Down The Hall

Reimagining Texts

Teacher librarian Julia Torres helps students and educators alike reimagine the role of books.

As a teacher librarian, Julia Torres collects and shares resources, develops and leads professional development for educators, collaborates with teachers, encourages student literacies and advocates for school libraries.

Librarian and co-founder of #DisruptTexts Julia Torres
Photography by 211 Photography

How did you become a teacher librarian?

I am an English teacher serving as a librarian, which is very different from someone who has a master’s degree in library science. We had no library on campus for several years, so, to meet my students’ needs, I developed a classroom library that was really strong and robust with diverse titles to pique their interest. In time, kids from different classes would come into my classroom to borrow books. I then started to get grants to inject more life into my classroom library through the addition of more (and better) titles.

One day, a friend from district library services came to visit my classroom and was impressed with what she saw. In short, my dedication and passion for matching students with just the right books came to their attention. It was revealed to me eventually that many people within the district, together with community members, had been working hard behind the scenes to get our library back. So, it was natural that I would be asked to be the teacher librarian on campus. I already knew the conditions under which our students and staff were operating.


What are your recommendations for building a classroom library?

I think we build libraries through the lens of our own experience. So right now it’s very trendy and popular for teachers to build libraries with culturally diverse texts. However, that means different things to different people. For some folks, it’s going to mean buying any book with a child of color on the cover in order to have the appearance of “representation.” For some, it’s going to mean buying anything that was positively reviewed by educators of color. For others, that’s going to mean buying exclusively #OwnVoices texts. ...

I personally do not want texts in my library that are written about the lives of people of color, featuring protagonists who are people of color, that are written by white authors unless I know the author, their process and background. I’ve read too many books where authors don’t have language or other details right because they’re writing from outside a culture or specific lived reality. The fact that someone has researched a specific identity extensively does not mean you know what it is to live in that skin. We are doing our students an injustice if we don’t think that they can identify the details that are missing or incorrect.

All teachers are pressed for time. I get it. But this is not work that can be done quickly or passed off to someone else. It is past time for us to become accustomed to asking ourselves how we are going to advocate for the inclusion of a text if it has been selected simply on the basis that it’s from a text list.


How is your work as a teacher librarian different from that of a teacher?

A lot of my work is helping folks understand how to do the work of disruption or reimagining. I prefer to call it reimagining these days. #DisruptTexts is a movement I’m a part of, a co-founder with Tricia Ebarvia, Lorena Germán and Dr. Kim Parker. I’m very proud of the work that has been done through that organization and movement because the community has changed the way people think and the actions they take regarding text selection and curriculum implementation.

In addition to participating in online communities and conversations that push thinking and practice, we have to consider ways we can reimagine how to do work within whatever context we are in, because there is something that can be done in wherever we are, and from any role in which we might be serving. What has been really great is that lately, teachers have started to come to me and say, “I’m not feeling this book that I’ve been told by the district I have to use. So what are my choices? How can we collaborate, language arts teacher and librarian, to assign something better? Because the response that I was getting from the students, whether it’s because of my teaching or because of the book, didn’t work.” I see this as an incredible opportunity for teachers and librarians to work together, leveraging the strengths of people in both roles to think in new ways and transform the way we think about what texts are worthy of academic study.


What’s the best part of your work? 

The best part of my day is to book-talk books to kids. I basically sell without the exchange of money. If there is an exchange, it’s love for books and the development of a relationship with words, language, art. I sell books to kids all day, and I’m one of millions of librarians around the country that does that. I’m honored to be able to link arms with them because I feel like that’s the best job in the world. When I see a child book-talking the book that they just finished reading to another kid, that’s a heart-opening experience.

It’s so exciting when a book written by an author that represents voices that have been marginalized, underrepresented [or] discounted finds its way into the hands of one of my students and they feel seen. Let me tell you: There is no child thirsty for reading like one who has been denied the simple pleasures of a beautiful, culturally responsive, well-run library for as many years as our kids have been denied.

Julia Torres is a teacher librarian in Denver Public Schools and a co-founder of #Disrupt Texts, which aims to create “a more inclusive, representative and equitable language arts curriculum.”

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    With all due respect, it is disconcerting that Ms Torres will not allow books in her library written by persons outside of the culture. A good writer imagines and empathizes. To discount a book because 'they're writing from outside...(a) specific lived reality.' No one voice can completely represent a group's experience, nor is the experience of 'living in that skin' the same across individuals unless you want to reduce them to that commonality. Otherwise how could one gender write about another, for example. It is fabulous the publishing world is starting to open up and given budget constraints if you want to promote one author over another because of over representation of white authors, fine, or to remove poorly written books, but do not take away an author's right to imagine.
    Kubajean, BIPOC have been denied the joy that comes with reading books that represent us and our experiences, stories that are genuine and written from a place that instills pride and joy. Ms. Torres ain’t taking any author’s “right to imagine”. She simply believes, and as I’m sure many people believe, that investing in books that are by us, about us and for us has a much larger return on investment. Students rejoice in materials they connect with. My 13 year old’s favorite author is Jason Reynolds and their favorite superhero is Miles Morales, the Black and Boricua Spider-man. Representation matters. The authors of such work, matter too. Could J.K. Rowling’s create characters from Carlos Hernández’s series like Sal and Gaby or like Jason Reynold’s Ghost, Lu, Patina, and Sunny or Octavia Butler’s Anyanwu? Nah, her most famous character is Harry Potter, but she’s good at that tho. The Black and author’s of color are storytellers that tell our stories, stories we connect to or characters we connect to. Ain’t nothing wrong with that K. As educators of color who have historically had to fight for resources in our schools, we know what Black and Brown students need to connect with text and build on their appreciation and love for books.

    We are tired of being reduced to racist and bigoted nonsensical “commonalities”. But that’s not our fault. White institutions created systemic oppression and people with perspectives like yours sustain it. So with all due respect, check yo’self.
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