Monday Interview: Librarian and Blogger Edi Campbell, of Crazy Quilts, on Books, High School Libraries & More…

Today I’m thrilled to interview Edi Campbell, a librarian, book reviewer and blogger. Whether you are a publisher, a writer or simply someone who enjoys books, I believe it is essential to know people like her. Edi interacts directly with readers, recommending books to students and proving how books can be useful in addressing social issues. I often lurk on her blogs, Crazy Quilts and It’s Just Food; they leave me celebrating good news, reflecting about life, and wondering if I’m doing enough… Below is the email interview, in its raw form. Enjoy!

I’m sitting in the most awkward position (it’s a challenge to type). One of my cats took over my laps and fell asleep! Anyway, thank you again for doing the interview. I’m so glad! I tried to stick to 5-7 questions… Here we go:

Hi Edi! So love your blog and the variety of topics you cover. Its name gives way to a myriad of plausible explanations. Why “Crazy Quilts”? And if I may, how has quilting influenced your life? 🙂

Edi Campbell: Nathalie, YOU ASKED THESE QUESTIONS A MONTH AND A HALF AGO!!! I have to apologize for sitting on them so long! I hope the cats have moved!!!
Crazy Quilts… funny, that’s a style of quilting that has never really appealed to me. I wanted to find a cute, catchy random name for my blog that had an obscure tie to me, unless you got to know me. Quilting was my creative outlet. I’ll have to see if I have a photo of the quilt I made for my daughter. I remember being in my family-room, cutting and sewing, not measuring or planning anything and this quilt was the result. Quilting was a nice outlet for me.

Every time I read your blog I’m touched by your passion for people and for books. Out of all the professions you could have embraced, why choose high school librarian?

Like most things I’ve done in life, I just stumbled into the library from the social studies classroom. It’s such a natural fit, I should have been there ages ago! Right now, working without any kind of staff really drains me because there is so much to do and my time too often is lost on clerical type stuff. Still, the library is where I want to be! I love the times I’m able to give a book to a student who has never finished a book before. And to have them come back for another!! I love it when some student I’ve never seen before stumbles into the media center because they need help with this or that and they become another student I look out for. I really enjoy it when a teacher stops through for teaching ideas, things click and we end up co-teaching a nice little project. I could go on and on! Libraries can be draining because there is so much to do. I work not only with all the students and staff, but I get substitutes who need last minute materials, teachers who left home with no Christmas wrapping paper for gifts, alumni who want yearbooks from 20 years ago and community members working on all kinds of projects. The job description only highlights most of what librarians do!

It is my understanding that you work with a culturally diverse population. Does “race” matter (when it comes to books)? If yes, how so? (special note, just curious: ever had any special request?)

My school is diverse from mainstream America, but in and of itself it lacks diversity. My school is about 98% African American. In this case, in every case in America, race matters. It matters in libraries because we should be the places that open up the world to readers. My students need to have books that allow them to find their place in the world; books that show them people like themselves and books to which they can relate. Don’t all students need that? Where some schools may need Sarah Dessen and Jerry Spinelli, Alex Sanchez, Paula Yoo or Kelly Parra, I need Walter Dean Myers, L. Divine and NiNi Simone. But mine also need the previously mentioned authors because they need to learn about Whites, Latinos and Asians AND they need to be able to read good books regardless of race!!!
I always have special requests! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Black children don’t read! My students are always begging their teachers to bring them to get books! My girls most often want “drama”. Some want vampires and the younger girls want romance. My boys are more diverse. Nine of the ten top readers at my school are boys! Most of these boys are underclassmen and they are often readers of manga. My boys ask for books about war, murder, guns, dragons, sports, cars and the Bible. The last request I had was for Dante’s Inferno.

Banned books: good or bad for the youth? Who decides if a book gets banned?

Libraries are supposed to have policies that lead to deciding whether to withdraw a book from its collection. My school board has approved the policy for our district and should someone as that a book be removed from any library in our district, we would follow these guidelines. Banning a books from a library is not quite the same as banning it from a classroom. In a class setting, a teaching has a captive audience and is using the book for direct instruction. In a library, students choose what they’re reading. Students at varying levels of maturity are able to select books for reading. A parent is free to tell a child to return a book to the library and not allow them to read it. Books selected for a school library should fit the ages of the student in the building while supporting the school curriculum.

Edi, (playing the devil’s advocate and bracing myself for the rotten tomatoes coming my way): In this dire economy, we have to make cuts. Let’s lay off a few librarians or close school libraries, reduce their hours and save on electricity bills in the process. After all if they really read, kids can use internet to get the literary information they need. Your answer?

If they really read, students can get information from the Internet but is it valid? Does it really meet the criteria? How will the student collect the information? What if they can find what they want on the only search engine everyone seems to be using these days? Can they use advance search features? Do they really know how to use key terms? What if they need journal articles from the state provided databases? What if, heaven forbid! they need a depth of information that they’re more likely to get in a book? Or what if what they really need, have needed for the past 30 minutes they’ve been searching, is in a book? Who would tell them that? We could close the libraries but that would show we haven’t read any of the 17 state reports that link performance on state mandated tests to students use of well stocked, professionally staffed school libraries both for research and reading experiences. In education it’s all about the testing!

I won’t throw tomatoes!! Too many people have absolutely no idea what school libraries do any more or even who we are. I was listening to a local report about a school district that was cutting media specialists. How many parents and voters know what a media specialist is?

Honestly, deciding to make cuts in schools can’t be easy. Teachers,librarians, custodians, clerks, counselors and administrators all have roles that are critical to providing students with an education. Just don’t use that old crony system that protects people in meaningless positions that bring nothing to the classroom.

How can we show our support to school libraries?

Visit the library and find out their need. Some libraries need volunteers. I was surprised recently to find that libraries in my own state have no budget! Some libraries need new books, some need contemporary furnishings while others need technology tools. Talk to your school librarian and see what their needs are.

All librarians will benefit from voters paying attention to issues and voting in ways to support school issues.

I saw this on your blog and gotta ask: Please tell us about your involvement with the World Food Program. How can we help?

I was involved with the World Food Program though a social justice challenge in which I’m involved. Every month we read a book related to a particular issue and in reading the book, we become more active! I’m sure it’s not too late to join the challenge:
I was so excited about these reading challenges. They sounded like so much fun!! I haven’t kept up with any of them 🙁

Last but not least, a few favorite titles this year?

I wish you’d ask this at the end of the summer. Right now there are just too many books I haven’t read! Some of my favs are:

The other hand (released here as Little Bee) by Chris Cleve
He Forgot to Say Goodbye by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth
The gangsta we are all looking for by lê thi diem thúy
Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson

Edi, thank you so much for your time and for the information you shared!

To keep up with Edi, visit her blogs
o Crazy Quilts
o It’s Just Food
o Follow Edi on Twitter!

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful week,


MultiCultural Round-Up: SCBWI Conference and more…

I’m so excited about the following announcements!

SCBWI once again gives us something to celebrate. The Summer Conference will be open for registration on April 21 at 10 AM PDT. As always, the program is fabulous. Mouthwatering. Where do I start?

Even if the organizers do not always state so in the program, cultural diversity is never ignored in SCBWI international events. In previous conferences, I had the opportunity to listen to and sometimes interact with outstanding, award-winning authors and illustrators such as Jacqueline Woodson, Nikki Grimes, Sherman Alexie (I nearly passed out when he said “hi.” I’m ridiculous, I know. Some can’t handle their liquor. I’m like a kid when I meet my literary heroes.), Kadir Nelson, etc… The international conferences, New York and Los Angeles, could be considered pricey depending on your budget; however, trust me, they are totally worth it. If you are a writer or illustrator, it is an investment in your career. It could be a defining moment. For everyone, publishers, publicists and who-did-I-miss?, it is an extraordinary opportunity to network.

Back to the 2010 Summer conference in L.A. Among the fabulous keynote speakers are Jon Scieszka, Gennifer Choldenko, Illustrators E.B. Lewis, Ashley Bryan… The premium workshops, available for an extra fee, fill up pretty quickly. Within the hour in some cases. This year there is an opportunity to work on your YA manuscript with DelaCorte (Random House) Senior Editor Krista Marino (the link is an interview she gave on Shelli Johannes’ Market My Words in 2009), on picture book craft with Golden Books Editorial Director Diane Muldrow, to learn about graphic novels, digital illustration and more…

The conference fee includes sessions such as Writing for Magazines, Solving Plot Problems, Media 101: How to Make the Most of Twitter, Blogging etc… Read the complete program. You won’t regret it.

I saved the best for all. SCBWI did it!!! *You can’t see, but I’m actually doing the happy dance in my living room*
They’ve included the following break-out session: WRITING MULTI-CULTURAL IDENTITY. I’m dying to know who the presenter is. Will keep you update, and feel free to check SCBWI website on April 21 for the answer!

Of course, most if not all the sessions in the program are useful in regard to writing multicultural stories for kids and teens; however, it is really helpful to have at least one specifically dedicated to that topic.

Shameless advertisement: SCBWI rocks your socks, and I hope you’ll consider joining if not already. 😀 It’s $85 for the first membership fee, then $70 when you renew each year. Upon registering you will receive a package that, if you are a novice, will provide you with invaluable information regarding the publishing field: from the first steps to take as a writer, advices on query letters etc… plus list of children’s book publishers and magazines, and much more.

There is likely to be a SCBWI presence in your region. To find out about it, visit SCBWI website and click on regions, then regional chapters. The chapters often have monthly meetings open to members and non-members for a very small fee, as well as affordable local conferences that will enable you to meet agents and editors, while networking with fellow artists.

Okay, moving on. Didn’t expect to write so much about it. 😀

April is quite a busy month. I knew about National Poetry and School Library Month, but Edi at Crazy Quilts also mentioned Alcohol Awareness, Stress Awareness, Mathematics, Donate Life, National Jazz and National Garden. Are you still there?

Let’s start with National Poetry Month. I want to know: How do you celebrate? Share you deeds, leave the URL of your blog if you have one. I and I’m sure others will gladly visit and let ourselves be taken on the lyrical journey. Thought of using the s**k word but will refrain. Don’t laugh at me and my language barrier, I still haven’t figured out if “suck” is a bad word or not; so I’ll rephrase: I’m *terrible* when it comes to writing poetry, but so enjoy reading it over and over again.

I hope that you will visit PaperTigers’ Blog and read about their wonderful multicultural poetry round-up! You won’t regret it.

In addition PaperTigers had a shout-out to the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBYP) regarding the 1st National Children’s Book Award. Deadline is April 15. Head over for more info!

I also warmly recommend Donna’s blog, Word Wrangler NC, a place where you can get your poetry fix any time of the week. 😉

Bear with me, I have a few more announcements to make. Author Zetta Elliot’s blog, Fledgling, is on fire. Seriously. You gotta head over and read. You’ll be enlightened. I haven’t really been online for the past four weeks, so catching up, but still hung up on her posts. Thanks to her I learned about a tradition of oral storytelling picking up in Crown Heights, NY, as part of a project. A group of young women interview people who live or have lived in Crown Heights. The interviews will be donated to Brooklyn Historical Society. It made my heart feel warm when I read some of the interviews. That initiative tells me about the identity of Crown Heights. It’s like a glimpse at the soul of the neighborhood, something so rare nowadays, especially in era where neighbors hardly know each other and people hardly interact in person (Facebook and Twitter do not count). Oral tradition is important. Giving and knowing the identity of our neighborhood matters, as opposed to letting a label be put on it…

Niway, please, when you have a minute, visit Crown Heights Oral History Project.

Back to Zetta, she breaks down books written by or about Blacks in Canada. I shook my head in disbelief: Why such low numbers? Not enough Black writers? I doubt this. Even if you take the ratio of Black people forming the Canadian population, the number shouldn’t be so low. In addition, many of the books about Black people published there ship to Africa. Lots of them deal with slavery… I’ll keep reading Zetta’s blog. Want to know what her take and analysis of this phenomenon is.

Still reading? Good, because it just gets better: Edi Campbele is your highschool librarian, and she has much to say about School Library Month and the budget cut affecting school libraries. Most importantly, she needs your votes! Tell her what you think and show your support by voicing up and expressing your stand in a poll. Destination: Crazy Quilts.

Last but not least, author Medeia Sharif posted about winning MR’s March giveaway: APALA 2010 winner, Cora Cooks Pancit (Publisher: Shen’s Books). Thank you for participating, Medeia! 🙂 She also shares about her latest reads and much more.

Over a thousand words. Wow! Let’s wrap it, shall we? I wish you a delightful weekend, filled with happy reading moments.