Children of Blood and Bone on #vted Reads

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On this episode of #vted Reads, we welcome Erika Saunders back to the show! Erika agreed to guest-host an episode, talking about Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi. She’s joined by Philadelphia-based educator Monique Carter, as they talk about:
  • the emotional resonance of your own language, especially if it’s lost and you ache to find it;
  • what it feels like to finally (!) see yourself represented (right there!) on a cover of a book;
  • and why everyone — especially in Vermont and Vermont schools — should read this book and others that bring us closer to understanding multiple perspectives, histories and stories.
As 2021 has not shown its best face to the world in this first half of January, this is a good and powerful listen, most especially about Monique’s dad’s advice to “never yuck someone’s yum…” Enjoy!

 

Erika:  Hi everyone, I am so excited to be here.  For those of you who don’t know, I am guest-hosting this time on #vted Reads.  My name is Erika Saunders.  I am a recent addition to the Vermont area.  I moved here about just almost seven months ago now in the June from Philadelphia and I’m now a proud member of the Burlington School District. And I’m going a little crazy because I am here with my sister friend.

For those of you don’t know what that term is, sister friend, she is more than a colleague, she is more than a friend, she is practically family at this point. And I am so happy that she agreed to be a guest here for us to discuss today’s book.  Without further ado I am honored, thrilled and beyond excited to introduce to you all my sister friend and fellow educator Monique Carter. Monique, please introduce yourself to everybody here.

Monique:  Hi, my name is Monique Carter.  I am a mom, first of two lovely girls. Hopefully you will not hear them in the background.  I am a school teacher.  And I teach students math in this school district of Philadelphia. I’ve taught in a friend’s school before, taught in a charter school in one of the most challenging school districts in Delaware County in Pennsylvania.  Now I teach in Philadelphia. This is my fourth year with the school district of Philadelphia and I teach fifth graders and sixth graders math.

Erika:  Thank you.  Monique is being extremely humble, everyone.  She is a beyond-phenomenal educator and teacher; she is extraordinary.  We met when we were both working at Science Leadership Academy Middle School in Philadelphia, a project-based, inquiry-driven school.  That’s how we met. And like I said, we have become sister friends at this point.

Thank you so much, Monique, for joining us.

So, let me get started so that everybody understands what we’re going to be talking about today.  I have to give just a little bit of background.

So, I would often go to Barnes everybody or a bookstore. The only one around in Philadelphia was that one.  And my son and I both love to go to bookstore.  We would just spend hours in the bookstore, right?  And even before I was a teacher I tended to go towards the young adult fiction because, you know, there was a certain point in time where the quality and the interest level of it just ratcheted up. You know, before our day.  I don’t know about you but I remember the Judy Blume days, which again was phenomenal but nothing like what we have now.

Once I started teaching, I was always looking for books that kids would be interested in. And I remember walking into the store seeing this cover and honestly feeling like… drawn to it. As if the book was reaching out to me to say: come and pick me up.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

 

Do you see this gorgeous, gorgeous representation?  Never before had I seen a cover that represented us in such exquisite ways.

I mean: from the gorgeous white hair, reaching up to the sun the way our hair, you know, will go up. To the exquisite skin color and everything.  And when I purchased this book, I don’t know if you remember, Monique, but I literally went walking around the school holding the book up and just walking into classrooms. Not saying anything, just waiting for the kids to notice.

Monique:  I remember.

Erika:  You remember that?

Monique:  I remember.

Erika:  Talking about representation for a moment: I, in my lifetime — I’m a huge reader, huge lover of books — and I had never seen anything that looked like this.

And then being as equally flabbergasted and excited when I saw the queen author who also looked like me. Whose hair looked like mine, you know, even that inspired me.

So, we’re going to be talking about this extraordinary book both for the places it’s gone with its storyline — which again I hadn’t seen before, right, was literally taboo in my home —  to the representation that we see.

I mean, I’ll go into it a bit more, but I wanted to start out really saying — because you and I have talked about it, you know, a lot being in the school that we were in in Philadelphia, with the population that we taught. But: what exactly does this book mean to us? To people like you and me? We’re similar in age (although I’m a little older).  But: we’re similar in age, we’re both mothers, we both teach, you know, Black children. (Let’s get real, right?)  And have done so for a long time.  So, talk to us. Talk to me. What does this book mean to you?

Monique:  Now the reason why I wanted to say that I remember you walking around being so happy about this book, is because when I saw it, I almost yucked your yum.

Erika:  You know, you got to explain to folks what you meant by that.

Monique:  All right, I yucked your yum. And the reason why I’m saying “yucking your yum” is because I have a seven-year-old — about to be eight —  and you usually tell kids:

“Listen, with food, if it’s something that someone else likes, if you do not like it, just keep quiet about it. Or say like, ‘Oh that’s different for me!’ You don’t say, “oh that’s yucky.”

It’s something my dad always taught me as a little kid.  Like if you see food there, it’s food. It sustains someone and it’s none of your business to come and just yuck it.

But I opened this book up, and I looked at the map and I was like… there’s a map on the inside!  I looked at the map and in college, I remember studying what they call in this book, the — or what’s considered The Reaches as a part of some religious traditions that are more unconventional.

Children of Blood and Bone
Map detail of inside back cover. Click or tap to enlarge. Photo: Audrey Homan.

 

And so, I’m looking and I’m looking and I see, I see things like Ogun. I see things like Babalú-Aye, I see Orunmila, I see Shango, I see Yemoja.

And then I see Ori, I see Oya… and I’m like what is Ayao?

Ayao. I was like: that’s not a deity in the Orisha list of divinities.  Orunmila, and then they have Oxossi here and I’m like, what is this about? And I was like, wait a minute, Oxossi and animals? I had a whole perception of what this should be based off of the words.  And I was like: “Oh man, this is one of those that’s going to take our names and just do a whole bunch of different things with it.”

All right.

What I probably should have done was just try to read the very first chapter, so that I could have a little bit more information about it for myself.

Because at that time I was in a place in my discovery — not saying that this is the very first time that this has happened. But that was a place in my discovery where I realized that there were very few books that featured brown kids.  And this was around the same time I was reading Marley Diocese [sp?] book when she starts talking about how she came up with a list of books that had African-American protagonist.

When my daughters got together and my nieces got together, we kind of did something similar. We did a monthly chat where we featured books that had female protagonists, African-American females that were the protagonist of the book. At the same time, my daughter was reading Percy Jackson and we just discovered, Tristan Strong Punches A Hole in The Sky.  And it was kind of along the same kind of like vein of Zetta Elliott’s Dragons in a Bag.

I was looking at a lot of her work and she was sharing a lot of the teachings of other people, saying that a lot of brown kids don’t have fantasy stories where there are brown people who are the major protagonists in the story. If you think about fantasy, if you think about cosplay and a lot of things like that, you don’t have too many African-American protagonists.

So, when I read Tristan Strong, I was like: whoa, like that was amazing! And then just understanding that premise and revisiting *this* book and thinking like: oh, this book is a fantasy book.  I usually focus on kids who are brown and I focused on kids since those are the ones that I teach.  I focused on kids who are living in what we call inner cities who have to kind of juggle, like, too much of real life sometimes, and fantasy. Now I can’t say the children who are in inner cities don’t have an opportunity to fantasize.  But in their stories or usually the stories that are presented to them in class, I don’t think that they have as many opportunities to look at themselves in a book and read about that fantasy.

When this book right here, gives the kids that I teach in Philadelphia an opportunity to now see themselves in those roles of characters who are magical or who have certain powers? It’s kind of — it’s been what we’ve been wanting it for so long.  And in part that’s why “Black Panther” was so appealing. A story that’s really out there advertised on main media outlets presenting something that’s based in Africa. Something that’s inherently, strong, powerful and magical. So.

Children of Blood and Bone : Black Panther movie poster

 

Erika:  Yeah, I’m so glad you went there.  I have for so long in my teaching career — and being a parent — looked for books that had Black characters in the first place, right?  Let’s start there.  Let alone the main character and the story not be based in slavery. Based in seeking freedom, based in hardship, based in a position of emptiness or despair. There’s wonderful, wonderful Black authors producing this work, but getting it out like you said in the mainstream? I was so disheartened to see book after book after book come through were the young black male.  Because again, we know that that finding female characters is hard enough right?  It’s come a long way, it’s come a long way, but, you know, for powerful strong women characters it’s hard enough.

Especially that the books that I was seeing for our population, right, were of a young Black man who’s in trouble with the law. Who lives in poverty. Who is overcoming thing after thing after thing and again: these can be good powerful stories but they can’t be everything. That is not all of who we are and it does not represent us in a totality. I mean sadly, Monique, I didn’t even think we could have it.  The fantasy, you know? The spectacular, the Harry Potters, the genre, right?

And for me again, I can’t help but go back to this cover. And kudos to the artists, because the beauty of seeing our dark skin; a dark skinned female with a blue tint to her eye?  You could just tell there’s this imposing beauty and strength, with again, the hair that reaches up.  I just thought: this can’t be. You know? This can’t be. And then to open it and see a Black female author with natural hair.

Someone who looks like us.

I literally walked around the school with this book because I wanted the kids in school to see.  I wanted the white kids to see as well, you know, how we were represented. For me, this was the — I don’t want to say the conclusion because we’re still looking — but this was finally what I had been searching for my entire career.

And then to see it taking place in a fictionalized area of the continent? I wasn’t even making the connections to the actual deities and things because I did not have that background.  But just to see this powerful young woman and our culture of origin which again, when you see that, it’s slavery, right?  It’s pain. It’s depicted often in a very negative sense of “less than the primitive.”  Like you said with Black Panther, what we can be in that power and everything we bring?

I’m so glad that you mentioned that because I remember us talking and you saying, “Wait. Is this okay for the kids?”  Because, you know, what is this, right?

And then seeing such a rich story.

I’m going to lean on you a little bit when we start talking about actual character names and things for, for correct pronunciation.  But I remember thinking about that where I was struggling a little bit. Because again: the wording and things aren’t something I’m familiar with.  And I thought: this is going to be a problem.

But then I remembered: how easily do we accept that in books where there’s white characters?  Harry Potter, when I first read Harry Potter, right?  There were words that were not part of our vernacular that aren’t real.  These weren’t even real! And yet I learned to say Muggle and things of that nature. We do it in other areas and yet I even felt a little like, is this going to be okay?  So, I’m glad that you brought that up.

And, you know, this is a great transition to kind of talk a little bit about, there’s so much going on.

Monique:  Yeah, there’s so much in this book! Like, just a, just a whole idea of: is this okay for the kids?

Because I know personally when, when kids ask me like, “Oh Ms. Carter, what’s your religion?” I usually tell them like, I’m not Christian.

Then [they respond with]: “Oh you’re Muslim, right?  As-salaamu Alaykum!” Like, “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam!”

But I’m not Muslim either.

I practice a religious tradition that is related to a lot of the deities here.  And a lot of people don’t realize that even some of the people in *their* Christian churches practice the same tradition as well.

Now the reason why I was asking if this was okay is because a lot of these deities have their roots and things like Candomblé (which is in Brazil), and in Santería, which you could see in a lot of Latin American countries. Puerto Rico, Cuba. And it has a foundation also in Verdun. And that right there: just saying the word “Voodoun” is a lot for a lot of people.

Just understanding that right there, when I first looked at it I was like, “In the classroom?  Are we sure is this okay?”

And then just to understand that a lot of people in our school actually read this. And they got a chance to meet the author when she came to Philadelphia.  That right there I think blew my mind. Just the things that people can either overlook or not necessarily play too much attention to while reading something like this.

I took in a lot of the Harry Potter books and the Percy Jackson books. I listened to them because I read very slowly.  And if you look at those books, they’re very thick books.

So, when you, Erika, really got into it and when the kids were visiting the author, I was like, you know, what?  I need to give this book another chance. I ordered it so that I could listen to it online.

And I listened to some of it and then I stopped.  But then we talked about doing something like this and, and reading the book for it.  And I said, okay let me just read the book.

I listened to the first chapter and I heard some words in there and I was like: I have to look at the book. You know, I have to actually read the book because I am so charged visually, that I need to see the actions, whether they go this way or that way, because they use a lot of Yoruba words in here. A lot of Yoruba phrases in here. And even though I don’t know how to read Yoruba or to speak Yoruba, I know what an accent could mean for the same word on the same letter.  This could mean something positive while this other thing could mean something negative.

It could change the whole sound of the word.

And so, having the actual words here so that I can see them was, I would say, an absolute gift.  It came to the point where I was listening to the story while looking to see how they were spelling things in the book.

Because my understanding of this book and how it came to be like it was? Was weird for me.  For me it almost followed my family’s, I guess “experience” coming to the States and being a part of the tradition that I’m in now.  And just understanding that: coming from or being kidnapped from, my family being kidnapped from, different places in Africa, being kidnapped from different places in West Africa, we lost the language.

There’s a part in here where the main characters Zélie is talking about how she hasn’t heard Yoruba in such a while.  And then understanding that that is a tool of colonization: just making sure people do not understand the language.

Reading this book here, I actually stopped to look up every single phrase that I could possibly look up because it meant a lot to me.

When I looked up Inan’s name and read that it meant “sun”.  And then when I looked up at Zélie’s name and I saw that it meant “reserved” and she’s not reserved in any sense of the word.  That was part of my approach to reading this book and that really made it a different type of journey for me.

I’m glad I read it right now because I had time to read it, and I could relate it to my experience as, I’m just going say as a Narasimha worshiper.  Had my sister read this (who was not a Narasimha worshiper), this would have been a complete, this may have been a completely different story for her.

Erika:  That’s a good point that you bring it up, I am not [a Narasimha worshiper].  So, the experience I’m getting from reading it and I have gotten from reading it, I’m certain is I believe, still powerful.

You know, there’s so much going on in our country. So much going on for Black people — the history we talked about, kids not understanding where they come from. It’s always negative, starting with slavery.  And when you mention colonization, having everything about us and our origin stripped away, whitewashed and demonized? When I was growing up, a book like this — even the title, Children of Blood and Bone. What?  With like you said, voodoun.  But that sort of deity worship. Or wizardry or magic. It was seen as so negative.  In lots of ways it still is — I know there were the protests around the Harry Potter.  I remember those few days because I was teaching and had even sent a letter out.

But once again the power, to me, of bringing this book forward in the setting that it’s in, bringing another view of the African continent the way Black Panther did, right? How powerful that is.

I’m going to read a little bit about a little piece of it now and I want us to take a moment to really talk about what this book means in terms of, for us as a people right?  I had not read the Author’s Note because it was in the back. It’s usually in the front right?  And so, I didn’t even realize where she was coming from. This is this is from the author herself, Tomi Adeyemi. It is powerful and it again had me thinking in a lot of different ways what this book might mean, so.

 

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi Author's Note
Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi. Author’s Note. Click or tap to enlarge.

 

Erika: I almost feel the need to like hold a moment of silence after that.  When I read that, Monique, which was after we had decided to read this because I’ve had this book for I think three, four years?

Monique:  Yeah.

Erika:  Right, do you remember, it was early.  I think it was your first year.  When I read where she was birthing this, I was like: wow, now what more does this mean?  You know: what more can we get from this for our people? And I thought: what a powerful approach. You know? This can maybe make a difference in different lives.  Do you want to speak at all to that and again to the struggle that we have?

Monique:  Well, it’s funny because since the authors note was in the back, I didn’t pay much attention to it either.  And I leave right at, close to finishing the book.  I read much of it, and I’m just going to bring us to maybe a line or two lines before where you ended where it says, just like Zélie and Amari: we have the power to change. 

Right before that it says, we are the children of blood and bone.

This is why I feel like language is so important.  And I think there was a hint of that in the story when Zélie was like, “Oh! I haven’t heard Yoruba for such a long time!”  That’s one of the tools.

When we were brought here, when we were brought here and we were made to work, we were not allowed to speak our language. We were mixed up with people who did not speak language. Because this language is power, this language is powerful.

I don’t know everything that’s being said in the in the Yoruba words before then. But she does say, “We are all children of blood and bone” which helped me understand the title of the book. But in that, it says egungun. And for a lot of people who worship Orisha, egungun means ancestors.

So, I’m wondering if that translation of “bone” relates to the bones of our ancestors. Just understanding the connection to ancestors.

And when you think about certain points in the book like, I remember us talking about a certain or specific place that I wanted to read from, and I couldn’t find much of anything.

But there is one part in the story where I was like, whoa, wait a minute! When Zélie — I don’t think I’m giving away too much — had to find three major items. She had to find the stone, she had to have the scrolls and she had to have the dagger. But the dagger was made out of the bones of one of the people who were a part of that that magi or that leaders, almost that spiritual leaders.

And so, thinking about those three elements and that ended one of the chapters, it was maybe like 40 something or 50, and she was like: “Yeah! I have the stone, I have the blade and I have the scrolls.”  And saying something like we’re ready or giving the sense like we’re ready.  And so, like for me being an Orisha worshiper, I’m just like, whoa, wait a minute, that’s like the complete package.  So, when I think about my experience and my family’s experience, we’ve been kidnapped, right?  We were here, had to go through the Middle Passage, had to go through the genetically shaping experience of trauma of slavery.  And we had to go through Reconstruction.  We had to go through the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, and Lord, mercy — the 90s, in New York City.

Erika:  Speak it now. Speak it.

Monique:  We had to go through that.

And in the meantime our shrines were abandoned and what did we have to hold on to?  Our language? We had our sacred text which were really a collection of stories. And we had elements of nature, so things like stone.

For us to be bringing that over with us and for people to be practicing that today and for people to be moving from Christianity?

I grew up as, as Baptist, Baptist Christian. And we — *sings* — Came! To! Serve! the Lord!

Every Sunday. I was there. Then I went to college and I found out all of these symbols that I was living around — I lived in a part of the Bronx that was highly populated by Latinos and specifically Puerto Ricans.

In my particular neighborhood there were botanicas.

And in those botanicas you had all these different symbols. I knew of them, I was aware of it.

And I was like, that’s that stuff.  We don’t play with that.  We don’t go in that store unless we want to hit the numbers or we want like, a little fortune-telling session.

Then when I got to college, I realized that these things were steeped in African traditions. And this is an African tradition.

When I got my first reading, they said: “Oh my gosh, you’re the chosen one.”

And I’m like: what are you talking about?

Like, they said it to everyone, but it was such a powerful moment. You are the chosen one in your family. That is: you’re meant to bring people in your family back to a tradition that they once practice before.

Once I got there  I started learning about, oh my gosh, I need to have a better connection with my ancestors.  There goes that spear.

Then as I was becoming a practicing a Orisha worshiper, I learned more about Odu; there’s a scroll. So I’m collecting all of my things for my magic to return.

For me, this was that type of journey.

The entire story played out that way. When we’re thinking of the Diviners: oh yeah, they’re the ones with the white hair.

And I was like: oh wait a minute.

Even though Zélie’s family are a family of Reapers, like …her hair is white. White is for Obatala. Obatala represents, yes, kings.  But he also represents beggars, vagrants, anyone who is special ed — or considered special ed,  because we know that those who are in special ed are some of the most gifted students that we have. That is who Obatala represents and to some extent you wonder like if we, as brown people, if we are the Obatal’s.

Are we all trying to find or get our magic back?  And then, once we get it how do we keep it?

That’s what reminds me about Adeyemi’s statement in the back.  Like, when she says: “Now let’s rise. This is our moment.  This is our moment to rise.  We have every opportunity to now collect all of our artifacts so that we can actually rise. ”

That’s what this book was for me as I was reading it; this was like a journey. This was to some extent my journey.

I was speaking to someone about it and he was telling me like, whoa, I totally would not have read the book that way.  I totally would have not have not read the book that way.

Erika:  Because I didn’t.  You know, there’s so many reasons why I’m so thankful that you agreed to do this.  Like, yes you’re my sister friend. Yes, you know I could have twisted your arm, but I didn’t have to, I didn’t have to.

But I don’t have this deep knowledge that you do which makes this such a revelation for me wanting me to dig back into it.

And I want to touch upon a couple of the things you said.

One of them being, you know, people coming out of Christianity — I’ve said it before: it gets to be a touchy subject.

Like, you said when we came here — excuse me —  when we were kidnapped and dragged here (words matter), and stripped — stripped in every sense. From the clothing literally, right, stripped of clothing, and stripped of adornment, stripped of titles.  Stripped of all of the, you know, prestige and positions, stripped of language, stripped of spirituality practices.  And what did they replace that with?  Our religion became the religion of our oppressors.

And we don’t even think twice about that now, you know?

When you said people moving away, you were sitting there talking about things like the stone and the bones. I mean we’ve had that idea of like we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.  But I think there’s that understanding now when you talked about bringing stones.

Anyway, can you I mean, can you talk about share the story you talk to me about when a white person encountered some of our magic? Please share that story.

Monique:  That particular story. Recently my daughters helped to put up a little free library in our neighborhood.  And I joined a little free library kind of a Facebook group.  But one of the owners they posted a picture of the cover of Children of Blood and Bone.  And the next one in the series. What’s the name of the next one?  Oh it’s right in here.

Erika:  Children of Virtue and Vengeance. I got it.

Monique:  Children of Virtue and Vengeance.  They took a picture of this, someone donated this book and the next book in the series.  And for a lot of people that would have been like: oh my gosh, when can I go and get that book.

But her response was: “Someone donated these books here and I had to pull them out because I didn’t know what type of worship they were condoning.”

And so yeah, there were a number of responses there.  A lot of people were saying like, oh those books are golden. Like: “You need to put them in your little free library! That was a gift!”

There was someone else who responded in a way that was a little bit more angry that called her racist and said,

Why do you think that when you see these images it’s automatically with some negative magic, something that is turning people over to ‘the dark side’?

I’m paraphrasing because it was a lot meaner than that.  But just understanding that, just the picture here brings people back to that “understanding” that there are two sides.

There’s the good side: white, clean, foreseen.  And then there’s the dark side.

And it’s in part why I was asking you like: is that okay?  Because God forbid if I mentioned the word Voodou in class. That’s in part why this book is absolutely important.

Now, when I was mentioning the stuff before I wasn’t Christian-shaming, I was sharing my experience. I believe that our family was meant to explore some things other than Christianity.

If Christianity brings you to your life’s mission, you go and you be you.  Because even in Christianity, we as brown people have made it into something that satisfies us. However I am choosing a different route.

But yes, the whole idea of like Voodoun and worship and shrines and things of that sort and those being negative.  I know at some point, my daughter will deal with that.

Having something like this would help her to kind of connect with that in a way that she could really pick up on. She’s a real Harry Potter, real Percy Jackson person. We kind of read this together so that I could explain to her what these things were, what these deities were. For her to understand the beauty of them and the connection to nature, that is not always something that’s promoted — at least in my experience — with Christianity.

Erika:  I’m so glad you brought that up because again, it’s here we go, right? We have to explain.

I am not Christian-shaming, I am not saying that Christianity is bad. The double standard, right, where — what I what I said was we never even thought twice that the religion that and I agree that we’ve made our own, right?

We’ve brought in some of our ancestral — you know, with the drums and music — which is a very, you know, ancestral place to be. Versus the loftier songs that came from, you know, the more Eurocentric.

But what I’m saying like you’re saying is we weren’t even allowed to think that that’s the connection.  And whether or not, right, we wanted to continue to pursue wonderful again. I’m if, anyone asked I’d probably say I’m, you know, Christian. Or at least, you know, spiritual.

But we weren’t even permitted because of the double standard that this was such a negative thing.

We know, we started as kings and queen and have that second thing. And I think this is a perfect segue into, you know, this is this is Vermont Ed Reads and you and I could talk all day and half, and we’ll continue to write about why this is so important for our children, and for our people. For all of our people.

You know, as we continue to struggle, we’re recording this the week of the insurrection where the rest of America is starting to understand and see the severity of the double standard.

Monique:  Oh yes.

Erika:  And that is the most extreme of the most extreme.  And although many of us, I mean, you and I have talked about it, you know, we’re happy that you’re starting to understand that.

You know: Dear Father, it took literally a siege upon the Capitol, you know, and the sort of lack of aftermath, right?  There really wasn’t much of an aftermath for people to start to say, oh wait, now if they were Black people, I’m not sure this would have gone mainstream media.

The segue I want to say is: why is this book important for everyone?  Not just Black America?

I’m in Vermont, I am in the Burlington School District. It is one of the more diverse, I think the second most diverse, with a much higher percentage of the acronym BIPOC — which I do not like. I don’t like it.

(Because you somehow managed to take everyone else and still other them, right. Everyone except white people and other them into this one category that perhaps white people can wrap their head around. But I digress.)

And, you know, bringing different types of literature centered around people who don’t, you know, look like the traditional Vermonter.

Also knowing as I’m learning that there are still — I’m sure you can appreciate from what we’ve talked about still a lot of school district in Vermont — that diversity is minuscule.

We both know in the Philadelphia area once you get out of Philly proper, right?  And when I say “out of” for you all who don’t understand, I mean literally across the border line. Those school district’s look very, very different.  Probably a lot more like Vermont.

So, what I’m leading to is: why is seeing this, experiencing something like this, important for people who don’t look like this?

Monique:  I would think one, because as being a part of being anti-racist, you’re being more active.  Whatever that means in your realm or in your community. And reading.

A lot of people have been doing a lot of reading.

I feel like in order to, as a part of the process to become more anti-racist (which a lot of people are working on right now) you have to study stories. You have to study stories.  Stories are generally the history of a group of people.

And in this book you have language; language can be its own story.  Language is its own story.

If you’re trying to find out more about different people, go find a story about those. Like, don’t read adult books — or in addition to your adult books, read some children’s books about stories that are related to a religious tradition or to a group of people.  A

For some groups of people you can’t even separate the religious tradition from the group of people.  Reading those stories, we call them a part of keys.  I’m looking over there because there’s my next book, Yoruba Tales.  I’m sorry, it’s not the book we were showcasing but…

Erika:  All about books, Monique.

Monique:  But this is the next book, I’ll be giving my child because it will talk about the gods. Gods and heroes.

Another way to learn more about a culture or group of people is to just investigate the stories and then see how the language is attached to the story.

For instance, I know egungun translates into something that is different in your book.  But our understanding of it is “ancestors”.  By breaking down that language so that you can understand what something means to a particular culture, I think speaks volumes. When you pick it up in a story, it is so much more fun and you’re more than likely, I think, to remember it.  Then you can share that story with other people instead of saying like, “Oh, I found out that this group of people, they like to do this” or “They have no word for this in their vocabulary or in their language”.  You can share a story.

Erika:  That is so powerful, Monique. I was thinking too, being an educator here in Burlington School District,  part of it was, you know, the new superintendent [Ali Dieng] coming in at the same time I came in. Bringing in this equity aspect and wanting it to be front and center.

And I was sitting here thinking just the ways you were talking, when you were talking about the maps and the language.

Imagine a history class that is using this book to understand.

Imagine you’re starting with this book, as you’re discussing the people who make up America, you know, instead of starting with just slavery.

If you’re going to be anti-racist, teach through the lens of social justice, which to me again… I mean: so you’re going to teach truth? You’re going to, you’re going to teach the truth now?  Because what we’ve been teaching hasn’t incorporated the truth.

So, in order to understand even who we are and what this country is, we must incorporate it all.

We must have our children understand all of our children, everyone’s differences because those children grow up.

The children in front of us grow up and become leaders. Whether that’s in the political realm, whether that’s in our communities, they will help to make decisions that affect everybody.

They may choose to go off and try to destroy that which they don’t know and fear.

Monique: There’s something in the book about this.  It actually says like, the reason why they have tried to or they attempted to take magic away was because at one point they love them.  They love the Diviners and they love the fact that they could do magic.

Then that changed to maybe jealousy, and then to fear. That’s when we talk about the rates that they had and there’s still a huge fear.  Even there’s even a fear amongst Inan (I think his name means “son”.)

Inan, who was like, oh my gosh I hate magic but–

Oh… wait a minute…. I will give that point away.  Wait a minute!

So: that which I fear is now me.

Erika: Well that could be a whole another session.

Monique: That’s a whole other session. because some of the notes I wrote in here about Black people calling other Black people maggots.  And I’m like, oh wait a minute.  This is not too far from today.  But this is why stories really, really help you understand not only a culture but it can also help you understand the historical advancement of the culture.

I know when from my daughter’s school, we were planning Dia de los Muertos, a  celebration which is Mexican — or at least how we consider it nowadays is I believe, we consider it to be Mexican in origin.  And then as part of the celebration, I wanted to play a game of bingo.  It’s called loteria.

And when you purchase it they have one little space on there that says, “El Negrito”.  It’s supposed to stand for the little black man.  And so, you go and you interpret it with those eyes.

It’s funny because I had a conversation with one of the ladies that was helping me to organize it.   She was like: when you get lots, make sure you get a newer version.

And I knew exactly why.

I knew.

I was like: oh she’s speaking to a brown person and she realizes that it has, and I was like, oh, are you talking about the El Negrito?

She was like, yeah, yeah.  It doesn’t really mean what people in the United States.  And then I was like hmm…

That truly was a study of the culture for me.  You know, you study a culture, you do some of the things that are done, you play the games.  You read the stories and you learn the history.  And sometimes the history is learned through the stories.

So, just reading a book like this helps kids I think to kind of connect with the story.

One thing that I’m trying to get kids to do in school, Brown kids in particular.  When they are in a classroom and history is presented for them.

If they are not a part of that narrative or that story? As a student part of their job should be to say:

“Oh excuse me, where would my story fit in here?

People love stories about their culture.  Why do we think Hamilton was such a huge hit?

Erika: I want to hit upon something you just said which was, you know, when a child doesn’t see themselves, they should be empowered to say hey where?

And what I want to say to, you know, Vermont educators who are listening as well as anyone else: we should be raising Children who should stop and say,

“Hey, where’s *anyone* else?”

You know, where there’s a noticing that we’re really not talking about — where is that?

That’s the kind of education that we should be instilling in everyone so that we start to notice who isn’t represented when we talk about equity and we talk about that.

And not only like who’s not representing but also what’s happening around the world at the same time.

Monique: I think the most confusing part of studying history for me as a young kid was understanding that something that I studied about that was happening in Europe was happening around the same time that something else I studied the following year.

So, yes, it’s good to study history and it’s good to have different perspectives.  And also just keeping in mind like what else was happening around this time in different parts of the world.

I have a wonderful advisee at my school.  And she is — our family is from Nigeria.  So, of course, she read this book.  She had a lot to say about it.

But as we were talking about all of the stuff that was happening here — coronavirus, coronavirus — she kept bringing in information about Nigeria.

She was like: Ms. Carter, did you hear stuff about SARS.?

And I’m like: Oh baby, I don’t know.  Let me look it up real quick.  

That was my job as an educator.  She did something that was that showed me how empowered she was.  She knows that I would just say like either yes or no, and I would be very honest with her.  But then, I would do some research about it.

So like now I say to myself, oh wow, what else is happening inother places in the world.  And so not only do we need to bring in other people’s stories.  But when we study like certain periods in history, we need to find out what else is happening in different parts of the world and that can help to bring in other people’s stories.

Erika:  And I’m glad you mentioned other people’s stories.  I know Vermont overall, you know, particularly here in Burlington has seen that influx of different cultures.  And, you know, how do you serve, how do you meet needs things like that.  Again, stories, you know, allowing children to see themselves and ensuring that children understand there is more than just them.

Monique:  Yes.

Erika:  At the center of the universe.  And I love that you said around the world because we as Americans, you know, we really had that, we’re the center of the universe.  And you know, I know, I know we could go on  and on…

Monique:  Yes, yes.

Erika:  We’re going to see maybe if we could do a Part Two. Or up to a  seven, right?

One of the things that I’ve heard of Vermonters doing is sort of this library audit, book audit.

Click or tap to enlarge.

 

I still say: even if you have half of the books that are outside of the culture of your white Eurocentrism, that’s still not enough.

We’ve been teaching for centuries from that one. Let’s flip the script, you know, and almost bring in the majority of representation for a bit.

But I just want to offer you an opportunity, Monique for you to, you know, final thoughts.

Again, we could go just on and do a dissertation.  But kind of as a way of wrapping this up, what final thoughts would you like to ensure that you share, you know, during this time that you and I have together?

Monique:  Probably just a thought that that occurs to me right now that might be my final thought is that: this is not final.

Books are meant to be read more than once.

One of the gifts that my daughter has reminded me of is that in different states like reading, I would see her read a book — a really thick book.  And probably a month or two months later, I would see her re-reading the same book.

And I would say to myself like, why are you reading that book over again?

She was like: mom, you know I love to read.

And I was like: are you picking up a least some different things in there?

She was like, yeah I love this part.

And I was like, I hope you’re looking at it in a different way because now you have two more months of life and now you can give it possibly a different perspective.

I was going to pick up the book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, just so I could reread it.  I read it last when I was 12.  Can you imagine what I would be bringing to that particular story that I didn’t have when I read it the first time?  I would say like this is one of the awesome parts of having kids.  You get to re-read all of the stories that you read just make sure it’s appropriate.  But I hope to come to this book again at a different stage of my life and to re-read it.

 

The neatest part is that my daughter is reading it or read it the same time that I read it which means we have two different perspectives.

So just talking to her about: hey do, you know, who Oia is?

And for her to say like: oh yeah, I know.

It was just a magical moment for me. To think about, we had that conversation based off of a book that we read. A mainstream book that we both read.

I hope she gets a chance to re-read this as she gets further into her Orisha worship.  And I hope she gets an opportunity to read this with then a different lens.  I hope in another stage of my life that I get a chance to re-read this with a different lens.

It’s funny being an author of a book, people take your story and they make it theirs.

And the only thing I’d love to ask her is like: where were you when you were reading the story.  What was your interpretation?  Because I read through it or something like, does she do this on purpose?

So, my final thought is that books were are made to be read and re-read.  Read it, read it again, read many books again. In different stages of life they have different lessons for you and the challenge is just being open to the messages that books might have for you.

Erika:  I don’t know if there could have been a more powerful message than that.

You bring so much, Monique.  I’m going to tear up.

This is not the end.

This is not a final that that books are meant to be read and re-read.

We certainly know that among other literature, you know, Shakespeare, other books that are still in circulation in classrooms and standard readings.

So, I know I got something else out of it even preparing for this as I was reading it.

I know after I read her remarks, I got something different out of it.  After speaking with you, I’ll get something different out of it.

There’s not enough thank you, to say to you for spending this time with me and agreeing to do this.

Vermont, I’m one of you now, but there’s a piece of me still in Philly.  There will always be. There’s a piece of me still in Ocean City.  I am a Black woman. A proud Black woman. And every single student, child in Vermont needs to experience the beauty, the wonder the mystique, the power, the magic of Children of Blood and Bone.  And your children can.  They can, they’re ready for it.

I want to close with this because those words hit me to the bone: “We’ve been knocked down for so long. Now let’s rise.”

Thank you, thank you so much.

Thank you too, #vted Reads, for allowing me to guest host! I’m Erika Saunders.  I hope you’ve enjoyed our time together.

Again, my deepest thanks to the one and only one Monique Carter, my sisterfriend.  Everyone take care.  Go out.  Let’s get into some good trouble.  Children of Blood and Bone, could be your first step.  Thank you.

Jeanie Phillips

Jeanie Phillips is a former (and always!) school librarian and a Professional Development Coordinator for TIIE. A 2014 Rowland Fellow, she is passionate about student engagement, equity, collaboration, and questions. Jeanie likes to hike the woods of southern Vermont with her dog Charlie and is always in search of a well-brewed cup of tea and a good book.

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