I had an opportunity to hear Olugbemisola speak at the 2016 ILA Conference in Boston. She was on a panel of authors who all write funny middle grade novels about serious topics. Her two books, 8th Grade Superzero and Two Naomis, fit this description perfectly.
From the beginning, it was so clear that she “gets” kids. Even as she spoke about her work, she managed to strike a balance between passionately articulating the need to create literature in which kids can see themselves—and the big struggles they often face in today’s world—and still being funny herself. Have you ever had an experience where you hear a speaker and immediately want to read everything she has written? That was my experience with Olugbemisola. I knew we needed to bring her to Colorado for our conference.
Olugbemisola’s experience growing up as a child of immigrants and a voracious reader has had a powerful influence on her writing life (and her life life). She has been a strong proponent of the #weneeddiversebooks movement on social media and in her work with educators and kids. Olugbemisola recently published an article in NCTE Voices From the Middle, “Say That To My Face: On Teaching and Learning Diverse Literature for Empowerment and Transformation (Or, On Feeling Itchy).” In it, she makes the argument that putting books that reflect the incredible diversity of the real world into the hands of kids (and adults) is just the first step:
Reading itself can be such a transformational act of expansion. We need all hands on deck to join the movement beyond Diversity 101. How we engage with each other on this matters, and each one of us has power. It means being respectful, thoughtful, intentional, and honest. It means understanding that diverse literature provides opportunities, it’s not just an obligation. We are each other’s business. We can leave some questions unanswered. We can be uncomfortable. There is a world full of beautiful, complex stories out there—let’s go up to the front of the room to share, and struggle with, be challenged by, and enjoy them—together (Rhuday-Perkovich 2017).
Check out her website for more information on her two books, 8th Grade Superzero and Two Naomis.