A Book in The Hands of a Child

Barnes and Noble2

“You know they’re closing all of the Barnes and Noble bookstores,” my dad announced to me during our weekly visit. “That can’t be right,” I responded. But it was. Last month, the last Barnes and Noble in Queens, NY closed.  I drove past it recently and my heart ached at the sight of it: Stripped down, locked, and barren. Those magical brown doors were the gateway to a wondrous world where my daughter’s love affair with books and reading began.

Our routine was simple. Each week during the first five years of my daughter’s life, we’d visit our local library. She’d pick out 25 picture books, the maximum they’d allow, and we’d race home to spread them across the carpeted floor of our living room apartment. Then, we’d read, read, read! By the end of the week, she’d select a favorite or two from the pile, and we’d purchase these books from our Barnes & Noble. Over time, we grew an impressive home library filled with beloved books. Fifteen years later, many of these books can be found on the shelves of my classroom library where they are read and loved by my students.

Barnes and Noble

As I stared at the vacant bookstore, I was flooded with memories. All of those years browsing the aisles, dollar bills or gift card in my daughter’s hands as she thoughtfully determined which book, out of all the gems surrounding her, she’d purchase that day. What does it mean for young children to grow up in a neighborhood without bookstores? To instead, have to travel many, many miles to experience the thrill of purchasing a book of their own?

Our school and classroom libraries are increasingly crucial to our students. With the closing of small and large bookstores and the reduction of funding of local libraries along with their hours of operation, schools will be the only opportunities for many children to be surrounded by large selections of great books.

I appreciate and embrace change. I understand that change is essential for the growth of any civilization and society. I am not arguing against online booksellers. I use them frequently and could not imagine functioning efficiently without them. Instead, I’m arguing that we need both.

Our children need to experience the possibilities of a new book that can only come from a face-to-face encounter. The sight of it; the cool feel of its cover; the smell of the pages. It’s a sensory experience that brings about a visceral response; one that results in pure excitement for reading.

As I drove a bridge away from those first formative years of my daughter’s childhood at our Barnes and Noble, images of the books she encountered and loved filled my mind. Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boyton; If you Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff; Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel; The Magic School Bus; The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron; Meet Danitra Brown by Nikki Grimes; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

I’ll always treasure the hours spent there, selecting the perfect literary gift for my daughter, family members, and friends. In this ever changing landscape of online activity, let’s remember that few things are more powerful than a book in the hands of a child.

 

Sonja Cherry-Paul  enjoys trying on a new book as much as trying on a new pair of shoes. She is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee and has been immersed in reading wonderful books by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark.  Sonja is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. 

 

 

Great Books Featuring Diverse Characters

Yesterday was  multicultural book day. A wonderful chat took place last night on twitter. Be sure to search #ReadYourWorld to read about the great ideas and recommendations shared during this discussion. We know the important work of diversifying our classroom libraries and curriculum must extend beyond one day of the year. Therefore, to help raise awareness about wonderful books that are reflective of our diverse world, below are twenty must read titles. These books are terrific additions to classroom libraries featuring diverse characters, many of which are written and illustrated by diverse authors. Shout out your favorite from this list or another that you love. Let’s keep it going!

 

  • Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle
  • Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby
  • Poems to Dream Together=Poemas Para So’ar Juntos by Francisco X. Alarcon

 

 

  • The Shepherd’s Granddaughter by Anne Laurel Carter
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle
  • The Case for Loving: The Fight For Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko

 

 

  • The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
  • When Tia Lola Came to Visit (Stay) by Julia Alvarez
  • Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter

 

 

  • Sylvia & Aki by Winifred Conkling
  • Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins
  • A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee Tai
  • Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

 

 

  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Come On Rain by Karen Hesse
  • Honey I Love by Eloise Greenfield
  • Mama Where Are You From? by Marie Bradbury

 

Sonja Cherry-Paul is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee. She has been immersed in reading wonderful books created by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark.  She is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. 

Celebrating Multicultural Books

each kindness  Tia Lola blackbird fly

Recently, I wrote about the need for more diverse books. I shared how I pulled books off of my shelves that feature main characters from diverse background and then looked to see which of these books are about contemporary characters and issues. The pile of books meeting these criteria was incredibly small.

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. I absolutely love the way authors of this genre work their magic to carry readers away in a time machine to experience and understand events of the past. These talented authors make it possible for readers to step in the shoes of characters to see the world through their eyes. This important work builds a foundation for students to understand how the past shapes the future and the ways that social injustices begin and still thrive today. We can never have too many of these books.

However, similar to some of the issues spotlighted by those supporting the #OscarsSoWhite protests, it seems as if publishers as well as the academy, are content to limit the types of stories that can be told featuring or about people of color to stories mainly about the historical past. We need realistic fiction books that feature the lives of characters from a wide variety of backgrounds. We need more stories about diverse characters and their contemporary lives. We need all students to see themselves reflected in the stories they read in order to feel valued and that their lives matter. Therefore, we need everyone – teachers, parents, and students – not just those from diverse groups, to speak up and out about the need for books that reflect ALL of us.

luck violet diamond liberty porter

As a long time classroom teacher and educator, I’ve found that my students, most of whom are White, are excited to read good stories, no matter who is featured on the cover and within the pages. My students are eager to learn about people from all backgrounds and experiences and to see the world through a variety of eyes. So what we have to ask ourselves is where does the resistance to multicultural books truly come from? And more importantly, how can we break down these barriers?

Wednesday, January 27 is multicultural book day. We can thank the great work the pioneers of this day are doing to bring attention to the importance of celebrating diversity in children’s literature. Let’s all join their efforts not just on this day, but also on the days following.

Here are some ways to help raise awareness:

  • Use the hashtag #ReadYourWorld  and #diversebooks to share the terrific multicultural books you and your students love. Let’s flood twitter with recommendations for great books that are reflective of our diverse world.
  • Tweet publishers who are publishing multicultural books and the work of diverse authors. Let’s show them that we are purchasing these books and that our students want to read them.
  • Use January 27 as an opportunity to evaluate your classroom libraries, reading units, and to actively think about the ways you can promote diverse books. Check multiculturalchildrensbookday.com for recommended titles and resources. Borrow these books from your school or local libraries to use immediately. Hold onto a list of your favorites to order for your classroom and/or ask your school librarian to order them for the school.
  • Our students’ voices are the most powerful influencing factor about books. Make students aware of the lack of multicultural books and ask them to join the campaign. Ask them to write about the books they’re reading featuring diverse characters and why they love them. Let’s send these letters to publishers so that we can begin to address this persistent gap in children’s literature.

In order to prepare students to responsibly and compassionately participate in a democratic society, reconceptualizing curriculum in ways that are inclusive of diversity is key. Multicultural books offer students  alternative ways of understanding issues and viewing the world.

 

Sonja Cherry-Paul is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee. She has been immersed in reading wonderful books created by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark.  She is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. 

We Need More Diverse Books

Recently, I attended a workshop and the following quote was displayed on the screen:

When someone with the authority of a teacher describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing. ~ Adrienne Rich

I wept quietly on the inside for several moments after reading this. I couldn’t help but think about all of the children I teach and all of the subtle, yet significant ways they may feel invisible as a result of the curriculum and particularly, the books we read.

Books literally surround my classroom. They’re on displays, on counter-tops, on magnetic shelves on the chalkboard, seemingly floating off of the wall on invisible shelves, in book cases, and in baskets. Surely, within this generous collection is a substantial amount of books that, as Rich states, describes a world that is inclusive of all of my students.

I returned to my classroom and began hunting through my library. I pulled books off of shelves, bookcases, and stands that feature diverse characters. I displayed them on the carpet. I went around the classroom twice, three, four times. The books facing up at me on the carpet represented only a fraction of the books in my classroom. Surely I had more. I didn’t.

diverse books

I discovered it was easy to find racially and culturally diverse books within my collection of historical fiction. Historical fiction is an important and compelling genre.  But how do children see the significance of their lives in the world today and in the future if the only reflection of themselves is from the past? What messages are children receiving as a result of our teachings, during, as Rich might argue, this naming of a world where some are included and others aren’t? Where are the contemporary books that help all children feel visible and valued?

We need more diverse books. We need more books that specifically spotlight the racial and cultural diversity that is reflected in our classrooms and in the world. The books we choose to celebrate in our classrooms send explicit messages to our students about who counts in the world and who doesn’t. The popularization of only those books that present a narrow landscape of the world occurs at the expense of the self-esteem and overall well-being of all of our children. We need to recognize less popular authors who are doing important work to include the lives of diverse characters in stories. We need to support them so that publishers know that yes, we will buy these books, too. An eye opening conversation about this topic occurred on twitter last week (#tcrwp hosted by @diversebooks). WeNeedDiverseBooks.org is working to raise awareness. Their mission is simple and clear: “A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.”

Adrienne Rich reminds us that as teachers we hold a powerful platform. And from this platform we have the power to include, affirm, and celebrate by making conscious decisions about the books we make available in our classrooms.

 

Sonja Cherry-Paul has been an educator for the past 17 years. She is a middle school English teacher and co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. Sonja is a Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards committee member who is committed to celebrating authors and illustrators who address issues related to social justice.