No More Ghosts by Kari Anne Holt
It’s still dark outside when I have to get my kids up for school in the morning. We stagger through what we call our Morning Night routine, then we pile in the car and make our way out into the world. On these dark mornings we pass other houses full of other people going through their morning routines, too. The windows glow, often with the people inside unaware that those driving by can see them. We have only a brief, surreptitious glimpse into these hidden lives before traffic carries us along, and we are at school, and the day begins in earnest.
The houses are all different. Some are sleek, some are cottage-like. Some are full of bustling people, some with only one person standing in a kitchen, back turned. What we do not see are the complexities of individual routines. Instead, we see humans united in the shared routine of, simply, greeting a new day.
As I visit schools all over the country, and as I write more books for young readers, I think about these houses. I think about how we, as strangers – and even as friends, colleagues, etc. – never truly know what’s happening behind closed doors. I look into the faces of the students at my assemblies and I know that I can’t know everything that’s happening in their lives. Even if they give me a peek, through the glow of a story they share or a question they ask, I can still only know two things: 1) The common link we all share is our humanity, and 2) Paradoxically, every human is different.
So how do you write books for everyone, knowing that everyone is different? Well, that is precisely how you do it. Everyone deserves to read about everyone. We don’t know the stories of our neighbors, until we read them. We don’t empathize with strangers until we see our shared connections entwine with our differences. This seems to be simple enough of a concept, and yet… it easily becomes more complex.
As an educator building your classroom library, or curating your school library, you do your best to find diverse, age-appropriate books that span all corners of all neighborhoods, all corners of all minds, all corners of the world. But… you also know that not everyone shares your wide view of inclusion. You can anticipate that certain books might cause some people to challenge your inclusivity. And when your budget is tight, your hours are full, and/or your wherewithal to battle is low, it is often easier to not buy the books that might encourage extra attention. It can feel easier to fight a potential challenge by preventing the possibility entirely. The light in that kitchen stays off, and everyone can drive past unaware.
The problem is that ghosting a book ghosts the reader who would see herself in the book. It ghosts the other readers whose worlds don’t yet include characters or storylines like the ones in the book. It is worse than banning, because there’s no loud, public call for a cease in the book’s existence, it just never exists for these readers in the first place. Just as a dark house doesn’t mean it’s an empty house, a missing book doesn’t mean the kids who need it don’t exist. What it means, is that we’re telling them they don’t exist. We’re telling them they don’t belong. We’re telling them their stories are not as valid as everyone else’s stories. We’re telling them they’re invisible, even as they stand in front of us.
So. What can be done? These are my questions for you: When an educator finds herself wanting to provide a book but then feels mired in this in-between place — anticipating and worrying about a challenge, but without an actual challenge — what resources does she need to help her confidently order, shelve, and share this book? What proactive tools does she need to support as diverse a library as the budget can bear? How can authors and publishers help educators fill their libraries with all subjects for all students? What are the subjects you worry about most when it comes to anticipated challenges? How can we help you vanquish that worry?
I want authors and publishers to be able to take your answers and use them to provide you with strategies and tools that will bolster your confidence as you champion your library’s diversity. In order to do this, I’ve created a survey. I’m hoping to get as many educators as possible to fill it out. Then, I plan to publish the results online so that we can all see what the landscape is like. From there, we can continue the conversation and brainstorm together, so that ultimately authors and publishers can create an array of resources to support educators as they grow their diverse classroom and school libraries.
If you have a moment, please fill out this survey and share it with other educators. Let’s keep the ghosts at bay by ensuring that students everywhere live in a world where her story is his story is their story is our story… where the kitchen lights are equally bright in every house we pass by.
Kari Anne Holt is the author of many award-winning middle grade novels in verse including Knockout, House Arrest, and Rhyme Schemer. Her latest verse novel, Redwood & Ponytail, will be released in September 2019. Find out more about Kari Anne and her books at http://www.kaholt.com.