For the last 10 years, Words Take Wing, an organization affiliated with the UC Davis School of Education, has been committed to bringing in a diverse range of children’s book authors and illustrators to its annual event at Freeborn Hall.
The group’s yearly event is primarily geared toward children, who are able to attend for free, in the hopes that they will be encouraged to read and write more.
“By engaging with the author and his or her books, children develop empathy for a variety of perspectives. From this, I believe that students become potential agents of change as they grow in their knowledge of diverse cultures,” said Joanne Banducci, founder of the event. “Additionally, each child gains insight into the power of written, spoken and illustrated ideas that express the unique voice of the individual.”
The organization makes an effort to bring in ethnically diverse authors, hoping to resonate with children who may be the same ethnicity and to open other children to different viewpoints.
“For kids of color we have a wide variety of ethnic authors so that they can see people in roles that they can imagine themselves in later. It’s so important to have representation,” said Sandi Redenbach, who is one the group’s committee members.
Some authors who have come in the past include Pam Muñoz Ryan in 2006, Joyce Carol Thomas in 2011 and Andrea Davis and Brian Pinkney in 2014. During the event, the authors are asked to talk about their life stories and how they go about crafting their books.
The process for finding the right author takes approximately a year or more of work. According to Redenbach, everyone on the committee does their own research and brings forward an idea, and from there they narrow the list down. Each committee member brings their own past experiences to help them in the process.
Wendy Chase, another committee member, works as a librarian outside of the organization. Her expertise with children and books helps with the selection process.
“I help them find authors primarily since I still work with the age group that we usually have our event geared to,” Chase said.
Being a librarian also helps her appreciate the impact that Words Take Wing has on the attendees of the event.
“I guess being a librarian, it’s very special to me, and being an educator I’m very much involved with diversity in my school, so it means that children who would normally never get the opportunity to hear an author speak get to meet them and get their autograph,” Chase said.
All the other committee members also have close ties to literature and education. These ties not only help them select authors, but also help them reach out to the public.
“We all do different things. I promote in this area [Davis]. We also have people in Woodland and Sacramento. The group is made up of librarians and teachers,” Redenbach said.
Redenbach, for instance, used to teach Shakespeare and literature before retiring. Banducci is a recently retired faculty member from the UC Davis School of Education, and Shannon Cannon, who is a co-chair for Words Take Wing, works as a member of the Teacher Education Faculty in the UC Davis School of Education as well. In total there are about 12 members on their committee.
“It’s a great committee because we are all diverse and have different ideas about what’s important,” Redenbach said.
In 2004, when Words Take Wing was first started, there were just four committee members.
“I presented an idea to Dean Harold Levine of the School of Education about developing an event that would feature authors to amplify the role of reading multicultural literature in the classroom,” Banducci said.
Since starting, the goals of the committee haven’t changed much — to promote reading, writing and diversity — but its location has. The event has only recently moved to Freeborn Hall after switching from the Mondavi Center.
“The authors used to come to the Mondavi Center, but then it just got too expensive. It’s just complicated with them so we came to Freeborn,” Chase said.
However, the upcoming MU renovations threw a wrench into their future plans. Chase said that it put them at crossroads since it was one of the few faculties on campus that could hold all 1,200 kids who attend the event. Right now she said they are looking to holding the event at the ARC, but once again fees could be an issue.
Words Take Wing is a completely nonprofit organization, and hopes to remain so to keep its free-admission status.
“In the earlier years, some of our funding was derived from ticket sales, but based on the support of our donors, we have turned our focus to reaching the most deserving children in the region,” Cannon said.
Despite many generous donors like Sutter Children’s Center, Western Health Advantage, Raley’s, Children’s Miracle Network, UC Davis School of Education and the UC Davis Children’s Hospital, the program still needs more funding for its future plans.
“We hope to raise enough funding to move the program to a larger venue, which will allow us to expand our reach to include even more students,” Banducci said.
Though their plans for expansion are still murky, they are already courting Joseph Bruchac, a Native American author from the East Coast, for next year’s event.
LEYLA KAPLAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.