Caldecott Medal-winning author, illustrator discusses diversity and equity in writing and teaching
One year after the creation of a community mural called “Power and Joy in Access to All Stories,” Saint Michael’s College community members returned to the mural site to hear from Jason Chin, one of the authors quoted in the artwork.
Chin, a Caldecott Medal winner, delivered the keynote speech during the Education Department’s annual Common Read program kick-off. The Vermont-based author received the 2022 Caldecott Medal for his illustrations in Watercress, a children’s book written by Andrea Wang. Chin also won a Caldecott Honor, Sibert Honor and the NCTE Orbis Pictus award for his book Grand Canyon.
Chin’s words in the mural are from his Caldecott Medal acceptance speech:
“We must be able to see the humanity in people who are different from us, which is why we need books that reflect the whole American story, in all of its diversity, and why we must fight censorship with every tool we possess.”
The community mural was created in 2022 in partnership with local artist collective Juniper Creative Arts to honor the 10th anniversary of the Education Department’s Common Read program. The finished piece includes concepts and artwork from Saint Michael’s community members and quotes from authors. Members of Juniper Creative Arts were also present at the event on Sept. 11 to speak about the creation of the mural and the meaning behind the artwork.
Grappling with concepts critical to today’s classrooms
At the Sept. 11 event, Chin discussed the importance of diverse perspectives and authentic representation in children’s literature and teaching. He also addressed how to create equitable and just educational systems – one of the Common Read program’s goals – as he drew connections to broader themes in this year’s Common Read selection, Front Desk by Kelly Yang, including racism, social class, immigration, assimilation, multilingualism, and multiculturalism.
Before the event, Assistant Professor of Education Rebecca Eunmi Haslam expressed how much of an honor it was to have Chin come to campus, “especially as students in the Education Department are navigating the national debate around book bans, censorship of school curriculum, and efforts to limit access to information about struggles for justice throughout history.”
Haslam, who also coordinates the new Racial Equity and Educational Justice graduate certificate program, added “Our students are thinking critically about how to ensure their future classrooms and educational spaces are places where everyone in their care sees themselves reflected in relevant, accessible curricula that was designed with their thriving in mind.”
The event featured an interactive activity led by two students in the Elementary Education program, Nika Mitchell ’25 and Kate Henry ’25. The students asked audience members to think about and share their observations of the mural in addition to the ways the mural called audience members into action. This helped model part of the Education Department’s mission statement around “balancing action with reflection to stay centered and purposeful in our lives.”
About the Education Department’s Common Read program
The Saint Michael’s College Education Department’s annual Common Read program committee identifies a book of importance each year to share with students in both the undergraduate and graduate Education programs. The book selected each year speaks to the department’s mission statement, which includes a commitment to holistic education, antiracism, equity and justice as well as creating sustainable communities and schools. The book selection – serving as a model for the power of literacy – provides a basis for discussion and learning throughout the year. The Common Read program and the community mural also serve as resistance to efforts around the country to challenge or ban books for children and young adults.
This year’s Education Department Common Read selection is Front Desk, author Kelly Yang’s 2019 debut novel about a 10-year-old Chinese American immigrant girl who manages the front desk of a motel where her parents work. The book addresses rich and relevant themes including racism, social class, immigration, and more, much of which is grounded in the author’s own life experiences.
Yang will speak to the campus community during an event on Oct. 19 at 6:15 p.m. in McCarthy Recital Hall. She will deliver a virtual keynote address at the panel event, which will also feature local educators, education professionals, and activists from the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. The event will be an opportunity for dialogue, learning, and perspective-sharing around anti-Asian racism, Asian-American identity, and the experiences of AAPI students at school. Themes in Yang’s book will also be discussed, including racism, social class, immigration, assimilation, multilingualism, multiculturalism, family dynamics, and more.