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

Inspiration & Conundrum

M.A. Gavin,

I hope this does not find you too late. In reverse order my advice is as follows:

  1. Perhaps tap the gentleman on the shoulder and offer him a blanket, or a coffee.
  2. Express your distaste for violence and that you seek to achieve higher things through peaceful means.
  3. Come live with me. Last time we began this enjoyable blog.
  4. Having a pet is perhaps the best thing in my life. Perhaps even better than having you, although that is likely because they are always near at hand, while you are quite out of reach. Name it M.R. Gavin.

I’ve never been much for advising, so I recommend taking my opinions with an entire salt shaker.

What inspires you? I find myself thinking about inspiration a lot recently. Not because I lack it, but because I’m not sure how to turn the things that inspire me into something more. But before I get to that conundrum, I’d like to tell you a few things that inspire me.

First, are people. My family and friends especially inspire me to try things, to persist, to engage in life. I watch my family and friends on each of their own journeys and their resilience in difficult situations and even normal life circumstances, and it inspires me, because those situation are scary. Furthermore, the love of family and friends and their constant believe and encouragement is ever so helpful when I get trapped inside my own head.

Second, is little moments. Any small moment that puts a smile on my face is truly inspiring because I never know when they are going to occur. It could be a sweet moment between PenelopeBlossom, a random interaction with a stranger, or even a smell. Actually, to be honest, smells and sounds get me a lot. These little moments occur when I am least expecting them – most often while people-watching and I see others interact in adorable or comical ways. This inspiration has been helpful in growing my list of potential writing topics.

Third, is learning. I am inspired by almost everything I read. By the writing quality, the descriptions, the content. Even when I dislike something I read, I am inspired not to repeat that writer’s mistakes. Additionally, learning can be an almost constant occurrence. I learn from activists, from colleagues, from everyone because everyone has different life experiences to share and learn from.

Now to the conundrum.  I am inspired by so many things, but I have yet to find a sufficient way in which to utilize that inspiration as something “more.” By more, I mean a job that people would respect and consider admirable. I’m not looking for recognition, but I am looking for respect. That my passion and inspiration can be turned into something that makes a difference. They make a difference to me and they are respected by those closest to me, but there is a distinct difference in reactions when you tell someone you are a doctor or an engineer verses working for a nonprofit or even teaching. It is one of the more challenging things I’ve had to deal with in adulthood and hope that you are never faced with the feeling of inadequacy it generates. With that said, I am not writing this post to complain, but just to explain some of the things that inspire me and some of the questions I run through on a regular basis. I am extremely content and even invigorated by my current work, but it is not something easily shared as of yet.

Finally, I just chugged a bottle of water and am now shivering. This happens almost every time I drink a bottle of water and I think I need to find out why that is. Or just drink my water more slowly.

I’ll leave you with a quote that is a current inspiration for me. Helen Keller once said, “When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.” I will continue doing my best and what makes me happy, and hope I see the impact some day.

Always yours,

-M.R. Gavin

Growth (Despite being Short)

My Dearest M.A. Gavin,

I know it has only been a few weeks, but I miss you immensely and I hope your travels and studies have treated you well in the interim.  I am glad to see you have been reading and will add all of your suggestions to my list.

While you completed a sort of recap of 2017, I’ve decided to write about my hopes and goals moving into 2018.  With that said, I have never been a fan of the colloquially “New Years Resolution,” and prefer to make changes when I recognize they are needed or desired. Nonetheless, I do like to sit down and reflect on the past year and look forward to the new year with those reflections in mind.

As I reflect on 2017, I noted many changes in my professional life, and – partially because of those changes – growth in terms of my mental and spiritual well being. Those are the things I am seeking to continue as 2018 proceeds and they simmer down into the following three big ideas.

  1. 30 Day Challenges. I watched a TED Talk by Matt Cutts (linked here) several years ago about trying something new and sticking to it for thirty days. While his oratory style is not my favorite, the message he gave stuck with me. Doing things over a period of time make them a habit. Last year I made a concerted effort to read everyday. Now if I don’t read at least of few pages, my day feels incomplete. The point is, I plan on using this “challenge” to try new things and better my overall physical, mental, and spiritual well being.  I have several months already decided, but if you have additional suggestions I would love to consider them.
  2. Engage in a community of learners. You may not know this about me, but I am incredibly shy and unfortunately instead of my shyness ebbing with age it has increased.  While I have the most beautiful circle of close friends and family a person could ever want, close friends and family are not always the people who will push one’s thinking, teach one something new, or provide unbiased feedback. This is not to say you do not challenge me, because you do. Instead it is about sharing with others and learning from others I would not otherwise engage with. Be this on a social media platform, a book club, or a volunteer position, I hope to work to get out of my shell and engage with others in order to learn and grow, and to contribute to important conversations.
  3. Read to learn. I have always been in love with reading and over the past year have successfully returned to reading for enjoyment and making reading a priority. Whilst doing so, I made an effort to read a variety of literature from diverse authors in order to learn about other people, their opinions, and how they view the world. This year I plan to continue exploring those writers, and I am hoping to expand my reading to other formats as well. Find a newsletter like the one you suggested, read articles from diverse authors and publications, scholarly publications, ect.  

Ultimately, for me 2018 is going to be about growth. And in truth, isn’t every year about growth? When we were kids each birthday meant we had grown physically, mastered a year’s worth of school, and experienced a plethora of new things, because when you are young everything is new.  I hope to keep that in mind this year.

Happy Reading,

-M.R. Gavin