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. 

In this month’s post, we invited Kelsey Milian, one of Katie’s students at Furman University to share her poem, Buenos Días Niña to honor own voice stories from the Latinx community. We then share how Alyssa Cameron’s fourth graders become inspired by the true story of Latina role model, Sylvia Mendez. 

Buenos Dias Nina is Spanish for “Good morning little girl”. When I was 19 years old I would take the Miami metro mover and buses to a very affluent part of the city for a summer internship. Every morning, I would sit at a bus stop around 6:15am and be greeted with “good morning little girl” from small Latinx women who reminded me of my mother. It was this very bus stop that I write my poem and made connections to a life opportunity my family made sacrifices for and one in which I would never stop working for. 

My poem “Buenos Dias Nina” celebrates the family members that have made sacrifices in order for their children to have a different life and many more opportunities than they had. 

Buenos Días Niña by Kelsey Milian

17 stops.
Palmetto Station to Douglas Road and
30 minutes of music that seem to cloud
my thoughts with summer plans.

The city is hot and humid.
Today more than ever before.

I sit down next to large handbags,
cheap flats, and petite women.

They remind me of an alternate universe.
My life.
And my mother’s life.

Those women stand here as early as 6:15am.
Conversation after conversation.
Bus after bus taking them to Hialeah.
Taking them home.

A new brown skinned woman approaches
the bench every 15 minutes.
Besos, names, and preguntas about how their families is doing
Are the normal intros exchanged. 

I sat there and listened to their conversations.
Some would realize they had forgotten their laundry at the bus stop once reaching Hialeah.
And some would begin working at a new home in Coral Gables.

But it hit me.
To the point that I began to taste
the salty drops of my subtle tears.

They were the maids.
Las que take care of
someone else’s children.
Las que spend hours cleaning
the homes they wish to own one day.

My mother was one, a time before I appeared and
a life we would have continued if opportunity was not earned. 

But,
my destiny was different. 

I sat on that bus stop bench waiting to take
the next route to a future mis papas
dreamed for me.

Lo que soñaron para us.

Those women represent a culture and people
I refuse to forget.
Respecting what they do,
their sacrifice and ganas
goes noticed. 

I hope mis sueños go noticed too. 

I was born in Eastridge, TN, but was only there for 15 days until my family moved to Mexico and Guatemala, where they are from. After I turned 6, my family moved to Miami, FL where I was raised in a hub of Latinx an Carribean diversity. I am a Sociology and Educational Studies major at Furman University. Along with my many aspirations, I hope to attend graduate school and receive a PhD in Ethnomusicology or Sociology of Education. At the same time I hope to publish my first poetry book that speaks on what it means to be the daughter of Latinx immigrants and my own journey to make my dreams a reality. –Kelsey Milian

Kelsey’s story is a reminder that racism and classism are still a very present part of contemporary life in America.  Many of our students know this reality, yet some of them have no experience, no point of reference that will allow them to recognize the injustice and inequity of it. 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.  

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).

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Books written by Mo Willems
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Books featuring non-humans
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Mystery books
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Books labeled “Loving You!”
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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).       

Join us! Reading to Make a Difference Summer Book Club

Summer is a great time for us to relax, renew, and refresh our bodies and minds. Many of us will tackle our book stacks including personal and professional reads as we reflect and think about ideas for our learning communities in the fall.

We are thrilled to host a summer book club to discuss our new book, Reading to Make a Difference. At the beginning of each week (schedule below) we will post questions on our Reading to Make a Difference Facebook Page using Q1., Q.2., etc. for each question. You can reply to those questions directly as well as start your own threaded conversations. With a slow chat format you can jump in and out of the conversation throughout the week at your leisure.

We are looking forward to the discussion around how to bring diverse and inclusive literature into our classrooms in meaningful ways to foster critical consciousness and action. We hope you’ll join in the conversation!

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Happy reading!
Lester and Katie

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.

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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.