Janet Sumner Johnson
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The Art of Listening

Jul

01, 2016 |

Filed in:

Books,Uncategorized

In April 2014, I watched the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag take over my Twitter Feed. I remember watching it and reading all the tweets, and trying to understand the urgency that was clearly evident in everything that was being said.

I didn’t join in.

Perhaps some of you are criticizing me now, but there you are. I didn’t join in. I didn’t feel qualified to join in.

Instead, I listened. I examined my own self and worked to figure out what I really thought about all this.

I thought back on my childhood reading. I remembered books like Mildred Taylor’s “Roar of Thunder, Hear my Cry,” and “Let the Circle be Unbroken.” I thought of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” and perhaps there had been some “Dear America” books with diverse main characters . . . and that’s where my memory failed me.

And I was horrified.

Sumner Girls.Jane.WritingThough l grew up in a very un-diverse neighborhood, I always craved to know more about other cultures and people. As a child, I grew up with 2 Tiawanese exchange students who I now consider to be my brother and sister. Before 2014, I lived in a Melanesian country for a year-and-a-half. I learned French and Spanish. I lived in South America for 3 months. I got a Master’s degree in French that focused on the French works from Africa and Haiti and Tahiti and anywhere else French was spoken outside of France. I LOVE other cultures . . .

NewCal

. . . but I still hadn’t seen the lack of diversity in children’s literature. I hadn’t see it. Even when an editor told me my Ecuador book would have no place in American publishing, I didn’t question that.

I was blinded by privilege that I hadn’t even realized I had.

It is a no-brainer to me that all people deserve respect. That skin color means nothing. I never saw myself as racist, but I also never acknowledged the inherent racism that permeates the world we live in.

I remember the night I first understood. I was out with my dear friend and neighbor. She grew up in Nigeria, but came to the USA for university. She is beautiful and intelligent, and compassionate. When I first met her she’d recently finished her family medicine residency. We were almost home when we noticed our neighbor’s garage door was open. It was late, so we stopped to let them know. Since I was driving, my friend ran to the door, then immediately ran back. She didn’t dare knock at the door for fear of their reaction to her skin color. And it wasn’t a silly fear. Because I was afraid for her, too.

No one deserves to feel that way.

Which is why diverse books are so important. Books and stories bring empathy, compassion, and comfort. They help us understand the Other and the Unknown. They eradicate the fear that leads to hatred and racism and bigotry.

We have all heard that everyone deserves to read about people like themselves. But diverse books are not just for them. We all need these books. All of us. We need to read about characters from all over the world, from all walks of life, living through all sorts of experiences. Because understanding and sympathizing and empathizing with an Other makes us better humans.

We. Need. Diversity.

It has taken me nearly two years of listening to understand just how much I have to learn. Just how much I wasn’t seeing. So I will be continuing to listen.

To those of you know who are speaking out, your voices are being heard. You are making a difference.

But please don’t forget how important it is to still listen. Because it takes both speaking and listening for the world to change.

Speak up:

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Great Middle Grade Books

Feb

08, 2016 |

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Books

One of my favorite parts of becoming an author has been learning about all the other great books that are coming out soon. And even better, I’ve gotten to read a lot of ARCs (Advance Reader Copies). My son has also been taking advantage of this, and he’s gotten to read a lot of them, too. I think I’m going to have him post some reviews in the near future.

But in the mean time, I wanted to share with you some of the amazing middle grade novels that have been and will be released this year.

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Of these 19 books listed above, I have read 16 of them (including my own). You can check out my Goodreads reviews to see what I had to say. But honestly, I have been so impressed! Science Fiction. Fantasy. Mystery. Magical Realism. Historical. Contemporary. Books dealing with loss. Books dealing with change. Books dealing with mysteries. I found kids facing their fears and learning to find their voice.  I found kids trying new things and making hard choices. I could go on and on (for your sakes, I won’t).

There is truly a book for every reader on these posters above! And although we say that middle grade is for kids ages 8 – 12, I disagree. These books are for people of all ages. I have learned so much about myself and about the world around me as I’ve read these stories. They truly are for everyone. I hope you’ll look some of these up and share the ones you love.

So tell me . . . which ones are you most excited for? Or, if you are looking for a book on a certain topic or of a certain genre, please tell me, and I’ll make a recommendation. I just love, love, love hooking up books and readers!

 

Speak up:

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The First Box Has Landed!

Jan

25, 2016 |

Filed in:

Donations,Kiribati,Library

The first box has arrived in Kiribati!

BoxArrived BooksArrived

I was so excited to get these pictures this last weekend! That is my dad holding the box, and those are the books that came in it. I hope to receive more pictures soon as these books go in the library (it was the weekend, so they had to wait for Monday to take them in), and I promise to share them when I do.

Two more boxes are now on their way, and hopefully those empty shelves will look a whole lot less empty in the very near future.

BoxesToGo

And because I like transparency (and lists and figures), here is what went down:

Package #1:

Included 54 books

Weighed 38 pounds

Cost $166 to send

Package #2:

Included 59 books

Weighed 42 pounds

Cost $207 to send

Package #3:

Included 45 books

Weighed 43 pounds

Cost $211 to send

[Weird that the one with the least number of books was the heaviest!]

Thank you! This is you. You made this happen. You have all made a difference in many children’s lives. And your involvement will continue to make a difference for years to come. I hope you feel that joy that I’m feeling right now. I hope it carries you through your day and leaves a goofy smile on your face like it has mine.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Speak up:

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Books! Glorious Books! (Kiribati Library Project Update)

Nov

30, 2015 |

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Books! Glorious books! (And yes, I’m totally singing that in my head).

Over the last couple of weeks, packages of books have been trickling in for our Kiribati Library Project. Boxes crammed full of books. Books signed to the students in Kiribati by authors. Recent releases. Old classics. It has been beautiful to see!

 

 

And it’s not done yet. Capstone (my publisher) contacted me, and they’re sending a box, too! I am so thrilled, I just can’t even express it.

Last Tuesday, an unexpected delivery from Amazon arrived on our doorstep. Someone who had already sent us a big box of books had the entire Harry Potter series sent.

Guys, I was crying! When I wrote to thank her, this is what she said:

“The idea that we can introduce kids to these character and the worlds created on the page is pretty much my happy place.”

And I think she pretty much captured why I’m doing this. What an amazing thought! The Harry Potter series has given me countless hours of joy. And she will be giving that to these kids.

This will be my last call for donations (so back to regular programing starting next week). For those interested, you can either donate money at our GoFundMe account, or you can donate books. Just use the Contact Me tab for information on where to send them.

Since that first post, I have received a wish list of books from the library. We have received a few on the list, but I wanted to post it in case it inspires anyone out there to join in our cause.

That said, if you have books to donate that are not on this list, that is great, too! But this gives a good picture of the types of things they are looking for.

Thank you again for reading this post and for all the sharing and donations and well-wishes we’ve received on this project. Imagining these books in the hands of these students makes me so happy. Thank you!

 

Kiribati Library Project Wishlist
Middle Reading:    
Goosebumps Books All Series                 R.L. Stine

Hardy Boys Series                                      Franklin W. Dixon
Nancy Drew Series                                     Carolyn Keene
The Littles Series                                        John Peterson
Ramona Series                                            Beverly Cleary
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles           Patricia C. Wrede
Betsy-Tacy Books                                        Maud Hart Lovelace
The Princess in Black and the
Perfect Princess Party                                 Shannon Hale
Matilda                                                           Roald Dahl
Are You There God? It’s Me
Margaret
                                                        Judy Blume
Harriet the Spy                                             Louise Fitshugh
The Chocolate War                                      Robert Cormier

 

Young Adult Series:
Harry Potter Series                                       J. K. Rowling

The Hunger Game Series                            Suzanne Collins
(Need Hunger Games and Mockingjay)

The Lord of the Rings                                   J.R.R. Tolkien

The Giver Series                                             Lois Lowry
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy        Douglas Adam
Anne of Green Gable Series                          L.M. Montgomery
Graceling Series                                               Christine Cashore
The Sisterhood of TravelingPants Series    Ann Brashares
Uglies Series                                                     Scott Westerfeld
Twilight Series                                                 Stephenie Meyer

Earthsea Series                                                 Ursula K. Le Guin

The Princess Diary Series                               Meg Cabot
Song of the Lioness series                               Tamora Pierce
Vampire Academy                                            Richelle Mead
Fable Haven                                                       Brandon Mull
The Goose Girl series                                       Shannon Hale
The Princess Academy series                          Shannon Hale
(Need book 2 and 3)
Ever After High                                                  Shannon Hale
Daughter of the Lioness / Tricksters series   Tamora Pierce
Percy Jackson series                                          Rick Riordan
The Red Pyramid Series                                    Rick Riordan
The Chronicles of Narnia                                  C.S. Lewis
Leviathan series                                                   Scott Westerfeld
His Dark Material Series                                   Philip Pullman
The Mortal Instruments series                        Cassandra Clare
Fallen series                                                          Lauren Kate
Septimus Heap Series                                          Angie Sage
The Maze Runner series                                     James Dashner
Crank series                                                           Ellen Hopkins
Matched series                                                      Ally Condie
Discworld / Tiffany Aching series                     Terry Pratchett
Chaos Walking series                                           Patrick Ness
Circle of Magic series                                            Tamora Pierce
Wrinkle in Time Series                                         Madeleine L’Engle
Roll of
Thunder Hear my Cry Series
                               Mildred Taylor
(Need Let the Circle Be unbroken, and The Road to Memphis)

Chronicles of Prydain                                            Lloyd Alexander

 

Young Adult Books:

 

The Fault in our Stars                                                              John
Green

Looking for Alaska                                                                   John
Green
The Hobbit                                                                                J.R.R.
Tolkien
The Catcher in the Rye                                                           J.D.
Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird                                                              Harper
Lee
The Book Thief                                                                         Markus
Zusak
The Outsiders                                                                           S.E. Hinton
The Princess Bride                                                                   William Goldman
Thirteen Reasons Why                                                            Jay Asher
The Curious Incident of a Dog in the
Nighttime                 Mark Haddon
Stargirl                                                                                        Jerry Spinelli
The House on Mango Street                                                   Sandra Cisneros
The Truth About Forever                                                         Sarah Dessen
The
Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane                          Kate
DiCamillo
Tuck Everlasting                                                                        Natalie Babbitt
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time
Indian
                Sherman
Alexie

13 Little Blue Envelopes                                                           Maureen Johnson
It’s Kind of a Funny Story                                                         Ned Vizzini
Just Listen                                                                                   Sarah Dessen
A Ring of Endless Light                                                             Madeleine L’Engle
Before I Fall                                                                                Lauren Oliver
Unwind                                                                                        Neal Shusterman
The Last Unicorn                                                                        Peter S. Beagle
If I Stay                                                                                         Gayle Forman
The Blue Sword                                                                          Robin McKinley
The Hero and the Crown                                                          Robin
McKinley
Beauty                                                                                         Robin
McKinley
I Am the Messenger                                                                  Markus Zusak
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous                                                    Beatrice
Sparks
Daughter of Smoke & Bone                                                     Laini Taylor
The House of the Scorpion                                                      Nancy Farmer
Wintergirls                                                                                  Laurie Halse Anderson
Lafayette in the Somewhat
United States                            Sarah
Vowell
Holes                                                                                           Louis
Sachar
The Phantom Tollbooth                                                           Norton
Juster
The Diary of Anne Frank                                                          Otto
Frank
Wonder                                                                                       R.
J. Palacio
Out of My Mind                                                                         Sharon
M. Draper
Bridge to Terabithia                                                                  Katherine
Patterson
Jacob Have I loved                                                                     Katherine
Patterson
A Separate Peace                                                                       John
Knowles
Hatchet                                                                                        Gary
Paulsen
Princess Bride                                                                             William
Goldman
The Westing Game                                                                    Ellen
Raskin
Number the Stars                                                                       Lois
Lowery
Boxers and Saints                                                                       Gene
Luen Yag
The Lost Conspiracy                                                                   Francise
Hardinge
Esperanza Rising                                                                         Pam
Munoz Ryan
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of
Nimh                                            Robert
C. Obrian
The invention of Hugo Cabret                                                  Brian
Selznick

Speak up:

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A Bit of Good: Update on the Library Project

Nov

16, 2015 |

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With all the terrible things that have happened throughout the world over the past few days, it can be easy to forget that there is good in the world, too. While I know it doesn’t change what happened, or fix things for those who are suffering right now, I want to tell you about a little of that goodness.

Last week I reached out to you–to the world of social media. I didn’t know what to expect, but you all blew me away between the sharing of my post, the offers to send books, and the monetary donations. I haven’t received the books yet, so I can’t show you a picture of that, but here’s a peek at the GoFundMe page:

People are good and kind and generous. They reach out to strangers. They offer help in the ways they can. People I didn’t even know donated money. People I’ve never met are shipping off books.

Thank you! Thank you so much for being you. For being generous humans who spread good in the world. Thank you! I can’t express how touched I’ve been at your support.

For any who would still like to participate, we will be collecting books and donations over the next couple of months. For more information, please visit the original post that explains it all.

Now, one more thing. My 11-yo wanted to write in support of the cause, and I promised I would post it for him:

Dear readers,                                                                          
                Hello.
To you readers, I ask you this, how would you feel if you had almost no books to read? I would feel devastated, it would make me less curious, although that
might not sound bad to you, take some time to imagine what that amounts to: . .
. now that you have thought about it, I hope you realize the full gravity of
helping those children on Kiribati.
                Imagine
how thankful they’ll feel to have such a great gift to enjoy and share. I hope
you know to expect nothing but an unseen and unheard thank you along with the
knowledge that you helped someone besides yourself.
                I
sincerely hope now that you will help those children.
                                                            Signed,
                                                            11-yo. J. 

Before I leave you, I want to give a heard and seen THANK YOU for your help.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
You ARE making a difference in these kids’ lives.

Speak up:

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A Sad Little Library and a Call For Help

Nov

09, 2015 |

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Those of you who know me well know that my parents left on a religious mission just over a year ago about a month after they retired.

Before retirement, my Mom was an elementary school principal and my dad was a high school engineering and science teacher. So it was only fitting that in their service, they went to work in a high school on a tiny island in the Pacific called Kiribati.

While their main purpose is to train the teachers and help them pass the certification testing (Mom and Dad, correct me if I’m wrong!), they also do all kinds of other things such as helping students fill out applications for college, judging school competition events, overseeing the computer lab, and most recently evaluating the school library to determine its needs.

This last duty is what I wanted to talk about to you today.

You see, the state of that school library makes me sad. They sent pictures, and I want to share those with you. This first one is a picture of their fiction book shelves:

Oh my goodness, just so much emptiness.

And not only are the shelves empty, but many of the books they have aren’t age appropriate and are falling apart.

Now, I love the Berenstain Bears, and I love Madeline, but they are not the books I would choose to put in a high school library.

This is not something I could let go. I read their blog post early Sunday morning, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this library.

It didn’t take long to decide that my family and I would work together to collect some books and send a package. But you saw that picture. The package we could send would make nary a dent in the library’s needs.

And then I got to thinking that maybe others would like to help, too. Because you are my people. You understand how important books are. You understand their power and influence. You understand the impact a book can have on a teen. You understand how important it is to offer a wide variety of books to get our youth on that path of reading. You understand the satisfaction that comes from finding that book . . . the one that speaks to you and changes your life.

And that is why I’m asking for your help today. There are several ways you can help:

  1.  If  you have any gently used or new books that would be appropriate for middle or high schoolers and which you would be willing to send to me, please contact me using the Contact Me tab above (or just click on that link).
  2. If you don’t have any books to send, but would be willing to donate money to the cause, I have set up a GoFundMe account. I will use any donated funds to both buy books and help pay for the shipping costs (which are HUGE). Even a dollar donation will make a difference!
  3. If you have no extra money or books to share, I totally get that. I have been there (man, have I been there). What you can do is spread the word! Share this post on twitter or facebook. That would be a huge help!
I plan to send a shipment (or 2 or 3 or however many I’m able) at the beginning of December in hopes that they will arrive before the start of their next school year (Jan/Feb). 
Seriously, if you can’t help, please don’t feel even the teensiest bit of guilt. We can’t all do everything, and there are a lot of great causes out there. I appreciate that you are here reading my blog post, and I appreciate your friendship.
Thank you for listening, now go forth and have a great day!

Speak up:

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Books from my Childhood

Oct

05, 2015 |

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I’ve been reading the Harry Potter series to my kids, and it’s been awesome. And not just because I can get them to do their chores with the promise of reading another chapter. They’ve loved it!

But doing so has really brought back memories of my childhood. Curled up on the floor or in my bed, listening to my mom read stories to us. I even remember staying home sick from high school (HIGH SCHOOL !!!), and laying on the couch listening to her read to me. She has been a long-time lover of children’s literature, and I directly attribute my obsession with it to her.

—–> This is me way back then, so you can better imagine me sitting on my mom’s lap, listening to stories.—->

There weren’t nearly as many choices back then, but what there was, she found them. I wanted to mention a few, because not only have all of these amazing books have influenced who I am, but these authors were the pioneers that made what I’m doing even possible.

As a little kid, my mom read picture books to us. A few stand out in my memory as ones we made her and my dad read over and over and over. THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK by Jon Stone was the BEST.

Fear of the unknown was a real thing for me back then. (Okay, it still is.) I remember hating to go downstairs on my own, because WHO KNEW what might come out of that big pot-belled wood-burning stove down there??? And it was dark. And it smelled funny. And the carpet had this crazy brown and orange pattern that could start spinning and might HYPNOTIZE me, and what would I do then???

Point being, I got Grover. I understood! I sympathized with his fears. But I still laughed every time we turned that page, and the story got messier and messier, and the pages got rattier and rattier (both figuratively and literally because we read that book so much). I LOVED being part of the story. It was all so real. Even though of course I knew it wasn’t.

And I don’t want to ruin the ending for any of you who might not have read it (and if so, watch out for the Goodreads link above . . . they aren’t so careful), but this book made me braver. It helped me step up my courage, and you know what? I dared go downstairs on my own (okay, maybe not at night, but baby steps, people). I dared press forward into the unknown. Because lets face it. Life is full of A LOT of unknown. This book was a real part of my childhood. One that influenced me big time. So thank you, Jon Stone for writing it! Thank you, Sesame Street Creators for making such a great character!

And I realize this is all going to take more space than one blog post can handle, so I’ll just have to blog about this again. In the mean time, tell me about a book that influenced your childhood. I’d love to hear!

Speak up:

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Fancy Nancy Festivities (a fancy word for “parties”)

Sep

21, 2015 |

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I was first introduced to Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor almost 6 years ago when I discovered the original book on display in the library. Even though I was never a Fancy Nancy, I thought it was brilliant! My daughter was an infant at the time, but I read it to her (and my boys who also thought it was very fun).

And who knew that my daughter would turn out to be the fanciest of Nancies?

So when my local library threw a Fancy Nancy party, I was all over that. And so was my daughter.

We RSVP’d, and my daughter dressed up in her fanciest clothes. She even borrowed a hat from our neighbor.

At the party we decorated tiaras.

We ate cookies and punch.

We listened to Fancy Nancy books.

And when it was over, we decided that we simply must throw a Fancy Nancy party of our own. The plans are in the works.

What I love about this book is that it encourages individualism, and that it finds a sneaky and fun way to introduce new vocabulary. Kids are tricked into learning! It doesn’t get much better than that. 😉

How about you? Who is one of your favorite characters from a book?

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In Which the Ten-Year-Old Takes Over

Sep

29, 2014 |

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Today, I am going to turn my blog over to my ten-year-old. He is a devourer of books, and tells me he could talk about books for days and days. So without further ado, here he is:

I find books very fascinating because they are able to take you to places you wouldn’t be able to go in real life. And when you are focused on a book, it starts to come alive in your mind. Pictures soaring through your thoughts. Personally, I prefer realistic fiction, and fantasy, and historical fiction.

I also enjoy mystery books. A to Z Mysteries are especially enjoyable. I find it quite interesting because in the mysteries they start asking the questions about who it could be and then they take their thoughts into an experiment and go through it like the scientific method.

My favorite book is called ICE FIRE by Chris D’Lacey which is the 2nd book of the Last Dragon trilogy. It is a very enjoyable book and when you read it, it feels like you are entirely swept away to another world.

For generations a family has created clay dragons that live and breathe fire. They can create these dragons because they are descendants of the last dragon. Then one day, a young boy comes to them as an exchange college student, and he discovers their secret. Later on during ICE FIRE, a witch tries to force the family to create her a real dragon, unlike the clay ones. The young boy is caught up in an enchantment by this witch and has to find his way out and save the day.

The reason I like ICE FIRE is because it doesn’t reveal everything that’s going on in the beginning. It kept me turning pages because I wanted to find out what was going on.

What is your favorite book? Why?

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What I’m Reading: 10-y.o. Edition

Mar

24, 2014 |

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We make frequent trips to the library at our house (luckily it’s super close), and 10-year-old always leaves with stacks and stacks of books. I try to limit him to what will fit in the library bag–but it doesn’t always happen that way. I think it’s really interesting to see what others are reading, so here is a snapshot of just a few of his recent selections*:

What does your TBR (to-be-read) pile look like?

P.S. Don’t forget to enter for your chance to win a signed copy of Gaby, Lost and Found. You can find the Rafflecopter HERE.

*I may have read some of these, too. 😉

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