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

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. This day is the unofficial holiday marking the abolition of slavery and freedom for African Americans. The end of legal slavery in The United States of America should be a day celebrated by all people, not just the African American community.  

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 most recent 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. Let this be the year that you join in the celebration if you haven’t already! 

 

See the source imageJuneteenth 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. 

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.

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. 

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?

 

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.

framework image

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

Wonderopolis

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!
Love,
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:

https://africanamericanlanguage.weebly.com

https://daily.jstor.org/black-english-matters/