Read. Return. Repeat.

A ReadICT podcast

Episode 2: Own Voices

Prisca Barnes, author and CEO of Storytime Village, joins Sara to discuss the love of reading, representation in literature, the 1958 Dockum sit-in, and more.

[MUSIC]

SARA MCNEIL, VOICEOVER: Hello and welcome to episode 2 of Read. Return. Repeat. : A ReadICT Podcast. I'm your host, Sara McNeil, adult programming librarian for the Wichita Public Library. In today's episode we will explore category 2: own voices. For those of you that aren't aware, "own voices" was a term coined in 2015 by Corinne Duyvis on Twitter. Corinne used the hashtag #ownvoices to promote diverse books written by diverse authors highlighting the need for authenticity and inclusion. In today's episode I will be speaking with local activists and literary champion Prisca Barnes. Prisca is the founder and CEO of Storytime Village, a children's literacy non-profit. Prisca has served as a leader in the community for many years and continues to bring awareness and advocacy to Wichita. Prisca, thank you for joining us today and welcome to the show.

SARA: Hi Prisca. It's good to see you.

PRISCA BARNES: Hello. Thank you for having me today.

SARA: Thank you. Listeners, we're joined with Prisca Barnes as I mentioned in the intro. She has been a leader in the community for many years. She's served on the Wichita library board for a few years, she's also served for the... is it the African American Museum of Kansas?

PRISCA: Well, that was a many years ago. I was the executive director there.

SARA: Right. There you are. So she's had her hands in lots of different organizations to promote diversity and inclusion in Wichita. Prisca, I've got a few questions for you today and so we'll just jump right in and start with question one, okay?

PRISCA: Sure.

SARA: So the name Prisca Barnes is synonymous with reading here in Wichita. Who or what helped you develop your love of reading?

PRISCA: Well, my parents gave me that foundation. We had our own home library and before there was Google, we had those lovely encyclopedias and all sorts of books that we could go to in our home to research and to learn more about the world but my mother, who is a retired kindergarten teacher, she was adamant about those bedtime stories and we had bedtime stories every night before she tucked us into bed. And then because she was a teacher, our summers were filled with really great moments at the library. We would go to the public library and spend hours there and we would check out every type of book that we could imagine, even cookbooks, and come back and explore at home and making those recipes. So I had a really rich, you know, literacy environment, you know? It was encouraged in the home and... and that's what fuels me today.

SARA: Definitely. I remember as a child doing the summer reading program and the Book It program, right? Where you got your free personal pizza?

PRISCA: Yes! Yes, I didn't go to recess a lot because I got pizzas and would stay in. Maybe that's why I have to... to work out a lot now, now but... but I really enjoyed that program. I mean, I love Book It. I'm a proud Book It kid.

SARA: Oh yeah. Yeah, I think I have a Pizza Hut obsession because of Book It.

So as I mentioned in our introduction to this episode, it's based on the genre called own voices. Now, did do you have any titles that were diverse by diverse authors when you grew up as a child a teenager or even through your adulthood and if so, could you share those with our listeners today?

PRISCA: So you know, I even asked my mother. I was going back through you know memories about, you know, the types of books that we were reading when I was a child and I could not remember -- that's why I had to ask my mom -- I could not remember a lot of titles that had diverse characters and so I asked my mom and she said... and you know she was a kindergarten teacher as well. She did not have a lot nor had access to a lot of diverse children's books. She did however... Ezra Jack Keats, you know, The Snowy Day and books like that. She did her best to find books like that where you could see yourself but we didn't have... have that. It wasn't until my... so I have older brothers that went to college before me and... and then we all went to HBCUs -- historically black colleges -- and we learned so much about our heritage and our culture and that's when we were exposed to, you know, beautiful books like Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters and... and books like that that, you know, were fairy tales and not just... you know, books that talked about history. So you know you can find books about Harriet Tubman and things like that but were there books that were the fairy tale books and so those... and those folk tales. And so that was when I began to... it was in my late teens, you know, young adulthood when I started to discover more, you know, culturally diverse books, books that... you know, that I wanted to share with others because they, I could... they resonated with me.

SARA: Definitely. So I come from a multicultural background. My father's from Iran. I can't remember anything until college. I had a... I had a white friend who suggested Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis and I have a kind of a distant relationship with my dad so I didn't necessarily grow up in the culture, the Persian culture like 24/7. It was more of a... on the summers or breaks so I did get exposure to it but I never saw it in literature and then it was slightly awkward to have this friend know more about my heritage than I did in college and share it with me and I tried not to resent her for it because I was like, she's opening this up to me, she's making this accessible but I felt kind of like, "Ooh, that hurts a little that like this woman found this book in a woman's studies class," and I didn't... I didn't have that connection so that led me on a quest to start discovering more books that were like that, but unfortunately a lot of authors that are Persian are suppressed and what they can share unless they're outside of Iran so it... it's difficult to find that and I grew up in a college town in Oklahoma so it was liberal in that sense but the things that we were learning about were not in terms of diversity, so that was hard, that was... that was hard for me and my sister to kind of like see ourselves because we were kind of --

PRISCA: Which is so important. That's very important, representation.

SARA: Yeah, I've... I felt almost embarrassed about my Persian heritage because there was nothing for me to connect with. So I wouldn't -- unless someone said my last name, I wouldn't identify as being biracial and I kind of... because of my complexion and I can pass as a, you know, 100 percent white person so I did for a really long time. All right, well, I won't get into all that but later in life it helped me to like discover diversity and to seek that.

So you're a leader in the community. We've mentioned that. Whoever and what gave you the foundation for leadership? Because that is so important when you're trying to emulate that to youth and spark that engagement and how does that reflect in the organizations that you belong to?

PRISCA: I take it back to my parents. So I'm... I'm the daughter of a pastor and it, it was... that whole sense of servant leadership was... it was, you know, embedded in all of us as children. You know, we would sing a song "if you want to be great in God's kingdom, you have to learn to be a servant of all." And so that, you know, understanding that leadership is not just being in the front, it's not just having a title. It is, you know, doing the work that is guiding people to, you know, a goal and to, you know... And so you know... because I, you know, had that upbringing and... and that, you know, that was a principle that was taught, you know I serve in a lot of organizations and, you know, sometimes, you know, it kind of can be a little overwhelming because when you... when you when you serve a lot, it pulls at you, it takes a lot from you. But it is truly worth it in the end, I do believe but I think that's what pushed me to start the non-profit. I saw that there was a need, a challenge after, you know, publishing the children's book. I saw that there was a need because I, you know, started to research and see where, you know, the disparities and, you know, I truly wholeheartedly believe that it, you know, if I know that there's a problem and I don't do anything to try to solve it, I... you know that...

that I couldn't sleep at night knowing that I, you know... I could be working or doing something in the realm of literacy but I'm not focusing on the issues that are, you know, a part of the... you know, that are... that are challenging our community. I had to start the nonprofit so that I could, you know, make that difference and... and that just goes right back to, you know, what I learned as a child, you know, doing that... being that servant, being that... you know, having that community mindset and then that led to leading in I guess the field that I'm in. But it was not setting out to say I'm going to be a leader, I'm going to... I'm going to stand... I'm going to stand out, but I believe those principles I guess lead to leadership and making you stand out even sometimes when you don't really want to.

SARA: Yeah, definitely. We when... when our parents or the caregivers or the people that are in our community model something for us and we see them being successful with that, it makes us want to achieve that too or help spread that promote that.

So you mentioned that you've written a book and that that spurred reflections for you to create a non-profit, if I were to jump into my library time machine and travel back to 2005 when you wrote that book, what was the catalyst for you and your brother to write a children's book?

PRISCA: This is going to be a broken record. I'm not going to say... I'm not going to say my parents this time but I'm going to say family. And I come from a really big family so my mom is the second oldest of ten children and then my dad is one of six brothers and then they had a sister. So this huge family. And on my mother's side, we always gather for Christmas and other holidays. But for Christmas growing up, we would always exchange gifts and we as young people did... you know, we didn't... you know, we weren't going to go out and buy gifts for everyone what could we give and my brother and I decided we were going to write a children's book and give that to our cousins as a gift for Christmas.

SARA: Aww.

PRISCA: And... well, I was in college at the time and I really... and I'm a perfectionist too so that Christmas gift never happened.

[BOTH LAUGH]

SARA: Better late than never.

PRISCA: But it really... you know, my brother being the persistent brother he is, he never let that die. He... I mean the entire time I was in college he was like, "When are you gonna be finished, when are you gonna finish... you're gonna finish this book?" And after I graduated -- because I took my own, you know, time and pace -- after I graduated, we... we actually finished the book and we published in 2005. So it was two years after I graduated.

SARA: That's okay!

PRISCA: But we got it done and then that's when, you know, it spurred... you know, it... by creating the book, by publishing the book, it opened up so many of your thoughts and... and that's when the research began after publishing the children's book.

SARA: That's wonderful. That's wonderful, that's such an endearing story. I have a sibling that's similar to your brother who's always encouraging me to write whatever story comes up. I have a 10 year old and she's like, "You need to write your birth story. You need to do it before you forget." And it's like she's 10 and I still haven't written it because whatever, but yeah, no, I understand that. Well, I'm so glad that you did start off with that first book.

PRISCA: Definitely. I'm glad to... I'm glad he pushed me. I really... I wasn't that excited about it and he had to push and keep pushing but I'm glad he did.

SARA: Well hey, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll be talking about the advantages and challenges of creating an own voices book.


Commercial break

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SARA: Welcome back to the show. We're here with Prisca Barnes and we've been talking about the genre own voices and how Prisca used her own voice to expand the scope of diversity in children's literature.

While the movement to tag books as own voices has brought attention to diverse authors, it has come with a double-edged sword: also limiting authors of color because their works are scrutinized greater for authenticity or may be rejected for minor fictional fabrications like setting and tone. Have you seen this double standard when you compare your books to retellings of fables or origin stories written by white authors?

PRISCA: So let's first, you know, kind of talk about double standards here. So you know, I... the challenge that I see you know just growing up a black woman and knowing that there are, you know, so many... you know, it's a conversation that we have within the community about how much harder you have to work to prove yourself to... to be, you know, validated and to say that, you know, you're worth, you know, being recognized for, you know... in any field, not just, you know, the literary arts. But it, you know... that is something that has... is a challenge for, you know, people of color everywhere trying to... to prove themselves. And so when we look at, you know, literature and we look at a lot of even the books that have, you know, people of color in the books, sometimes when you look at the author, the author is not even you know a person of color and so for that... you know, for that to be the... you know, if that is the case and... and we're listening to someone else tell our own story, you know, and then and then on the other hand you're accusing a person of color who is telling their story of not being authentic...

[CHUCKLES]

I think that... I don't think that's a fair... I don't think that's, you know, a fair judgment. And so I think really we need to learn more about culture... you know, different cultures and how we tell stories. You know, when you look at, you know, folk tales and things of that nature, they're not going to be, you know, factual in every way. They will lead you to a fact but it is the expression of the culture that's telling that story and they tell it in a colorful way in a way that expresses who they are as a people and for someone to make a judgment to say, you know, this is not a... you know, this shouldn't be on the shelves because it... you know, it's not factual or it or you... you've, you know, taken the liberty to be more expressive than we believe you should, that challenges me. That is something that is... that, you know, something that we should really be concerned about and fight for and say, you know, we want to hear stories from people in their own voices and we want to hear them in the way that they would express themselves within their own communities.

SARA: Definitely. Two picture books come to mind. Tomie de Paola who recently passed away, he did the Strega Nona series but he also did retellings of Native American stories and one that I absolutely love is The Legend of the Bluebonnet and it's about this story of this little girl who basically sacrifices her only worldly possession to save her community so it's a beautiful story and it's... I mean, just makes me tear up every time I read it but it does feel awkward that he's retelling the story and that even though he's creating a wider audience, it may not be as authentic as it could be. Or The Raven which recently the Wichita Art Museum had the raven exhibit and so that was someone from that community creating art to tell that origin story and, you know, obviously origin stories go through different phases where they can be reinterpreted or they're slightly different but it does make a bigger impact, I feel, if it's someone from that community telling that story because they have history there. So yeah, I know it... it's just hard. You know, we want we want diverse voices, we want to have people sharing those but we also kind of crave authenticity because otherwise, you know, I can write a story about anyone and then... yeah, it doesn't... it's not as impactful.

PRISCA: Yeah.

SARA: Okay. Well, so you have now authored and co-authored three children's books. For many aspiring authors, publishing a book can be a daunting endeavor. What challenges did you face and what route did you take to get your books in the hands of children and their caregivers?

PRISCA: Our path to publishing our first children's book was through a self-publishing avenue and I really respect the self-publishing world right now and the... the direction that, you know, authors are going in today taking, you know... the literary world by storm by publishing their own books themselves and not waiting on that long, daunting process and, you know... and you know, especially you know we've been talking about, you know, the... the challenges that people of color have, that whole journey trying to get in the door and... and someone, you know, validating you and all of that. Well, you don't have to go through all of that when you self-publish. And so we... we self-published our first book, my brother and I, and then that just completely, you know, inspired me even through the work that I do with Storytime Village -- we're in the process right now of, you know, opening doors for other writers and illustrators to create their own books through what we call the children's book institute and so we're pairing authors and writers together and giving them an avenue that will provide them with, you know, the critique that they need, you know, for the writing and then, you know, putting artists together so that we... we have a greater opportunity to get your book published and it's still supporting, you know, the... the mission of Storytime Village which is that, you know, zero to eight demographic. So we... I'm really excited about that and I'm really excited about the world of self-publishing and so that's... that's how we got started and I want to help others to continue and learn more about self-publishing.

SARA: Yeah, that's great. So right now the Library has this initiative where we partnered with short story edition and they're these little kiosk machines that you can write a short story --

PRISCA: Yeah!

SARA: -- submit it on our website and then we have staff that review it and then there's three locations around town where you can have your story printed off so me and my daughter, we did that the other day. She showed me this poem and I was like oh my god, this is amazing, like I'm inspired by what you wrote. Let's put this on the short story edition and... and then I had shared a story that I wrote or I had actually kind of created this campfire story for her when she was four and it was just something that we just kept revisiting and so I was like, "Well, why don't I? I've never like I'm not gonna publish but this might be nice to get this story out in the community and then if someone wants to tell that to their child, they can," so that was a really great opportunity for both of us to explore writing together. And I mean it's obviously... it's not self-publishing, but it's getting your words out.

PRISCA: Yes, yes.

SARA: Kind of like a teaser. So, wonderful.

PRISCA: I love that.

SARA: In December, the New York Times published an article titled "Just How White is the Book Industry?" describing the economic disparity between authors of color and white authors who are published by larger publishing houses. The article implied that there is a systematic problem within the industry and in 2019 there was a movement on social media where authors would use the hashtag #publishingpaidme and disclose what they were being offered for book deals with tactically... to bring awareness to the issue. What can our listeners do to support diverse authors in our own community?

PRISCA: Well, that article was... you know, I had recently read an article that talked about children's books and representation in children's books and... and it went on to talk about reading motivation and how critical reading motivation is to support, you know, reading achievement and when you don't see yourself represented, then you don't have that same motivation to read. And so you know, what we could do as a community is ensure that there are books that have people of color represented in those books, read those books to your children. They... you don't have to... and I think what it, what we... we should do is ensure that it's not just an... like when you go to the library and get a book, maybe get a book that doesn't necessarily look like you so that when you're reading that to a child, they have a hunger for diverse books as well. And then also help to ensure that children of color have books that look like them so that they have that reading motivation. We have a real big challenge right now in our state with, you know, the literacy rate. There's 85 percent of African American fourth graders that are below proficient in reading and, you know, one of the things that we can do is to ensure that these children are motivated to read and if we provide them with books that... that resonate with them, you know, they can see themselves in it, I think we can see some change happen and we can see, you know, a shift happening with that big statistic but then also when you... when you also have these diverse books available to all children, then you're creating this... this, you know, a community of acceptance and... and knowing, you know, that we should all... our all of our voices should be heard and so you're grooming and creating a community that is... you know, has a greater love and acceptance for everyone. So I think that's one of the things that we can do is just really look at... you know, the look at the books that we're consuming, maybe add some different titles and search out. Search out books, you know, with... with diverse characters and ensure that they get in the hands of the children that need the most.

SARA: Yeah, and for our listeners that need help with that, they can... the Library offers services where you can have recommendations from the different librarians. So children's librarians, our teen services librarian, even our adult librarians can compile lists and make reading recommendations so it doesn't have to be a daunting task. I mean, you can obviously get on the internet and see what's out there but if you... you know, you can trust your local librarians to help you make those connections as well.

Well, we're going to take another quick break. When we come back, we'll be talking about the need for creating a children's literacy initiative in Wichita with local children's author and illustrator Prisca Barnes.


Commercial break

VOICE: Have you heard about our short story dispensers? We have three in Wichita for you to enjoy: one at Reverie Roasters, Hunter Health Clinic, and Ablah Library at Wichita State. The dispensers print out a short story for you to enjoy and now you can submit your own for consideration in the collection. Find out more at our website, wichitalibrary.org.


SARA: Welcome back to the show. We're here with Prisca Barnes and we've been talking about the challenges that authors encounter when publishing a book. How did creating or co-creating a book transfer to starting a non-profit to help underserved children in Kansas? We touched a little bit on this earlier but could you give our listeners a little bit more context?

PRISCA: Sure. So it was after publishing the children's book The Magic Tooth with my brother. We started out with, you know, book signings and things of that nature but then, you know, it was... that was nice and that was fun but you know, it... there was a hunger for more and... and then I started to do research. And when... when you start to research, you're gonna uncover some things that you may, you know, be surprised at and I was very surprised by the... you know, the disparities in, you know, our state, you know, what was going on with our literacy rates and I stated earlier, you know, there are 85 percent of African American fourth graders below proficient in reading and that statistic has not changed much over a... you know, a decade. And so, you know, at the time I knew nothing about, you know, starting a nonprofit, but I knew I needed to do something and so I started hosting events and then eventually incorporated and then finally got, you know, the 501(c)3 non-profit status but it was a complete growing process. A lot of... a lot of learning and a lot of, you know, life happenings. I won't bore you with the long journey because there is a lot that happened. There's a... there's a book to be written about what happened all the way, you know, to that point. But the... the whole... you know, to get to the... the core of it was, you know, the book opened up my heart and my mind... publishing that book, you know, opened up this this, this new... an opportunity to do what I've been, you know, groomed as a child to do with... to serve at a greater level and to see how I could make a difference in, you know, changing the... you know, this or being a part of the solution for this big issue that I saw, you know, facing our children and I just could not just have a children's book and not do something to impact, you know, children that were, you know, struggling so that's... that's how the book was the beginning of a non-profit.

SARA: That's great. So you had touched a little bit on like the mentorship that you have with your organization and with authors and children, illustrators. You also have a reading camp called LEAP which helps promote diverse books by diverse authors. Can you tell our listeners about the program and the impacts that it's had on the participants involved?

PRISCA: Oh my gosh. That camp is so much fun. So the... you know, the... the camp is what I call a boot camp for young writers

[CHUCKLES]

and we... you know, we have... we open up our camp to... we do a lot of our recruitment at a lot of the Title I schools in the in the community and so we are... we're looking for the hungry, young, excited writers to join us in this four-week camp where they learn how to write, illustrate, and publish and sell their own books, so --

SARA: That's important.

PRISCA: -- so they, you know, they go through the process of, you know, all of the... we have a curriculum that teaches them how, you know, how to write their book and then we use the illustration even in that process of that storytelling so, you know, we want them to be able to express themselves through the illustrations. And then... and then we work with Mennonite Press which is, you know, an area printing company and we have a big book signing and they invite their families and friends to come and we celebrate them and they are what we call are the youngest, you know, authors in our community and... and we... we make a big deal out of it because we want them to understand the importance of telling your own story. We want them to understand that, you know, we were talking earlier about you know that article in the New York Times and they were talking about how authors are not always paid properly and all of that. Well, you know, we're not giving them a... you know, a salary or anything of that nature but we want them to know their worth. And so they, you know, receive the proceeds from their book sales, you know, and you know... so they are, you know, empowered by creating this... you know, this work of art and then they are encouraged by the opportunity to, you know, make a little... make a little money on... you know, from the sale of their book. And so that's the carrot at the end to get them to go through the process and go through the process in such a quick fashion but they learn so much and they... I'm so impressed every year with the young people that go through the program and come out with, you know, such growth. You know, they start out... you know, they might not know a lot about what we are going to share with them but they come out even better readers because they go through, you know... a lot of training even when it comes to... to reading and they come out better writers. They come out with a better sense of self and you know so it really is exciting to see in that short amount of time how much growth happens with those young people.

SARA: Definitely. That's so valuable to like validate these children and their voices and then encourage them in the summer time when there's this reading slump or when people don't necessarily want to be engaged mentally like that, children especially, you keep forcing them to, you know, cultivate that and then they that I'm sure that carries on in the fall when they go back to school. It's like they're ready to go, they're ready --

PRISCA: Yeah.

SARA: -- they're energized.

PRISCA: Yeah, we've had a parent come back to us and his daughter was in our program and she was a struggling reader and when she went back into the classroom, they were amazed that, you know, she was reading, you know, above level and really had impressed her teacher. You know, they and... you know, this father was really excited because he was before the program was really, you know... challenged or you know, really... you know, not... he wanted his daughter to be able to read better and he didn't have the tools to be able to help her and so when he got the report from her teacher that she was doing better and that, you know, the summer was not a wasted summer, she had that, you know, experience and then came out, you know, a better reader, we were very proud of her for that and excited that she's gonna, you know, grow in her... in her educational achievement.

SARA: Definitely. I briefly touched on this on our first episode, but I struggled with reading at about third grade and I think that like you're saying when you're motivated, you're on it. And if you're empowered, you'll do it. And sometimes it isn't... the burden falls on the parents obviously but sometimes it's not the parents that are the ones to inspire the child, sometimes it's their peers or opportunities like this camp that can give the child an outlet that they may not have in a normal setting. So well done.

PRISCA: Well, thank you.

SARA: So in addition to being an author and CEO of Storytime Village, you belong to the speaker's bureau of Humanities Kansas. How did you secure that role and how did that lead you to write your latest book, a non-fiction children's book titled People, Pride and Promise: the Story of the Dockum Sit-in?

PRISCA: I'm always stumbling on things. You know, they're things that are just happening. Well, I started out as the youth advisor for the NAACP which is the... the same youth council that conducted the Dockum sit-in in 1958 and so serving in that capacity, I was working with young people. They would come into the program and I was shocked that they knew nothing about the Dockum sit-in. And like you're about to be a part of this historic youth council and you don't know about the Dockum sit-in. And then it wasn't just those young people. You know, you talk to young people throughout the community. Many, you know -- or probably not many at all know much and then when you talk to adults, then a lot of people, you know, are not that informed. And so you know, I said, "Well, what can I do?" Always trying to find a solution here to, you know, not only impact the young people in the youth council but to educate a wider community and I worked with Humanities Kansas to create a project. It was the People, Pride and Promise project that had a documentary. So we had a documentary that we created that could reach a younger demographic and we even included young people in the creation of it and so they were a part of the documentary itself. And then we created a traveling exhibition that traveled to libraries throughout the state. We were in the Wichita Public Library and... and other libraries throughout all the way to Kansas City and beyond. But so we had the exhibition and then the last part of the project was the children's book and the... the reason for creating the children's book was how do we... you know, if we can get this into the hands of our, you know... young readers, then they'll know the story, they'll be able to share the story, we can keep passing it on and keep passing it on. And so that, it was to me an immersive experience of, you know, you have the exhibit, you can walk through it. You have the documentary, it gives you a little bit more insight into it. And then you have the book that you can read over and over again and it helps you to... you know, to share the story. And so in the midst of that, then the speaker's bureau opportunity presented itself to even expand the project further and so I have been traveling ever -- I was just... I actually just was in... oh goodness, now I'm forgetting the little small town I was in. It'll come to me. But I've been to so many small towns in Kansas and sharing the story of the Dockum sit-in and it's amazing. I mean, I love, you know, where... I'm mostly in libraries and, you know, sitting and talking with people and I give my presentation but then I open the floor up for dialogue and oh my goodness, we have some great dialogue. But that speakers bureau is an extension... that speakers bureau or me being on the speakers bureau is an extension of the project and just to have an opportunity to continue spreading the awareness about the Dockum sit-in and we're... if we keep at this pace, we're gonna cover all the Kansas.

[BOTH LAUGH]

SARA: I recently checked out the... the documentary and watched it with my daughter and she was just like, "I can't even conceptualize like that being a reality." And my husband grew up in Derby and he had never heard of it. Back when I used to work at the Angelou Branch, we had Miss Jean Pouncil-Burton. She had come and done a story time and she read the story of Ruby Bridges and my daughter's name was Ruby so that was like so impactful for her to hear about this other little girl named Ruby and, you know, the obstacles that she faced just to go to school and so I'm trying to like not strategically introduce these themes to her but I want them to be present so she can... she can see that there's been a struggle and it wasn't that long ago that, you know, folks here in Wichita didn't have the same amenities or rights and, you know, we just have to keep fighting for those. We can't become complacent.

Well, I want to thank Prisca. That concludes our questions and interview for this portion of the episode. Thank you Prisca for making time to join us today.

PRISCA: Thank you for having me.

SARA, VOICEOVER: Today we're joined by three librarians who will share their recommendations for noteworthy books that fit category 2: own voices.

JENNY DURHAM: My name is Jenny Durham and I'm a library assistant in the adult programming department here at the Advanced Learning Library. My recommendation for an own voices title is Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas. In this young adult novel, Yadriel, a Latinx transgender male, yearns for his very traditional family to accept his true gender -- that is, his family of brujas and brujos which in English roughly translates to "witch" although that is an oversimplification. In this story, Yadriel's family worshiped Santa Muerte -- or Lady Death -- and in return for this veneration are blessed with magical abilities, particularly those pertaining to the realm of the dead such as helping spirits cross over and healing the sick. When his family continues to refuse to allow him to take part in the annual coming-of-age ceremony where he would officially be recognized as a brujo, Yadriel with the help of his best friend Maritza perform the ritual in secret and accidentally summon the ghost of Julian, one of the resident bad boys at his school. Unfortunately, Yadriel can't get rid of him unless he agrees to help Julian solve the mystery of who murdered him. Although initially Julian's constant chatter annoys the more reserved Yadriel, the more time they spend together, the less Yadriel wants him to leave and the more he starts to learn about being true to yourself. I listened to this on audiobook and if you haven't tried audiobooks before, this would be an excellent one to start with. This was such a heartwarming story rich with a blend of Latin American folklore including Mexican, Cuban, and Colombian traditions. What I particularly loved about the audiobook was how much personality the narrator, Avi Roque, infuses into the story. In addition, the narrator is also a trans Latinx male and I think it's incredibly important that a story like this have this level of representation, especially by someone who could bring so much authenticity to Yadriel's character rather than making a stereotype of him. At the end of the audiobook, there's an interview between the author and narrator that I really enjoyed. In the interview, they talk about how many of the experiences of Yadriel reflect their own experiences of being Latinx, transgender, and queer and how it is important for there to be books like these to reflect the unique challenges of being LGBTQ+ within the more traditional aspects of many Latin American cultures. If you're looking for a heartwarming, funny, and magical book, check out this own voices title, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas.

SEAN JONES: My name is Sean Jones, communications specialist for the Wichita Public Library. My recommendation for ReadICT category 2, an own voices book, is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I first read this book as a sophomore in high school and it was the first book that left me emotionally distraught. I haven't gone back to it yet but I want to. The Kite Runner was published in 2003 and tells the gripping story of two boys in war-torn Afghanistan who form an unlikely friendship. One is the son of a wealthy merchant and the other is the son of their servant. They bond over flying kites and one of the boys is an expert kite runner. He always knows where the kite will land. After a horrific event tears their friendship apart, we are taken years into the future where an opportunity for solace and redemption is at stake. Secrets abound, relationships are threatened. It's a story about friendship, fathers and sons, brotherhood, and telling the truth amidst potential fallout.

DANIEL PEWEWARDY: Hi, I'm Daniel Pewewardy. I'm an adult programming librarian and today I'm here to talk to you about Heartbeat of Wounded Knee by David Treuer. Native American culture is often thought of in the past tense beginning with the first European contact in 1492 and ending with the end of the Indian wars and the forced removal to reservations in the late 1800s. However, there are over 5 million Natives and First Nation people alive today in the U.S. and Canada and their history continues. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee by Ojibwe author David Treuer examines that history. The book, which Treuer began writing in 2018, examines contemporary native history starting in 1890 until present day. Using historical documents, interviews, memoirs, and the author's own indigenous perspective, this book creates a well-researched and compassionate narrative of Native people from the last 128 years. I really enjoy this book because as a Native American myself, it's really refreshing to see our history told from our own perspective. Oftentimes books on Native Americans are written by non-Native authors and because of this, they lose a lot of the nuance that comes with writing about people from an outside perspective. Hearing Natives tell their own history is just as refreshing as it is empowering and lends towards accuracy by including another narrative to the story of North America. Another issue with native history books is that they will focus too much on events pre-1890 before Natives were relocated to reservations and it's refreshing to see that Native Americans still continue their culture and traditions well into the 21st century.

SARA MCNEIL, VOICEOVER: Thank you for those awesome recommendations and thank you to the listeners of today's episode. Listeners can request books by visiting our website, wichitalibrary.org, or calling the library at (316) 261-8500. To participate in the ReadICT reading challenge, please visit wichitalibrary.org/readict. Staff curated lists are available for each category. You will also find instructions on how to register and log books on the Beanstack app, which allows you to track your books throughout the year and automatically enters participants into monthly prize drawings. And as always, stay connected with other ReadICT participants on the ReadICT challenge Facebook page. Find out what's trending near you, post book reviews, look for local and virtual events, and share book humor with like-minded folks.

You can follow this podcast through the Anchor app or stream episodes on popular channels like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. If you like what you heard today, be sure to leave us a 5 star review. This has been a production of the Wichita Public Library and a big thanks goes out to those staff members who helped produce this episode. I'm your host Sara McNeil. Join us next time when we will be discussing category 3, animals and pets, with local naturalist and exhibit caretaker for the Kansas Wildlife Exhibit in Wichita's Central Riverside Park.

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