The University of Toledo is connecting local children with acclaimed children’s book authors and illustrators to spotlight the importance of everyone being able to tell their own story.
The Judith Herb College of Education’s first Spring Symposium, “Stories Matter,” scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 15, was born of a simple task.
Dr. Raymond Witte, dean of the Judith Herb College of Education, suggested to Dr. Jenny Denyer, chair of the Department of Teacher Education, to think about an event that would highlight the college and University’s ongoing commitment to social justice and inclusivity.
“As we know, conversations about social justice, diversity and inclusion are difficult conversations to have,” Denyer said. “But as a teacher, we know that literature — and particularly, in this case, children’s literature — is a great jumping-off point for those kinds of conversations.”
She reached out to her colleague Dr. Susanna Hapgood, an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education. Hapgood thought an event that could get inspiring books into children’s hands and that would include components accessible to local school children could dovetail perfectly with her STEAM Power Generation project and pledged half the budget. With the other half provided by the College, the Spring Symposium took shape.
The all-day event features separate virtual presentations and Q&As with a pair of successful children’s book authors and illustrators: Cozbi A. Cabrera, whose latest work, “Me & Mama,” was awarded a Coretta Scott King Honor and a Caldecott Honor for Illustration; and Innosanto Nagara, whose most recent publication, “Oh, The Things We’re For!” is a rhyming text that builds upon the successes of his first book, “A is for Activist,” which initially was written for his children and then became a best-seller.
Cabrera and Nagara will interact with grade-school children at Marshall STEMM Academy and Old Orchard Elementary School, respectively, in a total of four live-streamed sessions that will be available to all area schools, as well as UToledo students, faculty and staff.
Then, from 2 to 3 p.m., Benjamin Sapp, director of the Mazza Museum at the University of Findlay, will discuss how the illustrations in children’s literature have become more inclusive.
And from 4 to 5:30 p.m., the Spring Symposium will close out with a live stream of a panel discussion between Nagara, Cabrera and Sapp, as well as Michael Deetsch, director of education and engagement at the Toledo Museum of Art, and Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College and director of The University of Toledo’s Visual Literacy Initiative.
Denyer said all area schools will be able to access the event in real time and to ask the authors questions online. To access the event or for more information, visit the Spring Symposium’s website.
Witte said offering this kind of event, “which centers on children’s literature and its important role in increasing awareness and implementation of diversity, inclusion and antiracism practices,” is important to the Judith Herb College of Education, the University and beyond.
“The college is proud to host this event as it reflects the commitment of our faculty, staff and students toward this important work.
“Drs. Denyer and Hapgood have done an outstanding job of bringing nationally recognized authors and illustrators Innosanto Nagara and Cozbi Cabrera into our virtual classroom to work directly with local teachers, student teachers and elementary students about the importance of everyone being able to tell their own story.”
Hapgood said, “The opportunity to interact with a published author can help children understand that books are made by real people who were once children themselves. With that realization, children can imagine that it is possible they might write books someday. And, after meeting people like Innosanto Nagara and Cozbi Cabrera, they can imagine how they might write and illustrate their books. How wonderful and inspiring.”
Additionally, nearly 400 of Nagara’s and Cabrera’s books will be given to local schools by Judith Herb College of Education and STEAM Power Generation project in appreciation of the schools’ students, teachers, administrators and staff.
“We are very happy to be able to give back, at least a little bit, to some of the community’s schools and teachers with whom the faculty and students of the Judith Herb College of Education work every day,” Hapgood said. “Our teacher candidates spend hundreds of hours in classrooms throughout the Toledo area and the experiences they have are invaluable to their professional growth.”