Reading with a Critical Lens: Revisiting the “Dear America” series

by Colby Mayer (Furman University Education major)

It was not until I learned about critical comprehension while taking a class on young adult literature that I began to realize how many books were written with white children as the audience. While I believe that accurate portrayals of history are essential, I have discovered that many stories are left out. Reflecting on the Dear America series, which was widely popular when I was in elementary school, I now recognize limitations I had never noticed. The Dear America series and its multiple spin-offs have a combined 103 books, over 75% of which center white main characters. I was curious about how many of the Dear America books were about girls of color. What I found was disappointing, though not unexpected.

Of the 43 books originally published as a part of this series, only 8 were written about girls of color and only 5 of those were written by women of color. The books about girls of color include:

(Books written by women of color are marked with an asterisk).

*A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl by Patricia C. McKissack

*I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl by Joyce Hansen

My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl by Ann Rinaldi

The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl by Ann Turner

*Color Me Dark: The Diary of Nellie Lee Love, The Great Migration North by Patricia C. McKissack

Valley of the Moon: The Diary of Maria Rosalia de Milagros by Sherry Garland

*Look to the Hills: The Diary of Lozette Moreau, a French Slave Girl by Patricia C. McKissack

*With the Might of Angels: The Diary of Dawnie Rae Johnson by Andrea Davis Pinkney

When selecting texts for the study of history we must strive to discover which stories have been left out of the dominant narrative. As we work to include those texts, we must also search for those written by authors whose voices reflect the culture and experience of those whose stories are missing.

The importance of “own voice” texts is illustrated by a close look at two controversial books from the Dear America series written by authors outside the culture represented:

· My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl by Ann Rinaldi

· The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl by Ann Turner

These two books received pushback from Native American scholars who pointed out inaccuracies in the books.

My Heart is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl presents an oversimplified and inaccurate account of the experiences of children taken from their families and forced into Native American boarding schools. On the cover Nannie Little Rose refers to herself as a Sioux girl, which is not how she would have identified. In fact, she would have self-identified by her band (Sicangu), location (Spotted Tail Agency), or a smaller family group (Smith, n.d.).

Fiction Posing As Truth: A Critical Review of Ann Rinaldi’s My Heart Is on the Ground: The diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl by Cynthia Smith

What I found most alarming about this book are the “creative liberties” taken. In the author’s note, Rinaldi wrote about a visit to one of these boarding schools where she saw the burial ground. She reports that the names of the children who died while at the school “took on instant personalities” that she included in her book. Yet those children attended the school much later than the fictional Nannie Little Rose. Furthermore, Rinaldi paints the boarding schools in an almost positive light, by not showing the true horrors that took place there. There is no discussion of the coercion that many parents faced to send their children to these schools or the purpose of these schools to break the spirits of the children in attendance. This is particularly problematic when this book could be the first, and possibly only, introduction students have to the history of Native American boarding schools.

A more accurate depiction of boarding schools can be seen in the book, When We Were Alone by David Robertson.

Because the story is simplified, it is an appropriate book to use to introduce boarding schools to younger children. While it does not “sugar-coat” the realities of the boarding schools, it also does not venture into the graphic brutalities Native American children experienced.

Other recommended books include:

  • I Am Not a Number by Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis
  • When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton
  • Stolen Words by Melanie Florence
  • Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard
  • We Are Still Here by Traci Sorrell

The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl features the Long Walk from Fort Defiance to Fort Sumner in 1864 when Navajo families were forced out of their territories by the U.S. government. One issue is that a Navajo child is writing this story in a diary as her grandmother, Sarah Nita, tells it to her. This part of the story is quite confusing, as it would be considered disrespectful in Navajo storytelling for a child to write down the stories of their elders. In Navajo communities, elders tell stories to be learned, not to be written down, so it is unrealistic that an elder would ask a child to write down their story as they tell it. The book has other inaccuracies regarding Navajo culture, as well as historical inaccuracies. For example, the book shows the “kindness” of the soldiers throughout the Long Walk, which is historically inaccurate. Historical records reveal that soldiers beat, brutalized, raped, shot, and killed the Navajo. For greater detail I invite you to read the following article by Beverly Slapin who provides a more complete analysis/critique of the book.

[Archived] Avoid The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow, The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl by Beverly Slapin

Slapin notes, “the notion seems to be that translating Native experiences into a European worldview and form– while pretending to be an indigenous worldview and form– is a good thing.” When a book is written from a perspective different than our own, we must analyze how that story is told and where the information is coming from to ensure accuracy and authenticity. We must always seek to critically analyze the media around us and teach students to do the same.

The following questions fromCritical Comprehension: Lessons for Guiding Students to Deeper Meaning can be used to help unpack texts when reading critically.

For more information and lessons focused on critical comprehension, Katie and Lester’s new book titled Critical Comprehension: Lessons for Guiding Students to Deeper Meaningwill be released in February 2023. The book features a chapter titled “Interrogating the Past and the Present” that aligns with the ideas in this blog post.

Classroom Library Analysis Book Sorting Activity

If we want to help students explore multiple perspectives and participate in critical conversations about what they read, we must ensure access to a variety of texts that can both validate students’ identities and stretch their thinking. For many students, the classroom library is the most immediate access to texts. Therefore, our classroom libraries must be inclusive of all voices and perspectives. Consider a cursory assessment of your book collection to identify gaps and areas of overrepresentation or misrepresentation as you make book selections for your classroom library.

A book sorting activity is one way to begin that process. To get started pull a random sample of your library. We like to begin with 25 books. Sort the books into three stacks to examine gender:

Female main characters

Male main characters

Non-binary or characters whose identities are not defined

Pause and reflect: What do you notice? What surprises you? Does this identify a gap or an overrepresentation? Would this sample be representative of your entire collection?

Next, within each stack make another sort. This time, examine how the main character is portrayed.

Is the character portrayed in a stereotypical gender role (e.g. girls who love pink, fear bugs, play with dolls, etc./ boys who are rough and tumble, love the outdoors, explore nature, etc)?

Is the character portrayed in a non-stereotypical gender role (girls who dislike dresses, climb trees, like to fish, etc./ boys who prefer dolls, like sparkly things, prefer music or art, etc.)? 

Pause and reflect: What do you notice? What does this suggest for your library? Who is underrepresented?

Now, take a look at each of these stacks.

In which stacks do you find characters of color?

What percentage of boys are BIPOC?

What percentage of girls are BIPOC?

Are girls portrayed as strong, independent, self-reliant? If yes, what percentage of those girls are BIPOC?

Are boys portrayed as artistic, sensitive, caring and nurturing, in touch with their emotions? If yes, what percentage of those boys are BIPOC?

Pause and reflectWhat message does this sample of your collection send about gender representation? Does that message differ when examining the portrayal of BIPOC males or females or non-binary? What messages are being sent to readers about who is valued and honored and respected? Are there students who find no character with whom they identify? Does your collection suggest that one group is preferred or privileged? Does your collection marginalize any groups?

Now that you have sorted the books in your first sample take a look at your stacks.

Which seem to be lacking?

Where do you find overrepresentation? 

What does it suggest to you about adding to your collection?

What does it suggest that you look for as you examine the remainder of your collection?

Share what you noticed with your students, then repeat the process with a second sampling of books, but this time invite your students to join in. Get them into groups of 4 or 5 and give each group 20-25 books to sort. Make a record of their noticings and reactions using this optional handout

When you’ve worked through this second sort have each group share their findings and offer examples from each stack. Compare the findings of each group and those from your first sort. Invite students to offer insights, raise questions, and make suggestions.

Based on this information, invite your students to make predictions about what they would likely discover if they were to sort the entire classroom library. Then, if you are up for it, pull all the books into tubs in the middle of the room and invite students to do the sorts in groups. To make your findings more concrete, create a bar graph of books in stacks.

When the sorts are complete make note of what this reveals about the classroom collection. Invite students to analyze the information and make charts to show the findings. Ask your students to point out the gaps discovered in your library and launch a search of titles that could fill the gaps. Explore resources to add books and prioritize titles to be added. 

Now pause and reflect with students. Brainstorm other types of information you want to explore about your collection. Consider what sorting you will need to do in order to discover that information and try it with a small sample of 25 books. For example, you may consider sorting books by setting (urban/rural, time of year, weather, time of day, inside/outside, time period, etc.) by language patterns (colloquial, regional dialect, etc.) socioeconomic conditions, and more. Consider what these sorts may reveal to you and your students.

Undergraduate students in Katie’s class sort books.

Additional Resources:

Checklist: 8 Steps for Creating a Diverse Book Collection from Lee & Low Books

Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books

For recommended lists of thematic inclusive literature, check out Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply, and Take Action by Lester Laminack and Katie Kelly

Highlighting Stories of Characters with Varying Abilities

By guest blogger Meg Ackemann

Growing up, I was rarely exposed to stories featuring characters whose lives were very different from my own. I recall only a few stories that featured characters with exceptionalities. Those that did focused mostly on the exceptionality of the character and how they overcame obstacles in their lives, rather than their everyday joy and humanity. As a future educator, I have a responsibility to find and make available more inclusive stories including books featuring characters with exceptionalities so my students can become more knowledgeable, understanding, and equity-oriented citizens. This collection highlights stories of characters with varying abilities.

El Deafo by Cece Bell

This graphic novel is about a young girl who is coming to terms with being deaf and eventually embraces a positive outlook on life. As a child, Cece becomes sick with Meningitis causing her to lose her hearing ability. Afterward, she struggled to develop true friendships. She ultimately finds that she can use her hearing loss as a superpower rather than a disability. Cece becomes confident and stands up for herself. At the end of the story, she and her peers realize that she is more like them than different.

Growing up with hearing loss, there were no characters in books or in TV shows that I could relate to. In spring 2021, I participated in an El Deafo book club with a group of elementary students who live with hearing loss. The students related to Cece, and they admired the strong, kind, and funny main character. This story inspired these young children to be more confident as well. El Deafo highlights the hearing loss community and demonstrates how Cece, as well as other individuals with hearing loss, are really not much different than those who have full hearing.

Freddie and the Fairy by Julia Donaldson

This book is about a young boy named Freddie and his encounters with a fairy who is hard of hearing. The fairy promises to grant Freddie some wishes but is unable to fulfill those wishes because she has difficulty hearing what Freddie is asking. She would almost get the request right but would substitute key letters in words, such as hearing ‘cat’ instead of ‘bat’. Freddie’s frustration with the fairy increases throughout the story until a magical Queen Fairy appears and shares three rules that people must follow when speaking to others so they can be understood:

1. Do not mumble.

2.Do not turn your head away.

3. Do not cover your mouth.

These rules are helpful for young speakers and could be applied to any situation.

This book introduces young children to new ideas and offers concrete suggestions to have their voices heard and help them communicate more effectively with people with hearing loss.

As a child, I frequently did not hear things properly and tended to have experiences like those of the fairy. It was frustrating for me when I would ask my peers to repeat themselves and they would just yell what they had said again rather than enunciating so that I could understand. This book would have been a comfort to me and a guide for my friends.

Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrari

This book is about Zara, a young girl who uses a wheelchair and has a service animal named Moose. Zara and Moose love to spend time together. But when Zara goes to school, Moose cannot handle being away from her, so he follows her. But dogs are not allowed at school and Moose gets sent home. Moose misses Zara so much that he makes his way to school again and again and is sent home each time. Although Zara is in a wheelchair and has a service animal, she is not defined by this exceptionality.

Tune it Out by Jamie Sumner

Lu, a young girl with a sensory processing disorder (SPD) lives with her mother in the back of a truck. Because of their nomadic life, Lu has missed almost a year of school. Lu’s mother is a waitress and Lu earns tips singing at open mic nights. When the police and social services discover how they are living, Lu is taken from her mother and forced to live with her aunt and uncle. She is enrolled in a new school and makes new friends. As she comes to terms with all the abrupt changes in her life, Lu learns how to accommodate her needs. Readers discover how Lu combats discomfort with loud sounds and physical touch. The author highlights Lu’s incredible ability to sing in such detail that you wish you could hear it yourself.

Right Now, I am Fine by Daniela Owen and written by Gülce Baycik

This book features a child coping with the anxiety of living through the COVID pandemic and all of the uncertainty they face. The author offers breathing techniques and alternative behaviors for children to avoid sitting with worry. It does not diminish the feelings a child may face, but reminds the child that the problems are often out of their control and they are okay in that exact moment. Readers are reminded that anxiety is a normal feeling but does not need to be a constant state of being.

I grew up as a very anxious person and I never knew how to deal with my anxieties. Being exposed to coping mechanisms and breathing strategies would have been very helpful.

Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson

Emmanuel’s Dream is a true story about a young boy in who was born in Ghana with a physical disability. He was unable to use one of his legs which left him unable to walk. With encouragement and assistance from his mother, he surprised everyone. At that time people did not have much respect or hope for people who were considered disabled, but Emmanuel persisted. He ended up breaking many stereotypes and becoming a role model for many people, including those with disabilities.

A Different Little Doggy by Heather Whittaker

This is a story about Taz, a dog with disabilities. As the story progresses, Taz points out how her friends are all different, but happy. The book ends on a positive note that emphasizes that although they are all different, they are still happy and accepting of others.

A Different Little Doggy by [Heather Whittaker, Scott Alberts]

Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor

This beautifully illustrated book begins with the author, Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor sharing about her own experiences with being diagnosed with Diabetes as a child. The affirming story celebrates the many abilities and differences we have as human beings and features children with asthma, physical disability, hearing and vision impairment, dyslexia, autism, stuttering, Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, nut allergies, and Down syndrome.

Float by Pixar

This is a short film about a father and his son who has special abilities. Although the father is fascinated by how his son is able to float, he is also embarrassed and hides his son from the world. He keeps him hidden in their home and will only take him outside if he is physically held down by rocks. One day they go to a park and the son escapes from his rocks and starts floating around the park. The father freaks out and yells at the son “Why can’t you be normal?” In that moment the father realized he was wrong, and that he should love his son for exactly who he is and appreciate every part of him and his abilities.

Cababa, K. (Producer), & Rubio, B. (Director). (2019). Float. Pixar Animation Studios.

Meg Ackermann is studying to become a teacher at Furman University. She will graduate in 2022 and plans to pursue a Masters in Special Education.

Supporting Multilingual Children as Growing Readers in More Than One Language

By guest blogger Valentina Gonzalez

My childhood home was not filled with bookshelves lined with books. I didn’t have a stack of books to read in my bedroom. Nor do I remember sitting on mama’s or tata’s (Serbian for dad) lap as we turned the pages of a book. 

But what I do remember is cuddling up next to my tata before bedtime and listening anxiously as he told stories he remembered or even ones he made up. As an immigrant family from the former Yugoslavia, we brought little with us when we came to America. Books were heavy and did not make the journey. Storytelling, however, was a cherished time in our home. My favorite story was Hansel and Gretel. 

My first formal introduction to English was as a kindergartener. I loved school. I soaked it up like a sponge and admired my teacher as if she were a queen. My favorite part of the day was when she read aloud to us. I loved watching as she melodically formed the words and gracefully turned pages. 

One magical day as she read, I realized that the story she was reading to us in English was the bedtime story my dad told me at home in Serbian. It was Hansel and Gretel! The two people I adored more than anyone else knew the story I loved most and in two languages! I was in disbelief. Until that day, it always seemed to me that my homelife and language were completely separate from my school life and language and never the two shall meet. But that day they met! And it was magical. 

I have mixed emotions about this memory. It makes me sad because it was one of the only times that I felt as if a little part of my homelife and culture were allowed into the classroom. For years after that experience I struggled to connect with books. I rarely found myself in literature or read about my lived experiences. As an educator, this reminds me that children should not have to shed their identity, their language, literacy, and who they are at home when they come to school. On the other hand, the memory makes me happy because it reminds me that we can create great places in our classrooms that open students’ hearts and minds and builds joy for reading. We can help children feel seen, heard, and valued. We can embrace cultures and identities. We have the power to make an enormous impact on readers in our classrooms every day. 

By the year 2025 it’s estimated that 1 in 4 students in the United States will be classified as English learners (ELs). That number is remarkable. ELs, or multilinguals (a more asset-based term) are the fastest growing population of students in our nation. And they bring many valuable attributes, lived experiences, and qualities that can be leveraged in our classrooms. 

One of the greatest strengths we each have is our identities as unique humans (see Reading to Make a Difference CHAPTER 1 Discovering Our Own Identities). So how can we support multilingual children in our classrooms as readers?

As a teacher, I worked in a campus that served multilinguals that spoke over 20 different languages. Of course I could not speak all of them. But there were things I could do even though I did not serve in a bilingual program. The following are three practical suggestions for supporting multilingual readers in any classroom. 

  1. Partner with parents, families, and caregivers. Parents are often a child’s first teacher and know their children best. They can provide us with valuable information about students’ lives, passions, strengths, etc. We can use this information to connect them with books they will love. Partnering will also help us to create a team for literacy and reading growth. On the other hand, we also have a lot to offer to parents, families, and caregivers. Through a partnership, we can:  
    • share with them reading strategies, 
    • provide books and resources, and 
    • help through literacy related challenges. 
  1. Ensure that the books offered on shelves represent the students in the classroom. Rudine Sims Bishop calls this mirrors (1990). Recent studies on published children’s literature have shown that a great proportion of books offer main characters who are white and books featuring people of color are not only limited but often misrepresented or stereotyped. When I first learned about these studies, I didn’t think my own library shelves were out of proportion, but I was shocked when I took an audit. That audit prompted me to take action. Each time my district offered funds that I could use for books, I applied that money towards books that my students could connect with. It was important to me that the books were not solely for the ESL classroom. The goal was for the books to be in every classroom, accessible as read alouds and for students to enjoy on their own as independent reading. This is just a sampling of the books we purchased: 
Little Dreamers by Vashti Harrison

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt De La Peña

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

Shaking Things Up by Susan Hood

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

This is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

Milo Imagines the World by Matt De La Peña

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry

Just Ask by Sonia SotoMayor

  1. Team up with the campus library media specialist. Work together to build more inclusive multilingual book offerings to the campus library. The librarian I worked with used Follett Titlewave. We pulled up the top languages spoken on our campus and we began ordering the most popular books in multiple languages. Students that can read in multiple languages have unique linguistic capital. We can embrace and support biliterate children and their linguistic identities through providing books in the languages they read. They are future global leaders! 

When literacy (in all languages) is seen from an asset perspective, nurtured, and valued, all stakeholders benefit. I learned along the way to allow myself the autonomy to be flexible in teaching and learning and to let students lead. Centering instructional practices and all that I do around them changed how we learned, how much we learned, and how much joy we all had in learning. 

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Valentina Gonzalez, coauthor of Reading & Writing with English Learners: A Framework for K-5, is a former teacher who has served 20+ years in education in her own classroom, as a district facilitator for English learners, a professional development specialist for ELs and as an educational consultant. Her work’s primary focuses have been on literacy, culture, and language. Valentina delivers professional development and coaches teachers on sheltered instruction strategies. She works with teachers of ELs to support language and literacy instruction. 

Celebrating Juneteenth

All across the United States, people celebrate our country’s independence on the fourth of July. Yet, signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776 did not make everyone free and independent. In fact, it was legal to enslave people for another 86 years until President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. Even then slavery did not end in the U.S. until June 19, 1865 when slaves in Texas were finally freed, almost 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. 

Juneteenth, just like July 4th, should be celebrated by all. Recently, congress passed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. This day commemorates the end of slavery and freedom for African Americans in the United States. 

Although slavery was abolished on June 19, 1865, racism did not end. We do not live in a post-racist society as is evident by the ongoing oppression and systemic racism against African Americans in this country. With the killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Amaud Arbery in Georgia our country has seen increased awareness and tensions. While marching in protests and posting on social media is a good start, it is not enough. There is much more work to be done. We must understand the long history of oppression and the rich contributions of African Americans to our country. 

To get started, we recommend these children’s books and further reading about Juneteenth and African American history and heritage:

Juneteenth for Mazie (Fiction Picture Books): Cooper, Floyd, Cooper, Floyd:  9781479558209: BooksJuneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper

Mazie learns about Juneteenth from her father who encourages her to remember and celebrate. 

See the source imageAll is Different Now: Juneteenth, The First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson 

Written in free verse poetry, this book tells the story of a family in Texas who upon learning about their freedom go and celebrate with the community. 

 Days of Jubilee: The End of Slavery in the U.S. by Patricia & Fredrick McKissack

DAYS OF JUBILEE chronicles emancipation beginning with slaves who were freed for their service during the Revolutionary War, to those who were freed by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. 

Free at Last!: Stories and Songs of Emancipation by Doreen Rappaport

True stories and traditional songs shed light on a lesser known era in African-American history — the crucial decades between Emancipation and the start of the Civil Rights movement.

See the source imageDave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill

Set in South Carolina in the 1800s, this book tells the story of a slave who was an artist, poet, and potter who conveyed messages of peace and hope in his work.

See the source image

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story From the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine

This book tells the story of Henry Brown, who literally mails himself in a box to escape slavery and obtain freedom in Philadelphia. 

Note: Upon closer examination of the book Henry’s Freedom Box, we wish to point out some problematic language suggesting Henry’s master was good to him and his family. And thus recommend the book, Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford as an alternate text.

Henry Brown’s story of how he sent himself in a box from slavery to freedom is told through stanzas of six lines (to represent the box). Historical records and an introductory excerpt from Henry’s own writing as well as a time line, notes from the author and illustrator, and a bibliography are included.

The Undefeated by Kwame AlexanderSee the source image

This beautiful poem is a tribute to the resilience of black life and history in the U.S. The back matter provides powerful historical context and information about many inspiring African Americans. 

See the source image

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson 

Told through the perspective of a 100 year old African American woman, this book tells the rich history and contributions of African Americans through the dark history in the U.S. Beginning with the birth of the nation, the story of African Americans is told chronologically through the Civil Rights Movement. 

See the source imageThis Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell 

This book helps the reader explore issues around race including the history behind it and ways to be an anti-racist through the exploration of social identities, privilege and the power to speak up and take action for social justice.

See the source image

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X Kendi

This powerful middle grades and young adult book explores the history of racism in the United States. 

Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You

This chapter book version of Ibram X. Kendi’s and Jason Reynolds’s book offers an essential introduction to the history of racism and antiracism in America. 


Further reading: 

An Educator’s Guide to “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You”

How to Talk to Kids About Race: Books and Resources That Can Help 

Why All Americans Should Celebrate Juneteenth 

7 Black LGBTQ leaders in honor of Juneteenth and Pride month 

Juneteenth: Our Other Independence Day (Smithsonian) 

So You Want to Learn about Juneteenth?


*updated: June 17, 2021

Culturally Nourishing Stories: Centering Food Like Love

By guest blogger Nawal Qarooni Casiano

In my family, love looks like an intricately cooked meal. Love looks like stew left to simmer on low, all day, so the turmeric and onions caramelize into a rich sauce. Love looks like bowl after bowl served atop long-grain basmati rice, with crispy tahdig from the bottom of the pot. 

We overfeed. Like Bilal in Aisha Saeed’s gorgeous picture book about a little boy introducing his friends to daal, we must have patience to cook our Persian stews. 

Noushe-jan, my mother says. 

Noushe-jan, my Ameh says. 

Noushe-jan, I tell my children. 

The aroma of fesenjan in the house means we’ve ground walnuts to a pulp and combined it with pomegranate molasses so it’s the perfect melange of sweet and sour. Persian stews are like fine wines; the longer they sit and simmer, the more delicious they become. 

As educators, one way to share of ourselves and our students’ unique identities is by bringing alive stories of food: nourishing, layered, textured. Food is commensurate with love, in many cultures, but more than that, identity stories often rely on memories of food. When teachers and students  storytell about food rituals in school spaces,  we more readily build community, connectedness and understanding. We are able to cultivate empathy and compassion for all cultures and people. 

As educators, every decision to include a story is an omission elsewhere. Writer Arundhati Roy once said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s scholarship names the need for students to see themselves in texts (mirrors) while also learning about others (windows). When we consider both of these ideas, it becomes clear how critical text selection truly is. 

The framework in Reading to Make a Difference provides lenses through which educators can select texts, ensure students make connections, reflect deeply, take action and co-construct next steps for future behaviors and understandings. 

Below are several picture books that center culturally nourishing stories – ones that celebrate inclusivity and depict familial love. I included picture books, poetry, songs and video – purposefully multimodal – so students can interact with culturally nourishing stories in a variety of ways. 

In Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, by Kat Zhang, a little girl learns to love her bao-making skills. They’re not easy to make and they’re initially imperfect, but they’re delicious in any iteration, and readers quickly notice the familial closeness and special, comforting connections that arise as a result of crafting bao together. You can share the video for making bao with students too. 

In the classroom, teachers might try using the following questions from Reading to Make a Difference to support student connections to text. 

When students have an opportunity to explore landscapes, neighborhoods, and dwellings unlike their own, how can I help them make connections to their own environment? 

When students meet characters that have experiences or family structures different from their own, how can I draw connections so that these don’t seem so different? 

When students read about new cultural ways of being and lifestyles, how will I connect these to what is familiar to them? 

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed is about a little boy who shares with his friends the long process of making lentil stew, from selecting the ingredients to patiently playing outside while the flavors merge together. He worries briefly about his friends not liking it but those worries quickly give way to the final touches, adding naan, fresh ginger and cilantro to serve. This is a beautiful book about friendship, community, and celebrating new experiences. 

Questions to support connection from Reading to Make a Difference:

When students meet characters that face challenges and obstacles different from their own, how will I help them build on what they already know?

When students are exposed to language and speech patterns that differ from their own, how will I help them find value in all language? 

I fell in love with Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz because of its enchanting descriptions of life in colors, smells and textures (“I see the color of lentils, bright and orange; pomegranates, juicy and rosy; cucumber skin, dark and green; and threads of saffron, gold and copper.”) The protagonist is Pakistani and her journey to know herself is deeply connected to the cultural wisdom of her grandmother. She uses all of her senses to absorb her family so powerfully, it feels like readers are witnessing the weaving of a gorgeous tapestry. 

Teachers and students can enjoy these stories across many days, stacking layering texts to facilitate conversation about varied cultures and nourishing traditions.

From Reading to Make a Difference, classroom teachers might specifically think about the question ‘How will students make connections across texts to build their understanding of the issue?’ 

Each of these picture books include recipes in the back, and often, nonfiction facts about the cultural background it came from. Teachers might ask students to write their own family food traditions, or create their own Flipgrid videos naming the steps of a special recipe. Students might draw pictures of their food stories or even record their family in the kitchen step-by-step. Happy food-related reading! 

For a more comprehensive resource list of food stories click here.

Nawal Qarooni Casiano is an award-winning journalist and educator with experience in New York City and Chicago schools. Nawal was a classroom teacher, curriculum developer and literacy coach before launching NQC Literacy in 2014. She and her team design professional learning experiences in dozens of schools and education spaces. She is the proud daughter of Iranian immigrants and the mother of four young multiethnic, multilingual kids, which very much shapes the way she understands learning. You can find her at the park with her four kids in Chicago’s Logan Square, at or on Twitter @NQCLiteracy

Teaching Civil Disobedience in the Midst of Nationwide Insurrection

Guest blog post by Tatiana Oliveira, 4th grade virtual teacher in Greenville, SC

On January 6th, 2021, America and the rest of the world watched in horror as white supremacists stormed Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to protest the results of the 2020 election. Almost immediately, the question arose for educators across the country: How do we approach this with students?

In my virtual fourth grade classroom, we held a candid and honest conversation about the events of the previous day. One student asked why Black Lives Matter protestors were treated so differently from these protestors. Other students shared their observations about how people with black or brown skin are treated in the United States. 

Students recognized that the violence was wrong, and that it has no place in our democracy. But the question remained: How do we reconcile these protestors with peaceful protestors such as those during the Civil Rights Movement or the Women’s Liberation Movement? 

To illustrate this distinction, we engaged in several activities over the next few days, including:

  • Read alouds of books that depicted examples of peaceful protests, such as Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford, The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, and Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue. 
  • Responding to and asking questions about the violence we had just witnessed. For example, one student wrote a letter to President Biden asking for him to initiate police reform and hold police officers accountable, while another student recorded a Flipgrid video explaining his mixed feelings about the Inauguration. 
  • When learning about the Constitution the following week, we read I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. by Brad Meltzer to better understand our right to peacefully protest under the First Amendment.

It is important to show students the power of nonviolent resistance beyond standalone read alouds during Black History Month or Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The Capitol Hill riot cannot be the reference point for students when they think about protesting for meaningful change. As educators, we must teach them the fundamentality of peaceful protests to our democracy, and the role they have played in cultivating reform in American history. 

There is a significant contrast between the events of January 6th and protests of the past in the manner of, and the reasons for, protesting. As educators we must teach this intentionally and explicitly. Books are one of the most powerful platforms for having these difficult conversations at all grade levels.

Texts about Peaceful Protests


The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson

This biography tells the story of nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks, who was enraged at the segregation laws in 1960s Alabama. The youngest known person to be arrested for protesting in the Civil Rights Movement, Audrey helps lead the cause of “filling the jails,” and makes her mark as a young pioneer of desegregation.

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni

A common misconception is that Rosa Parks’s peaceful protest was a spur of the moment, impulsive decision, because she was tired from work and did not want to get up from her bus seat. This text takes the reader through the background of that protest, and to the greater Montgomery Bus Boycott that took place as a result. Through its powerful illustrations and in-depth look at Parks’s life in the context of the Civil Rights Movement, readers will understand just how significant a role she played in the fight for racial justice.

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel

It is difficult to imagine a world in which children are forced to work rather than go to school, and are even employed over their parents. But that’s just what happened with Clara Lemlich, an immigrant from Ukraine in the early 1900s, who worked in a shirtwaist factory as a young child. Tired of not being fairly compensated or treated justly, Clara helps organize a massive walkout with her fellow female employees, resulting in changes to their salaries, working conditions, and treatment.

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Winner of the Jane Addams Award and Pura Belpré Award, this picture book tells the often overlooked story of Sylvia Mendez who, despite being an American citizen, was prohibited from enrolling in her local elementary school in the early 1940s and was instead forced to enroll in the nearby Mexican school. Her family, confused and frustrated by the laws of segregation, launches a full petition and lawsuit to desegregate California schools. As one of the major court rulings leading up to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, the Mendez family’s fight helped integrate California schools and showed the power of a community rallying around a common cause.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Based on a remarkable true story, a gorilla named Ivan lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade with his friends, an elephant named Stella and a stray dog named Bob. Ivan longs for a day when he can be free among his family. When a baby elephant named Ruby joins their group, Ivan realizes he must fight to help get her out of captivity. He does this the best way he knows how: through his art. The signs he makes, along with his drawings, draw attention to the mistreatment of the animals at the mall, and help free Ruby and Ivan.

Middle & Secondary

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee

Shay is a twelve-year-old girl who avoids trouble at all costs. But as a junior high schooler now, Shay has started to notice some new dynamics – with her family and with her friends. Her older sister, Hana, is active in Black Lives Matter, but many of Shay’s classmates don’t understand that movement. Shay is caught between wanting to fight for people who look like her, and wanting to just fit in at school and stay out of trouble. As she begins to learn more about the meaning of Black Lives Matter, Shay realizes that not all trouble is bad, and sometimes you have to break a few rules to see real change.

Internment by Samira Ahmed

Set in the near-future, the American President has passed several laws restricting the rights of Muslim Americans, and forcing them to live in an internment camp. Layla, a seventeen-year-old, along with her parents, are three of the citizens forced into this camp. Determined to break out, Layla forms an alliance with others in the camp and begins a revolution against the camp’s Director and the guards. 

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar

Betita’s father loves telling her stories about her family’s journey to the United States from Mexico, and Betita loves using picture poems to illustrate her family’s plight. But after her father is deported back to Mexico, and Betita and her mother are taken into custody at an ICE detention center, she loses her passion for creating picture poems. She realizes, however, that her poetry is her greatest weapon in the fight against injustice, and uses it to draw attention to the inhumane treatment she receives in the detention center.

Additional Recommended Texts/Resources:

Enough! 20 Protestors Who Changed America by Emily Easton

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull

My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Christine King Farris

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice by Elizabeth Acevedo, Mahogany L. Browne, and Olivia Gatwood

March: Books 1, 2, 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Greta’s Story: The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike to Save the Planet by Valentina Camerini

Hector: A Boy, A Protest, and the Photograph that Changed Apartheid by Adrienne Wright

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults): A True Story of the Fight for Justice by Bryan Stevenson

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Tatiana Oliveira is a 4th grade virtual teacher in Greenville, SC. Follow her on Twitter @tmoliveira17.

A Text Set for Teaching about Climate Change and Climate Justice

Guest Blog Post by Ysaaca Axelrod, Denise Ives, & Rachel Weaver

Climate change is not a new issue, however, over the past decade it has gained visibility and more and more people are concerned about climate change and its impact on our planet and our lives. Youth are becoming more vocal and involved in efforts to address climate change and many are the face of climate activism. One of the challenges of talking and teaching about climate change is that it is a complex topic that sometimes feels overwhelming because of the scientific complexity and the magnitude of the effects of climate change on our planet. However, while the science behind climate change is complex and constantly changing and evolving, it continues to affect the lives of every living creature on our planet. Yet, we are not all impacted equally.

The most marginalized and least-resourced communities on the planet suffer disproportionately from the changing climate’s devastating effects, making climate change not just a scientific matter but ultimately a social justice issue. As educators we believe that in spite of the magnitude of the topic, it is imperative that we talk to children about climate change and climate justice.

Sharing carefully selected books can create opportunities for learning and discussion. Books on climate change and climate justice can be found across several genres: non-fiction, fiction, and narrative nonfiction, and together can provide children with an understanding of the concept of climate change, the ways that different living creatures and people are impacted by these changes, as well as ideas for how we can all be engaged and work towards climate action. 

Pasquet, J., & Arbona M. (Illustrator). (2017). My Wounded Island. (S.B. Watson, Trans.). Orca Book Publisher. (Original work published 2009) Narrative Fiction

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Using the metaphor of a monster, the narrator, Imarvaluk, a young girl from Sarichef, one of the islands near the Arctic Circle, describes the changes to her island due to rising sea levels. The book describes shifts in their way of life due to climate change, and how they are losing their traditions as well as being forced to move because of environmental changes. This book can help to understand the concept of ‘climate refugees,’ people who are displaced due to climate changes, as well as a look at some of the populations around the world who are most vulnerable to climate change. 

Winter, J. (2019). Our House is On Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet. Beach Lane Books. Narrative Nonfiction

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This book is a  biography of Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist, who at the age of 15 started to strike for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament. Inspired by her, children around the world. joined her in climate strikes. This book includes biographical information, interspersed with Greta Thunberg’s own words and calls for action. 

Paul, M. (2015). One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia. Millbrook Press. Narrative Nonfiction

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This book tells the true story of an African woman, Isatou Ceesay, from The Gambia,  who started a movement to recycle the plastic bags that were polluting her community. This book celebrates a creative solution to real-world problems and illustrates how one person can make a big difference. Isatou Ceesay was recently dubbed the Queen of Plastic Recycling in The Gambia by Climate Heroes. 

Cherry, L. (2002). A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (Original work published 1992) Narrative Nonfiction

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This particular book is particularly relevant to us, located in Massachusetts. It is important to read books that provide examples of how climate change impacts our local communities as well as those that are far away. In this book, the author, Lynne Cherry (who is also the author of The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rainforest), tells the true story of the Nashua River and the efforts to clean the river and restore and protect the water through local and legislative efforts. This story shows the ways that individuals, communities and policymakers can work together to enact change.  

Godsey, M., & Kellner, C. J. (Illustrator).  (2018). Not For Me, Please! I Choose to Act Green.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Narrative Nonfiction. 

Image result for Not For Me, Please! I Choose to Act Green.

In this book, Luke, a little boy, talks about how he shifted from not caring about his actions and the environment to being aware of the consequences of his behaviors. It highlights how interconnected we all are, and how small changes on our part, can positively impact the planet and its inhabitants. The book provides concrete examples for children (and adults), how we can act green. 

These are some of the books we have used with children and teachers in classrooms to help support the teaching and learning about climate change. Our hope is that together, we can work towards climate justice to save our planet for us and generations to come. 

Additional Resources: 

Earthrise, a climate poem by Amanda Gorman

Bigelow, B., & Swinehart, T. (Eds.). (2014). A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching about the Environmental Crisis. Rethinking Schools 

Young Voices for the Planet Films

A collection of inspiring short films featuring young climate activists.

Bigelow, B. (2019). Our House is on Fire – Time to Teach Climate Justice. 

The Story of Stuff (2007)

A 20-minute online documentary video created by Annie Leonard that describes how the things we buy and use get created, distributed, and discarded. Also, available in Spanish.

Axelrod, Y., Ives, D., & Weaver, R. (2020). We are all learning about climate change: Teaching with picture books to engage teachers and students. Bank Street Occasional Papers, 36-47.

Ysaaca Axelrod is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education & Curriculum Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Email:

Denise Ives is an Associate Professor in the Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Email:

Rachel Weaver is a 3rd grade teacher at the International School of Frankfurt Rhein-Main, located in Frankfurt, Germany. Email:

Striving and Thriving in Virtual Book Clubs During a Pandemic

“The power is not in the book itself, but rather in the readers who create meaning or co-construct meaning through dialogue, develop empathy and are inspired as change agents”.

-from Reading to Make a Difference by Lester Laminack & Katie Kelly, p.xxi

Connecting readers for in-person book club conversations is difficult due to the safety restrictions limiting social interaction during the pandemic. However, technology allows us to connect to engage in rich discussions and to deepen our thinking and our humanity. 

It’s been a full year since COVID began and school as we knew it completely shifted to a fluid combination of online and face-to-face learning with masks, plexiglass shields and desks in isolated islands spaced six feet apart. Many headlines across media sources suggest learning loss and children falling further behind in reading. We reject this deficit view and instead acknowledge the innovating ways educators and children have engaged in meaningful learning experiences. By partnering preservice teachers in Katie’s literacy methods class with Alyssa Cameron’s fourth graders for virtual book clubs, we witnessed first hand the joy and growth that comes when readers have a space to connect and discuss their thinking. Even in the midst of one of the most difficult school years ever, there is much learning and thinking and growing happening albeit occurring in different ways and through different contexts BUT still present and strong nonetheless.

Choosing Books and Establishing Book Clubs

Because we believe that all children should have opportunities to read books that matter to them, the partnership began with Alyssa providing a list of suggested chapter books based on her students’ interests, identities, and reading histories. The preservice teachers in Katie’s class then selected a book to read and created a book trailer for the fourth graders to view and then choose the book they were interested in reading.  

Virtual Book Clubs

With book clubs established, the preservice teachers and fourth graders connected at least twice a week for four weeks using Edmodo, Flipgrid, and Jamboard to discuss the self-designated chapters. They brainstormed ‘words to live by’ or a set of norms and expectations for participating in online book clubs and developed their own reading schedules to hold themselves accountable. 

For the first post each week, Alyssa offered personalized, needs-based guiding questions to scaffold the discussions and modeled for the preservice teachers various types of open-ended questions to facilitate discussion. The first posts often pulled in supporting resources to deepen understanding of topics within the books: non-fiction articles, guest experts, parallel read alouds and video clips. The second post each week was more open-ended in nature with the fourth graders sharing their thinking and the preservice teachers responding with a ‘nurture and a nudge’. For example, when a student posted that “Nya (from the book A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park) cares about her family because she goes and gets water for them,” the preservice responded as follows:

“This is a very thoughtful observation in the text of the book of how Nya cares and takes care of her family. What questions or other thoughts do you have as to why Nya, being a child, has to do such hard work for her family?”  

Some groups created multimodal Jamboards with images and links to Google Earth to explore the settings and learn about geographical contexts for the books they read, while others conducted research to understand the cultural and historical contexts within their book. Students and preservice teachers alike were empowered to take control of their own learning directions and use their voices, openly and honestly.

For the culminating discussion, Katie and Alyssa surprised them with a synchronous gathering using Zoom. Before heading to book club breakout groups in Zoom to discuss their post-reading reactions to their books, they blew up the chat box with their excitement to see their reading buddies in real time.

Good morning book buddy!!!!!

this is so fun

This is a fun surprise for us!!

The preservice teachers facilitated post-reading conversations using co-constructed thinking stems they brainstormed together using Jamboard. As the fourth graders met in breakout groups with their reading buddies in real time, Alyssa observed the pure joy and excitement filling her classroom. Every single child was engaged… talking, smiling, and participating fully in the book club conversations. 

Book clubs are for everyone! One student who is deaf signed her thoughts while her translator translated for her reading buddies in the Zoom breakout. Her college buddy from Katie’s class made this completely normal. When Alyssa popped into the breakout, she commented, “Hi Miss. Cameron, Right now Emma is talking and sharing her ideas.” Her entire group was glued to the screen, listening, nodding and ready to respond. Her voice mattered, just as much as everyone else’s even though we “heard” it in a different way. 

“Kids are often limited by what adults think they can do, especially in schools right now. And these book clubs proved so clearly that kids are ready to talk, ready to grow and able to have BIG conversations… reading DOES make a difference… and so will these humans – big and small!”

-Alyssa Cameron, 4th grade teacher

Read more about Alyssa Cameron’s work in chapter 5, Advocating for Change in Reading to Make a Difference.

This One is For the Birds!

Lester’s 4-year-old granddaughter is fascinated by birds, especially owls. She can identify most any owl by sight, can identify several by their call, and can host rather engaging conversations about the habitat, diet, prey, and size of several different types. Her fascination is fed by a steady diet of books read to her by her parents. She is equally interested in fiction and nonfiction and is quick to let you know whether what you are reading is something that birds do in nature or only in stories.  One book she likes caught Lester’s attention.  A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart features several birds revealing the impact of threats to their habitats.  Now the whole family is making conscious efforts to protect native birds and make them welcome.

Her interest led us to do a bit of exploration of our own. Did you know that the bird population in North America has been in significant decline?  The National Audubon Society reports that North America has lost more than 1 in 4 birds in the last fifty years. Researchers indicate that it isn’t just threatened species that are declining. Many of your favorite backyard birds are also.  

CBS news reported that while most bird species have seen a significant decline in population, the numbers of ducks and geese have actually increased. This fact may be attributed to the work of Ducks Unlimited which was formed over one hundred years ago by a group of waterfowl hunters concerned about declining population. Ducks Unlimited has worked to protect waterfowl by purchasing and protecting wetlands. The group has also effectively encouraged legislation and conservation easements on private land to protect the birds. 

While many species of wetland birds have benefitted from these efforts, other species of birds have suffered due to a loss of habitat. Specifically, there is a reported 53% decline among grassland birds, a 33% decline in birds that thrive in boreal forests, and a decline of 29% among birds found in western forests. In addition to a loss of habitat, the decline in bird populations has also been attributed to the use of “deadly pesticides…, feral cats…, collisions with buildings, cell phone towers, electricity generating windmills and powerlines; and of course, global warming.” (CBS News, Sept.19, 2019)

Is there anything we can do about this situation?  Of course!  Oftentimes, children’s spark for curiosity and inquiry are ignited by the books read to them by the adults in their lives. 

We have included a list of books that can spark an interest in birds and raise awareness of the significant decline in the bird population. This collection could be used to launch an inquiry into birds, birdwatching, conservation, reclaiming habitat, providing food and shelter for native and migrating birds and more. Perhaps you’ll share the CBS news clip to spark a bit of interest and generate initial questions to launch your inquiry. 

Image result for About Birds by Cathryn Sill (Peachtree)

About Birds by Cathryn Sill (Peachtree)

Image result for A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart (Peachtree)

A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart (Peachtree)

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Bird Watch by Christine Matheson (Greenwillow)

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Birds Build Nests by Yvonne Winer (Charlesbridge)


Birds by Carme Lemniscantes (Candlewick)

Bird Count

Bird Count by Susan Edwards Richmond (Peachtree)

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Warbler Wave by April Pulley Sayre with Jeff Sayre (Beach Lane Books)

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Backyard Bird Watching for Kids by George H. Harrison (Willow Creek Press)

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National Audubon Society Pocket Guide Familiar Birds of North America east

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National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America 2nd ed. by Jonathan Alderfer and Noah Strycker

Discovering Our Identities through Names

Something we all share is the fact that we have a name. Yet each of our names are different and unique. Some of our names derive from our loved ones or hold a special meaning in our cultures. During a workshop with teachers, one participant shared how she was named after her grandmother. To distinguish between their names, they went by Big Jaime and Little Jaime. She teared up as she described how their names have since reversed as her grandmother now has dementia. The roles have reversed and Little Jaime has now become Big Jaime, her grandmother’s caretaker. Others of us are named after special places or even a favorite singer or actor. When sharing about our names in class, one student giggled as she told our class her mom named her after her favorite soap opera star.

Some of us like our names. Others do not. Yet, this likely changes with time and the shifting nature of our identities and understanding as we navigate through the world. Nigerian American actor, Uzo Aduba, from the Orange is the New Black series on Netflix, never liked her name because people had difficulty pronouncing it correctly. When she asked her mom if she could change it, her mom replied that if people could pronounce Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo, they could learn to say Uzoamaka. She now realizes how important her name is and what it represents.

It is important that we honor students’ names and learn to pronounce them correctly. To learn more about ways to learn about each other’s stories, visit My Name, My Identity and take a pledge to pronounce students’ names correctly.

Then read some of the following books with your students and invite them to share the story of their own name!

We recommend that you first model by writing and sharing about your own name. Here are some guiding questions to get you started:

  • Who selected your name? 
  • How was your name chosen?
  • Are you named for someone? Some place? Something? 
  • Does your name have a significant meaning? 
  • How do you feel about your name?  
  • Have you ever considered changing your name? Why? Why not? What would it be?

To read more about discovering identities, download a free chapter from our book, Reading to Make a Difference!

reading to make a difference

Teaching During the Election 2020

Photo taken at Women’s Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, NY

Next Tuesday, November 3, 2020 is the date for elections in the United States. According to a report from NPR “…Americans have already cast a record-breaking 66 million early ballots, putting the 2020 election on track for historic levels of voter turnout.” This is a significant shift compared with the low voter turnout in 2016 (only about 6 in 10 ballots cast).

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming presidential election (and whether or not we know the outcome on Wednesday) there will be feelings of angst and uncertainty across the country. Teachers and students certainly will not be immune from these feelings and concerns. Self-care and support for students is necessary regardless of the election results.

With relationships as the heartbeat of our work as educators, it is important that we reflect on how we might consider ways to sustain community and a sense of safety during the election. Teaching Tolerance offers four suggestions to prepare for teaching during the election. First, re-establish the values of inclusivity in your classroom. Second, reflect on your identities, positionality and feelings. Next, reaffirm our responsibility to engage these issues. Finally, have plans in place if things go wrong or students need support. To read more click here: Teaching the 2020 Election: What Will You Do on Wednesday?. We have also included some resources at the end of the blog post to support your work as you guide students through the election (and beyond).

Voting is a right and a powerful way to have a voice in the democratic system. Although Election Day was first observed in 1845, several groups remained excluded and were not given the right to vote until many years later. It took 75 years before women were granted the right to vote and one hundred and twenty years for the Voting Rights Act to be signed into law giving African Americans the right to vote.

We have curated a small collection of books as a reminder of the tremendous privilege it is to vote. These titles can introduce students to the history of voting and concepts such as the electoral process.

Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice
Author: Nikki Grimes Illustrator: Laura Freeman

This recently released biography of vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris tells the story of a young daughter of immigrants who grows up to advocate for the rights of all. The reader is introduced to Kamala as a young girl and follow her story and her accomplishments through college and her career right up to being invited to be the vice presidential nominee.

Grace for President
Author: Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham

When Grace learns that the United States has not yet had a female president, she is inspired to become the first female president. Her teacher suggests an election at the school. Grace campaigns against Thomas, a fellow classmate. They each make compelling speeches and promises to their peers in an attempt to win votes. The election is a nail-biter and teaches the reader about the electoral college through the story. The author’s note in the back of the book provides additional helpful information about the electoral system.

Duck for President
Author: Doreen Cronin
Illustrator: Betsy Lewin

Life is hard on Farmer Brown’s farm. Duck did not like to do chores and questions why Farmer Brown is in charge. He decides to campaign to replace Farmer Brown. The animals registered to vote and cast their ballots resulting in a win for Duck. Duck soon realized that running a farm was hard work so he sets out to run for governor and won. However, he soon learned running a state was hard work. So Duck successfully ran for president. Yet, he quickly learned that being president was also hard work. He returned to the farm to write his autobiography. This text follows a predictable pattern and highlights the importance of conveying meaning in print as the animals who cannot communicate verbally beyond animal sounds rely on reading the signs to empower them to vote.


Marching with Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage
Author: Claire Rudolf Murphy
Illustrator: Stacey Schuet

Bessie who is not allowed to go with her father and brothers on a hike because it is too strenuous for girls soon learns that there are many things girls are not allow to do in the late 1800’s.  Bessie’s aunt, Mary McHenry Keith, introduces her to Susan B. Anthony and invites her to attend a rally in San Francisco for women’s rights. Inspired by the rally Bessie joins her mother and aunt in a march led by Susan B. Anthony.  Though the 1896 campaign did not result in the right for women to vote Bessie and her family were undaunted and continued their efforts. The author’s note reveals this story is based on a real girl named Bessie Keith Pond. In addition there is a profile of Susan B. Anthony, a timeline of progress toward women’s right to vote from 1787 through 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified. The book also includes a list of further resources for young readers.

Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles
Author: Mara Rockliff
Illustrator: Hadley Hooper

In April 1916, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke set off in a little yellow car to drive around America.  Their journey took them “ten thousand bumpy, muddy, unmapped miles–facing danger and adventure all alone…” Their mission was to rally for women’s rights. Their rallying cry, “Votes for women!” was heard across the country.  In September, 1916, the two women returned to New York City. They traveled through a blizzard, mud and flooded creeks, across the desert, through small towns and cities to inspire support for women’s rights. There are three pages of detailed background on the time period, the newness of the automobile and the fascination generated by the little yellow car, and the long struggle to win the right for women to vote in America.  There is also a list of resources for further reading.

The Day Gogo Went to Vote
Author: Elinor Batezat Sisulu
Illustrator: Sharon Wilson

Thembi stays with her one-hundred-year-old Gogo (grandmother) after school until her parents are able to leave work.  Although Gogo is very old and rarely leaves the house anymore she has vowed to go to the polls to vote in the April 1994 election.  Thembi asks her Gogo why it is so important and Gogo explains, “Thembi, black people in South Africa have fought for many years for the right to vote?  This is the first time we have had a chance to vote for our own leaders, and it might be my last…” Finally arrangements are made to get Gogo to the polls and she casts her ballot in the election that seated Nelson Mandela as president of the country.

Papa’s Mark
Author: Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert
Illustrator: Colin Bootman

Young Simms and his family live in Lamar County and the upcoming election will be the first one African-Americans have been allowed to vote.  Each week Papa makes his mark, an X, at the general store when he and Simms pick up their order. Simms wishes his father could sign his name rather than making his mark on documents.  Papa sits at the table by candlelight and tries to write his name, “This writing looks like chicken scratch…When I vote…I’m going to write my name to get my ballot.” Before leaving for school the next morning Simms writes his Papa’s name on a piece of paper and leaves it on the table.  Papa tries and finally asks for Simms help. Slowly Papa learns to make the letters in his name. On the morning of voting day Papa and a wagon load of men from the community ride into town and Papa proudly signed his name to receive his first ballot.

LIllian's Right to Vote
Lillian’s Right to Vote
Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Shane W. Evans

Lillian walks uphill towards a voting booth. She recalls relatives being sold on the auction block. As she progresses in her walk, Lillian recounts how her great-grandpa was unable to vote because of a poll tax and her Uncle Levi was turned away from voting after being asked such ridiculous questions as “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”  After the 19th Amendment is passed, Lillian remembers being chased away by an angry mob after her mother attempts to vote. She details the marches, the beatings, and the tenacity of those who fought for her right to vote. She votes. She has to. It is her right, her duty, her honor as an American.

*Many of these texts including Lillian’s Right to Vote could be used through high school as a catalyst for discussion on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voter ID laws, and the 13th, 15th, and 19th Amendments.

Suggested Follow-up Activities

  • Brainstorm reasons why people should vote. Then work in groups to create posters, public service announcements, speeches, etc. to encourage registered voters to get out and vote.
  • Research the Voter ID Laws.  Are these “laws” legal? Why or why not?  Encourage students to write opinion pieces and engage in debate.
  • Why do we vote in America? Is it important? Interview up to three people (family members, community members, friends) to ask why it is important that we vote and whether or not they plan to vote in the midterm election and why.
  • Create a poster, timeline, or infographic detailing the Amendments that led up to our rights to vote.  Why is it important (or not) that we vote today? (see the Timeline tool from Read Write Think)

We invite you to share some of your favorite books and resources about voting and teaching during the election.  We will compile a list on the blog. Email us at or or leave your thoughts and additions in the comments box. Also, please check in on yourself, your loved ones, and your students in the upcoming days and beyond.

Sending you peace and love,
Katie and Lester

Additional Resources:

After the Election: A To-Do List

Teaching in Response to the Election

Voting and Voices from Teaching Tolerance

Voting! What’s It All About? Lesson from Read Write Think

Honoring Indigenous People

Many cities and states in the U.S. have renamed Columbus Day (celebrated on the second Monday in October) as Indigenous Peoples’ Day and many places have made decisions to remove statues of Columbus. The city of Columbus, Ohio (named after Christopher Columbus) will no longer observe Columbus Day as a holiday and plans to remove a statue of Columbus from City Hall. The county will replace the holiday with Juneteenth, the celebration of the abolition of slavery.

Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1937 as a way to honor Christopher Columbus’s achievements. Yet, the dark side of Columbus and the inhumane effects of colonization were largely ignored. He did not stake claim to uninhabited land. Indigenous people living on the land when Columbus (and later other colonists) arrived were enslaved, tortured, and murdered. Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes that Native people are the first inhabitants of the Americas and is a call to reframe history.

The stories of Native people have been omitted or whitewashed in history books. The genocide of Native Americans and the forced removal from their land and stripping of their identities, culture, and language when sent to boarding schools is rarely discussed.

As educators, we make choices everyday. We decide what books to read with our students. We decide whose stories are honored and whose are ignored. We decide what to say and what not to say and how we say it. Sometimes our choices make us complicit in the perpetuation of institutional racism.

So what can we do? We can make intentional decisions to ensure all voices and stories are honored and celebrated. Begin by talking with students about Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Ask: “Do you know what is special about today?” Follow students lead and guide them through a discussion to determine what they already know about Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Invite them to share their own questions as a springboard for further inquiry.

As you engage in this work alongside your students, you may consider the following questions as a framework: Whose history has been told? Whose history has been silenced? ignored? or whitewashed? Who benefits as a result? How does that perpetuate inequities and injustice?

Create land acknowledgement statements such as the one created at Furman University where Katie teaches. We (Lester and Katie) both live on the ancestral homelands of the Cherokee people and Katie grew up on the land of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in Upstate New York (also known as the Iroquois, the name given by the French colonists and therefore pejorative). Do you know whose land you live on? Do you know whose land your school resides? We invite you to research and learn about the first people of your own land.

You might read the book Encounter by Jane Yolen and discuss how this counternarrative as told by a young Taino child disrupts the dominant story of Christopher Columbus. Or you might view this short video from Adam Ruins Everything.

Additionally, share stories about and written by Indigenous authors, or #OwnVoice texts with your students all year long. Integrate these books into your bookshelves and your regular read alouds. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:

Picture Books:

Books for Upper Elementary and Middle Grades:

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

This book tells the story of Hannah who moves with her father to the South Dakota prairie in 1880. She makes friends with the indigenous people who lived on the land long before the white settlers arrived. Seen as dangerous savages by most of the townspeople, Hannah befriends them and learns from them. This is an important detail that honors the native people who were negatively portrayed in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series that was the inspiration for Park’s book. This book could lead to conversations around land acknowledgement and students can research which Indigenous tribe first owned the land where their school and homes are located. For instance, we acknowledge that we live on the land once belonging to the Cherokee and the Catawba. Additionally, this book could be a springboard for conversations about marginalized perspectives during the westward expansion. *Note: This book is part of the 2020 Global Read Aloud.

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell

This historical fiction novel is based on real events in the author’s life. It takes place during the 1950s on the Grand Ronde Tribe’s reservation. When the government passed the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 indigenous people were forced to move off reservations. They were told they would receive job training, transportation, a new home, and be assimilated. When faced with this situation, Regina and her family moved to Los Angeles and she becomes “Indian no more” and her life changes instantly. Her new neighborhood has more concrete than grass, new food, new friends, a larger school, and she and her new friends experience racism. Her grandmother (chich) helps her remember stories of her people and memories from the rez. *Note: This book is part of the 2020 Global Read Aloud.

Additional Resources:

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese

This highly informative book is a must read as you expand your own understanding and knowledge of history and is appropriate for middle grades and young adults.

American Indian’s in Children’s Literature blog

National Museum of the American Indian

Five Ideas for Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day from the Smithsonian

Reading to Make a Difference AT HOME!

Thanks to Covid-19 we are all quarantined at home  and learning to adjust to this new normal. We are aware that this pandemic brings on a variety of challenges from family to family. Thus, this is not a time for a packet of worksheets (whether paper or digital). This is not a time for endless clicking through hyperlinks and tasking of online activities. This is a time when we need to honor Maslow over Bloom. We must first begin by checking in on our children, their families, and our neighbors.

Ask: How are you doing? What do you need?

Consider engaging children in reading (and writing) to make a difference at home. In our book, Reading to Make a Difference: Helping Children to Think Deeply, Speak Freely, and Take Action, we offer a framework to help SELECT books for children to see themselves and others (using Rudine Sims Bishop’s notion of books as mirrors, windows, and doors). We then move children through a collection of intentionally selected books to engage them in rich conversation as they CONNECT and REFLECT on how their thinking has changed now that they’ve read the books. From there, children consider ways they can take ACTION to make a difference.

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This is more important than ever before! Let’s engage children in meaningful reading experiences to make a difference. Reading to make a difference at home can also move through this framework. Consider the selection of books such as “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Pena. In fact, like many authors, he has taken to social media to connect with his readers and in a recent post he asks readers to consider the line when CJ’s Nana tells him: “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”

Matt de la Pena asks us to consider: “What is something beautiful that you now see, that you couldn’t see before?”

To see the full post visit: Author Matt de la Pena on Facebook

Other books to read that may inspire action in the home and in the community by considering “Something Beautiful” and acts of kindness during Covid-19 include:

For many lists of suggested books take a look at our book, “Reading to Make a Difference: Helping Children Think Deeply, Speak Freely, and Take Action”.

There are many available resources to help with access to books. Here’s a few resources  to get you started:

Access to Books

Free digital text – Pinterest

Creating a virtual class library – Clare Landrigan blog

What’s in Your Stack Google Template (see Clare Landigram’s blog for more info)

Lee & Low Books on YouTube (for read aloud)

Storyline Online (for read aloud)


Access to Informational Articles

News ELA

Time for Kids 

Scholastic News


Please share your favorite resources and we will update the blog with your suggestions. Thank you for making a difference! – Lester and Katie



Celebrating Our Book Birthday with a FREE Book Giveaway!

Especially in these times where we are practicing social distancing and spending more time at home, reading can make a difference. Reading can take us to far away places. Reading can expand our views and perspectives. And reading can validate and honor our stories. In our book, Reading to Make a Difference, learn how books can serve as springboards for critical conversations and lead children towards action to make a difference in the world!

We can’t believe it has already been one year since our book, Reading to Make a Difference was published! To celebrate the book’s first birthday, we are giving away a FREE copy! You can enter to win three times: (1) fill out this form, (2) retweet this post, and (3) post on Facebook and tag us.

Don’t forget to join our Reading to Make a Difference group on Facebook! And once you read the book please write a review on Amazon and GoodReads!

Be well and happy reading!
Lester and Katie

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Honoring African American Language

with guest blogger Nozsa Tinsley, 2/3 teacher, Center for Inquiry, Columbia, SC

As educators, we strive to create learning environments where children feel safe to explore identity, diversity, justice and activism throughout the curriculum. Foundational to all of our work is providing students with rich literature and learning experiences that allow all identities, cultures, and languages to be affirmed. If we are not cautious, our curriculum and literature can quickly become a representation of the majority culture, completely dismissing other cultures, including those within our own classrooms.

It is vital for kids to see and feel themselves in books in order to have their cultures, languages, and identities acknowledged (Bishop, 1990). We can promote these healthy and inclusive practices through literature, pictures, videos and curriculum that we choose. However, although our classrooms are microcosms of our larger diverse community, the dominant culture tends to be the only cultured centered in in many classrooms. For example, students are taught Standard American English (SAE), which for students of color, may sound and feel much different from that of their own home language. Students who come from households that speak SAE are always affirmed within the classroom, but what about our students who speak African American Language (AAL) or the many other languages that make up our country and our classrooms? Oftentimes Black students who are raised speaking AAL are told to “speak English”. Instead of seeing the home language of our students as a deficit, what if we make the conscious effort to affirm and build upon their culture?

In my classroom, we did a language study including African American Language to better understand the value and importance it represents. As we began our study of AAL, I was careful to choose books with Black characters that spoke the language, but that did so outside of slavery. This was in hopes of breaking the misconception that AAL is an uneducated language and to move beyond this as the only narrative presenting African American Language. The few picture books that I found included legends and fables. It was a challenge to find modern books including Black Americans who spoke AAL. When selecting books with AAL, I considered the following three questions:

  1. Does the book showcase Black families/people in a way that my kids can relate to (culture, customs, everyday life activities)?
  2. Does the book showcase Black families/people enjoying themselves?
  3. Does the book show Black families/people in a positive way?

Books featuring African American Language (AAL)

Picture Books

  1. Nettie Jo’s Friends by Patricia McKissack 
  2. Mirandy and Brother Wind by Patricia McKissack 
  3. Flossie and the Fox by Patricia McKissack 
  4. Honey I love by Eloise Greenfield
  5. The Barber’s Cutting Edge by Gwendolyn Battle-Levert
  6. The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton 

Chapter Books

  1. Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper 
  2. One Crazy Summer by Rita WIlliams-Garcia
  3. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson
  4. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

Through the use of carefully selected literature, the kids recognized that African American Language (AAL) had patterns and rules just like that of Standard American English (see Figure 1). Taking a close look at the language allowed some students to gain new insights, while allowing others to unlearn some of the misconceptions they previously held (it’s wrong, improper, or just slang). By taking a close look at AAL, a language that is often dismissed, my AAL speakers were able to have their culture valued. Non AAL speakers experienced a new culture outside of their own. All of my students gained the knowledge and appreciation for a beautiful language.

Figure 1. Moving Between Languages (Translating) Anchor Chart

African American Language

Standard American English

scr- (scring) str- (string)
-in’ (weddin’) -ing (wedding)
gonna going to
past=present -ed (past tense)
-an’ (stan’) -and (stand)
‘cause because
d- (dat) th- (that)
be (She be sick a lot.) is (She is sick a lot.)

“It would be good if teachers could genuinely understand that Black English is not mistakes, it’s just different English, and that what you want to do is add an additional dialect to black students’ repertoire rather than teaching them out of what’s thought of as a bad habit, like sloppy posture or chewing with your mouth open.” – John McWhorter

Additional resources:





Our Favorite Books of 2019

Here’s a list of some of Lester’s and Katie’s favorite books from 2019. It was hard to choose only 10!

  1. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  2. Why Are All of the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Tatum
  3. Heavy by Kiese Laymon
  4. Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes
  5. There Thereby Tommy Orange
  6. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  7. Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
  8. How we Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

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… So we added another 10 for our favorite children’s books!

  1. Just Ask by Sonia Sotomayor
  2. Fry Bread by Kevin Maillard
  3. Front Desk by Kelly Yang (chapter book)
  4. Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
  5. The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee
  6. Maybe Tomorrow? by Charlotte Agell
  7. A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy
  8. Dasher by Matt Travares
  9. 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the Worldby Charles R. Smith, Jr.
  10. Truman by Jean Reidy
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Did any of these make it on your list of favorite reads this year?  If you have read any of the books on this list we’d love to hear your thoughts. And let us know what is on your “To Read” list for 2020.
Happy reading! — Katie and Lester
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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15th – October 15th in commemoration of the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens and immigrants that have ancestral ties to Latin American and Hispanic countries located in North, South, and Central America. Countries like Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile celebrate their anniversary of independence from Spanish colonization and rule. Celebrations include parades, festivals, concerts, and posts on social media wherever people who are tied to these countries are located, whether it is in the countries themselves or in spaces where descendants have immigrated to. Designating a month to bring attention to any group of people helps to raise the consciousness of all people. These designations are one step in the right direction, but only a small step toward the notion of full inclusion for all people. There is much work to be done if we are ever to see all groups being honored and celebrated every month, every day, all year. Let us work toward daily celebrations of our diverse and complex identities in our common humanity. 

Carefully selected literature read aloud and followed by open conversation can part the curtains on windows they never knew existed. In chapter five of Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Think Deeply, Speak Freely, and Take Action, we introduce Alyssa Cameron’s fourth graders in South Carolina. Using the instructional framework (see introduction), Alyssa moved her students from reading an intentionally selected text to thoughtful conversations and student-driven action. When reading the book, Separate is Not Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, the students learned about the discrimination including school segregation that Sylvia Mendez and her family faced as Mexican Americans living in California. This true story was eye opening as the students began to deepen their understanding of the racism that permeates through the United States in the past and into the present. The students were so moved by Sylvia’s story that they wanted to take action to inform others of the life and the actions of Sylvia Mendez and her family. They created a play for younger children, a presentation with slides for administration, and a letter to the editor of the “Who Was?” series requesting a book be written about Sylvia Mendez. This example demonstrates one way we can honor the contributions of Hispanic Americans. The graphic below illustrates the process these students followed in moving toward action. It begins with a small set of texts carefully selected to validate the experiences of some students while exposing others to information that may be new to them. Guided conversations typically lead to insights and connections and further reading. Time for reflection and writing often brings up the urge to take a stance and take action.

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image from Reading to Make a Difference by Lester L. Laminack & Katie Kelly

For more information about this project and many others, you may want to read our book: Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Think Deeply, Speak Freely, and Take Action.

For a list of additional books featuring Latinas, check out 60 Empowering Books Starring Latina Mighty Girls and 20 Latinx Children’s Books That Should Be On Your Shelf.  

See the source imageMy Papi Has a Motorcycle –

Other resources: 

Student-Centered Book Bins

Recently as part of our online summer book club to discuss Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Think Deeply, Speak Freely, and Take Action, Mary Howard reminded us about the importance of honoring student voice. Mary suggested that we invite our students to participate in the decision making when sorting and generating labels for the book bins.  Second grade teacher, Daniel Hoilett reflected on this notion as he recalled his first year teaching and how he inadvertently created opportunities for his students to organize their classroom library.

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post from “Reading to Make a Difference” Facebook Group

When school started Daniel enthusiastically introduced his new group of second graders to their classroom library. He introduced the books through book talks and

modeled how some of the books might be organized. He then invited the students to examine commonalities across books, sort them into like categories to create book bins, and create a label for the collections of text. By inviting students into the sorting and organization process, students have a greater sense of ownership over the collection. They will know where the books are kept and will have greater access to books. This will reduce time spent “shopping” for books and will increase time spent reading. After all, research shows us that access to books, choice in book selection, and time spent reading are key predictors of overall success in reading (Allington & Gabriel, 2012).

Books written by Mo Willems

Books featuring non-humans

Mystery books

Books labeled “Loving You!”

Books labeled “Young Kids Saving the World”

We love all the labels these kids came up with, but our favorite is “Young Kids Saving the World.” What a powerful way for students to see how other children can take action to make the world a better place. Perhaps these books will serve as doorways (Bishop, 1990) for these young readers and inspire them to make a difference in the world.

Consider following Daniel’s lead, how might that play out in your classroom?  What if you brought in several empty boxes or laundry baskets and filled them with the books from your classroom library?  What if your students spent a morning getting familiar and sorting the books into sets that are meaningful and accessible to them? What if?

First Day Read Alouds

Recently I spent a few hours in a second grade teacher’s classroom to sort a sample of his classroom library and evaluate the books for diversity and inclusivity. We chose a sampling of his classroom library collection to make the activity more manageable. This led to some eye opening revelations about who is included and who is excluded from his classroom library. As he sorted books, we had some interesting conversations about the activity and the role of diverse books (more about this in a future post). He commented about how valuable this exercise was to help him pay closer attention to the books he selects and how those books serve as mirrors and windows (Bishop, 1990) for his students.

“So why then do we read the same book year after year on the first day of school?” – 2nd grade teacher

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg has been a favorite first day read aloud for many teachers. In fact, his entire grade level team reads it on the first day. I even read it aloud to my undergrads as we begin each semester. While we still love that book, this post features 10 suggested first day read alouds featuring diverse characters and perspectives. 

The call to diversify our classroom libraries has gained recent attention over the last few years. With our nation’s population becoming increasingly diverse, it is essential that the books we read aloud and make available for our children to read independently allow them to see reflections of themselves. Yet our classroom libraries often over represent the dominant culture and fail to provide adequate mirrors for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People/Person(s) of Color) resulting in perpetuating the single story (Adichie, 2009). 

For more book suggestions as well as instructional ideas, see chapter 1 “Discovering Our Own Identities” in our book, Reading to Make a Difference (Laminack & Kelly, 2019).       

Reading with PRIDE

PRIDE–”the quality or state of being proud…a reasonable or justifiable self-respect…” (Merriam Webster app)

June is designated as PRIDE month, a time when members of the LBGTQ+ community and our families and allies come together to celebrate our common humanity.  It is a time to stand up with others, to remind the nation everything that makes any one of us human is present in each of us in the human family. It is a time to celebrate our successes and the continued struggle for equal rights for all people. It is also a time to remember and respect those who came before, especially those in the 1969 Stonewall uprising in Greenwich Village.   

Pride, “a reasonable or justifiable self-respect” should be the birthright of every human being. Pride is our human birthright. Elizabeth, an openly gay preservice teacher shares her story and hopes to erase stigma about the LGBTQ+ community to make the classroom a safe space for teachers and students.

My name is Elizabeth. I am a 21-year-old education major in South Carolina. I came out the summer before college and was met with very mixed responses. I was terrified of being rejected by friends and extended family and how my sexuality would affect a future career in education. Of course, my close friends and parents continued to love me unconditionally, but valued church members took it upon themselves to fill me in on “the perverse direction my life was taking.” I was verbally abused face to face in the sanctuary of my church.  Bigotry and hatred runs rampant in my hometown and these fears follow me every time I return. I also experienced more abuse online where people do not have to look me in the eye.

In the flurry of emotions I turned to literature to reassure me that my life is just different, not wrong. I discovered many books and resources including LGBTQIA+ families. Yet, many of the books claiming to support and cherish gay readers held messages of homophobia and hatred. A small number of children’s books portray happy LGBTQIA+ families and individuals, yet even fewer of them are included in school and classroom libraries. It is important for books written by authors like Lesléa Newman to be accessible in classrooms so children know at an early age that  they can be exactly who they are without any fear or shame.

My story is not as harrowing as my some of my peers in the queer community, but my heartbreak is just as real. I will be a fantastic teacher because of my identity, not despite it. Being gay has taught me to be an advocate for myself and for all people, especially those who are marginalized. We as educators must present our students with a safe space, a space free of fear within our classroom walls, a space where they can learn how to be their most authentic selves. Especially in a world where it is slowly becoming easier to be proud of your identity, I will strive to cultivate my classroom community with love and respect, and pride.

Perhaps what makes Elizabeth’s story so poignant is that it brings an issue out of the shadows and into the light. Her story helps us to recognize how powerful literature can be in the life of a young person.  The idea that “the right book at the right time can open doors to possibility for a better world.” (Laminack and Kelly, 2019) is at the heart of her story. At the age of 21 she can name books from her youth that opened doors to self-respect, to pride in her own existence.  Yet, her comment that many books she thought would be helpful actually “held messages of homophobia and hatred…” clearly makes the case that we need books that serve as mirrors, windows, and doors for our LBGTQ+ students. These books would also open the windows and doors to cisgender classmates as well.

According to the book, Reading the Rainbow: LGBTQ-Inclusive Literacy Instruction in the Elementary Classroom, there are an estimated 6 million people with one or more LGBTQ+ parents (Gates, 2014) and at least 30,000 of these children are school age (Adams & Persinger, 2013). To create more inclusive classrooms, we can begin by avoiding heteronormative language and practices such as calling children ‘boys and girls’, referring to parents as ‘room moms’, or hosting events such as ‘donuts for dads’. In our book, Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Think Deeply, Speak Freely, and Take Action, we share how Jennie Robinette transforms the traditional Q and U wedding in her kindergarten class by inviting any students to participate regardless of gender. In addition Jennie invited parents, including same-sex parents to come and tell the stories of their own weddings.  This sent a message that anyone can be married and love each other. Students celebrated by creating “Love is love” signs.

From Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Think Deeply, Speak Freely, and Take Action by Laminack & Kelly (Heinemann)

Entry points to becoming LGBTQ+ inclusive may include connecting with diverse families in your classroom and school community, responding to instances of taunting, teasing and full on bullying, and discussing current events and children’s literature (Ryan & Hermann-Wilmarth, 2018). For instance, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, children could read Rob Sanders new book, Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution. With last year being the fortieth anniversary of the gay pride flag, students could read Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag. See below for a list of other recommended literature.


Suggested Books:

10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert

A Church for All by Gayle E. Pitman

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Marlon Bundo with Jill Twist

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Buffering by Hannah Hart

And Tango Makes Three by J. Richardson and P. Parnell

Donovan’s Big Day by Lesléa Newman

Families, Families, Families by Suzanne Lang

George by Alex Gino

Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman

I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

In Our Mother’s House by Patricia Polacco

Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton

Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah Hoffman and Ian Hoffman

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

King and King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland

Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman

My Princess Boy by C. Kilodavis

Neither by Airlie Anderson

One of a Kind, Like Me by Laurin Mayeno

Pride the Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

Sparkle Boy by Lesléa Newman

Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer

Want to Play Trucks? By Ann Stott

Worm Loves Worm by J. J. Austrian

Additional Resources:

Supporting LGBTQ Students in Elementary School

Arthur’s Gay Teacher and Other Stories School Won’t Tell

Putting Read-Alouds to Work for LGBTQ-Inclusive, Critically Literate Classrooms (by Caitlyn L. Ryan & Jill M. Hermann-Wilmarth)

Building Diverse Collections of Children’s Literature to Expand Windows and Mirrors for Youth  (from the NCTE LGBTQ Advisory Committee)

We Love that Teachers are Speaking Up for LGBTQ Students (Teaching Tolerance)

17 LGBTQ-Friendly Books to Read to Your Kid in Honor of Pride

Podcast series by Kate and Maggie Roberts

Lee and Low LGBTQ+ Children’s Books Webinar

25 YA Novels That You Need To Read During Pride Month

To read more about valuing all identities through the use of children’s literature and rich discussion, check out our new book, Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply, and Take Action.

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Scroll down using this link to the Heinemann blog to watch a video with Katie and Lester as they discuss how exploring identity allows us to connect with others.

Why Students Need Books with Muslim Characters

In light of the mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and the ongoing hate crimes experienced by Muslims in our own country, this month’s blog post focuses on the importance of inclusion of Muslim characters in literature.

According to NCTE’s position statement on anti-racism to support teaching and learning, educators have a responsibility to actively identify and respond to acts of racism and discrimination and promote cultural diversity and inclusion to “eradicate racism, bias, and prejudice in spaces of teaching and learning” (2018). We believe that literature can serve as a window to learn about unfamiliar people, places, and experiences and can help to deepen the reader’s ability to value all humans. “According to Scholastic’s biennial Kids & Family Reading Report, 88 percent of parents believe that reading fiction and nonfiction is a good way for their kids to better understand the world and three out of four kids agree.”

In this month’s post, we invite guest blogger, Johnna Malici, principal and fifth grade language arts teacher at As-Sabeel Academy, an Islamic elementary and middle school in Greenville, South Carolina, to share why students need books with muslim characters.

Why Students Need Books with Muslim Characters 

About three years ago, our then sixth grade class was on a field trip to see a play at a local performing arts center along with hundreds of other students from neighboring schools.   That day, as it turns out, would not be remembered as a fun outing with classmates.  Instead, the students would be scarred by the memory of what it can mean to be part of a vilified minority group in America.

By the end of the school day, we learned all the details.  It started even before the performance began.  A group of students from another school began harassing our female students, who are identifiably Muslim by virtue of wearing the headscarf (hijab).   “Are we gonna die today?” “Do you have bombs?” they taunted.  Our students ignored the abuse, thinking it would stop if they didn’t respond.  However, it only continued during the show when the harassers began pulling at our girls’ hijabs.  Because teachers from both our school and the other school were seated at the other end of their respective rows, no adult was present to witness the abuse.  Unsure of how to handle such a situation, our students told the teacher only upon returning to school, unable to hide their emotions as they described what had happened.

I wish I could say that these kinds of experiences are rare in the American Muslim community.  But unfortunately, they have become rather common.  And, to be frank, this instance was rather benign compared with the abuse and violence that some Muslims are subjected to.  To be a Muslim youth in America means to experience regular doses of micro-aggressions, at a minimum.

See the source imageYou may be wondering what this has to do with children’s books.  In my mind, the connection is clear.  In this climate of “fear of the other” on the one hand, and “fear to be myself” on the other, books are important.  For non-Muslim students, books offer the possibility of “meeting” a Muslim.  Upon meeting a character like Amina from Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan, for example, readers will relate to her struggle to overcome stage fright and to navigate middle school friendships.  They will relate to her desire to want to blend in.  They will experience the sadness and grief alongside her when her mosque is vandalized.  In short, they will begin to see Amina as a human, and they will begin to empathize with her hopes and struggles.  Through the book, the feared other becomes much less scary and a lot more like themselves.

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For Muslim students, books can offer support, comfort, and validation.  Imagine how rare an occasion it is for a Muslim student to “see” him or herself in a text.  Though books featuring Muslim characters have definitely been increasing in recent years, they are still few in number.  As a teacher or librarian, you have the power to choose a book that will validate the very students who, day in and day out, experience attacks (big and small) on their identity.  Imagine how your Muslim student would feel when you choose to read aloud Wishtree by Katherine Applegate.  My teacher chose a book about a character like me!  Through Samar, the Muslim student will see that s/he is not alone; there are other Muslim kids out there who experience negativities at school and in their community.  But s/he will also see that, just like Samar, there are friends ready to help, notably the teacher who chose to read this book.

Yes, books are important.  But, teachers and librarians are important, too.  How many school libraries offer books featuring Muslim characters?  Even more importantly, how many teachers are choosing these books for read alouds and novel studies in their classrooms?  How would that field trip three years ago have been different had those students “met” a Muslim previously?  As educators, we have a critical role to play in creating a culture where marginalized students, be they Muslim, Latinx, African American (or of any other marginalized identity), feel they are a valued part of the society, and where majority students are compelled to understand and empathize with the other.  Books can help us with this mission.

For more reading:

To learn more about Johnna’s work with her fifth grade students and a list of suggested books, check out our new book, Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Think Deeply, Speak Freely, and Take Action.

Reading to Make a Difference


It’s A BOOK! Reading to Make a Difference

We are thrilled to announce the birth of our new book, “Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply, and Take Action”. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating our book birthday today,  March 21st, 2019. 

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During one of our writing retreats while discussing an article Katie was working on, we found ourselves looking out of the kitchen window reflecting on the notion of books as mirrors, windows, and doors. This conversation along with our concern about events in the world around us such as white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, high profile individuals mocking people with disabilities, the killing of black males at the hands of police officers, hate crimes against the LBGTQ+, Jewish, and Muslim communities, and the treatment of refugees and speakers of other languages led us to write this book. We believe that books can become bridges to help us explore the unfamiliar, gain new perspective, deepen our appreciation of our diverse and pluralistic society, and inspire us to take action and serve as change agents. Through examining our own identity and the identities of others, we can begin to celebrate our differences and our similarities as we work toward becoming advocates for equity.

The phrase “books as mirrors, windows, and doors” has seen new interest on social media, in presentations and panels at conferences we attend, and among the many educators we work with. This concept originated from the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, professor emerita from Ohio State University.  In 1990, Dr. Bishop wrote an essay entitled, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors”. In this essay she explains why it is necessary to use multicultural literature where all children can see themselves reflected in the text they read as well as the need for books to serve as windows to explore the unfamiliar. Books as sliding glass doors allow us to open ourselves and enter into our diverse and pluralistic world. We must open the door.  We agree with Michelle Obama who writes, “maybe then we can fear less… make fewer wrong assumptions… [and] let go of biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us” (2018).

This project is grounded in Katie’s early dissertation work and research interests in critical literacy and Lester’s passion for children’s literature and the often underestimated power of reading aloud to children. Critical literacy explores how to move from passive to active reading where the reader critically analyzes the text by: 1) questioning what is included and excluded, 2) disrupting the commonplace, 3) examining the author’s intent, and 4) exploring the role of power and positioning in text and how that serves to normalize the dominant perspective while disenfranchising others (Lewison, Flint, & VanSluys, 2002; Luke & Freebody, 1999; McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2010; Vasquez, 2004; Vasquez, 2010). In her TED Talk, “Can a Children’s Book Change the World?”, author, Linda Sue Park responds that although the book can not change the world, readers of the books can.

In Reading to Make a Difference we show how children are moved and inspired to become change agents after reading collections of text. Many examples of ways that children can take action in the world around them are included in the book along with several lists of suggested children’s literature.  

Cultivating a Love of Reading

The month of February surrounds us with reminders of love. Red roses, heart-shaped cards for our loved ones, and sweet candy heart conversations. Hopefully we think about love all of the time. Love is what drives us and gets us through difficult times. Love surrounds us when we celebrate triumphs and joy in our lives. Love connects us and warms our hearts. In this post, we celebrate the love of reading and ways to cultivate a love of reading in the classroom to inspire readers of all ages.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 11.11.28 AMHow can we fall in love if we never meet? Access to the just right book can make all of the difference. We must fill our classroom libraries with books featuring diverse topics, genres, characters, and lived experiences. It’s also helpful to organize the books in some type of systematic way to help readers find and select a potential mate. Bins of books organized around favorite topics and authors rather than levels removes any shame associated with reading levels and matches what real readers do when shopping for books. Showcase favorite books through book talks and book shares and by propping them on display.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 11.46.15 AMSpeed dating with books (or book tastings for younger students) is a fun way to expose children to different books in a short amount of time. Have children sit down at a table featuring a selection of books. Give them approximately one minute to browse the front and back cover, read the inside jacket, and skim and scan the text and illustrations. Encourage them to consider which book they’d like to take on a second date. During the second date, they sit down and begin reading the text, getting to know it better.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 11.46.23 AMFinding ‘just right books’ is more than matching readers with a level. Compatibility is more than a score or a percentile ranking. Consider your true love. What attracted you? What kept you engaged? Learning what you find appealing can build a lifetime relationship with reading.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 11.46.28 AMIt’s ok to abandon books. If you begin reading a book and you are just “not feeling it” be honest, consider and reflect about why this is not working.  That will help you recognize what you don’t like and will help you find a better mate in the future.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 11.46.34 AMBooks can evoke feelings, changes in our thinking and behavior, and spark us to take action in some way.  When you fall in love at first sight, take a moment to reflect on why. Come to know yourself as a reader and learn to manage your selections for future reads.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 11.46.40 AMKatie tends to read fiction, historical fiction, memoir and nonfiction. Other than when Harry Potter and the Hunger Games series was popular, rarely did she read fantasy or dystopian novels. As she shares about the books she loves reading, she realized she rarely recommended fantasy or science fiction books. This is most likely because she personally doesn’t read those genres as often. We must be cautious when selecting books for our class libraries that we don’t fall into the trap of only including books that we love. We must also guard against “showing favoritism” for certain genres as we book talk new titles and promote new options for our students.  Consider your students’ interests and build your classroom libraries so that a wide variety of genres are represented. Consider conducting an inventory of your library. How many books do you have that fall under different genres? Graphic novels, biography, fantasy, memoir, poetry, science fiction, etc.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.26 PMFalling in love with an author or illustrator or topic is one of the joys of being a reader.  Help your students find their match with a spotlight on an author or an author study. Assembling a text set to explore topics of interest is an effective way to introduce a variety of authors, text formats, and genres connected to a topic of interest.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.33 PMAs a young reader Lester loved the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. The beloved Boxcar Children series held an element of mystery that drew him in.  He later read every Agatha Christie novel he could find in either the school library or the public library.  Not every reader will be wooed by a good mystery, but for those who are lead them to series such as, Encyclopedia Brown, Nate The Great, and The Magic Treehouse.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.38 PMSometimes we meet characters in books that stay with us. We can’t shake them.  Lily from Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse.  India Opal from Because of Winn-Dixie.  Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.  Henry, Jesse, Violet, and Benny from The Boxcar Children.  Salva Dut from A Long Walk to Water. Ivan from The One and Only Ivan. Auggie from Wonder.  Falling for a character gives us various ways for viewing challenges and obstacles in life.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.11 PMNonfiction offers readers the opportunity to delve into a topic and weigh information in a search for truth.  As students become more facile as critical thinkers and readers they learn to question the texts they read and to search out various perspectives on an issue.  As you collect titles for your classroom library consider offering a range of perspectives on the topics in your curriculum.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.03 PMReading aloud is an essential part of our reading instruction.  As you plan for read aloud experiences do so with intention. Make your selections with the same care your give to choosing manipulative for a math lesson and the perfect Valentine’s card for a loved one.  Think through the purpose of each read aloud experience and match the selection to the intention.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.16 PMCommunication is critical in relationships. While reading may seem like an isolated experience at least during the reading process, reading should be a social act. When we talk about what we are reading with others, we deepen our understanding, develop new perspectives, and form connections.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.21 PMGood books leave us wanting more. They move us. We laugh, we cry, we turn pages in suspense. We are changed by our time with them. Good books spark the love for reading and inspires us as lifelong readers.

Students from Anna Doyle’s class (@DoylesDivers) in Greenville, SC challenge us to share the love of reading using the hashtag #ForTheLoveOfReading. 

Some of Our Favorite Professional Resources to Cultivate the Love of Reading:

Book Love by Penny Kittle

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The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

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The Ultimate Read Aloud Resource by Lester Laminack

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Conversations by Regie Routman

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Readicide by Kelly Gallagher

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No More Reading for Junk: Best Practices for Motivating Readers by Barbara A. Marinak and Linda Gambrell

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Pernille Ripp’s Blog

Nerdy Book Club Blog

Ringing in the New Year with Reading Resolutions and Recommendations

Each year around this time it seems that we all begin to examine ourselves, revisiting our lives over the past year,  and pondering what’s possible in the new year. We reflect, make great plans, and proclaim our resolutions for the coming year.  We are looking forward to the new year, 365 days of fresh pages. In this blog post, we revisit favorite books from the past year and focus our attention on books we plan to read (or reread) to enrich both our professional and personal lives.  We aim to make 2019 a year of growth with a return to some of the texts that shaped our thinking and devote time to new texts that have captured our attention. 

Each of us has our own ways of finding new reads.  Like many of you we return to favorite authors, look for new titles in a favorite genre, do the one-click purchase of a book just reviewed on NPR, or find ourselves standing at the checkout counter with books in hand just because we decided to step inside an independent bookstore–you know, just for a look around.  Then there are friends we’ve come to trust about books and when they give a book a thumbs-up we find ourselves adding it to the lists we keep on GoodReads or in the back of our notebooks. We’ve come to trust recommendations by Penny Kittle, Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, Teri Lesene, Mr. Schu, Laura Robb, Kylene Beers, Mary Howard, Pernille Ripp, and Brian Kissel. Here are some of our favorites from 2018:

Lester’s 2018 favorites:

Jesmyn Ward Sing, Unburied, Sing (because Penny Kittle made me believe I’d be missing out if I didn’t.  She was right.  I could not stop reading.)


James Baldwin Go Tell it on the Mountain (because we need to revisit his voice and contributions.)


S.E. Hinton The Outsiders (because my work is more focused on picture books this is one that I never read and needed to. I was moved to tears.)


Parker J. Palmer On the Brink of Everything (because I admire his contemplative life and writing.  If you are of a “certain age” you will find this book filled with sage insights that will give you pause.)


Phillip Hoose The Boys Who Challenged Hitler (Penny Kittle mentioned this book in several groups and each time I made note of it. I found the history behind this book fascinating and was compelled to read it. On a long flight I did the one-click thing and it appeared on my i-Pad.  I read the flight away.)


Harriet Ann Jacobs Incidents of a Slave Girl Written by Herself (I heard so much about this book from so many sources that I had to read it.  Now I hope you will.)

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Kylene Beers and Bob Probst Disrupting Thinking (because they are wicked smart and articulate.  I read everything they write and I am never disappointed.)


Lori Duron Raising My Rainbow (because I think we need to hear more from the parents of LGBTQ children.)


Elizabeth Acevedo The Poet X  (because it was on the tongue of everyone at NCTE 2018 and it was in the stack of books submitted for an awards committee I am serving on.  It is a powerful story with some stunning lines.)

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Marcella Pixley Ready to Fall (because Marcella is an amazing MG ELA teacher, a most talented writer and weaver of story, and a dear friend.)


Barbara O’Connor Wonderland (just because Barbara wrote it. Period.  And I read Wish earlier in 2018.  You’ll want to read it also.)


Nikki Grimes One Last Word (I’m on a mission to read everything she has written.)

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Nikki Grimes Between the Lines


Nikki Grimes Garvey’s Choice


Nikki Grimes Words with Wings


Wiley Cash The Last Ballad (Southern fiction is one of my favorite genres and this one is rife with the history of organizing the unions at the textile mills of NC and SC. This is a true story of one white woman who lost her life in the effort to integrate the union.)

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Amy Hollingsworth The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers (because Fred Rogers is my hero. This is written in segments that make it easy to read it small moments.  When you reach the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of the man, his faith, and the love and ministry behind his show.)

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Katie’s 2018 favorites:

Bryan Stevenson Just Mercy (This book was recommended by Penny Kittle when she spoke at Furman. This book opened my eyes to the broken justice system. In 2018, the author’s organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama as a reminder of America’s history of racial inequality. I hope to be able to visit the memorial and museum in 2019.)


Christina Baker Kline Orphan Train (I found this fascinating novel about an orphaned Irish immigrant child sent by train to live in the midwest while browsing in an airport. I loved the story so much I finished it by the time I arrived to my destination.)

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Mariana Souto-Manning, Carmen Lugo Llerena, Jessica Martell, Abigail Salas-Maguire, Alicia Arce-Boardman No More Culturally Irrelevant Teaching  (This short and easy to read book packs a powerful message for all educators. And Lester agrees.) 

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Tara Westover Educated (because it was on Obama’s reading list so I knew it would be good!  I was not disappointed.)

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Trevor Noah Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood (This eye-opening and touching story of Trevor Noah’s childhood in South Africa brought me to tears and made me laugh.)

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Sara Ahmed Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension (because the topic of this book is connected to the theme of our new book also published by Heinemann and I love to learn from other educators. I later attended a packed session at NCTE led by Sara and her colleagues and left inspired and renewed to continue this important work focused on social justice and anti-bias teaching.)

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David Sedaris Me Talk Pretty One Day (Looking to add some humor into my otherwise mostly serious reading stack, Brian Kissel suggested I read anything by David Sedaris and he did not disappoint.)

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Jacqueline Woodson Harbor Me (because I saw it on the shelf at M. Judson’s Bookstore in Greenville, SC and had to have it because I love everything written by this author.)

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Nic Stone Dear Martin (Recommended by the ProjectLIT Community, this seemed like a good follow up to my 2017 favorite book, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Plus I had the honor of listening to Nic Stone speak when we both presented at NerdCampGA!)

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Robin DiAngelo White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Recommended by Travis Crowder, this book helps me as I continue to seek support of others as we work through difficult conversations related to race.)

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Lester’s 2019 Book Stack:

Frank Smith Essays into Literacy (because this collection of essays helped fine tune my thinking about literacy instruction.)

Rudine Sims Bishop Free Within Ourselves: The Development of African American Children’s Literature (because Rudine’s work was the first I read on the need for diverse books and I want to return to this title now with greater insight and appreciation.)

Ralph Fletcher What a Writer Needs (first edition) (Ralph has been a mentor and has become a friend.  This is the one book on writing that I would hold onto if I could keep only one.  I want to revisit all the notes I scribbled in the margins long ago and discover how my understanding has developed over time.)

Don Holdaway The Foundations of Literacy (the influence of Holdaway upon my understandings of early literacy development and instruction was remarkable. Rereading him now would be refreshing)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Americanah (I was totally inspired by her keynote at NCTE 2018 in Houston.)

Cornelius Minor We Got This (well, first off, I just adore the guy.  I’ve watched his work blossom since our first meeting at Teachers College in a summer institute years ago.  And, well, everyone is reading this.)

Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp Game Changer! (because these two know books about as well as anyone I know and they are at the point of impact.)

Anne Lamott Almost Everything (because I love her work.)

Maxwell King The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers (because I so admire Mr. Rogers)

Michelle Obama Becoming (because she is an admirable human being, a great First Lady, and it was recommended by Glenis Redmond.)

Henri J. Nouwen The Way of the Heart (inspired by reading Amy Hollingsworth The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers.)



Katie’s 2019 Book Stack:

Michelle Obama Becoming (because I find her incredibly inspiring and miss seeing her as our First Lady.)

Cornelius Minor We Got This. (because Cornelius Minor is as authentic as they come and a true inspiration.)

Matthew Kay Not Light, But Fire (recommended by Shawna Coppola in a Facebook Live video. Social media can be so powerful!)

Joan Williams White Working Class (This book was recommended by Brian Kissel at NCTE during one of our late night chats about everything under the sun including how to make sense about what is happening in the current political landscape.)

Michelle Alexander The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (This book has been on my to-read list for awhile. After reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, I was inspired to learn more about the role of race and the criminal justice system. It was also recommended by my dear friend, Lindsay Yearta.)

Eve L. Ewing Ghosts in the Schoolyard (recommended by Jacqueline Woodson on Twitter so duh, I must read it! Plus I watched the author’s interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah where she discusses the need to break down structural racism particularly in the context of the schools in Chicago’s south side.)

Zora Neale Hurston Barracoon: The Story of the “Last Black Cargo” (My mom gave me this book for Christmas. She thought I might like it since Michelle Obama was also reading it. A few days later, I saw Brian Kissel tweeted it as one of his top ten favorite reads of 2018.)

Sharon Draper Blended (As an educator, I like to stay current with the children’s books being published. This middle grade novel is a story of a young girl dealing with the complexities of a blended family. This book seems relatable for many children as the main character explores her racial identity and her place in the world and perhaps a way for other readers to expand their notion of identity and to empathize with others.)


Ringing in the New Year with Reading Resolutions

Now you know which books left a great impression on us in 2018 and you know which titles have captured our attention for the next year of reading.  If you’d like to share, we would love to hear your 2019 Reading Resolutions in the comments section.

2018 has been a busy and productive year for us and we are very proud to announce the forthcoming publication of our new book, Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply, and Take Action. It will be available from Heinemann in March 2019.  We hope you’ll add us to your 2019 Reading Resolutions and make plans to join us on Dr. Mary Howard’s #G2Great Twitter chat on March 21 at 8:30pm EST to chat about this work.  

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