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).
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.