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What Do People Call You? – Meet our New Project Manager

Illustration by Luisa Uribe from Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Photograph of Lisely Laboy

Lisely Laboy has joined the Diverse BookFinder team as the new project manager. She will work with us to expand the Diverse BookFinder database to include Middle Grade and Young Adult books. Lisely comes to us with a master's degree in Information and Library Sciences from Florida State University and undergraduate degrees from the University of Florida in Sociology and Women’s Studies. She has 10 years of public library experience, including time as a programming librarian for children and teens. Lisely also brings a significant personal investment in the work...

My name is Lisely and for as long as I can remember, that has been a statement full of conflict.

The name Lisely (Lih-SEH-lee), with its particular pronunciation and spelling, was created by my Puerto Rican mother as a co-mingling of her own nickname and her beloved sister’s middle name.

For almost the entirety of my childhood, I hated my name.

In school, I dreaded watching my teachers get halfway through the roll only to go silent and start to cast their eyes around the room hoping I'd save them. I'd hide from embarrassment (and roll my eyes as a teen) every time my mother pointedly corrected the pronunciation of a doctor or nurse. On our family road trips and vacations, I was always disappointed to find that no gift shop, rest stop, or tourist trap ever had a pencil, bookmark, or bicycle license plate with my name on it. I still remember the day a middle-school substitute teacher told me that the correct pronunciation of my name "didn't matter anyway" because he'd probably never see me again.

I'm older now. I've studied and grown. I've learned pride and the power and worth of my culture, my languages, my color, and my name.

My name, however, is still a conflict. When I tell people my name (now I'm the one correcting them), I get strange looks, awkward compliments, and most commonly I get asked; "What do people call you?"

My name is Lisely and you can call me Lisely.

In April of 2018, I'd been a Children's Librarian for about two months when the newly published Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal crossed my desk. It's a beautiful book about a little Latinx girl with a name that's different and long and beautiful and meaningful for what it says about her and her big, powerful, Latinx family.

Illustration from Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
Illustration by Juana Martinez-Neal from her book, Alma and How She Got Her Name

I was thirty-one years old when I read Alma and How She Got Her Name. A couple of years later, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow & Luisa Uribe’s Your Name Is A Song also crossed my desk with it’s beaming illustrations and bouncing, rhythmic language celebrating the beauty in all sorts of names.

Illustration by Luisa Uribe from Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

For me, these picture books illustrate perfectly my passion for diverse books and the importance of Diverse BookFinder.

When I first came across these books I was enchanted and a little stunned. I found myself reading about experiences that were so close to my own. Books about little girls with names that were unique, and that didn’t roll easily off the English-speaking tongue.

It was a new experience for me. Even as an adult, I felt seen.

When I think back on the books I read as a child (and I was a voracious reader), the only one I can think of about names is Kevin Henkes’ Chrysanthemum and while that book is lovely and sweet in its own right, Chrysanthemum is a mouse, and that’s something I certainly never was.

The number of books featuring BIPOC protagonists lags far behind the number of books with white main characters–or even those with animal or other characters. Taken together, books about white children, talking bears, trucks, monsters, potatoes, etc. represent nearly three quarters (71%) of children’s and young adult books published in 2019.

Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) - 2019 Diversity Statistics

I wonder how much faster, I might have learned to love and accept my name if there had been books like Alma and How She Got Her Name and Your Name Is A Song when I was a child.

I wonder how different lots of childhood experiences might have been for me if, as a child, I’d ever read a book about a Puerto Rican girl, a girl with big curly hair, a girl with parents who spoke with non-English accents, or a girl who spoke two languages at home. The fact is that I never read those books. They didn’t exist, or if they did, I didn’t have access to them.

These are the reasons why I so relish the opportunity to work with the team at Diverse BookFinder. Here we aim to not only collect and define diverse books but to create tools that make it easier for librarians, teachers, and parents to discover those books and deliver them to the children who most need them; the children that need and deserve to be seen.

My hope is that as we expand the scope of Diverse BookFinder we will equally expand its impact. That as we add books aimed at older children and young adults, we can continue to facilitate access to books wherein young people from around the world and from all walks of life can find themselves reflected.

I yearn for the day when no person reaches the age of thirty-one without ever seeing themselves in a book. Now, I know that’s a big ask, but I’m ready to get to work!  

Your Name Is a Song


by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

"Frustrated by a day full of teachers and classmates mispronouncing her beautiful name, a little girl tells her mother she never wants to come back to school. In response, the girl's mother teaches her about the musicality of African, Asian, Black-American, Latinx, and Middle Eastern names on their lyrical walk home through the city. Empowered by this newfound understanding, the young girl is ready to return the next day to share her knowledge with her class. Your Name is a Song is a celebration to remind all of us about the beauty, history, and magic behind names. Your Name is a Song includes back matter perfect for parents, educators, caregivers, and young readers who want to learn more about the names featured in the story. The "Glossary of Names" lists each name’s meaning, origin, and pronunciation. Additionally, readers can use a listed link to access an online video of the author pronouncing all the names in the book." -- publisher

Beautiful Life Cross Group Race/Culture Concepts

You can find even more recommendations of diverse books about names in one of our previous blogs: "What's in a Name?"

Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
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