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!
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.
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.
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.
You 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.
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.
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 Differencewe 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.
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.
How 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.
Speed 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.
Finding ‘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.
It’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.
Books 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.
Katie 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.
Falling 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.
As 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.
Sometimes 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.
Nonfiction 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.
Reading 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.
Communication 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.
Good 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
The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
The Ultimate Read Aloud Resource by Lester Laminack
Conversations by Regie Routman
Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
No More Reading for Junk: Best Practices for Motivating Readers by Barbara A. Marinak and Linda Gambrell