Thursday, January 26, 2012

In Appreciation: Beverly Jenkins

Black History month is coming, so we'll be sure to see the usual oh-so-worthy tome of black uplift. Which is why I like to spend my chilly February nights curled up with some Beverly Jenkins, a woman who not only knows her black history, but knows how to make it steamy and,!

Ms Jenkins will broaden your notion of African American history; her stories may be in set the American Revolution, the wild west, or aboard a  British privateer; her characters include black Seminoles in Oklahoma's Indian country, ex marines, bounty hunters, and rap producers.They may be as mild and wholesome as her faith-tinged, Blessings series, or wild and wicked romantic fantasies.

Best of all, (from a librarian's point of view), all of Jenkins books are thoroughly researched, and she usually has an afterword explaining the story's historical context and listing resources for further reading.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"The Interrupters" and "New Jim Crow" next week; Condoleeza Rice next month

Many thanks to all of you who engaged in a raucous, riotous dissection of Eugene Robinson's Disintegration last night. The discussion didn't completely end until almost 9:00... a new record! I was delighted and impressed with the range of opinions, and the thoughtful, passionate way they were articulated.

Just wanted to put in another plug for The Interrupters, which we'll be showing next Wednesday January 25th here at EPL, at 6:30, in conjunction with ReelTime and the Evanston Community Foundation. Also, the week of January 29th-February 1st, we're focusing on Michelle Alexander's sobering study, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness. Dr Alexander is speaking at Garrett Theological Seminary on February 1st at 5:00 pm, and the EPL Teen Loft is hosting a teens-only discussion of the book on Sunday January 29th at 1:00 pm. Please help spread the word!

Meanwhile, back in AAL book land, registration is open for our February 14th discussion: Extraordinary, Ordinary People, Condoleeza Rice's memoir of her childhood in Birmingham Alabama, and her gradual rise to Secretary of State under President George Bush. Condi may not be a favorite with all of us, but her remarkable story is certainly worth re-visiting, especially in light of our conversation about the "Transcendent" and whether or not they are maintaining their connection with the rest of Black America. Call 847-448-8620 to register and book your copy.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Interrupters

Hope everyone is enjoying Disintegration! I'm looking forward to another thought-provoking discussion this coming Tuesday at 7 at EPL.

Although Robinson's book doesn't spend much time on urban violence, it's an issue many in the African American community struggle with.  The amazing Chicago organization Ceasefire has successfully reduced shootings in dangerous neighborhoods by mediating and intervening in crisis situations.Ceasefire's efforts have earned praise from the Department of Justice, and they are the subject of an outstanding documentary The Interrupters, which you can see for free at 2 Evanston locations this month.

Sunday January 15th 3:00 pm
Family Focus, 2010 Dewey Ave. Evanston

Followed by a Community Conversation with representatives from the Evanston Police Department, Restorative Justice Evanston, Evanston  Township High School, and CeaseFire. Screening co-sponsored by Peaceable Cities Evanston,  Family Focus, MOMs Saving Our Sons, and the Evanston YWCA.

 Wednesday January 25th, 6:30 pm
Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Avenue, Evanston
The post-screening discussion will include Ameena Matthews, one of the CeaseFire violence interrupters featured in the film, along with Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and community representatives to explore the issues of violence, conflict resolution and restorative justice in our own community.   Co-presented  by Reeltime's Percolator Films and the Evanston Community Foundation. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

African American Books for Kids

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a safe, happy and healthy holiday season.

I was looking at the many, many children's books my daughter and nieces and nephews were given this year and I got to thinking: why are so many "classic" books for African American children so depressing? You know the ones I'm talking about. Sounder. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. A Hero Ain't Nothing But a Sandwich. All well written books, but the impression you get from them is that there's nothing to African American life and history but slavery, lynchings, and urban despair. Is that what we want our kids to think? Aren't there any books that show African American life as,

If you want to find some wonderful, upbeat, and yet true to life stories for your children, a great place to start is Brown Baby Reads, a web community, book club and database for African American children's literature. Every month you'll find recommended titles for toddlers through teens, and you can search the database for special interests like historical fiction or sports themed fiction.

There has been increased attention to the lack of diversity in children's publishing these days, and the wonderful organization We Need Diverse Books was formed in response.  A collaboration between  teachers, publishers and librarians, WNB provides resource lists on books with African American, Latino, GLTBQ, Muslim and disabled characters, as well as awards, summer reading themes, and suggestions for multicultural gift books.

Another great resource is the Black Books Galore! series by Donna Rand and Toni Trent Parker.  The Evanston Public Library owns all 3 editions, published between 1998 and 2001. It's a pity it hasn't been updated since, but you'll still find hundreds of great titles.

Finally, I invite you to try my personal list: Non Depressing African American Children's Books. (also on GoodReads.) I found a lot of them in Rand and Parker's collection, and they were all books that my daughter and I actually enjoyed. Most are contemporary kid's fiction, but there are a couple of terrific historicals, like Bud not Buddy, and Ellington Was Not  a Street that convey the richness of African American cultural history without dwelling on the horrors.

Let me know if you have suggestions!