Getting More Woke Via a Diverse Books List

As an older white woman, I am constantly surprised how often my privilege—despite and because of it—reminds me that I am not as aware, as woke, as unbiased, as I would like to think I am. I spent half my life in a racially diverse area. I am the adoptive parent of 4 black children, now all adults. I have friends and family members who do not look like me, and from whom I constantly learn. I take classes! I read books! I go to marches! I have a “Black Lives Matter” sign in my yard!

All to say that the work of better understanding the role of race in our society is an ongoing, never ending, don’t-dare-think-you’re-done journey.

My most recent opportunity to live this was from volunteering to assemble a “Diverse Books” Amazon Wish List for my granddaughter’s school. My daughter Aselefech (adopted from Ethiopia in 1994) is the chair of the PTSA Racial Equity Committee (REC). Unlike many such committees, this one has mostly people of color on it—even a dad, which is rare in PTA circles. The white women on the committee have all stated their willingness to step aside if more people of color join. At this point, we have an active, energized group of about 10 people.

The REC decided to set up an Amazon Wish List for the school to provide more books about black kids and kids of color; I volunteered to coordinate with the librarian, who vets the books and adds suggestions based on what the kids have asked for, or on what holes need to be filled in the collection. The committee wanted more books for black kids that were not about slavery or sports. We wanted strong, engaging books about all kinds of kids doing all kinds of things.

The library already had quite a few books that fit the bill, including those from the Global Reading Challenge.

Here’s what’s transpired that helped me open my eyes and heart:

We decided that our list would be books that feature black/children of color. More intentionally, we also decided that the authors would also be black/people of color (poc). We felt that, as a committee using a racial justice lens, bringing more attention (and revenue) to authors of color should be our focus. So that was one bit of awareness: lots of books now feature black and brown kids in the illustrations, but many are written by white writers (mostly women, it seems, anecdotally) and we wanted to be more intentional about the authors.

The librarian asked for books about Muslim girls who wear the hijab. We recognize that many Muslims are white, but we decided to go ahead with recommending books, and found several by Muslim authors.

I have been struck, and I have more research to do, about how many books (picture books and chapter books) seem to be written about black girls/girls of color than about black, Asian, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Latino boys. This is totally anecdotal on my part.

The librarian asked about books for/about transgender kids. I absolutely understand and support having these books in the school library, but told the librarian that the REC was focused on race, not on transgender issues, so we would not include them. Aselefech offered this to me: “While we focus on racial equity, I think it’d be okay for us to recommend books on transgender kids and the intersection of race.”

Ah. Yes. Of course. I adjusted my lenses and am now looking at books about black and other transgender kids written by black/poc authors.

Another area of Oh Yeah thinking came from a white friend of mine. Why not look into having a book fair of some sort sponsored by a local black/poc bookseller? Well, yes. Great idea. Will do.

For me, this has all been a great reminder of intent vs. impact, of the responsibility to be an ally, and of the need to be open about how much there always is to learn.

I love books. I love helping kids read and grow to love books themselves. I know that black kids and kids of color, along with black authors and authors of color, deserve more recognition and presence in literature. Yes, there has been progress. And yes, we still—I still—have a ways to go.

If you would like to see to see our list (and feel free to donate), you can find it here.

Final note: Some of the books we would have recommended are already in the library or in the school because of Seattle’s Global Reading Challenge.

And if anyone has suggestions, please feel free to share!

Making Books and Art With Children in Ethiopia

If we fail to educate little children, if we fail to put books in their hands, then we fail to create a foundation for them to rise out of poverty and oppression. What will there be to build on?


© Maureen McCauley Evans

We were a core group of 8, most of us artists or writers, 6 from the US and 2 from Ethiopia. Just over a month ago, we traveled together from Addis to Maji, a small, rural area about 350 miles southwest of the Ethiopian capital, then back to Addis. We were part of an Ethiopian Odyssey, one goal of which was to create colorful, culturally appropriate books for young children in Ethiopia.

While we were traveling to and from Maji, and during our week there, all of us were writing, sketching, drawing, taking photos, and reflecting on what and who we saw. Ethiopia Reads has been a trailblazer in raising awareness about literacy and libraries for children. Long time Ethiopia Reads leader and prolific author Jane Kurtz, a pivotal Odyssey crew members, spoke at a well-attended public lecture in Addis about the tremendous need for colorful, culturally appropriate books for pre-readers, the toddlers and little kids who can (must) engage with books that start them on the path to reading. The books for these early readers are scarce in Ethiopia, and we are hoping to change that.


Jane Kurtz and Caroline Kurtz, a dynamic duo. © Maureen McCauley Evans

On Saturday February 6, we had an amazing book-making event. Children from the International Community School in Addis attended; they were Ethiopian, Canadian, American, Indian, Chinese, and more. Ethiopian children who are part of one of Ethiopia Reads’ Addis libraries also came for the “field trip” by bus. Some had lots of experience with art; some had none at all.


© Maureen McCauley Evans

Our goal was to talk with the kids: How do we write stories? And then: Let’s make  illustrations! We worked with a Ethiopian proverbs, including “Turina keessatt killen millaan adeemti. By persevering, the egg walks on legs.” The kids did all kinds of drawings as they figured out how to tell stories.


© Maureen McCauley Evans


© Maureen McCauley Evans

I worked with dozens of children using tissue paper collage. They used their imaginations and their life experiences to make rockets, flowers, spiders, butterflies, mountains, trees, and more.


© Maureen McCauley Evans

tissue paper collage

© Maureen McCauley Evans


© Maureen McCauley Evans

Now our task is to take the stories and art of these young people and create books that will be in (we hope) at least two languages, English and Amharic, but also in many of the other languages spoken and read in Ethiopia. We will put the books in the libraries of Ethiopia Reads, and (we hope) in other sites as well. It’s a big, costly project. My fellow travelers on the Ethiopian Odyssey are up for the challenge. The art created and donated by Stephanie Schlatter, Troy Zaushny, Yacob Bizuneh, and Nahosenay Negussie as a result of our time in Maji and on the road will be exhibited and sold this fall.


L-r: Nahosenay Negussie, Stephanie Schlatter, Troy Zaushny, Jacob Bizuneh; in Maji January 2016 © Maureen McCauley Evans

My photographs will also be donated for this fundraising effort to bring books to little children. This is one:


© Maureen McCauley Evans

I will post more info about the exhibitions as we nail down dates and venues. On one level, this was a life-changing adventure by artists to create books by children for children in Ethiopia. On another level, it’s a way to create hope. It is, maybe, a way to build a world that is based in literacy and beauty. Small steps, I know. Still.








Reviewing Books for Mixed Families, Single and LGBT Parents

The wonderful, valuable Facebook resource Mixed Families, Single Parents, LGBT Parents Read and Raise Healthy Children aims to “support self-esteem literacy of children in mixed race, bilingual, and transracial families, or with single or LGBT parents.” When I saw that they were looking for book reviewers, I tossed my hat in that ring.


And now, I’m going to review Young Adult books for them. I’m thrilled. My first review, of Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, will appear soon. Maniac Magee touches on adoption as well as racial issues. 

I love books. My family is “mixed,” by way of adoption and biology both. Single parents, LGBT parents, and single LGBT parents are all part of our constellation. When my children were little, there were some good books that had illustrations and stories that reflected their realities, but the field is so much bigger now–as is the number of interracial families and the number of families with single parents or LGBT parents, openly acknowledged. To me, an important part of parenting is modeling reading, as well as sharing a love of reading with your kids. How wonderful now to have a much bigger variety of books that reflect the variety of families.

Please join me on this journey. Get a library card for yourself and your kids. Go “like” the Mixed Families book review page. Books (picture, paperback, electronic, hardcover) change the world.