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

State of the Uniom

Tonight, President Trump will deliver his first State of the Union Address since taking office in January of 2017. Fox News has exclusively acquired a copy of his speech. It’s printed below. It has not been altered from its original state, all director’s notes are President Trump’s own.

(Applause)

Thank you. Good Evening. Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States.

Settle down, settle down. Look at that guy still clapping. See? He loves me. Just like the American people. The real American people love me.

Last year, a month after my inauguration, I addressed Congress to discuss plans to Make America Great Again. I was the first President to give such a speech. In my remarks, I laid out plans to cleanse America of mistakes made by previous administrations and to reestablish America as a great and thriving world leader. Since that address, we, the American people, have made great strides towards a prosperous, safe, and free future.

(Applause)

Since I came into office last year, we’ve accomplished much as an American people. The economy, as a result of my tireless efforts on the golf course, is booming. BOOM – ing. The stock market is growing at an unpresidented rate and unemployment is at an all time low. (Really Big Applause) These are direct results of my refusal to coordinate with global economies and my continuous urging of congress to deregulate. I have also worked hard, despite pushback from the Democrats, to close our borders entirely – except perhaps to the kind and pure Norwegian people. Without access to the outside world, our economy will thrive. American people will buy American products and employ American people. We will rise again.

In the past year, we have accomplished many great feats. Of these, we passed the Tax Reform Act. This act, passed rapidly with the help of speed reading demons, puts money back in the pockets of the American people. Back in the double-breasted, Armani suit pockets of the everyday, working-class American people.

(Applause)

As we continue to strive for greatness, we must acknowledge past mistakes – other’s mistakes that is – and do our best to regain safety, security, and prosperity. This will be accomplished by the removal of dangerous and unqualified people from our great land. As I speak, murderers, drug dealers, and members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are being forcibly removed.

(Applause, ICE enter, members of the audience are escorted out of the room in handcuffs.)

Robert Mueller is, at this very moment, being detained. After tonight, he will no longer be able to bring discord or disillusion to our country. He will be Mexico’s problem.

(Audience member begins “Send him to Mexico” chant)

Speaking of Mexico, I spoke at length during my campaign and in my address to Congress last year about the construction of the great, great border wall. I would like to assure the American people that construction of this great, great wall will continue. We will protect our land from criminals, rapists, and free-thinkers. And do not worry! Mexico will be paying for our safety.

Very, very far from Mexico is a very, very small man named North Korea. (No relation to North Kardashian). He is a small and insignificant bug with firework play things in his backyard and a very small red button. Know, we Americans are not afraid. We raise our very large hands to our very large nuclear button in a mutually assured destruction game of chicken. We will win. Our chickens are stronger and filled with steroids because our food is not regulated.  Hawaii can attest to the vast success of our military protection and power.

As you may have noticed, there are a number of people missing from tonight’s engagement. Snowflake Liberal Dems have chosen to boycott my speech.

(Look directly into camera)

I would like to tell these people that America will be Great and that we do not need them to make it that way. Their refusal to attend historical and patriotic events reflects poorly only on them and shows disrespect for the American people. The American people, especially those who voted for Crooked Hillary (a faint “Lock Her Up!” is heard from the balcony) and her minions, should be ashamed.

(Big Applause)

To those Americans who have been pillars of patriotism, you are the heart of this great land. (Applause) Actually, I am the heart. You all are capillaries. Yes. Capillaries. You keep my heart going and have spread believe in me across the country, so that I may continue my – I mean our – pursuit for greatness.

As the fake news media insists on spreading lies about me, I remind everyone I am not a liar. CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, BBC, Russian Prostitutes, my son, the Washington Post, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, John Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, Saturday Night Live, the Pendleton Record, every woman ever, Billy Bush, Henry Holt and Company, Stephen King, Anderson Cooper, Melissa McCarthy, my other son, and Nordstrom continue to spread lies.

(Booing)

They are liars. I am a truther.

(Applause)

Melania, I will be truthful, I am sorry. I am sorry that you believe the fake news media and I forgive you for wearing a pussy bow when I won the 2016 Presidential Election.

Thank you, God bless you, God bless the United States, and God bless Fox News.

(Thunderous Applause)

-M.M. 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

It’s READING MONTH

Dear M.A. Gavin,

If you can’t tell from the title, I am ecstatic it is reading month.  I think this comes only second to my excitement for Banned Books week in September.  You are currently at a point in life and school where everyday is reading month based on how much you have to read.  For me, however, reading month is permission to carry a baker’s dozen worth of books everywhere, wear my Green Eggs and Ham chucks everyday, and shamelessly spout the importance of reading to anyone who will even half listen.  Fortunately, as a teacher, I am not considered crazy despite my overwhelming excitement (yes, overwhelming is accurate word – as my students stare at me wide eyed and jaw dropped 97% of the time).

We have a pretty intense love of reading, but it is impressive how the love of reading comes in different forms.  For example, there is a bibliophile who is a lover of books.  According to Oxford Dictionaries website, a librocubcultarist describes “someone who reads in bed.”  A more colloquial term is a “bookworm,” which we have been called on more than one occasion.

While I think all three of these terms accurately describe me, I don’t think any of them accurately describe  a simple love of reading.  Reading anything and everything you can get your hands on, consuming an abundance of information, in various digital and print forms.  Remember when you first started learning to read, and the feeling you got when you started seeing and reading words all around you?  It is that ecstasy, that simple love and wonder of reading and the world, I return to each March.   I wish there was a word for that feeling, for that love of reading, not of books, not someone who reads quickly, but for someone infatuated by the act of reading and who engages in it as often as possible.  If you know the word for it, let me know; I should add it to my elevator speech.

Additionally, our love of reading is founded in personal idiosyncrasies.  For example, my ability to read in a car, but inability to read for more than five minutes after work without passing out book open in my lap, mouth agape, and drool dribbling down my chin.  Instead, I choose to get up earlier than I need to, in order to enjoy reading in the morning.  The peace I feel on Saturday mornings is near perfection, as the sun rises through my front window, birds chirping, a warm cup of tea in my favorite mug, my current read in my lap, and one or two puppies curled up nearby.  The absurd croaking – RIBIT! – I hear in my head or aloud anytime I come across a gushy part of a story adds to my reading experience every time.  Going back to reread old favorites, receiving recommendations, and exploring new genres, help my love of reading continue to grow and flourish.

I wish you and everyone else a most joyful reading month, full of adventures, romances, inquiries, and discoveries.  I implore you to share your love of reading with children by reading to or with them, and with friends or family members by giving recommendations or discussing what you’ve read.  I leave you with a well used, but ever accurate quote from George R.R. Martin, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.  The man who never reads lives only one.”

Happy Reading,

M.R. Gavin

On Journeys

M.A. Gavin,

Thank you for the book recommendation.  I am rapidly approaching the end of a reading journey, and am looking for some new literature to explore.  As I complete The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, I am reminded of what P.D. Duck would say, “The point of the journey is not to arrive.”  That quote is oddly fitting in both the context of a reader, and of the story.  The series is essentially about a man’s journey to the Dark Tower.  It is his entire life’s work, and although I have not finished, I am afraid the main character, Roland, may be disappointed in what he finds when he arrives, but hopefully, he recognizes the beauty and impact of his quest.  In the context of a reader, finishing a book is not the point.  If it where we would just skip to the end.

You offered a quote that very accurately describes our current political situation.  It is funny how you can always find a quote to describe a situation, but I find P.D. Duck’s quote – borrowed from Neil Peart – to be one I regularly reflect on.  If the point of life was to arrive, would we simply want to arrive at death?  Thank heavens that is not the case!  Each leg of life is a journey, and those journeys build and intersect to create a series of journeys  we call life.  Unfortunately, I often find myself less focused on the journey, and more focused on the outcome.

Imagine if instead of reflecting on a journey at its completion, we were more open to embracing the journey as it happened.  There could be more learning, more willingness to experiment and explore, more meaningful interactions; the possibilities are endless.  Consequently, a journey is just aimless wanderings if there isn’t some sort of end game or goal.  I guess my point is, while it is important to have goals and plans, we need to be willing to embrace changes and opportunities as they present themselves to make the most of the journey, and have the best outcome at the conclusion.

I am glad our journeys have largely overlapped, and for once I am not too anxious to see how this particular journey (writing) ends.  Instead, I am ready to embrace whatever our writing journey brings us, and enjoy every word, sentence, and paragraph we string together.

While you left me with a book suggestion, I am not yet sure how I want to conclude my half of our correspondence.  So for now, I encourage you to embrace your journey, and hope to hear from you soon.

Happy reading, and happy writing!

-M.R. Gavin

Something new

M.A. Gavin,

It has been two months since the conclusion of our first co-authored story, and two months since the election that has undoubtedly changed our country.  Why we stopped writing is a mystery to me, although I would like to suggest some potential reasons.

1: The election results.  Due to the election of now President Donald J. Trump (#notmypresident), you were initially too depressed to continue writing our silly stories – designed primarily for our own entertainment.  Now, because of the political atmosphere you are distracted from writing by other obligations to defend the rights of fellow Americans, protest the insanity of the political scene, and to educate yourself with an arsenal of material to provoke conversation and potentially open the eyes of others.  Perhaps, now that we have this new president, we can restructure our blog from fiction to a platform allowing us to provoke thought and conversation.

2:  You no longer like me.  Was I too much for you over the holidays?  Did I overstep a line when we wore matching pajamas?  Are you holding a grudge because my dog vomited in your bed?  Perhaps I didn’t laugh at one of your jokes – I am obligated as your straight man.   Was I not gracious enough when you cooked for me?   Whatever the possibility, I express my sincerest apologies and hope to make it up to you with a round of naked yoga, bird calling, or an extremely large dish of ice cream, and then, continue our writing endeavors.

3: You were attacked by a magical creature.  Is there a creature capable of stealing one’s memories?  There must be!  Why else would you have stopped our writing experiment?  One day you were walking in the city, contemplating your next piece of writing, brainstorming how we should proceed, and suddenly, it swooped out of the sky and knocked all memory of this blog right from your head.  Why else would you have left me hanging?

4: You ran away.  We are certainly not the most well traveled pair.  Maybe you decided it was time for you to embark on a hero’s quest.  Exploring the great unknown you are traveling far and wide, north and south, east and west meeting a host of people opening your eyes to far better writing than ours, new ideas and views of others.  Regardless of where you are travelling… WHY DIDN’T YOU INVITE ME?!

Well, those are my primary thoughts on where you could be, or what could have happened to our writing endeavor.  Nonetheless, I felt it was time to pick up one pen and see what happens.  I propose we begin again either with a new fictional story, or in a blog correspondence, or whatever else you may fancy.  We still choose a day to post, and stay at approximately 500 words.

I hope you consider this proposal and pick up a pen.  Please include if any of my above conclusions are correct (I am leaning toward 2 or 3 being most likely).

Happy Reading!

-M.R.Gavin