Monday, October 20, 2014

What I Learned at the CCBC's Grand Opening

Last week I was in Madison, Wisconsin, and thought I might get to visit the Cooperative Childrens Book Center CCBC whose listserv is a very useful place to weigh, consider, debate, discuss books for young people. I'd been there years ago when Eliza Dresang and Kate McClelland held one of the conferences that became their book Radical Change RC, but not recently. By coincidence, I happened to be free the night of their gala re-opening, in a new space. The library of books old and new was impressive -- a teacher, librarian, parent, author, young reader could get deliciously lost in those shelves -- as I did. Indeed I noticed something that I'd really like to think about: a very unusual beat in the history of middle grade-YA NF.

At the very end of the 1960s and into the early 70s there were books by authors such as Milton Meltzer, Robert Goldston RG and Dorothy Sterling DC that were quite Left in politics, in a direct, straight-forward fashion. Books about African-Americans, about outspoken women, about Labor History for middle grade and teenagers were -- I assume -- rare to nonexistent at the time. So authors had a wide open field to write about, say, Langston Hughes, or the Underground Railroad, or Anne Hutchinson, or Emma Goldman, or the fight against Franco. With our 21st century eyes the book packages are dull -- drab covers and mainly text, with a few archival images. But imagine yourself as a teacher, an author, a librarian at the time seeing the clashes on the streets, in the ballot box, in the self-image of the nation, and also seeing that young people had very little access to the history that led to that turmoil and -- yes, radical change -- going on around them.

I sometimes see these books, ignored, unchecked-out, squeezed in to nonfiction shelves. Someday I want to really get to know them, and the shape of that moment -- how long did it last? What subjects did they take on? And how do the books read now? I feel like an archaeologist seeing a trace of a lost culture -- and I want to learn more about it.


  1. When I started to teach at Queens College in 1985, Milton Meltzer was my favorite nonfiction author. He writing was so clear, so friendly and unassuming, and so interesting. At that time,we had Arnold Adoff and Virginia Hamilton as authors-in residence at Queens. I told Arnold how much I admired Meltzer's work and he gave me his phone number and told me to call him. I did, and I met the most wonderful person. He was very supportive to me and even wrote the introduction to my first book. So, I may not be unbiased here, but I still believe his works have stood the test of time. They deserve careful study and long, long life.

  2. I knew Milton as well, he deserves a biography -- his career linked back to working with Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes -- to members of the real Harlem Renaissance -- and on to the 21st century.

  3. I'm reading a book written about selecting texts for the classroom -- it's a parallel to my new book, except that it was written in 1932. I'll write a post about it in the near future.