About ALSC President, Jamie Campbell Naidoo
I come from a gravel road with rocks that bite into your knees. A road that leads to a two-bedroom mobile home with shag carpeting and avocado green appliances.
I come from high-school sweethearts, factory workers who never went to college and spent their free time as servant leaders in the church.
I come from hours of unbridled imagination, with mud, dolls, and wooden spoon as my trappings of play and books as my rockets to other worlds.
I come from fried chicken, corn bread, and catfish. Granny’s cakes and oh-so-sweet tea.
I come from “If you try hard enough you can get out of here” and “the early bird gets the worm.”
I come from having just enough but wanting what I can’t have.
I come from a family giving me what they didn’t have and feeling betrayed when I took those sacrifices to reach my dreams.
I come from a rural community where I felt like an outsider and escaped to a world far beyond what I could have imagined in the pages of my books.
I was a boy from Kentucky with hopeful dreams and am now a professor in Alabama working to help the next generations reach theirs.
As this poem outlines, I grew up in rural Kentucky and was the only person in my family other than my aunt to go to college. She was a special education teacher in an elementary school and had a huge influence on my life. My time spent with her and my positive experiences in our small school library and rural bookmobile motivated me to
get my BS in Elementary Education and subsequent MLIS and doctorate in Library Studies.
My childhood was defined by my vivid imagination that led to hours of outdoor play and summer evenings on the front porch swing reading books with my mother. Our public library was open only two days a week and was run by volunteers of the Women’s Club. It wasn’t until I was working on my MLIS degree and had my first library job that I understood the concept of public libraries and the important role they play in the lives of the community. However, I already comprehended the gravity of nurturing a young child’s literacy development with high-quality print and digital materials. I also recognized how it felt to never see yourself represented in the well-loved books you saw in the library or the ragged tombs your mother bought you at yard sales. While I saw white families in these pages, other than Oliver Button is a Sissy and William’s Doll, I never saw books that affirmed that it was okay to be a boy that was different than other boys – an out-of-the-box child who found himself on the wrong end of the social ladder because he dressed and acted in ways that “normal boys don’t act.”
It was this experience as an outsider that fueled my desire as a public children’s librarian and a school librarian in Alabama to reach out to marginalized children and families in an attempt to make them feel welcomed. It was this same desire that led me to focus my doctoral work on diverse representations of Latinx families in picture books and has continued to fuel my social justice service work as well as my research in the areas of library services to diverse populations and depictions of diversity (particularly LGBTQ and Latinx) in children’s print and digital media.
Over the years, I have engaged in numerous service projects to help empower special populations to reach their dreams, either directly or indirectly. For instance, I founded the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference in 2008 at the University of Alabama to promote high-quality children’s and young adult books about Latinx cultures and to offer a forum for librarians, educators, researchers, and childcare providers to openly discuss best strategies for meeting the diverse literacy needs of Latinx children and their families. While the conference has now moved on to a new iteration at the University of Texas at San Antonio, for several years it offered a Noche de Cuentos and Día program at the local public library that served as a window and mirror for the children in Alabama to meet Latinx authors and illustrators creating dynamic culturally rich books.
Similarly, I developed the Book Bonanza for the Black Belt Program as a way for children in severely impoverished areas of Alabama to receive new books and hopefully rocket towards their dreams. While the program donates many books to school libraries serving these children, I make a concerted effort to ensure that children receive a variety of books representing all types of cultural diversity as a way to help them feel validated and to provide road maps of who they can become.
I have been involved with numerous ALSC committees and projects over the years, but the one initiative that I find most rewarding is Día. It provides a clear pathway and framework for librarians to reach all types of children and families. I have helped libraries plan Día programs, served on Día grant committees, and wrote a whitepaper for ALSC in support of the initiative. I wish such a program had been available to me as a child. If my school or public library had offered programs celebrating cultural diversity and included diverse books in their collections, then maybe I would not have felt so alone and different as a youth.
It has been my strong desire throughout my career and in all the work I do for ALSC that I help facilitate opportunities for all children to feel validated and to find the resources that will help them successfully soar into the world. I look forward to others joining me in this journey!