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 – https://www.npr.org/2019/08/25/753746555/my-papi-has-a-motorcycle-pays-loving-tribute-to-a-california-childhood

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