TeenLibrarian Newsletter February 2024

The February issue of the TeenLibrarian Newsletter was released yesterday, you can read it here: https://us20.campaign-archive.com/?u=32ffbca7d353f6dcc0c7c0953&id=91943685ca

Interview with Rhonda Roumani author of Tagging Freedom

Hi Rhonda, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about Tagging Freedom!

Can you please introduce yourself to readers of TL?

I am the daughter of Syrian immigrants to the United States. I am a journalist and have written about Islam and the Arab world for many years. I started writing children’s literature in 2017. The war in Syria was raging and I was very frustrated with adults and how little they understood what was happening or what had happened in Syria. I wanted children to hear our stories earlier so that when they grow up, they’ll do a better job making sense of the world around them.

Would you be able to give a short elevator pitch to us to introduce Tagging Freedom?

Tagging Freedom is about two cousins – a Syrian boy named Kareem and his Syrian American cousin named Samira – who, through graffiti and artivism, learn to make sense of the revolution taking place in Syria and discover what they stand for in the process and what their role might be even when they’re far away.

My next question is going to go a bit wide, but it does tie in to the book – do you know how things in Syria are going at the moment? (Most of the news about the war in Syria has been overshadowed by Ukraine and now the Gaza conflict). Are there any trustworthy sources of news you could recommend for anyone wanting to find out more?

In English, I recommend reading the Guardian and Al Jazeera English for news about the Arab world. I also follow Middle East Eye, Al-Monitor. The New Arab, The Public Source, and the BBC. I always check information. I want to know who owns the news source and what their spin might be. No news is completely unbiased. These days, I always check where the journalist is reporting from and I’m always asking who their sources are and checking facts with other sources or reports.

There is still fighting in certain parts of Syria– there was even an uprising a few months ago in Idlib. But much of the country has quieted down. People in Syria are struggling financially. During the summer, the electricity is cut for most of the day. And the cost of food has skyrocketed. The entire region is really struggling right now.

As an immigrant myself I am always interested in finding out more about other communities, is there a large Syrian/Syrian-American community in the US?

I grew up in a Syrian community in Los Angeles. It wasn’t huge, but it was sizeable. We started off surrounded mostly by Syrians, but I think as we grew older and as my parents got used to being in the U.S., we naturally branched out to different groups. We ended up in different Muslim and Arab groups comprised mostly of Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Iraqis and Palestinians. As we started asking more questions about our identity as Syrians and Arabs and Muslims, it was only natural that we branched out. They also came from a generation that centered around Arabism, I think. You do have large groups of Arabs in Los Angeles, as well as in other large U.S. cities like New York City, Boston, and various mid-western cities like Toledo, Dearborn, Patterson and other cities in New Jersey and even in cities like New Orleans. There’s even a large Jewish Syrian population in New York.

Young people have always formed an integral part of any uprising/protest against brutal regimes and abuses of power – how true to life were Kareem’s experiences in Syria?

I actually wasn’t in Syria during the uprising in 2011. But I was there in 2002-2006, when the opposition movement was taking shape in Syria, during a time that was dubbed the Damascus Spring. Young people were definitely interested and young people were integral to the revolution in Syria. I based Kareem on different people that I had read about and people that I remembered from my time there. He is a compilation of characters, really. The fact that the revolution was ignited by a small act of resistance, by a group of kids who graffitied on a wall outside their school makes it so much about young people. But the revolution involved people of all ages really. The scene where Kareem is experiencing his first protest is an important one. Most kids would have seen or been a part of pro-government rallies. But to see people of all ages, coming out to protest the government, to demand freedom – on this level – that was new. So that is very much based on reality. Also, I worked for an organization that brought Syrian students to the U.S. and Canada to complete their education, and many of those students became activists or voices for freedom in the U.S. So I definitely based Kareem on some of those students.

When reading fiction works based on fact, I always enjoy an author’s afterword and factual vignettes that tie in to the narrative (when they are included) and your work was no exception. Can you recommend other books or articles for anyone (me) who is interested in learning more about the Arab Spring in general and Syria in particular?

There’s the graphic novel Muhammad Najem: War Reporter. I can’t think of a book that would explain the entire revolution, along with the conflict– for teens. Maybe that needs to be written. Some of the best journalists during the war were women. I especially loved the reporting of Rania Abouzeid, Anne Bernard, and Lina Sinjab. Rania wrote a book called No Turning Back: Life, Loss and Hope in Wartime Syria. She also wrote a Middle Grade/ YA book based on that book called Sisters of War. I would definitely recommend reading anything she wrote! Sisters of War would be a good start.

The themes of speaking up in the face of inequality and social justice are woven throughout Tagging Freedom. Do you have any recommendations for young readers who may wish to do the same but are not sure where or how to start?

History is constantly being rewritten as different groups are able to tell their own stories. Watching what is happening in Palestine right now speaks to that. As Arabs, as Syrians, the story of what happened in Palestine has always been close to our hearts because we know people who have been displaced, people who have lost their homes. We know people from Gaza. They are our best friends. So, I would say that the first thing we need to do is ask questions. Look at stories from different points of views. Even stories that you have grown up with. Then, as you learn more, you will naturally find others who are interested, others who want to know more. And it will build. With time, you will find your people who care about the same issues that you care about. Whether it’s the environment, or what is happening in your city or schools, or anything that you’re interested in. First learn as much as you can about what has happened. The more knowledge you have, the more you can contribute to the narrative that exists about that subject. It will grow organically– finding others who care about the same subject, others who want to take action.

There is a small (but growing) group of Muslim authors writing books for younger readers in the US, are you able to recommend any personal favorites you may have?

I have so many!! I think if you’re talking about picture books, I absolutely love Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (YOUR NAME IS A SONG and ABDUL’S STORY), Hannah Moushabeck (Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine), and Aya Khalil (THE ARABIC QUILT and THE NIGHT BEFORE EID). For Middle Grade, there’s Reem Faruqi’s novels in verse. I absolutely love her work. And for YA, there’s Huda Fahmy, of course! Huda F Cares? and Huda F Are YOU? and Malaka Gharib (graphic novels), Zoulfa Katouh and Reem Shukairy. It’s so hard to mention only a few. The Kidlit space for Muslims is very exciting right now!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions! I really enjoyed Tagging Freedom and was wondering if you had any plans for a follow up novel or sequel?

I do not have plans for a sequel, but I do have two picture books coming out this year. One is called Insha’Allah, No, Maybe So (Holiday House) and another is called Umm Kulthum, Star of the East (Interlink Publishing.) I’m also working on a new Middle Grade but prefer to keep that a secret for now! Thank you for your questions!

Tagging Freedom is published by Union Square Kids, it is available now in the US and is published in the UK on Thursday February 22nd.

You can find out more about Rhonda and her work on her website: https://www.rhondaroumani.com/

The Yoto Carnegies 2024 Longlist Announcement

A total of 36 books have been recognised, with 19 books selected for the Yoto Carnegie Medal for Writing longlist, and 18 for the Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration – common themes include hidden worlds and alternate realities, forgotten histories highlighted or reimagined, and environmentalism and the power of nature. Click here to read more about the fantastic books that have been chosen.

The lists include:

  • One title longlisted in both Medal categories – Tyger by SF Said, illustrated by Dave McKean, published by independent publisher David Fickling Books. Said and McKean were previously nominated together for Phoenix in 2013. McKean has also been shortlisted six times previously.
  • Four previous winners of the Medal for Illustration; two-time winner Sydney Smith for My Baba’s Garden, Bob Graham for The Concrete Garden, Jon Klassen for The Skull and Catherine Rayner for The Bowerbird.
  • Former Carnegie Medal for Writing winner Anthony McGowen for Dogs of the Deadland, a tale of survival inspired by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
  • Previous Shadowers’ Choice Medal for Illustration winner, Sharon King-Chai for Colours, Colours Everywhere, a tactile picture book teaching children about different colours, written by Julia Donaldson.
  • Waterstones Children’s Laureate and previous shortlistee Joseph Coelho for The Boy Lost in the Maze, one of four verse novels recognised for the Medal for Writing. The other three are by New York Times bestselling author Kwame Alexander and debut authors, Cathy Faulkner and Tia Fisher.
  • Eight-time shortlisted author Marcus Sedgwick, who has been longlisted posthumously for Ravencave, the follow up to Wrath, longlisted in 2023.
  • A further four previous shortlistees; Kwame Alexander (2019), Phil Earle (2022) and Candy Gourlay (2019) for writing and Poonam Mistry,who has been shortlisted three times (2019, 2020 and 2021) for illustration.
  • 18 British or dual-British heritage authors in the Writing category. 
  • Seven titles from Walker Books for the Illustration medal. 

Maura Farrelly, Chair of Judges for The Yoto Carnegies 2024, said:

Huge congratulations to all of our longlisted authors and illustrators in what has been a fantastic year for books for children and young people. It has been a joy and a privilege to chair an enthusiastic and dedicated panel of judges as we read, debated and considered the nominated titles before arriving at two exciting longlists. These are books that play with language and show how powerful words and illustrations can inspire imaginations and encourage empathy as well as helping young readers make sense of an increasingly confusing world and give them hope for a brighter future.

The 2024 Yoto Carnegie Medal for Writing longlist is (alphabetical by author surname):

  • The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander (Andersen Press)
  • The Song Walker by Zillah Bethell (Usborne)
  • Away with Words by Sophie Cameron (Little Tiger)
  • The Little Match Girl Strikes Back by Emma Carroll, illustrated by Lauren Child (Simon & Schuster)
  • The Boy Lost in the Maze by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Kate Milner (Otter-Barry Books)
  • Choose Love by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Petr Horáček (Graffeg)
  • Electric Life by Rachel Delahaye (Troika Books)
  • Until the Road Ends by Phil Earle (Andersen Press)
  • Digging for Victory by Cathy Faulkner (Firefly Press)
  • Crossing the Line by Tia Fisher (Bonnier Books UK)
  • Wild Song by Candy Gourlay (David Fickling Books)
  • Boy Like Me by Simon James Green (Scholastic)
  • Safiyyah’s War by Hiba Noor Khan (Andersen Press)
  • Steady for This by Nathanael Lessore (Bonnier Books UK)
  • The Swifts by Beth Lincoln, illustrated by Claire Powell (Penguin)
  • Dogs of the Deadland by Anthony McGowan, illustrated by Keith Robinson (Oneworld Publications)
  • Tyger by SF Said, illustrated by Dave McKean (David Fickling Books)
  • Ravencave by Marcus Sedgwick (Barrington Stoke)
  • Greenwild: The World Behind the Door by Pari Thomson, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli (Macmillan Children’s Books)

The 2024 Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration longlist is (alphabetical by illustrator surname):

  • The Tree and the River by Aaron Becker (Walker Books)
  • Wolves in Helicopters by Paddy Donnelly, written by Sarah Tagholm (Andersen Press)
  • April’s Garden by Catalina Echeverri, written by Isla McGuckin (Graffeg)
  • The Concrete Garden by Bob Graham (Walker Books)
  • Deep by Stephen Hogtun (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
  • Lost by Mariajo Ilustrajo (Quarto)
  • Colours, Colours Everywhere by Sharon King-Chai, written by Julia Donaldson (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • The Skull by Jon Klassen (Walker Books)
  • The Wilderness by Steve McCarthy (Walker Books)
  • Tyger by Dave McKean, written by SF Said (David Fickling Books)
  • To the Other Side by Erika Meza (Hachette Children’s Group)
  • The Midnight Panther by Poonam Mistry (Bonnier Books UK)
  • The Bowerbird by Catherine Rayner, written by Julia Donaldson (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • Global by Giovanni Rigano, written by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin (Hachette Children’s Group)
  • The Search for the Giant Arctic Jellyfish by Chloe Savage (Walker Books)
  • My Baba’s Garden by Sydney Smith, written by Jordan Scott (Walker Books)
  • The Boy Who Lost His Spark by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, written by Maggie O’Farrell (Walker Books)
  • What Feelings Do When No One’s Looking by Aleksandra Zając, written by Tina Oziewicz (Pushkin Press)

Bookshop.org launches new charitable initiative ‘Read It Forward’ with BookTrust

London, Thursday 1 February 2024. Bookshop.org is today launching the charitable initiative Read It Forward, in partnership with BookTrust, where 10% of every sale of a children’s book made in February will be donated to the charity, while also supporting independent bookshops as per the platform’s ongoing mission.

Launching on the first day of the month, just in time for half-term, and lasting until the end of February, Read It Forward encourages all parents, teachers, guardians and educators to consider purchasing books from Bookshop.org, with a portion of the profit of each kids’ book donated to the UK’s largest children’s reading charity.

The aim of the initiative is to inspire a love of reading in the next generation, with the money raised by the Bookshop.org drive going towards BookTrust’s work of getting children reading – especially those from low-income families or vulnerable backgrounds.

Each year BookTrust reaches millions of children with books, resources and support for families to get every child reading regularly and by choice. A research-led charity, their specially designed programmes and products help children from all backgrounds experience the many benefits of shared reading. In addition, every sale on Bookshop.org supports independent bookshops across the UK, giving them an additional stream of income and keeping them thriving.

Lizzie Catford, Director of Children’s Books at BookTrust, said: “We’re thrilled to partner with Bookshop.org on the Read it Forward initiative, a wonderful opportunity for readers to make a meaningful impact. This collaboration not only supports independent bookshops, vital pillars of our literary community, but also contributes directly to our mission of fostering a love of reading among children, particularly those facing challenges. At BookTrust, we believe in the transformative power of shared reading, and the funds raised through this initiative will support our vital work across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This wonderful partnership emphasisesthe collective strength of readers, booksellers, and charities in building a brighter reading future for all children.”

Nicole VanderbiltManaging Director of Bookshop.org UK, said: “This February, you can feel even better about buying books online. We are incredibly excited to launch a charitable book drive with BookTrust, marking our first collaboration with them. This month, we are giving parents and educators one more reason to buy books from Bookshop.org. In addition to supporting independent booksellers across the UK, this month we will be donating 10% of each children’s book sale to BookTrust, contributing to their mission to develop a love of reading.”

Find out more about Read It Forward’ here.

Jamie

A beautiful and uplifting story from L.D. Lapinski, author of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, about how to make your own place when the world doesn’t think you fit anywhere.

Jamie Rambeau is a happy 11-year-old non-binary kid who likes nothing better than hanging out with their two best friends Daisy and Ash. But when the trio find out that in Year Seven they will be separated into one school for boys and another for girls, their friendship suddenly seems at risk.

And when Jamie realises no one has thought about where they are going to go, they decide to take matters into their own hands, and sort it all out once and for all.

https://www.ldlapinski.com/jamiebook
cover illustration by Harry Woodgate

I adored L.D. Lapinski’s debut (trilogy) about the STRANGEWORLDS TRAVEL AGENCEY, and when their next title was announced I was surprised by how different it was as I’d already pigeonholed them as a fantasy/adventure author (sorry…though I am enjoying their return to fantasy in ARTEZANS: THE FORGOTTEN MAGIC, publishing soon!). Last year JAMIE was published and I adored it equally but differently. To celebrate JAMIE being one year old, and to kick of LGBT+ History Month in the UK, I have a wonderful personal guest post from L.D. which explains how JAMIE came to be:

How old were you when you first saw a character in a book who reminded you of yourself? Or are you still waiting to find them?

I was at university, aged nineteen, when I first picked up a book with an LGBTQ+ cast, as part of an eye-opening English Literature module that would go on to change my creative and personal life in ways I’m sure the tutors didn’t anticipate. It was as though a curtain had been pulled back, and suddenly all the hidden workings of my life were accessible, in a university library.

I grew up under a law known commonly as Section 28 – a legislation brought into effect in 1988 (the year after I was born), and not retracted until 2003 (the year I left Year Eleven). This meant that I grew up in an educational universe where LGBTQ+ people were not spoken about. Literally, teachers and librarians could have lost their jobs for doing so. Being queer was something to be bullied about, a stain on your personality, and bullies would not even be told what they were doing was wrong. LGBTQ+ characters in fiction were like unicorns – probably not real and certainly no one seemed to have ever seen one.

By the time I started writing children’s books, the disappointment I felt over the lack of representation in my own past had turned into creative fuel. I wanted to make up for the fact that I’d never seen a queer kid at magic school, or solving crimes, or having an adventure. Whilst there were now some LGBTQ+ books for young people on the shelves, they were often romances, or angst-ridden tales with tragic endings… I didn’t want to write those stories (though I often read them – other people are better at those!). I wanted to write the magical adventures and school-based dramas I’d loved as a kid, but starring young people like me.

I needed to be brave. My first series, The Strangeworlds Travel Agency is queer in a blink-and-you-miss-it way. Both of the lead characters are queer, but the story is driven by magic and mystery, and the characters just happen to be LGBTQ+. I was, and still am, extremely pleased with it – I got queer kids to go to magic school, and the world was still standing! By the time the last book came out in 2023, there was a wealth of LGBTQ+ literature for kids and young people. We were making up for lost time, and we were putting ourselves into the stories we had never had.

But despite these victories, it’s no secret that in the past few years, right-wing driven opinion pieces and social media rage-for-clicks have fuelled an increase in transphobia in the UK. As a non-binary person, I have felt increasingly unsafe, fearful for my friends, and outraged on behalf of the young people being let down by our government. I had been asked by my wonderful publisher to write another fantasy trilogy. I sat down to write it.

And JAMIE came out of my keyboard, instead.

JAMIE is a joyful story, about a non-binary kid being asked to choose between a secondary school for boys, and another for girls. It’s a story of friends coming together to raise awareness, of found family supporting one another, and of non-binary happiness. JAMIE is not a true story – I went to a mixed secondary, but as a kid who had never heard the term non-binary and just thought I was performing my gender wrong for decades. But JAMIE is still intensely personal. I wrote it as proof that trans happy endings exist. That there are adults out there who will listen and take young people seriously. That changes can be made, even if it’s one small step at a time.

Some of the events in JAMIE are entirely fictionalised. Some artistic liberties have been
taken with paperwork – and others are no longer accurate due to governmental changes since it
was written. But the support and joy are real. The story can be real, and it will be real. I am
writing it into existence. I have to make it exist. I owe it to myself as an eleven year old, who
never saw themselves in a story. I have written them a happy ending.

And I believe it will come true.

L.D. Lapinski

The Great British Bump Off

When she enters her country’s most beloved baking competition, Shauna Wickle’s goal is to delight the judges, charm the nation, and make a few friends along the way. But when a fellow contestant is poisoned, it falls to her to apprehend the culprit while avoiding premature elimination from the UK Bakery Tent…and being the poisoner’s next victim!

When an uptight and unpopular contestant in the UK Bakery Tent ends up in intensive care can amateur baker (& sleuth) Shauna Wickle unmask the culprit and prevent rising temperatures in the tent from causing the entire show to melt down.

Gently poking fun at one of Britain’s remaining cultural institutions and those that participate in it, The Great British Bump Off is a joy to read again and again. Fans of Agatha Christie will notice nods to the Queen of Crime’s novels and lovers of The Great British Bake Off will recognize the tropes and types that have become synonymous with the show.

Will Shauna and her friends be safe from elimination long enough to unmask the culprit, are the contestants safe or will the poisoner strike again before filming wraps on the latest season of UK Bakery Tent?

Written by John Allison and illustrated by Max Sarin, better known for their collaboration on the award winning series Giant Days, their latest series, is a gingham-wrapped murder mystery set under the canvas of Britain’s favourite baking show.

Highly recommended for readers of all ages!

When We Become Ours

A groundbreaking and must-read young adult fiction anthology written by adoptees of all backgrounds, for adoptees, that inclusively represents diverse experiences of youth adoptees, edited by award-winning authors Shannon Gibney and Nicole Chung. Includes a letter from the editors as well as a foreword by Rebecca Carroll and an afterword by JaeRan Kim.

Two teens take the stage and find their voice . . .

A girl learns about her heritage and begins to find her community . . .

A sister is haunted by the ghosts of loved ones lost . . .

There is no universal adoption experience, and no two adoptees have the same story. This anthology for teens edited by Shannon Gibney and Nicole Chung contains a wide range of powerful, poignant, and evocative stories in a variety of genres.

These tales from fifteen bestselling, acclaimed, and emerging adoptee authors genuinely and authentically reflect the complexity, breadth, and depth of adoptee experiences.

This groundbreaking collection centers what it’s like growing up as an adoptee. These are stories by adoptees, for adoptees, reclaiming their own narratives. 

With stories by: Kelley Baker, Nicole Chung, Shannon Gibney, Mark Oshiro, MeMe Collier, Susan Harness, Meredith Ireland, Mariama J. Lockington, Lisa Nopachai, Stefany Valentine, Matthew Salesses, Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom, Eric Smith, Jenny Heijun Wills, Sun Yung Shin.

Foreword by Rebecca Carroll. Afterword by Jae Ran Kim, MSW, PhD

Harper Teen

Today we have a guest post from one of the editors of this new anthology, Shannon Gibney:

It is a very strange thing to never see yourself represented, and then when you do, to
not even recognize yourself.

And yet, this is often the experience of the more than five million American adoptees,
and millions more around the globe.

Don’t get me wrong: adoptees and “orphans” are well-represented in American popular
culture – especially in KidLit. From Harry Potter to Loki to Peter Parker, adoptees are
imbued with magic powers, enact elaborate schemes to seek revenge, and generally
misunderstood by all the “normal” non-orphans and non-adoptees around them. Our
lack of an origin story is seen as a mysterious advantage, something that not only sets
us apart from mundane others, but also conveys a sense of specialness, an ethos that
something else of consequence (not just to us, but the world) is buried and waiting to be
uncovered.

In real life, of course, things are different.

We feel strange in a culture that so deeply values at least the appearance of a
seamless individual or family history, not having any. And as a result of this condition,
we are unable to prepare for or even acknowledge any troubling health issues (such as
breast cancer in my family) that may be hereditary.

If we are transracially adopted, that is, a BIPOC child adopted into a white family, we
may keenly feel the loss of not just our first family and community, but also our culture
and racial identity.

All of these losses are rarely if ever present in mainstream narratives of adoption –
whether they are imaginary or real. Adoption is presented as an uncomplicated and
beneficent act on the part of the adopters, and the positives that adoptees gain
(economic mobility, educational stability, etc.) are seen to eclipse any possible
negatives.

And of course, this is because the vast majority of these stories are written by non-
adoptees. They are written by people who have never felt strange in their own bodies
because they don’t look like anyone in their family/school/town. They are penned by
people who never had to process the loss of a first mother’s embrace as a baby, the
lack of that primary first attachment present in every cell of their body.

Historically, these stories have been written by white adoptive parents, either
intentionally or not intentionally putting forth a very different view of the adoptee
experience, occupying a very different location in the adoption triad. But lately, many of
these stories are being written by non-adopted BIPOC writers, many of whom use
troubling tropes of adoption as shorthand (this character is mentally ill because of
adoption; due to her blackness in this white family, this secondary character
demonstrates the cluelessness of the white protagonists; etc.).

When this is the territory of adoptee stories, as it has been for generations, it becomes
clear why it is absolutely necessary for adoptees to write our own. And why a book like
When We Become Ours, the first anthology of stories by adoptees about adoptees, is
resonating so deeply with adoptee readers and allies.

Edited by myself and Nicole Chung, this collection features sci-fi, fantasy, horror,
straight literary, and even graphic stories from fifteen of the best adoptee writers today.
Our writers are straight and queer; youngish, oldish, and middleish; cis-gender and
gender queer; Black, Korean American, mixed, Latina, Chinese American, Taiwanese
American, and Native American; and hail from all over North America and the world (we
have one contributor who is Canadian, and another who lives in New Zealand). Their
stories are as broad and inclusive as their experiences. And as adoptees, they each
have an embodied understanding of living as an adoptee in a world that has little idea
what this is actually like.

All of this turns out to be very important, in terms of how readers engage with the
stories. Although the book has only been out for two months, the response from
adoptee communities has been overwhelming. I had one Chinese American adoptee tell
me she never expected to see herself in her favorite genre: sci-fi. She called the
experience, “mind-blowing.” A group of transracial adoptees at the same event told me
that although they appreciated the honesty and craftsmanship of many adoptee
memoirs, the emotional rawness of this genre was just too close. But in the imaginative
realms of short stories by and about adoptees, they could confront some difficult truths
of their lives far more easily.

We are in an era of incredible adoptee-authored cultural output, and I am here for all of
it. Adoptees telling our own stories, on our own terms, in our own voices is transforming
inner and outer landscapes: our own, and those of the people we love.

Adoption — the institution, and the stories we tell about it – will never be the same.

Shannon Gibney is a writer, educator, and activist in Minneapolis. Her newest book is
When We Become Ours: A YA Adoptee Anthology (HarperTeen, 2023), co-edited with
Nicole Chung.

Another Sign of Libraries under Threat: Chuck Tingle & the Texas Library Association

It is a widely-shared belief that Public Libraries are one of the greatest things that society has come up with. For well over a century they have grown and evolved as places that are safe for all segments of society to use and see themselves reflected in the collections and made to feel welcome.

I am a believer in the potential of Public Libraries and a lifer in the service (30 years as student volunteer and library professional this year). However I do not believe that they are an eternally safe and secure space. Over the decades I have seen libraries under threat from those who should be supporting and defending them. I have seen branches crumble and fall, shedding staff like trees dropping leaves in the fall.

A more insidious threat often comes from above and within, the latest sign of this danger popped up in my social media feed last night, with Chuck Tingle announcing that his invitation to speak at the Texas Library Association had been rescinded.

Chuck wrote a post about it on his Patreon that you can read here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/texas-library-to-96183885

As I have been writing this. the TLA have released a (to my mind very unimpressive) statement:

As much as many Public Library workers attempt to live up to the publicly stated ethos and values of the profession, Libraries have always been controlled by local government, through the boards that oversee the rules and regulations that govern how libraries are managed and run, and, if right wing individuals gain control of these boards they can negatively affect the services that libraries offer.

You can read previous articles I have written about this subject here:

It can’t be up to Library Workers alone to make sure that Libraries live up to their potential of being safe and open to all.

A Reading for the Edward Said Libraries with Mosab Abu Toha & Friends

Although not required, you may book a ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-reading-for-the-edward-said-libraries-with-mosab-abu-toha-friends-tickets-780355854367

Gaza’s libraries have been destroyed over the course of the last several months of bombing. The Edward Said Public Libraries, the first English-language libraries in the region, have been at risk for months and require support for their continued existence.

During this virtual event, free to attend and streaming on YouTube, preeminent writers will offer short readings in a show of solidarity with the literary and reading communities of Palestine, and a confirmation of the vital nature of literature and access to written culture.

On December 7th a Librarian died in Gaza. 

Doaa al-Masri and her family were killed in an Israeli airstrike on December 7th 2023. 

Doaa receives a group of schoolgirls at the Edward Said Library in Gaza

Why have I focused on Doaa you may ask. Well, we shared a profession and belief in public service, and it is hard to get one’s head around the scale of the tragedy and loss of life that has been unfolding in the Middle East; from the 1,139 Israeli lives lost in the Hamas attacks on October 7th to the sheer brutality of their response across Gaza.

To paraphrase a statement allegedly made by Stalin: 20,000 deaths is a statistic, one death is a tragedy. 

It is not easier to acknowledge a single death that 20,000 but it is less numbing. Each of the thousands of lives lost to this violence will have a ripple effect on thousands more, but their faces blur and get lost in the scale of this tragedy and they become numbers, rather than individuals.

In their tribute to her memory, the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) captured in part her spirit and dedication to her community: 

…Doaa Al-Masri was killed with her family on Thursday night. Doaa was the librarian at the Edward Said Public Library in Gaza. She was a kind and energetic young woman who organized many activities for children and youth at the library including reading groups, classes, and field trips for schools. 

Doaa was also a volunteer in many other projects. During each Israeli attack on Gaza, she joined her colleagues at MECA partner Youth Vision Society in procuring, packing, and delivering emergency aid to children and families. Just last week, in the midst of intense Israeli attacks, she joined two other  volunteers to provide warm clothes to children in northern Gaza. 

We mourn the loss of Doaa, a loss for MECA, for the many children whose lives she touched, and for Palestine. We will miss her smile and her radiant energy. Doaa is one of tens of thousands of people killed in Gaza over the last 64 days. Each one is a terrible loss to those who knew and loved them. 

Let’s be honest, when one thinks of Gaza and the West Bank, Libraries are not the first thing that pop into your mind. No matter who they are or where they live people enjoy reading and need to find information – and those are two of the core functions of public libraries. 

The Gaza Municipal Library and the Rashad al-Shawa Cultural Center that was the home of the Diana Tamari Sabbagh Library  that contained more than 100.000 books and was founded by Haseeb Sabbagh in the memory of his wife Diana Tamari, have both been razed by Israeli forces. There is currently no news on the current condition of the Edward Said Public Library in North Gaza. 

The bombed-out remains of the Gaza Municipal Library
The remains of the Gaza Municipal Library

The Gaza Municipality has alleged that the destruction of libraries by Israeli forces during the conflict has been a deliberate act and has called on the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to intervene and protect cultural centers and condemn the occupation’s targeting of these humanitarian facilities protected under international humanitarian law.

Public Libraries form one of the cornerstones of a society that nurtures and cares for the people that comprise its individual parts. Apart from educating and entertaining their users, libraries function as repositories of history and cultural knowledge. To destroy a society first you wipe out the commonalities that bind them together, their shared history, their art, anything that ties them together and the fastest way to do that is to start with destroying their libraries and those that care for them.

When Libraries in Sarajevo were bombed people stood up and protested, when al Qaeda attacked the library in Timbuktu there was eventually a book celebrating those who stood up to save priceless, ancient manuscripts, when Russia invaded Ukraine there was a massive outpouring of support for Ukrainian Libraries and Library workers. In Gaza there is proof of libraries being destroyed and one confirmed report of a Librarian (& her family) being killed in an aerial attack and nothing – where is the outrage?

Understand me when I write that I unequivocally condemn Hamas for their bloodthirsty action on October 7th, but the heavy-handed response by the Israeli War Cabinet and the IDF is just as reprehensible!

Articles 6, 7 & 8 of The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court specifically outlaw Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity & War Crimes.

Article 33 of the fourth Geneva Convention specifically outlaws collective penalties, pillage & reprisals:

No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Pillage is prohibited.

Reprisals against protected persons* and their property are prohibited.

* The term “protected person” means any person entitled to protection under one or more of the Geneva Conventions, including civilians not taking an active part in hostilities, military personnel placed out of combat by sickness, wounds, or detention, and military medical or religious personnel.

Do the actions of Hamas and the IDF rise to these levels of criminal wrong-doing? I think they do, but untrained as I am in international jurisprudence I may be wrong; I do however know that the murder unarmed civilians is wrong, no matter who does it!

Links:

Founding the First English-Language Library in Gaza by Mosab Abu Toha

Libraries in Gaza: Between Despair and Hope by Mosab Abu Toha

Articles by Mosab Abu Toha

How girls built a library in the Gaza Strip by Mohammed Abu Sulaiman, with Chris Niles

Gaza’s main public library has been destroyed by Israeli bombing. by Dan Sheehan

Gazans mourn loss of their libraries: Cultural beacons and communal spaces by Mohamad El Chamaa

Middle East Children’s Alliance

Youth Vision Association

Youth Vision Association: Edward Said Public Library

Edward Said Public Libraries in Gaza

Librarians and Archivists with Palestine