As a young child I loved reading by myself. I didn’t talk to other people about the books I read– I just plowed through piles of books. In fact, I challenged myself to read the entire Children’s collection at the Jefferson Market Library, a branch of the New York Public Library System. I completed the challenge without telling anyone about it except my favorite Fifth Grade teacher, Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith loved books, stories, and language the way I did. He often opened his lessons each morning with poems by Langston Hughes and Phillis Wheatley, asking us to “sit quietly with their words.”
When I became a Children’s Librarian in 2012, I was enmeshed in a delightful in-person and online communities of readers which included but was not limited to: librarians, booksellers, humanities educators, authors, agents, and publishers. I was a voracious user of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook primarily to share my love of reading and books, placing special emphasis on marginalized #ownvoices narratives for young readers.
Since I have a two-bus commute to my teaching position each day, there was ample time to post, re-post, and tweet. Through my engagement with the digital reading communities, I worked on refining and extending my school’s collection, developing new curricular and programming initiatives, and engaging with ideas and analyses that enriched me professionally and personally. I got off the bus each day inspired and ready to evangelize reading and books for everyone with whom I came into contact.
Jump cut to 2019 and I am an eager and grateful elected member of the John Newbery Book Award Committee. Books line every surface of my workspaces at home and at the school where I teach. I read in every spare moment between exercising, sleeping, teaching, and sharing meals with my family. There’s one problem, I am not allowed to talk about and/or post about any authors or books that could be considered for the award during 2019. Since the award is for readers ages 0 to 14– this includes picture books, elementary, middle grade, and young adult books.
During our initial Newbery committee meeting in January, members were told that we couldn’t appear to have any biases. When the lines of my browed furrowed, our Chair said gently, “Of course, if you can’t keep yourself from talking or posting, you don’t have to be on the committee.” And I nodded quickly and looked down deferentially. I said to myself, “Alpha, you can do this, you don’t have to share your reading practice on social media. You don’t have to share your reading practice with your fellow librarians or colleagues. You can be silent and just take notes–it’ll be okay.”
Now the reading by myself is hard, I want to shout the titles I love from the digital rooftops. I want other people to experience the joy of a new voice and a new story and I want to share in their experience as they share in mine. I am using Mr. Smith’s guidance as a mantra: “Just sit quietly with their words.” Mr. Smith, I am trying– I really am.