it all! what i know today, is that i have a face and that’s ok. and if more chicana girls see my face, that’s ok too. so as i look at two pages of jeannie’s photos of my big, round chicana face, i open my heart and continue to claim.

 

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