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Honoring Own Voices Literature

Featuring Measuring Up by Lily Lamotte and Illustrated by Ann Xu

Immersing our children in diverse literature is on the forefront of many of our minds. We fill our classroom libraries and family bookshelves with stories that feature heterogeneous arrays of main characters. All diverse books, however, are not created equal. In a commitment to honoring authenticity and valuing the stories told by diverse authors, it is important to curate literary collections of Own Voices stories. 

The #OwnVoices movement was coined by Corinne Duyvis in 2016. This movement emphasizes the importance of authors of marginalized and minoritized groups, telling their own stories about their own perspectives and experiences. It values not just diverse representation, but representative honesty. Racial diversity, neurodiversity, mental health diversity, ability diversity, gender identity diversity, religious diversity, socioeconomic status diversity, are just some of the ideals that we consider as we select books for our children. When we as educators and parents explicitly prioritize Own Voices literature, we send strong messages to children that all of their stories matter and deserve to be heard without stereotypes, oversimplifications, or assumptions.

“Time and again, marginalized people have seen their stories taken from them, misused, and published as authentic, while marginalized authors have had to jump hurdle after hurdle to be published themselves.” (Kayla Waley, Kidlit) It matters that this is understood by our students. When students read a book that featured a minoritized main character, they should know that the story is true to the author’s life experience. 

In my hunt for Own Voices literature for my students, I stumbled upon a gem. Measuring Up, written by Lily LaMotte and illustrated by Ann Xu, is a middle grade graphic novel about a girl named Cici who immigrates with her parents from her home in Taiwan to Seattle, leaving her beloved grandmother behind. Cici, who loved to cook alongside her grandmother back in Taiwan, is desperate to earn the money to purchase a plane ticket for her grandmother to visit. She enters a cooking competition, set on earning the grand prize money. Throughout the competition, Cici learns about many American cooking techniques, and eventually finds herself as she realizes that her cooking, like herself, is grounded in her Taiwanese heritage and shaped by her new American identity. Watch these fourth graders share their reactions to Measuring Up!

cooking competition

Measuring Up reminds us that no one of us is all one thing. We grow and are shaped by the places we go, people we meet, and changes that our life’s course takes. At first glance, this story appears whimsical and fun. After a second read, it becomes clear that Measuring Up, shares sophisticated themes with young readers, like intersectionality, immigration, friendship, family, and the message, be true to yourself.cici friends

Like the main character, Cici, author Lily LaMotte is a Taiwanese-American. I loved the way that LaMotte escaped standard patterns in immigration stories while showing the way that Cici connects with her peers and developed deep friendships. She shares the subtleties of the main character’s fears and anxieties about nuanced cultural differences like sleepovers and home decor as Cici lets new friends into her life. LaMotte masterfully shows readers that connectedness and sameness can be found inside of our differences. cici close up (Check out this video of LaMotte and her son cooking the winning recipe in Measuring Up!)

As you build out your libraries, feature Own Voices book bins, and teach children to consider who is telling each story, Measuring Up, by Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu should be served in a place of prominence on the shelf. It is truly a graphic novel like no other that tells a warm and uplifting story that should be read by all!

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