Merri Monks was born in New Mexico but has spent most of her life in Iowa. She became a librarian because, probably like all the Dynamos, she loves libraries. You can imagine my surprise when, after years of trying to interest people in the Día concept, this lovely woman came up to me and said, “I’m planning to promote Día throughout the state of Iowa.” We were in St. Louis at the IBBY/USBBY conference (2013). I almost fainted. True to her word, Merri has been busy planning and has recruited some experienced Iowa librarians to assist with a webinar that she’ll be sharing with her colleagues across the country. The girl who found libraries a “learning haven” now strives to make all libraries a haven for all children. Gracias, Merri!
1. When and how did you become interested in sharing bookjoy?
Bookjoy is something I’ve experienced ever since I learned how to read but became aware of bookjoy in the context of Pat Mora’s work through USBBY and its program last year at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Seattle. At that time, I became interested in IBBY/USBBY and in attending its conference in St. Louis in October of 2013. I’ve long been interested in literature that chronicles the immigrant experience from one culture to another, in children’s, young adult and adult literature. As I’ve learned about the history of Iowa, whose citizens I serve through its state library, I’ve been struck by the diversity in its population, contrary, perhaps, to a stereotypical view. To mention some of our newest citizens, we have new residents from Mexico and other Central American countries, Eritrea, Bosnia, Burma and Thailand. Making sure that Iowa’s youngest citizens from all cultures—and their families—can experience bookjoy, that wonderful experience of settling down to read a really good book—is important to most youth services librarians, including me. Sharing bookjoy is the primary reason I became I librarian. I love books, and sharing them with other people.
2. How did you first learn about Día and what has been your experience with Día?
I’ve been aware of Día for a number of years but just recently am in a position to encourage large numbers of libraries on a state-wide basis to consider programming for Dia. We have one library in Iowa that has been doing outstanding Día programming for 15 years, the Marshalltown Public Library. Their youth services librarian, Joa LaVille, will be a guest speaker at a state-wide webinar we are doing on April 2, 2014, as will Betty Collins, youth services librarian at the Musser Public Library in Muscatine, Iowa. We have a number of communities in Iowa, a largely rural state, with significant percentages of immigrant families. Recognizing their cultures and international literature for all children is a goal of bringing awareness of Día to Iowa’s libraries. In 2011, the Collaborative Summer Library Program’s theme was “One World, Many Stories,” which proved to be a very popular and well-received set of programs in Iowa’s libraries. Continuing this international theme on an ongoing basis is part of what we hope to accomplish with providing our youth services librarians with resources and programming ideas for Día. Coming as it does shortly before the beginning of the summer library program, we also hope to encourage our librarians to keep reaching out to families in their communities who are new to the U.S., and are likely unfamiliar with the resources available to them in our public libraries. We also hope to continue to encourage our librarians to be inclusive in their collection development and to be aware not only of the demographics of their communities, but to ensure that all children have a chance to learn about many cultures in the books they read.
3. What are your hopes for Día’s future in Iowa and nationally?
Put simply, to expand it, to bring a greater awareness in our state of the needs of all children, and to support our libraries as they develop Día programs and the outreach efforts to go with them. We’ll start this year with our state-wide webinar on April 2, preceded by emails on our youth mail lists listing resources and planning tools. In years to follow, we will be able to schedule the statewide webinars/workshops earlier and to encourage libraries to weave Día into all their family programs.
4. What helpful tip(s) do you have for those organizing a Día event for the first time?
a. Get the support of your parent organization. Here in Iowa, we built Día into Iowa Library Services/State Library of Iowa’s strategic plan.
b. Be willing to start small and grow—start with what you have and build on it.
c. Learn about DíaDia—what is it, how did it start, how it can benefit families in your communities.
d. Learn from others—ask how they’ve done it.
5. What is your favorite example of Bookjoy either as a child or adult?
There is a wonderful feeling when a book pulls me right in and the pages of the book disappear, and I’m transported into the world created by the author. Frank Baum’s Oz books did that for me as a child, as did the Greek and Roman myths, fairy tales. A book that I recently read that was a bookjoy experience is A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Another recent good one was May We Be Forgiven: A Novel by A. M. Homes. Recent YA novels that have deeply engaged me are Robin LaFever’s first two volumes of His Fair Assassin Trilogy, Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph. And then, when my nieces were born (they are now 23 and 27), I enrolled each of them in a children’s Book of the Month Club (which no longer exists), so that every month, they got packages of books in the mail. That helped to make avid readers of both of them.
6. What are you reading now?
I read in multiple categories—children’s, young adult, adult fiction, adult non-fiction and professional reading. Here are my current titles in those categories:
Children: Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai; Yes! We Are Latinos by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy, Pictures by David Diaz; La Malinche: The Princess Who Helped Cortes Conquer the Aztec Empire by Francisco Serrano, illustrated by Pablo Serrano; Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists, edited by Chris Duffy; Migrant by Maxine Trottier, pictures by Isabelle Arsenault.
Young Adults: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline; Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
Adult Fiction: Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin
Adult Nonfiction: The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer; Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson
Professional: Zing! Seven Creativity Practices for Educators and Students by Pat Mora; Storytimes for Everyone! By Saroj Nadkarni Ghoting and Pamela Martin-Diaz.