Literacies in the Library

Literacies in the Library

By Lora Worden, Lower School Librarian

The intersection of multiple literacies is at the heart of the Lower School Library program. The recent convergence of three guest artists in the Lower School Library exemplifies this. Though their backgrounds and their creative expressions are vastly different, the works of Nikkolas Smith, Pedro Martín, and Emily Arrow collectively encompass reading literacy, visual literacy, musical literacy, social emotional literacy, and cultural literacy. 

But why these authors, and why now?

In my instructional practice, collection development, and library programming, I strive to connect students to stories that correspond with Oregon Episcopal School’s values and curricula.

All three authors’ works connect with the school’s values, beginning with cultivating community relationships. I purchase new books for the Lower School Library from several local, independent bookstores, including Green Bean Books, and have forged a partnership with their staff that has led to several OES author events, including these most recent visits. This summer, Jennifer Green, co-owner of Green Bean Books, asked if OES would be interested in hosting Nikkolas Smith and Pedro Martín for a school visit in November when both authors/illustrators would be in town for the annual Portland Book Festival.  Knowing that many other authors would also be in town for the festival, I reached out to author/performer Emily Arrow, to invite her to perform in the Lower School Library as well.

Nikkolas Smith shared his new book, The Artivist, with first, second, and third graders. In this tender and powerful story about a boy who combines his love of painting with his desire to help his community, Smith invites readers to consider how they might use their own passions to inspire change, writing, “The Artivist doesn’t only paint. She sings. He writes. They film. We repurpose. We build.” He ends the book with, “The Artivist is you. What change will you create?”

This book connects beautifully with the second grade Changemaker unit, and exemplifies our Community Engagement Vision Statement: “Exploring the many challenges facing the world today, with a particular focus on economic justice, social justice, eco justice, and intergenerational justice” to empower our students to “​​individually and collectively realize our power for good.”

Stories like this help us cultivate curiosity and creativity. They also help us cultivate compassion, for ourselves and for each other. While speaking with fifth graders about his experience illustrating Born on the Water, Nikkolas Smith talked about the joy he felt illustrating his ancestors. That joy is evident in his stunning digital artwork, particularly on the double-spread illustration of the poem “And They Danced,” which he showed students how he illustrated. Fifth grade teacher Leah Wyllie shared why the fifth grade team reads this book with students each year, noting, “Born on the Water highlights the vibrant, technologically advanced civilizations in Africa, so that is part of our process for ensuring that the first context these children have for African people is not that of an enslaved person. We also want to teach enslavement through the lens of resistance, which Born on the Water does beautifully.”

Geography, culture, and family come together in a completely different way in Pedro Martín’s graphic memoir Mexikid. Pedro Martín discussed his work with third and fourth graders. Mexikid promotes both reading and visual literacy, while also promoting cultural literacy and social emotional literacy, and connecting with third graders’ exploration of identity and representation in children’s literature, and fourth graders’ overarching guiding questions: “How does location influence my story and the stories of others?” and “How are the stories of the past, present, and future connected?”

There are so many entry points for students to connect with the young Pedro Martín, whether it’s a love of comics, experience taking family road trips, or empathy for dealing with irksome siblings. At the same time, there is so much that may be new to students: moving a grandparent into their home, having eight brothers and sisters, or traveling 2000+ miles with your family in a Winnebago. In this way, Mexikid may be both a window and a mirror, a bridge or a sliding glass door. It is also, quite simply, a fantastic book.  As OES parent Summer Allen shared, “Oliver loves Mexikid! He's been flying through it this weekend—choosing to read it over both Rick Riordan and screen time (amazing!).”

It’s easy to see both the joy and the depth in Nikkolas Smith and Pedro Martín’s works. Similarly, Emily Arrow’s work weaves together the joy of reading with the depth of feelings expressed in the books she writes songs about. Writing catchy songs based on children’s books and singing those songs while expertly strumming her ukulele may seem like all fun and silliness (and it is fun!), but there is also rich social emotional learning woven into those songs. From overcoming a fear of dogs (“Hannah & Sugar”) to being patient with siblings (“Louise Loves Art”) to fostering friendships (“Be a Friend”), Emily Arrow had our Beginning Years students (and teachers!) captivated. Her interactive performance made reading, singing, and learning about our feelings fun and accessible for our youngest learners.

Having three artists from very different backgrounds share their work in very different formats—picture books, songs, and a graphic memoir—embodies the ultimate goal of the library program: to foster a love of learning and for students to read diversely both in content and in format.

Our Commitment to Justice states, “As an Episcopal school, we are rooted in the values of compassion for our human family, the strength of dialogue to promote understanding, and a commitment to inclusion. Our Episcopal roots further challenge us to create an environment—both within and beyond our school—that recognizes each person’s lived experiences and where everyone thrives and is valued.” Such a place can be found in the Lower School library. Whether it’s in our collection, our instruction, or in our program, you will find that the heart of our work is in valuing diversity and upholding the dignity of all people through promoting multiple literacies and fostering a love of learning. If you’d like to learn more about the Lower School library program, or order one of the remaining books or cds from these visits, please contact Lower School Librarian Lora Worden at

Donations to the OES Fund make programs like these possible. Thank you for supporting the OES mission.