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Special Education Experts on

Special Education Topics for

Special Education Parents

Feb 3, 2021

Pam Margolis is An Unconventional Librarian! She loves book and she loves inspiring students to explore new literature to expand their world. She reviews both popular books and those emerging in their genre.

During this episode, Pam talks about Flamingo Rampant books. They are an inclusive publisher that she recommends:

Here’s where you can find Pam at her website:

TRANSCRIPT (not proofread)

book, kid, people, children, diversity, wheelchair, literature, read, write, issues, person, find, talking, friend, pam, important, black, thinking, special needs, great
Pam Margolis, Dana Jonson

Dana Jonson 00:00
Thank you for joining me today. Today I'm very excited, we're talking with Pam Margolis, who is a champion of the underdog, and an unconventional librarian. Hello, Pam, thank you for joining me.

Pam Margolis 00:12
Hi, I'm glad to be here. Thank you,

Dana Jonson 00:15
I would love it if you would tell us how you got to be the unconventional or an unconventional library.


Dana Jonson 00:24
hope that if it's not obvious, what I really want to talk to you about today is diversity in literature. And I know that that is something that you champion and educate other people on and encourage other people to engage in different forms of literature by different authors and different themes and different topics so that we can better educate ourselves and employ some empathy to people who are different than we are, which is something I think we all think we want to do, but I don't think is well reflected in our schools and our libraries. So could you give me a little bit of your background and explain why you're the person I'm coming to to give me the information I need on diversity and literature? Sure, certainly.

Pam Margolis 01:06
So if it's not obvious, if you see a picture of me, I am a person of color. And I'm a very light skinned black person, which is a whole other conversation that we can have at another time. So growing up as a black child, there weren't a lot of books with people that look like me. And then I had children. And while things were slightly better, they could have been more better. So I got a master's in library and information science from Drexel. And I decided to focus on children's literature. And I started my blog to highlight diversity in books. And I call myself unconventional because I like to work the era, I like to wear too, too, I like that. If you name it, you name it, whatever it is, I'll do it. If I think I can get a kid interested in a book. So I started bringing to the fore books for children of color, specifically, I was just really kind of thinking about books that my own children would appreciate. And then I discovered that it wasn't too much of a reach to talk about books that featured, maybe second language, children. I lived in Texas for a long time. So it's a special place in my heart for the Latin x community. And then it was next thing you know, I'm talking about oh, well, you know, we can include people with special needs, because their their needs are kind of similar. And then I was really becoming the champion of the underdog. My son came out several years ago. Okay, well, I'm going to include the LGBTQ community, as well, because I want every child to find themselves in a book. And, and so that's how it started. And then from there, I started talking to people about books, and what are you reading? Oh, have you read this? Have you read this in the meanwhile, I'm reading all the diverse books that there are. And I kind of got known for being able to recommend books, really good at connecting with kids, and I'm good at finding a book that works for them. And then the next thing now I'm speaking to people and I'm curating lists, and I'm recommending books, and I have therapists that contact me, oh, I have children, you know, who are suffering from, you know, mental health issues? Do you have any books that oh, I sure do that mixing. I'm giving them a list of six books. And it kind of grew out of like, a need that I didn't realize that people had they, they needed books, not just for people of color, but everybody that's marginalized. So it became much bigger than what I initially started with just looking for books for black kids, like mine.

Dana Jonson 04:19
It's funny you say it because my son, my son came out when he was seven. And so trying to find the right literature for him trying to find something that was age appropriate for seven that might be appropriate for his path was challenging. And at one point, he thought he might be trans and I saw a book on Late Night talking about someone who is trans and he saw the clip with me. I was like, Oh, I have to read that. So my great book I got him was tranny. And I don't know if you've ever heard of it. It's a fabulous book. It is not for a 10 year old. So I you know, I found the right time. topic, maybe not the right books. So it's it's not as easy as one might think, like, go just go look up a book, right? Go

Pam Margolis 05:08
find a book, right?

Dana Jonson 05:09
People say that all the time go read a book. Well, which book? Which one do we get? How do we do that? And so in your journey, you're where you are now is, you're an unconventional librarian. So can you tell me a little bit about your unconventional library and site and what you try to do there?

Pam Margolis 05:29
Okay, sure. So on my website, I review books. And I only review books with diverse characters. So I like or I prefer books with people of color in it, but I will review books, you know about the LGBTQ community, and a few special needs some special needs. That's the least thing I know about, I try to be real sensitive to that. But generally, if you go to my website and unconventional librarian, calm, I may be having some blog issues. So bear with me on that. If you're looking for you have a 12 year old who, struggling with depression, I have probably reviewed a book. And it'll be on there. I have. I have been told by people that I meet at conferences. This woman teaches, like first year pre service teachers, she uses my blog as a reference. I love it. And I and I didn't even know that we met each other. It's just like, I use it. No kidding. So I would say you could use my blog as a resource. Like repository. That's where I, and I think my, my reviews are especially good, because I'm really honest. And like, I keep them short, too, because I have such a shorter attention span, okay, this is really great book, this is what's in it. You know, if you have a kid this age, they should like it. I also try to be very clear about if there are questionable things in it, because as a librarian information wants to be free. So I'm not going to try and repress it, but I'm going to let you know, look, this, you know, there's a like a blowjob scene in this thing. If you don't think you want your child to see that know this. Right. And that's, you're

Dana Jonson 07:34
gonna use that for my trainee.

Pam Margolis 07:38
Right. So speaking of transgender, there's a really great site I want to give you now, okay, it's called Flamingo, rampant

Dana Jonson 07:49
Flamingo ramp, and

Pam Margolis 07:52
they do a lot of books that feature every kind of LGBTQ persona that there is. They're beautiful. They're for young children. Especially and I absolutely love that there's one book, I wish I'd had it here. It's called like, M is for mustache. And it's an ABC pride book. Oh, I love that.

Dana Jonson 08:20
I love that. Well, yeah. And that's, you know, I think that's an interesting point. It's not that these books don't exist, it's just that for some people, they're not easy to find. And I also feel that we're at a place, especially with the quarantine and COVID. And people being home a lot where pretty much anyone can write a book. I know three people who put up put out children's books, and I'm using my notes that no one can see on my podcast,


Dana Jonson 08:50
over the quarantine that you can buy on Amazon.


Dana Jonson 08:54
that doesn't tell me anything about their background or their right they don't. They don't, they might have a child with special needs. But that doesn't mean that that's the book my child needs. And I have no idea if you're writing books in your basement versus There used to be a time when if somebody put out a book, it was because they'd been vetted. And they'd been forwarded, and they there is background to it. And that was a limited number of people. I appreciate that almost anyone can write a book now. Because now you can get your voice out there, right, whether it's someone cares to support you or not. And I think that's a really important function. What it eliminates, however, is for the reader to have a full understanding of what that person's credentials or background right. purpose is. And I'm not saying that formal credentials are the only thing that you know, would make me read your book because it's not at all, but I do think it's important to have an understanding of what's being put out there much the way. You know, there's a difference between propaganda and a documentary and interchanged those words all the time as if they are the same, they are not. So, you know, how do you feel? We can, as the consumer, make more educated choices on the books that we choose for Do you find that just reading through them and determining whether you agree with them or not, is the right way to go is asking that as we are right in the midst of a lot of, I think, political upheaval in our country, and figuring out how to share ideas without violence, essentially. Right. So it's kind of a loaded question.

Pam Margolis 10:35
No. So here I go. Okay. There is a hashtag on Twitter called Own Voices, oh, w n voices. And what that means is, if you are have that issue, then you write about that you write what you know. So if I'm an African American woman, I can write a book about African American people. Right. And the reason I preface me, because I'm so light skinned, I often get mistaken for makes or Puerto Rican or white or whatever. But But Own Voices is for people say, if I were, you know, Puerto Rican, and I was writing a book about Puerto Rico, okay, oh, she's Puerto Rican, her name is Puerto Rican signing, I can trust her. The issue becomes, when people who aren't of that own voice writing about something that they don't know anything about, no matter how well meaning. And you will find arguments on both sides to please understand that this is my viewpoint. I often struggle and I have told many male authors that I don't want you writing a book from a girl's perspective. You are not a girl. No matter how much research you do, you cannot understand what it is like to menstruate. Right, well, meaning, but no, there are a lot of white authors a lot of very well meaning white authors who do due diligence, do lots of research may have sensitivity readers, and will write a book with an African American character or, you know, some other race, or even ethnic group, I struggle with that. I feel that is not your place, you need to stay in your lane, there are other people who feel differently. So as a consumer, what I think you should do is do your research. So for example, if you have a child with special needs, and you're looking for a book, that's why sometimes self published books are great, because if I have a child with a number of issues, and I can't find the book, I'm going to write it I think Maya Angelou said that, like, if you can't find the book that you need write it. So sometimes self published books are written for that parents child. So then they usually tell you in the bio, I have a child with, you know, this, this, this and this, and this, and you go, Okay, I am similar. Okay, yeah, this is a book for me, versus just some random person don't want to write this book, I did some research. Maybe well, meaning, but as you know, intent is not the same as the result. Right. And

Dana Jonson 13:53
that's an interesting point, because I completely agree with you. And I cannot imagine not a writer to start with. But I really can't imagine trying to write anything from somebody else's perspective than mine. I just

Pam Margolis 14:05
write, I can't.

Dana Jonson 14:06
But I have two children who want to be writers and who are great at it. And who both want to write about things that are outside of their world, which I love. I think that's great that they want to do that. But they need that experience. So what about writers who, as you said, there's some well established writers, they may have those diverse characters in their book, or they may want to have those diverse characters in their book? How do we go about incorporating all those voices into one book because we don't all live in our own bubbles, right? We, you know, we do live in other environments. I have diversity in my friend group. That doesn't mean I could write a book about one of them, but I might feel I could see how an author might feel that they have sufficient information to include that or might be motivated to include somebody of diversity in their book. help promote that message, what is the responsible way to go about doing it?

Pam Margolis 15:04
Right, your perspective. So I do some trainings and cultural competency training about this issue, you have to make sure that you don't engage in stereotypes and tropes, you know, Asian community, they're not all the model minority, African American, you know, we're not all loud and sassy, or Sug, the Latin x community, not all the Latin x girls want to be in the kitchen making tamales, with their abuelita those kind of things, you really have to make sure that they are not perpetuating stereotypes. There's the stereotypes of special needs people that they don't need love. They don't need affection, that they caused their own problems. One day they miraculously walked out of their wheelchair, all of that.

Right? Like, that's the goal, right?

Pam Margolis 16:14
That's right. No, that's not the goal. The goal is for them to be self actualized human beings to be treated with dignity and respect, right. So you have to make sure that the writer number one does not engage in tropes. And a lot of that takes time because you have these implicit biases that you've grown up with, right. And as a consumer, you should be looking to make sure that these read right, if you, you should have a little kind of a grumbling in your gut. And if you don't, then you might need to check your own implicit biases, you might need to do some research to see what the chatter says about the book, there's chatter about just about everything on Twitter. And if the book seems fine to you, that doesn't mean it's great. For example, I will ride hard for to fight anyone who publishes a book for kids with monkeys. Monkeys are very problematic, right? Other people got other monkeys. Yes, that's cute. But there's a long history of associating monkeys with African American community. So you have to be careful when it comes to that, because children pick up on that, you know, they're anthropomorphize, and it looks good. And you think, oh, kids not gonna notice it? No, those three year olds, they're noticing it, they're gonna go, oh, that kid is the same shade as a kid right over there. And then boom, they've made that connection. And you didn't even realize it. So there's a lot out there that you really have to be a smart consumer about, and it goes for just about anything, just like you would do for when you're finding books for your special needs kids, you would do and you're looking for books for other children. So I would say first of all, see who the author is, see where they come from? See what they're about, do a little bit of research. And then choose for yourself.

Dana Jonson 18:35
And I think what you said it's very important about intent. The intent does not matter. And we hear that a lot. Well, I didn't mean it that way. You know, in, in special education, it would be the R word. Right? You don't you don't call kids. You don't say that word. You don't ever say that word, right? And people say, well, that's not how I meant it, or I'm using it by the actual definition in the dictionary. I don't care. The issue is that that connection has been made,

Pam Margolis 19:03
right? It is

Dana Jonson 19:04
there, whether you intend to use it or not. those around you are going to hear you using it in that vein. And that's going to be a signal to them that it's okay to use it. Period. No one has no one standing around thinking. Offensively, so when I repeated I'm not going to be offensive. It's not how that works. It's expensive. And

Pam Margolis 19:28
not only that, there's a little person somewhere watching you. And that person is going to go she's not a safe person for me. I thought she was what I see she's promoting this. Now I don't have a safe person anymore. So kids are watching and you know, you know they see everything and they internal Eyes, all of that. So now you don't know who's watching you. And that kid may not understand that Oh, I didn't mean it. Haha. Right. That's why that's extra important. So

Dana Jonson 20:14
let's talk a little bit about why this diversity is so important. And I think we kind of just covered most of that. But, you know, some people say, Well, why does it matter? You know, why? Why can't I just take a children's book and change the color of some of the kids in in the book? You know, it's it's a universal message about love or friendship or sharing? You know, why can't we just put in a few black and brown kids in there and switch up some colors? And then it'll be a diversity book? Why is it not a situation?

Pam Margolis 20:48
Right, there are nuances to different ethnicities and different races. And back when I was a kid, yeah, they just painted a kid Brown, they just took the white kid painted and brandboom as a black kid, right? It doesn't work. That way, you could look at seven different black people, we all look differently. You know, when a child is reading a book, they looking to identify with someone in that book. And if they all have the same knows, that kid's gonna go look at my family has a nose like that my nose is different, or how come her hair is like that? What? Why can't I get my hair, and then we're going to spend the next 15 years trying to get our hair to behave in a way that it's not going to behave in. And so if you're going to promote information to children, make it the truth, kids no BS when they see it.

Dana Jonson 21:45
Yes, it would be the beauty of children.

Pam Margolis 21:49
And then, and they're either going to call it out, or they're going to internalize it. And do you really want that? Do you really want kids thinking, Oh, I don't walk the same way. This blonde kid does or, you know, I'm, I'm not enough. I'm inefficient, I'm whatever. And you don't want that you want to be as honest, and as truthful as possible, especially children, because they're taking all this in. And they're going to carry that with them while mixing, you know, you've got an 11 year old jerk. Because all he seen all his life is that, you know, the Asian kid is just yellow. They're not yellow. Right? Right, you start there. Exactly. Why do you think though, you know,

Dana Jonson 22:46
without that representation of not just themselves, but other children is, is, you know, you're not, as you said, You're not getting that accurate representation. So what that child is experiencing, if they don't have that diversity in their daily life, then what they're learning about it is wrong. Right. So when you finally do interact with somebody who is different from them in any other in any way at all, they're not going to know how to behave or react, or they're going to be surprised at how that person behaves or reacts, you know, well, I saw that if, you know, I offered to do this for someone in a wheelchair, they're going to be so happy. And then you do that, and they're not. Right, that's confusing. And you're gonna say, well, this person is a jerk, because I tried to help them. They're in a wheelchair, and I did what I learned in my little books is helping them and they were mean to me, so I'm not going to be nice to people in wheelchairs anymore. And

Pam Margolis 23:46
yes, you know, that

Dana Jonson 23:47
does happen for children. So what, what is a way to ensure that you're getting that level of diversity? I mean, do you see this in bookstores? is it available in schools? How do parents go about ensuring that not just their personal library at home reflects diversity, but also in the environment, they go to whether it's school at the local library, or whatever organizations are a part of.

Pam Margolis 24:19
So there are several ways you can approach this a lot of the time, go to Google or Instagram like Google, or Twitter or Instagram, and you can you can type in the hashtag decolonize the classroom or decolonize, the bookshelf, right? Or you can even just type in diverse reads, right. Go to diverse books. I think it's Diverse Books And there's lots of books there. But just like you want to give your children accurate information about the web, There. Now you teach them that rain is different from Snow differ from sunshine. Right? You give them books about clouds. This is a cloud, this is what it does. Right? It's the same with everything else. Kids love spiders, right? Then you give them every single book about spiders, you fill your bookshelves with spiders, because that's what kids like. Right? They know every single spider, every single name for every dinosaur, ever. Right? You do the same with your bookshelf? So there's the saying about windows and doors with the book, right? So you bring enough of the books in so that kids see, like we talked about first? How we're the same, versus how we're different. Right? So there's books, you have books with kids who speak Spanish, who speak Korean, who are Filipino, who practice different religions who are in a wheelchair, who have autism, whatever it whatever it is, so that they can look through the window. Right? But then it's also a mirror, because it's reflecting back on them. Right? how there are the same. And then you can read it and go Look, look at this book. This is you know, you can he has an umbrella. What's an umbrella? happens to be a grandmother? Grandma? Yes. And you'd love your grandma very much, don't you? I sure do. And look at this. This kid loves his grandma's very much to her. Why do you think about that? Oh, we're the same as we are. Right? So

Dana Jonson 26:43
I love that the mirror or the window? And like it's for you yourself? How do you feel that you read more books that are mirrors or windows?

Pam Margolis 26:56
That's a good question. Probably windows because I want to be an ally. So I'm constantly learning as much as I can, because I want everyone to see me especially kids go, she's a friend. I know that when it comes to you know busting up windows. Pam's gonna be there to help me. Right. So I'm constantly learning. What am I? What am I missing? What don't I know? So I'm, like, I need this book. I need this book I need to read. So that when it's when I'm confronted with a situation that could no pain is safe. Because I've done all of the the work. As an aside, when I was a kid, I was always friends with what they called back then the foreign kids, right? If anybody was different, because you know why? When you're friends with somebody, they offer you to share their lunch with you. And when you tell him doesn't want food, I'm so motivated, just like my dog. Right? mixing, you know, eating all this good stuff. You know, everybody else is eating your stupid bologna sandwich. Oh, eat goat meat? Because I want to share it with me. I learned how to use chopsticks. Right? And doesn't that enhance your life as well as theirs? Because now you have a friend who shared your lunch. You don't have to eat your stupid bologna sandwich in some of them. And then you find out? Well, you know, we have something in common. We both have baby brothers who are annoying.

Dana Jonson 28:32
Right? That's interesting. And I went to school in Europe for a while. And it was a very diverse environment in that everyone's from different countries. We weren't all from the country we were living in. And we weren't all from the United States. So it was it was very diverse in that regard when you talk about food, and differences. And interestingly, when I moved back to the United States, I had a lot of trouble with that. Because I found that when I was talking about experiences I had that other people had not had. They weren't sure it was right. They were sort of like, I don't know about that. That's over the top. That sounds not right. That sounds not that sounds made up. You know, that that kind of thing. So it was interviews A long time ago, I think it was about 35 years ago. So it was we're in a different world. But, you know, that was a very interesting component for me is that it wasn't, you know, it was a lack of understanding and therefore it wasn't true. And that, to me was a weird realization that because the people around me hadn't experienced what I experienced. They thought maybe it wasn't true. And I knew that I think we're seeing that a lot right now in society in general, which is if it hasn't impacted me personally in my little bubble, then it must not be

Pam Margolis 29:52
true. Right?

Dana Jonson 29:55
How do we get through that?

Pam Margolis 30:00
You know, I think

Dana Jonson 30:02
for children, they believe what we tell them. And so if we are not providing them with this experience, and now we have the opportunity when I was 16, we didn't necessarily have the opportunity. I was very glad that someone my age and from where I was, would have spent this much time in Europe, in a vastly different environment. That was unusual.

Pam Margolis 30:21

Dana Jonson 30:22
Right. I don't think it's as unusual now that that's a possibility.

Pam Margolis 30:26
I know.

Dana Jonson 30:27
But at the same time, we, we still, sometimes live in our bubbles. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. I think. And I'm learning as a white person, very much how important that actually is. For many groups, I think I was raised thinking that minorities wanted to and should assimilate to be like me and my, and that's just simply not true.

Pam Margolis 30:51
Right. You know,

Dana Jonson 30:52
and that's something a lot of people my age are learning right now. I want to believe that I've always known that, but, you know, not gonna leave that because I think hindsight is 2020. But I do think it's vital that we find a way to incorporate the diversity and allow for I don't know what the right word is, but but allow for people to to understand their own worlds as well. It's not about and I can't think of a better word than assimilation. So I'm sorry, if I'm just rambling.


Dana Jonson 31:28
you know, trying to make sure that we're getting that message of diversity across without anybody feeling like they're losing themselves in it.

Pam Margolis 31:36
So I often get into arguments on Facebook with white men. Because white men are the knowers of everything. Right? Yes,


Pam Margolis 31:48
So, oh, well, I never experienced it, or I never heard of it. So it must not be true. Yeah. And I say, You know what? I never had a gallbladder attack. But I understand it's true. Right? My health has never been on fire. But I can watch the news and see that fire does exist. Right? So just because you haven't experienced it personally, doesn't negate that it exists. And it's true.

Dana Jonson 32:23
And you just raise a really good point. Because if your child's friend's house burns down, what's the first thing you do? You go buy a book on house burning down so that your child can understand their friend's situation?

Pam Margolis 32:35
Right? Right. Because thing you do first thing, because then your kid's gonna be like, Oh, that's so awful. I feel so bad. What can I do for my friend? Boom, right? And then you go tell them, Look, you're telling me I really love you. Here's my favorite stuffed animal? Would you like to hold on to it until you feel better, or until you get one of your own?

Dana Jonson 32:59
Right, because you've now purchased a book to help your child be more empathetic and understanding. So which book do we buy? When our neighbor's house? Has the Black Lives Matter sign torn down on a daily basis? Or vandalized? Right did do we run out and buy a book on that? And what's the book that we've I think that's, you know, I think that's an interesting point. Because there are certain things in which we're willing to go say, Okay, this is a traumatic event, we have to go buy a book to teach our children so that they can best empathize and support their friends. And then there are topics that we say, ooh, this looks really serious. We'd better not tell our kids.

Pam Margolis 33:39
There's a book by Jacqueline Woodson, if I have it here,

Dana Jonson 33:45
and just so people who are listening know all of these references that we're making and talking about, I will put in the show notes. So later on, you can go back to the show notes in find all the resources that we are chatting about.

Pam Margolis 33:58
So I'm holding up a book by Jacqueline Woodson. It's called Harbor, Maine. And it's for middle grade. And it's about a handful of children. Some of this obviously, is fiction, because their special needs, I'm putting an air quotes and they're put in a room by themselves by the teacher, and she leaves them alone, which we know is garbage, right? But anyway, these kids are labeled special needs. A couple of them are second second language learners, there's a black kid, one kid might be autistic, or I'm not sure I can't remember Anyway, there are different ways of learning and being one could get deported. There's a white kid in there, he kind of gets into an argument with a black kid, the mental friends. But the one kid is hearing some stuff at home. He doesn't know what to believe. So he brings it to this group. And then the other kid is like, no, that's garbage. That's right. And so then They stopped being friends over it. But what this book shows is that kids understand, you know, there are subtleties to what kids can pick up. And so if there isn't a book that says, Oh, your neighbors next door to Johnson's there, you know, houses burned down because of Black Lives Matter, there might not be a book about that, right? However, a book like this, that helps kids relate to people with other situations might work. And then you can segue that to that conversation. Or you could just, you know, sometimes you just have to break it down to the cellular level and say, you know, there are people who don't believe XYZ matters. We know, in this house, that it does. This is your friend, or these people have been nice to us, they wave every time we walk our dog, what can we do to be nice to them? Or how do you think they feel because this happened to them, right, and then you find whatever it is that that kid is feeling when you go find a book about it. And when you talk about it, so there are ways to connect, if there isn't an exact book about that. But books about social justice, are getting younger and younger and younger. So eventually, there's going to be a book just about just about every issue. But they're there. If you just look, you may have to ask around,

Dana Jonson 36:44
made the season great now that you can go to Amazon or whatever massive book company you want to go to, and, and they have now diversity sections and areas. And, you know, I do find that it is a little bit more accessible. Now. I think that you have to the fact that you still have to look for it, though, is a little sad. And I do like it though. I like that there are people like you out there who have their websites and say, Okay, this is no, you, you focus on all kinds of diversity. I know there are some people out there who say this is specifically for this one topic. And, and I think that's important, because children also need to see themselves in books. And I think that is probably the most important thing in my book to see yourself as the star, again, my air quotes, whatever that means. And so we need to start there. And if you're just starting there by saying, I just want to find books just about someone like me, then that's for some groups, that's really hard. It's definitely, it's a special needs. It's definitely hard for groups of minorities, and, you know, to see books that aren't all encompassing, and just the disability, right. So if you're talking about a child, if you see a child with a disability in a book, it's usually because the child has a disability, right? It's not just a character in the book. It's not just somebody who happens to be in a wheelchair, who we happen to have to represent properly. But it's usually about the wheelchair. So also trying to find, excuse me, also trying to find books and storylines and content that are real life and not just about that thing that's different. Do you find that you're seeing more of that develop in literature now as well?

Pam Margolis 38:37
Yeah. The first thing I would like to do, if I may, is to ask you to use a word other than minorities. Please do?

Dana Jonson 38:47
Absolutely correct me.

Pam Margolis 38:48
Yeah. There are different schools of thought on this, but a lot of us don't like the word minority, because it makes us sound a third, you could say those in the marginalized communities, or a lot of people like for you to use the correct ethnic terms of African Americans, or blacks, or Latin x or Latin American or Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders. Like that.

Dana Jonson 39:16
What about bipoc? I'm asking you to answer for everybody. Yes, because I've heard that term a lot. And I've been using it but I want to make sure

Pam Margolis 39:25
that Yeah, when I'm writing, I use bipoc and marginalized communities interchangeably. But again, don't just take my word for it, be an active consumer and find out what what works. Generally, other people may feel differently, but just like we know, some special needs kids like to be identified by their actual you know, and some don't. Right? So it's the same there. So now circling back To answer the question, and I forgot what it was.

And that'll give me a second. We're talking about I said, Hold on, give me I'll come to me.

Pam Margolis 40:17
Now. A good question, too. It was a good question.

Dana Jonson 40:23
I was asking about the buyout. I'll edit this part out where

Pam Margolis 40:25
we're thinking, Okay. Is minority because I had a good answer for him. I said, Why? What? By asking.

Dana Jonson 40:43
We're talking about, I believe, the focus being on the detriment. It was at what I was talking about when we're talking about like, children with disabilities, it the stories about the wheelchair, or Yes,

Pam Margolis 40:57
okay, right. Okay, got it. Right. Okay. So to answer your question, I do a session at an involved in an organization called kidlit. Con, and we travel across the country, and we have conferences for bloggers, librarians, teachers, readers, etc. And I do this session called big issues and why a where we identify issues that you're right now it's mostly things that teens are interested in. So the first thing we did was to make a long list. What what issues affect teens today, sexuality, mental health, depression? Yeah. sexuality, mental health, depression, homelessness, poverty, incarceration, things like that. And then I take each one of those issues, and I put it on a giant, sticky note. And then I have the audience get involved. And we write down books that fit under each category. So at the end of the session, I will publish to anybody who went and I can make this available too, which is something I had wanted to do all along their issues, right. So say you have teams who are interested in reading about mental health, and a lot of time we break mental health down into depression and suicide and, and bipolar, whatever, right, or poverty. And here are all the books that address those issues. Right. We also do them for LGBTQ, but the thing about is that book, say the book on suicide, the book might not be about suicide, per se. The book might just be about teens with mental health, or teens in high school, but there is a student in there who's struggling with that issue. So maybe the Suicide is incidental. But it's built into the crux of the story, so that you can look at it two ways you can say, Okay, here's a story about teams. Teams are struggling with mental health. Or you can say, look, if you have teams who have issues with suicide, or have suicide ideation, this is a book for them, because they can see themselves in that book. So if you have kids who are interested in reading about social justice, I can't give you a list of 400 books. And you'll go on about social justice. Maybe it is, because maybe, like harbor me, there's compensations in there or situations in there. That address that, like the book by an Martin rain rain. I think the girl is, I think she's autistic. Right? It's about bad parenting. It's also about how resilient she is, and how she can cope. She just happens to be artistic. Right? And she's loved by her uncle. And it's a really great story. So depending on what your needs are, there's an end for that book. Does that answer your question? It does. And

Dana Jonson 44:15
I think that also goes back to what we were talking about before, which is having an authentic representation of those people as well. Because if you have that, that person or that character is an ancillary character, then that information like you're saying the fact that they happen to be going through these pieces could be so critical. But if they're written wrong, or they're written by the wrong person, I know someone who was explaining the other day to me, she's in a wheelchair, looking at a handicapped bathroom, and explaining to me all the ways in which that did not help her in any way, shape, or form use the bathroom, right, even though lately souped up, right. So if somebody was writing the book and their ancillary character who is in a wheelchair is going into this bathroom that actually doesn't

help them at all.

Dana Jonson 45:04
And brightening. It does. It's sending that message to the person reading. And I think that's another piece. It's just as important that that ancillary character is accurate. Because like, you're saying that that storyline is just as important because whether it's the primary storyline or not, it is educating the reader

Pam Margolis 45:26
about that person,

Dana Jonson 45:27
is what I'm hearing. Yeah. So absolutely, yeah. And find that. So interesting. So we're trying to make this movement, and I find it interesting that we are as parents, I think you do hear a lot about wanting diversity in children's literature, do you find that it ends there? Because I don't know that we are seeing that level of diversity or that push for that level of diversity at older ages, I see that there's a push for it. when they're younger, it's almost like we acknowledge and by we, I mean, you know, those of us trying to provide the diversity, whether it's trying to introduce special invitation, or economic level, or race, or religion, or whatever those pieces are, I feel like there's always this push to get it into children when they're younger. But it's just as important at all ages,

Pam Margolis 46:24
don't you think? Oh, absolutely. That's funny that you say that because I think more younger books need to be written. I think there are a plethora of books for No,

Dana Jonson 46:35
I think more written, I just mean, I think that we are, that's where our focus always is where I don't hear a lot of talk about, let's make sure that the older kids are reading these books, they may exist, but we're not making a push to make sure they're reading them as it always seems to me, and maybe I'm completely wrong. This is just my bubble world is out what can we give to younger kids? What can we give to younger readers to start them out? versus Okay, now that they're older, they can choose to pick those diversity books, we don't need to make a push for it. Does that make sense? what I'm saying?

Pam Margolis 47:06
Right? Well, one of the things I do is I associate with teachers, I go to a lot of teacher conferences. And this is where the decolonize your bookshelf, or your classroom or your library comes in. Because I have a very unpopular opinion that books like To Kill a Mockingbird need to go from the curriculum. Right? So teachers teach these books, and they are predominantly white, Eurocentric, you know, ideals. And the teens who are in the majority, and this is their story, they're gonna like yeah, okay, fine, read it. But the other kids are gonna be like, this, this book is so irrelevant to me, in my experiences. So if teachers could choose, or if the curriculum was built to include diverse books, then say, for example, like the hate you give, a lot of schools have banned that book. But that book teaches social justice, morality, and all kinds of issues, race relations, much better than To Kill a Mockingbird, because To Kill a Mockingbird highlights the white man. Right? But in the hate you give, it's the teens who stand up and say, Enough is enough. This is what we're going to do. And it shows other readers, how you can make a stance, right and what's right and what's wrong. Because these kids are living these lives, they're going to parties, they're seeing all this stuff that's going on, they're watching the news, they're seeing people getting shot, it's much more relevant to them. What if the classroom doesn't include that book, they might not know, to seek it out. So then if they're presented with that book, you can still, you can still talk about rhetoric, and you can still talk about theme and all that other stuff. But then you can also build a system, a social justice platform into it, and then all of the kids can be like, you know, I like that book. I might want to read something else. Yeah, right. And so maybe there's the one kid who would never in a million years, pick up a book by a black author. It might open his mind. Because you know what his best friend on a basketball team might be black and he never really made the connection.

Dana Jonson 49:43
Right? And that idea that everyone, excuse me, that idea that everyone goes home to the same going home that you go home to and you might be the same on a port but you don't really understand your friend, if you don't understand and the other part about it.

Pam Margolis 49:59
Absolutely. When, sorry, there's a book called all American boys, by Jason Reynolds, and I forget the other guy's name. So I'll get you the author. And it's exactly that. Some boys get into some trouble with the law. Some are black and white, and they're dealt with differently. But in the end, the kid realizes he knows the black kid who got dealt a much harsher punishment, right, than he did. And he had to go through all of these issues, right? To get to the point where he's like, wait, that's just wrong. Yeah. And it speaks exactly to what you said about the going home is different. Because they're saying that this other boy, the black kid was a thug, and all this other stuff. No, that's a good kid. He got the ROTC This is that, you know, he's no different than I am. In fact, when it was the white kid who was actually doing drugs, right, but because he had that image.

Dana Jonson 51:04
Yep. Yes, absolutely. Well, the thing I find the most shocking about the classics is my, my daughter when she was put into, you know, whatever it is, I don't, I guess it was freshman English or something. The two books she had to read by herself. The summer before school started, were To Kill a Mockingbird, and of mice.

Pam Margolis 51:27
Mm hmm.

Dana Jonson 51:28
No instruction, no explanation, no nothing. Those two books just to read by herself and show up on the first day of class and have written a paper about them. And that to me was, so that was more astounding than the content itself. We had this group of children, we're supposed to read them and have any understanding of them completely out of context.

Pam Margolis 51:54
Right. And To Kill a Mockingbird, it may be well written. But our parents read that book.

Dana Jonson 52:04
There are other well written books, right?

Pam Margolis 52:07
It's two generations removed from any 17 year old today. Right? They know nothing about segregation about any of that, Mississippi, they know nothing about any of that. All they know is what they see on TV. And a lot of people don't like a lot of purists don't like books like Dr. Martin, or the hate you give because they claim they're not written as well. Right? Because there's this Eurocentric standard, that this is what's exceptional, and everything else is just pop literature. Number one we know that's BS. Yes, right. But, but number two, who defines what's written? Well, if the story comes across, right, the child internalizes, it gets the message. Isn't that a well written book? If you're moved to tears, to anger in that book? Sounds like a good book to me. Right? That's a very good point.

Dana Jonson 53:15
That's a very good point. And I agree with you, I was teaching a class and I thought, I made a comment about a group of teens, it being Lord of the Flies, and they had no idea what I was talking about. Right, read the book. So I didn't get the the reference. I was thinking, Well, you know, why don't children understand these references. And maybe it's important for us to teach the classics so that they get these societal references that we make. And I ran with that argument for a little while. And I realized that,

well, it's

Dana Jonson 53:46
not about understanding the book or having read the book. It's about understanding the concept. And there are other ways to learn the same concepts. And I'm not saying anything for against Lord of the Flies. That was just my example. But, you know, as you said, with what were we trying to learn from, To Kill a Mockingbird when I was growing up when I read it in high school, when my mother read it in high school, when my children read, what was the goal? What are we trying to accomplish there? And if it's just good literature, well, we've got a lot of that we can find good literature, do we want it to be relevant? Or are we teaching about why that was written the way it was? Because that would be something interesting. Why was that written the way it was, at that time so Eurocentric and all of those pieces that might be a good angle, but it's not giving us the reality?

Pam Margolis 54:37
There's a book. There's a book that I think would be better to read instead of Lord of the Flies. Lord of the Flies was interesting, right? But there's a book called I'm not dying with you tonight. And these two people from completely different worlds one white girl, one black girl, They're thrown together in a situation of a football game gets out of hand. And there's violence. And these two have to escape the school and get someplace safe. And they come from completely different mindsets, but they're thrown in together. Right, they have to rely on each other. And it's tough. And they each have their prejudices, and their biases. And there are times when they're totally unified, and then there's times when they're at each other's throats. And that is so much more helpful than Lord of the Flies. Because I also heard that Lord of the Flies, now, it was false. Like that didn't really happen. Right. So if you want to talk about gang mentality in group mentality, like that, I'm not dying with you tonight is a better use of that. It's quick, it's easy to read. The kids get it, each kid is going to, you know, identify with the light kid or the black kid and all the stuff that happens in it. It's a fast read. And a lot of books that are fast reads, and some kids, especially kids who might be reluctant readers might be into that you're not going to be into Lord of the Flies, but a bunch of British kids, now you're parked on an island.

Dana Jonson 56:19
It doesn't make any sense to them. It's you're not teaching the same thing. And I think that goes back to you know, we could we could talk here for hours about what's messed up with literature or our education system, and how we choose to teach. But I do think that bringing a different perspective to our literature is important when we're not just teaching children about literature and perspectives. But we need to get stuck on that work 200 years ago, and so it must work now. And you can't tell me that we don't have newer literature that better addresses or better represents different populations, marginalized


Dana Jonson 57:10
All of those different components. They think that we have a lot of literature, I do think it's important for people to do their homework. So you are someone who can help people do their homework. Know, for people listening to us today and saying, well, Pam gets it. She's the person I need to listen to, I only want to read books that she recommends. How would they find you?

Pam Margolis 57:34
Sure. Well, I chat a lot on Twitter, and Instagram. I'm at Pam loves books. You can also you can also email me. I'm very, very eager and interested to talk books I will at the doctor's office. So you can read it. What are you reading? It's a great book, right? So please feel free to ask me. If you have a question about books, I have a list that I can send to you the big issues and why? It's a very comprehensive, it's several years old. But the books are still relevant that if families are looking for books to address a certain issue, that might be a good starting point.

Dana Jonson 58:25
Wonderful. Well, I can't thank you enough for having this conversation with me. And I do hope that I will have you back at another point. I think there's lots of topics in literature and diversity that we could probably cover.

Pam Margolis 58:37
Oh, sure, absolutely. one episode.

Dana Jonson 58:39
But I really, really appreciate you giving us this very in depth introduction to what we need to be thinking about when we're thinking about literature for all of our students. So thank you so much, Pam, I can't thank you enough.

Pam Margolis 58:56
It's been a pleasure. Excellent.

Dana Jonson 59:01
That was great. Thank you. Did I miss anything? Is there anything you feel like you wanted to get in that I that we didn't cover?

Pam Margolis 59:06
Yeah, there was. Let me see if I could. Yeah. There is one more thing that I wanted to talk about. So a lot of, okay, a lot of times people will say, Oh, well, that's just her. She's old. My grandmother, she, you know, she doesn't mean anything by and I always say look, I grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, where it was very appropriate to make Polish jokes. Okay. I don't do that anymore. I don't laugh at those jokes, because I realized now that that's highly inappropriate. I also didn't know how to ride a bike. And I also didn't know how to tie my shoes but I learned So someone can learn. They just have to either be forced to, because a lot of times, grandparents and parents are confronted with, oh, now my child is gay, or you know, somebody brings home a person of a different race. And they don't know what to think. Here's what to think. Turn your thinking around. Right? You can do it. I don't care how old you are, or how rich or how poor or whatever, you can do it. Yes.

Dana Jonson 1:00:33
There's no point in throwing your hands in the air and saying it can't happen.

Pam Margolis 1:00:37
That's just so I wanted to add that point before. And I'll put

Dana Jonson 1:00:46
that back in. Because I think you're absolutely right. I think that it's easy for us to just say, Well, you know, that's just them, and they're harmless, and what have you. But I think you're absolutely right, there is a way to bring that back into the conversation. literature is certainly one of those ways. But I also find that the more you know, the more you can speak to it.

Pam Margolis 1:01:05
Absolutely. And like you had said, when you first started, you're gonna make mistakes. Just know that. make mistakes, and

Dana Jonson 1:01:12
it's okay to make mistakes, because that's how we learn.

Pam Margolis 1:01:15
make mistakes and apologize. Offer sincere apology when you're corrected. Don't center yourself when the apology but apologize, apologize. Me, tech, I make mistakes all the time. But I say thank you for correcting me, thank you so that I can be a better friend. A better be a better friend, be a better one, right? Kids just want to be friends and they want maybe they wouldn't intentionally hurt a friend.

Dana Jonson 1:01:41
And if they know that when someone speaks up, the adult says, I'm sorry, I was wrong. Let me learn from that. And they're gonna learn that that's what they should do.

Pam Margolis 1:01:51
Absolutely, because they're watching you.

Dana Jonson 1:01:54
Hopefully, that's what they're doing.

Pam Margolis 1:01:56
No, they are because they're watching everything that they can pick up a curse word, they can pick up how to apologize. Absolutely. Oh, Pam, thank

Dana Jonson 1:02:07
you so much. This is really great. Um, I don't think I'm going to publish until February but I'm going to let I will let you know if you could send me if you have a headshot that you like, if not something on the internet. But if you have all that, okay, great. send that to me any links or lists that you thought of? So I can put together the show notes? And I will

Pam Margolis 1:02:26
go from them. Okay, but you're not publishing until February. So I have a couple days. Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Dana Jonson 1:02:32
You've got a couple days, no rush. Don't stress. I'm gonna try and get it done. We're gonna try and start back up this month, but things have just been exploded in my office, as I'm sure you can imagine, as they do in special education, when the shit hits the fan.

Pam Margolis 1:02:51
I understand. Okay, so yeah, so you're you're, you're building up a bank of episodes to the public. Okay. So

Dana Jonson 1:02:58
I was gonna do it. I'm starting this month that I

just decided it's better to have a great

Dana Jonson 1:03:04
end in February. It'll be one year. So I'll start off

Pam Margolis 1:03:07
with my congratulations. Okay. Yeah.

Dana Jonson 1:03:10
I'm enjoying it. It's a fun activity.

Pam Margolis 1:03:13
Yeah, I used to have a podcast, but it was a lot of work. So I don't know how you do it.

Dana Jonson 1:03:17
It is a lot of work. But I found that, you know, people are listening. And my goal, my goal is to get information to parents that they need. And as long as that is successful, I will continue trying to do that. And if at some point, they find they want a different venue, then I'll figure out what that is.

Pam Margolis 1:03:33
Right? And I sincerely mean, if you have parents who need books, send them to me, I am more than willing to chat with them or to zoom in with them. I often offer zoom in sessions for my friends who are teachers that can come in and do a storytime with you with you or whatever. Because sometimes, they just need the example. And then once they see how easy it is, they're like, Oh, I could do that.

Dana Jonson 1:04:01
Yeah, yes, exactly. It needs. You're right. Once people see that it's happening and

Pam Margolis 1:04:07

Dana Jonson 1:04:08
difficult or it's easy. You know, the world doesn't catch on fire worlds

don't collide. Right. Okay, excellent.

Dana Jonson 1:04:20
Thank you so much. I will be in touch very soon.

Pam Margolis 1:04:24
Okay, great. Bye.