Reading Representation

Dear M.A. Gavin,

Thank you for sharing your insights on the ever present topic of gun control in America. I agree with much of what you said.

Today however, I would like to write about Reading Month again.  Last year around this time, I wrote a post about my love of reading and the impact of reading on my life. While those things have not changed, I have grown in my reading and use of reading to learn about the world. One thing has become exceedingly clear to me over the past year: REPRESENTATION MATTERS.

Let me explain. Reading month is in March for Read Across America, which is basically a national movement to encourage a love of reading. However, it is historically associated with one children’s book author in particular: Dr. Seuss. His stories are famous for their rhymes, silliness, and fun. They are beloved books for children to listen to, and are reasonably accessible for early independent reading. But they lack diversity, and provide no representation for people of color. Were Dr. Seuss’s books a product of the time? Possibly, but that doesn’t mean in modern times we should overlook this problem.

I am not saying, we should oust Dr. Seuss books entirely. They are fun reads, but I am saying for every Dr. Seuss book read to children, there should be two more with a greater representation of characters. As a former educator in a school with mostly black students, it took a concerted effort to find books that had characters that looked like my students. Consider our own childhood. Black characters have been type cast in books, particularly children’s books. They make appearances in books about slavery, in books about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and the civil rights movement, and other stereotypes like basketball and athletes, but if you are looking for a fun uplifting, normal children’s storybook with characters of color, finding one in a school library is not the easiest.

This needs to change. Children are malleable; they understand and make connections in ways adults can’t even begin to imagine. The lack of representation in children’s books affects them. It projects an idea that people who look like them aren’t worthy of being in a book. That books are only about people that don’t look like them. While this is generally not intentional, it is an effect. Students are vastly more excited by a book that they can connect with – either because they enjoy the topic, or more so because they can relate to the characters. For our youngest readers and those who Read Across America is intended for this begins by having illustrations that represent diverse readers. Beyond representation of people of color, there is also a huge problem in children’s literature representing people with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals, and women in all of these categories.

Obviously, this is not just an issue in children’s literature. It is a problem in adult literature as well. The other day I went to a bookstore and it had an African American Literature section, but it was one shelf, compared to the six rows of fiction before it. This is a consistent problem in the media and Hollywood. It is not unusual for a white actor or actress to play a character of color. Actors of color are underrepresented, not recognized by awards for their works, and consistently type cast into stereotypical roles.

In my opinion representation in children’s literature is a place where this problem can begin to change long term. If children feel represented and valued, they will know their worth, they won’t doubt their abilities, they will feel empowered. With that they will grow to be transformational leaders, to be change makers. However, it is adults responsibility, as parents, teachers, mentors, writers, publishers, ect., to ensure they are represented and to ensure they have relatable literature to read and engage with that shows characters like them doing amazing things.

As I continue growing my library of children’s literature, I am making a strong effort to ensure my future children see diverse representation in literature, despite being a white child. I want them to respect all people, to see beauty in everyone, and to recognize that regardless of what a person looks like they have power within them. This reading month, I implore all readers to share their love of reading with someone, a child, a friend, a sibling, but more than that, I want you to think about how the literature you share with young readers impacts their view of themselves, of the world, and whether or not it perpetuates the systematic injustices of the world, or if it works to break them.

Yours in reading,

-M.R. Gavin

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Bring Me All The Food – Please

Hello M.A. Gavin,

It is snowing again. The snow is lovely, but it arrived after a brief period of warm weather, which made me long for spring. I started thinking about reading in the sun, going for walks with PenelopeBlossom, being hot, melting ice cream but alas, winter has returned and doesn’t look as though it’s going anywhere soon.

Let’s talk about FOOD!

Food culture is so interesting to me. Everyone needs food to survive, to provide nourishment and there are so many different segments of the food culture it is almost overwhelming. Think about food on social media. I would say there are at least five different segments approaching food on social media platforms.

  1. Your regular user snapping a quick pic of their meal at a restaurant, or a meal they made and are proud of. This segment of food culture is consider TMI by some, but it is also another great connector like music, books, and smiles. Everyone needs to eat. Most people are often looking for a new place to go or recipe to try, so why not share it with your friends. This also connects to the social aspect of food culture, which I will be looking at later in this post.
  2. Food reviewers. Reviewers and influencers are one of the largest growing self-employment sectors. If you like food, can take good pictures of food, can share your honest thoughts, and get a lot of followers, restaurants will feed you and invite you to do so! Personally, I follow several food related Instagrams in the Detroit area and the Philadelphia area and because of them I am constantly learning about new locally owned restaurants to try.
  3. Nutrition/Meal Planning Bloggers. These could probably be separated into two different categories, but I am grouping them together because they accomplish the same thing. Providing people with recipes, or food information in order for their followers to pursue a certain lifestyle. These include people showing the world their vegan journey, or parents sharing what quick and easy meals their kids like, or nutrition coaches demonstrating what a balanced food lifestyle looks like.
  4. Food Porn. Social media dedicated to certain types of food, for aesthetic sake and to basically make their followers mouth’s water 24/7. I am ice cream obsessed and will look longingly at pictures of ice cream all day, or beautiful cakes, or homegrown fruits and veggies. As long as it looks pretty I am in!
  5. Businesses. Obviously business are huge users of social media as it is an essential marketing tool in today’s world. They use it to announce specials, advertise, and simply spread the word about their products and services.

With these segments of food on social media, you see a variety of trends within each based on region, preferences, and all sorts of other things. It is mind boggling to me how something so unglamorous – literally a thing we do to survive, like breathing – is so fundamental to our social world. Which leads me to my next point about food. It is a social medium. Think about it. Where do most families gather when they are altogether? The kitchen, or the table. Where do you meet up with friends you haven’t seen in a long time? A restaurant or bar. What is at every party you have EVER been to (and if it hasn’t, was it really a party or just a meeting)? FOOD. Food brings people together: families, friends, colleagues, strangers. One of the easiest things to talk about with someone you’ve never met before is food they like to eat or make or restaurants they like to go to. Why? People relate to food.

Sometimes, I hear older generations ask why people share every minuscule aspect of their day on social media platforms. It is honestly a question I can’t answer, most likely because that’s not my style. I am a private person, as are you (I mean really we don’t use our names on this blog), but sharing your meal on social media isn’t all that different from talking about it, and if it is being shared on social media, it is probably also being talked about face to face. It is simply a different platform than previous generations are used to.

So there you have my thoughts on food. I will be honest in saying, it is probably what I think about the most in life. More than PenelopeBlossom, family, or curling. Because when I’m thinking about food, I’m inherently connecting those things. “Oh this is a restaurant M.A. Gavin and I should try.” “I need to send this recipe to M.J. Gavin.” “This would be great to eat while watching Olympic Curling.”

Now I am hungry. Maybe I’ll brave the snow to get some ice cream and then wash it down with hot chocolate and marshmallows. Dinner is already cooking in the crockpot (loaded baked potato soup if you care to know). Feel free to join me, although I don’t think any planes are landing here today.

Till we gather in the kitchen,

-M.R. Gavin

The Inspiration Olympics

Hello M.R. Gavin,

In your last letter you asked what inspires me and how I mold that inspiration into something more. Inspiration is something that I think about often and fight with daily. As  such, I think it only appropriate that I dedicate the entirety of this not to trying (though likely failing ) to respond to your query.

I am inspired when my surroundings change. I am privileged to have spent a large chunk of the past year traveling. Being surrounded by new people and old buildings has a way of filling your soul with a simultaneous creative contentment and unsettling. At once you feel both relief to be in the place you are and drive to leave your own mark and inspire others. I firmly believe that a change of scenery is the single best solution to writers block.

I am inspired when I am angry. It seems counterintuitive, but my best writing emerges when I am enraged. Putting words to paper makes me feel as if my grievances are validated, and also gives me a platform of ideas on which to plan my next move. In the past year and a half, our political state has been a particularly fruitful source of inspiration.

I am inspired by the people that I care about. You. M.J. Gavin. P.D. Gavin. Susan. I am very grateful that the list could go on seemingly forever. I am inspired by their dedication, their passions, their joys, and their fears. They give me the courage to do things which scare me and the resources to fall back on should I fail. I think inspiration is contagious.

I am inspired when I do something which scares me. Sometimes this means traveling to a foreign country by myself. Other times this means speaking up in class. Fear is a finicky thing. It exists in the life-altering and in the minute, yet it fills the jar regardless. The same goes for inspiration. My capacity for inspiration can be filled equally by events of incomparable magnitude.

The second part of your question was how I turn inspiration into something more. This is a little more difficult to answer, especially since most of my creative energy is dedicated to mandated school work. That said, I believe we should treat derivatives of inspiration in the same manner we treat inspiration itself. If the smallest of moments can ignite creative energy the same as a large event, then why should all resulting works be compared by size? Writing is writing. It has the potential to fill another person with inspiration whether its sitting on a blog or on the top of the New York Times Bestsellers List.

In closing, I guess the best I can suggest is to go with your gut. Don’t second guess yourself or pin your success on the opinions of others. You are a beautiful, strong, creative musk ox. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

Peacefully,

M.A. Gavin