Today I’m pleased to interview Katie of The Conscious Kid Subscription Box here on This Picture Book Life. Conscious Kid delivers diverse books to kids each month in a library-style service—return the books and get a new batch each month! Plus, their selections are chosen to “reduce bias & promote positive identity development” in youth—an intentional, important mission indeed.
This Picture Book Life: What prompted you to start The Conscious Kid? Please tell us about your journey.
Katie: My partner and I started The Conscious Kid to address two issues: access to diverse representation in children’s literature and bias. Our sons are two and four and it is very important for us to be intentional about surrounding them with narratives and images that center, affirm and celebrate their identities. When I went to our nearest public library to request every children’s book they had featuring Black characters, the librarian came back with a list of three. Out of the thousands of children’s books they had, they only had three featuring Black people–and one depicted a woman praying for her daughter not to have “nappy” hair. Even though it ostensibly checked the box for “representation,” it was not the type of representation or messaging we wanted for our kids. Every library is different, but we knew we weren’t the only ones having this issue at some level.
Creating The Conscious Kid was about making it easy for parents like us to have convenient access to diverse children’s books that not only reflect underrepresented kids, but center and empower their identities.
Our other primary focus is bias. Implicit and explicit bias starts young. Research from Harvard University suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to racism and prejudice, tend to embrace and accept it. Children express pro-white/anti-Black bias at this same age; and by age five, are strongly biased towards whiteness. Developmental psychologists have argued that the time for change and intervention is in early childhood, when bias is flexible and only just emerging. Children’s books are a very practical way to initiate conversations on race and oppression, and encourage kids to think critically about these issues.
Research has shown that engaging in open, honest and frequent conversations about racial inequality is associated with lower levels of bias in children. In addition, indirect contact with diverse groups through books has been shown to improve attitudes and behavioral intentions towards oppressed groups. For example, children who read books featuring cross-racial friendships report greater comfort and interest in playing with children of different races than those who do not, and these attitude changes persist over time. Stories have been shared in every culture as a means of education and can be used as tools to challenge racism, sexism, and classism (Solorzano & Yosso, 2002). Our library uses counter-stories to challenge deficit-based narratives and narratives where marginalized voices are erased.
TPBL: As I understand it, your subscription box is a lending library. How does it work and what made you choose this particular set up?
Katie: We are a custom-curated delivery service for diverse children’s books. Families, community organizations, and educators subscribe to the library and three new diverse books are shipped directly to their home or classroom on the 1st of each month. The books are shipped with a postage-paid return envelope that is used to mail the books back to us the following month. Subscriptions are for three, six or twelve months, and book selections are customized based on the age (0-18) of the subscribers and any special requests (i.e. books that counter Islamophobia, books with strong female of color protagonists, books presenting families with same-sex parents, etc.). Each book goes through a comprehensive anti-bias screening process before it gets included into our inventory and we prioritize #OwnVoices books that are authored by members of the communities being reflected.
We chose a book rental model because there was no one else delivering diverse children’s books in such a low-cost way. The cost of the subscription is equivalent to the actual cost of shipping the books back and forth. Starting in October, subscribers will have the option to purchase any or all of the titles they receive each month.
Our service is aimed at those who may have barriers to accessing a public library or whose library or local bookstore may not (yet) have the representation they are looking for. While there is growing recognition of the importance and value of diverse children’s books, access and availability remains a challenge. Although some libraries and bookstores have a more diverse selection than others, it can still be a very time-intensive process for parents or educators to locate and select diverse books that do not contain harmful stereotypes or messaging. We spend a significant amount of time advocating for schools and libraries around the country to center more diverse books, so are constantly working towards (and hoping for) a future where there won’t be a need for us anymore.
TPBL: What are three recent picture books that fit with The Conscious Kid mission? Tell us a little about why you like each one.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a report finding anti-Muslim incidents in the United States are up 91% so far in 2017 over the same period last year. Yo Soy Muslim, which translates to “I am Muslim”, is an affirmation to young Muslim-American children growing up in a social context of Islamophobia and xenophobia. This book is a declaration of self and lovingly depicts a father’s journey to support his daughter in finding joy and pride in all aspects of her Muslim, Latina, Tunisian, and American identity. Ages 4-8.
Mama’s Nightingale is the story of an undocumented Haitian mother who is placed in a immigration detention center and separated from her young daughter. Over 16 million people in the US live in “mixed-status” families, in which at least one family member is a noncitizen, whether a green card holder or an undocumented immigrant. A 2013 report found that 150,000 children had been separated from one or both parents as a result of US immigration policies. This book humanizes this issue by showing the impact from the perspective of a child, and exemplifies how young people can use their voices to speak out and advocate for change. Ages 5-8.
Since 9/11, Sikh Americans have become the targets of hate crimes because of their turbans and beards. Islamophobia impacts Sikhs because people assume that Sikhs are Muslims. Sikh author Navjot Kaur wrote this book on the Sikh dastaar (or turban) and explains: “My son’s Sikh identity would be a constant and so would his Deaf identity. The written words rooted a desire for my son – that he should never feel afraid to stand out and be different. My book leads a way forward for any child wondering about personal identity. All children want to see themselves represented in the books they read. A Lion’s Mane takes young readers on a journey to cultures around the world to explore the meaning of the dastaar and help promote our connections as global citizens. This book provides much needed Sikh representation in children’s literature and awareness of the sacred significance of the dastaar. Ages 6-11.
Thank you, Katie, for stopping by and for your good work putting books in the hands of kids!
Katie Ishizuka is a researcher, activist and social worker with a decade of experience working with youth and adults of color involved in the criminal justice system and advocating for community-based alternatives to incarceration. She is published author on Anti-Oppressive Practice for Oxford University Press (2015) and the School-to-Prison Pipeline for the Justice Policy Institute (2013). Katie has her Master of Social Work from Howard University.
Ramon Stephens is a PhD student in Education at the University of California at San Diego, and has his Master of Education from California State University at Long Beach. A long-time proponent of student voice, retention and resilience for marginalized youth, Ramon has developed & run student-driven, culturally-relevant curriculums & after-school programs for students of color in D.C. Public Schools, Long Beach Unified, San Diego Unified and U.C. San Diego.
I learn so much from reading non-fiction picture books, and of course I’m sure kids do too! They give insight into historical figures and events, into the way people have solved problems and overcome incredible odds to follow a dream or to fight for justice, into the way dreamers and doers are formed.
With a new school year having started, I couldn’t help but think about a list of some recent favorites— standouts and truly terrific true stories. Here goes!
Terrific. Incredible. All the adjectives for this biography of Basquiat. “Art is the street games of little children, in our style and the words that we speak. It is how the messy patchwork of the city creates new meaning for ordinary things.”
Congo Square was the only place enslaved (and free) Africans were allowed to meet together in New Orleans in the 1800s, a place where they played music, danced, and shared news. It embodied the hope of freedom and both the succinct, powerful prose and evocative illustrations truly capture that.
This one is inspired by the true story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga who dreamed of drumming in Cuba despite gender restrictions and eventually had an all girls band with her sisters and became a famous musician. The dreamiest text and illustrations.
This is a fairly comprehensive biography of JFK given the short format and young audience. His childhood, his political rise, and his delay and then eventual speech and action on civil rights. It begins and ends with inspiration for young people, the readers of the book “to speak up, to act, to move the world forward—to make history.”
A story everyone should know about Vivien Thomas, a research assistant who developed a procedure to give children open heart surgery in the 1940s, but who was not credited because he was African American. This book recognizes his struggles and celebrates his contribution, as we should.
A biography of the artist, Louise Bourgeois, whose life was like a cloth lullaby, woven together with the threads of her childhood, her mother, their family tapestry business, Parisian fabrics, memory, and stitching itself.
An amazing biography of a woman who from a young age was a creative whiz at figuring out how things work and solving problems. When she grew up, she used her skills to transform computer programming and also coin the term “computer bug.”
You know how I like book crafts, right? Well, since now I have a book(!), I thought it would be fun to have a craft for it. So I enlisted my friend, the very talented teacher and illustrator, Kait Walsh, to create a Zinnia and the Bees inspired craft.
Since my middle grade novel’s main character, Zinnia, is a knitter and yarn bomber, Kait opted for pom poms. They’re a super simple yarn craft that don’t take a lot of time or materials to make.
You can make one pom pom. You can make a bunch of pom poms. Or you can make pom poms with others, like say a group of kids, and then yarn bomb something together (no knitting skills required). Pom pom tree! Pom pom chair! Pom pom bulletin board! Pom poms are fun.
Here’s how to make a pom pom with just yarn, scissors, and some cardboard, in Kait’s wonderful hand drawn tutorial:
Kait generously invited me to visit the Makers Mess summer art camp to make pom poms and yarn bomb a tree with the mini makers there! It was loads of fun! (We had permission from the park.)
Here’s a photo of the finished pom pom yarn bomb!
First we made pom poms.
The kids showed me how it’s done.
Then we set off to the park.
And a few of us talked about the book while having lunch.
We made more pom poms.
We yarn bombed!
Big thanks to Kait for the instructions and wonderful craft idea (as well as Chloe, the other art camp teacher)! And for spearheading the yarn bomb! It was such a special time. (Some of these images were taken by her as well.)
Kait Walsh is a Kindergarten teacher turned full-time artist. You can find her creating illustrations in her Silver Lake studio, teaching kid art classes at Makers Mess, or letting loose at her local dance studio. Follow her daily creations and discoveries on Instagram and feel free to contact her if you want to make something together or just say hi. @sealedwithakait
p.s. I’m coming to Green Bean Books in Portland August 13th and we’ll be making pom poms at the event!
I’m so happy to share the picture book life of Kyo Maclear today since she’s one of my very favorite writers. Her one-of-a-kind work has a simultaneously intellectual and daydreamy quality. In my view, she embraces the unexpected—whether that be taking inspiration from historical figures to taking risks—in the best way and never underestimates young readers. In a word, she’s brilliant.
“‘My picture books start with text and image. I weave an ‘art script’ into my text manuscripts because my stories are visually driven, but these art notes are always open for interpretation by the illustrator,’ Maclear explains. ‘The word-image dynamic is so enmeshed in my books and often so amplified by the metaphoric intuition and intelligence of the illustrator, I find it hard to separate one aspect (or intelligence) from the other. By the end, the collaboration is pretty seamless.'” (From the CBC)
Kyo Maclear was born in London and was raised, and now lives, in Toronto. She’s studied fine art and art history and cultural studies and, I believe, is working on a PhD.
“Kyo now resides in Toronto, where she shares a home with two children, a cat, a musician and a lot of books. In addition to writing, she likes to listen to music, watch old movies, do yoga, make art and play around in her bright, open kitchen… As well as writing for children, Kyo is a novelist and a visual-arts writer.”
“‘When I visit schools, I meet a lot of kids who are first-generation immigrants and I see myself in them,’ Maclear says. ‘Many of these students have super-strong linguistic skills (often serving as interpreters for their families, as I did for my mother). Yet, if asked, many of these verbally dexterous, multilingual kids would not imagine themselves as future writers.
‘I think it would be a great public service to explore how children’s linguistic hesitance (both in reading and writing) is tied to experiences of migration, social marginalization, and a dearth of role models. There are children with amazing verbal/narrative imaginations who are simply not finding their way to the language-based arts. And I believe that’s a loss for our literary cultures.'” (From the CBC.)
“Her first children’s book, Spork, a delightful tale of a mixed-identity kitchen utensil, was inspired by the birth of her first child, and Maclear’s own dual British-Japanese heritage.” (Link to feature/quote here.)
Two friends (one of whom is named after Julia Child) whip up a feast filled with sweetness, wonder, and imagination to remind busy, worried adults of what they’re missing. A couple of years ago, Lyndsay from Coco Cake Land made the chocolate almond cupcakes from the book for this blog! Check it out!
This super clever book includes a bird who watches humans a la birdwatching and who notices a change in the land where it lives. A story of coming together over a common observance and care for the world. The wordless spread is especially arresting.