The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday December 7th


Children's literature roundtable explores community, empowerment

John Claude Bemis will visit Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books to host a discussion on children’s literature Saturday.

Bemis is the current Piedmont Laureate and UNC School of Education Excellence in Teaching Award recipient.

A cohort of local children’s book authors will also join the conversation. This event represents part of the laureateship’s community outreach, and will be the second in a series of roundtable talks hosted by Bemis.

“The whole point of the program is to focus on a particular genre and to bring more awareness to this art and craft,” he said.

“We have so many wonderful authors in this area and so many children’s book authors … part of my vision was to shine light on that.”

Bemis said the roundtable event also presents an opportunity to discuss the magic of writing and to provide insight into breaking into the industry and crafting stories for young readers.

“When you’re writing for young readers, they don’t have a lot of patience for fluff in a story… You have to engage them in a way that’s going to be of interest to them,” he said.

“They need characters that they can identify with, that they find believable, that they admire and relate to. That’s really at the heart of a great story — is creating these kind of characters.”

For Bemis, his years as a teacher helped shape his understanding of what he calls a unique audience.

“When you spend that much time with kids as a teacher, you get to know them and understand what’s going on in their lives.”

Bemis said that for children who may be feeling a lack of agency, literature provides the opportunity to live vicariously through more autonomous characters.

“I think that we all can relate to that — of wanting to be this agent of change in our lives,” he said.

Yet, as the roundtable will explore, empowerment is not the only benefit of reading for youth.

Reading shows kids that they are not alone, said Cate Tiernan, author of “Immortal Beloved” and the “Sweep” series.

“Think of how lost and alone kids might feel in school — if they’re the only ones who are teased and only ones whose parents are difficult at home or only ones whose family seem to be struggling and then to find out that there’s a whole world of people who are sharing your experiences or that there’s a whole world set up to help,” Tiernan said.

“Community and human interaction is the whole thing that keeps us going — and reading is a way to make that connection.”

In addition to the solace that reading may offer young readers, children’s literature may also serve as a leveler for kids with differential access to resources, said author Tameka Fryer Brown.

“Not every child has the same experience as other children … but through the knowledge and insight you gain from books, sometimes that can be a really wonderful equalizer,” Brown said.

Brown is the author of the children’s books “My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood” and “Around Our Way.”

Brown said reading also challenges children to expand their reality and stretch their concept of the possibilities.

“It provides an example to them of how they can think outside the box, how they can use their imagination to create new things, whether they be stories or pictures or new technologies.”

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