Tag Archives: Kwane Alexander

Turning to Children’s Books to Help Our Students Make Sense of Racism and Injustice

Like all of you, I am troubled, saddened, and horrified by what has transpired in the US (world) over the past week (year, century).  Racism exists there, here, everywhere.   It exists now and it existed then.  But I believe if there is one positive thing to come out of  this tragic event is the possibility that a slightly brighter light is being shined on the treatment of minorities – possibly an historical tipping point.  Many of us will never truly understand the feeling of injustice so many face on a daily basis.  But by helping to bring greater awareness of these issues to our students, we can all do our part to promote inclusion and equality.

Children notice injustice.  They see it and hear it in the playground, in the community, on TV, but perhaps don’t have the schema, the memory or fact pockets, to make sense of it all.   And so, as in so many learning opportunities that arise in our daily lives, I turn to children’s books to help me help them.  Between the covers of these books are the stories we can use to start the conversations we MUST be having with our children now; conversations about racism, about injustice, about segregation, about intolerance, about peaceful protests, about rioting, about civil rights, about activism, about marching for freedom.  It is never too early to start these conversations!

Below are my recommended anchor books, many based on true events, that can spark important conversations about racism, activism, segregation and social justice.  While I recognize that all people of color have experienced racism, the majority of these books are focusing more on issues stemming from racism against black people in the US because those are likely the conversations you will likely be having, given the situation there at the moment.  This is by no means diminishing the issue of racism against any other minority.

While this is not one of my official OLLI posts, click HERE for a response template your students could use with any of these books.

Let’s Talk About Race – Julius Lester

Likely my favorite book to read aloud to a class to spark conversations about race.  Julius Lester’s voice in this book is so real, so honest, so personal, so intimate, so authentic – it feels as if he stepped into the classroom and is speaking directly to us.  Lester uses “story” as a metaphor for race – we all have a different story to tell.  The book is filled with questions which makes it great for interactive reading.

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The Undefeated – Kwane Alexander

A beautiful celebration of black Americans throughout history: both the “dreamers” and the “doers,” who have made a difference, despite the many injustices endured and challenges they faced.  Alexander Kwane wrote this poem “The Undefeated” when Barack Obama was elected to office. It is a powerful poem accompanied by gorgeous oil painted illustrations by Kadir Nelson.

Race Cars – A Children’s Book About White Privilege – Jenny Devenny

This book uses metaphor to explain the issue of race and privilege.  In it, 2 best friends, a white car and a black car, that have different experiences and face different rules while entering the same race. I like the way the book offers a simplistic, yet powerful way to introduce these complicated themes to kids.

Something Happened in Our Town – A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice – Marianne Celano

This is a timely book aimed at younger children. The story starts with a police shooting where an unarmed black man is killed. Two children ask their families why it happened: the girl is white, the boy is black. So readers get two different points of view and distinct emotions. But they both share the feeling of injustice.  I was impressed with how the story addresses social/racism issues in a way that younger children can easily understand and I really like the two perspectives.  Excellent back notes for parents and teachers.

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story From the Underground Railway – Ellen Levine

This is the true story of escaped slave Henry Box Brown. The book follows his life from his childhood as a slave on a plantation and as an adult working as a slave in a tobacco factory. After the devastating event of having his wife and three children sold to different masters,  Henry decides to mail himself to a place where there are no slaves. With the help of a white doctor, Henry is mailed in a crate to Philadelphia and most amazingly is successful.  This story is both heart-breaking and hopeful and Kadir Nelson’s stunning illustrations once again bring the story alive.

The Story of Ruby Bridges – Robert Coles

On November 1960, in New Orleans, 6 yr. old Ruby Bridges was selected as one of the first African American student to attend an all white elementary school (William Frantz Elementary)  Many parents kept their kids home that day and gathered outside the school to protest.  Accompanied by US Marshalls,  little Ruby said a quiet prayer to herself and marched through the mobs of angry white people, shouting and jeering at her up the steps and into the school.  This is SUCH an inspiring story!  Ruby demonstrates courage, determination, faith, and kindness.  We can all learn a few things from Ruby.

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The real Ruby Bridges.

Smoky Night – Eve Bunting

Eve Bunting wrote this book after the riots and looting in Los Angeles in 1992 because she wanted to help children understand such events, especially those who actually live through them.  The story is told from Daniel’s perspective during one night when he, his mother and their cat witness rioting and looting outside their apartment.  They eventually have to flee to a shelter as the riots get closer and sadly, their cat gets left behind.  When this book was released in 1994, Eve Bunting received considerable criticism for the subject matter being too mature for children. She later received the Caldecott Award in 1995 for the book.

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White Socks Only – Evelyn Colman

In the segregated south, a young girl thinks that she can drink from a fountain marked “Whites Only” because she is wearing her white socks.  This is a heartbreaking, touching story and while the story is fictional, the events like separate entrances, water fountains, etc. for black and white people make it a good choice for introducing segregation to intermediate students.

Freedom on the Menu – The Greensboro Sit-Ins – Carole Boston Weatherford

In 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina, 4 black college students sat down at a counter at Woolworths during a time of segregation, marking a major event in the Civil Rights Movement.  This historical event, known as the Greensboro Sit-In, is told through the eyes of a young black girl, who shares her experiences living a segregated life.   The book below is based on the same event.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down – Andrea Davis Pinkney

 

We March – Shane W. Evans

In simple prose and images, Evans tells the story of one child whose family participated in the 1963 March on Washington.  The march began at the Washington Monument and ended with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.   I love how this story uses simple text but manages to capture the thrill of this young child’s experience.  You feel as if you are joining in the March, too.  A great book for teaching about civil rights and includes information in the back.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer - Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

Voice of Freedom – Fannie Lou Hamer – Carole Boston Weatherford

I didn’t know anything about Fannie Lou Hamer until I read this book. She played an integral role in the civil rights movement and despite fierce prejudice and abuse fought for the equal right to vote.  I like the way this story is told in first person free verse poems and spirituals.   A story of determination, courage, and hope.  Weatherford includes additional information about Hamer as well as a timeline at the end of the book, which I found helpful as I did not know her story.

Rosa – Nikki Giovanni

Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus sparked a huge wave in the civil rights movement and, eventually, to the desegregation of public buses.  This book gives readers a little more background before and after the incident, which I always enjoy.  I have such a vivid memory of reading this book to a Grade 2 class many years ago and being absolutely amazed at the depth of conversations they had about injustice, race, and segregation.

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged – Jody Nyasha

Every Canadian child should know the story of Viola Desmond who, in 1946, was arrested and dragged out of a movie theater in Nova Scotia because she refused to move to the “black” section of the theater. After being fined $20 she was released but did not give up.  With help from black community groups, she appealed the case and although unsuccessful, her fight began the Canadian Civil Rights movement, eventually outlawing segregation in the late 1950’s.  I love the narrator in this story – speaking directly to the reader and the illustrations are bright and bold.

Stamped – Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Lots of buzz about this new book by Jason Reynolds that came out in March which is a remix of Ibram X. Kendi’s adult book “Stamped From the Beginning”.   In it, Reynolds explores the history of racism from the past (“this is NOT a history book”) to right here and now.  While written for a younger audience (high school), it’s apparently an excellent read for everyone, especially for those not living in the US and don’t know a lot about the different shapes of racism.  I have not read it yet, but am very excited about the audiobook with Jason Reynolds narrating!

Antiracist Baby – Ibram X. Kendi

Wonderful rhyming board book that introduces nine steps to being antiracist.  While not really geared for babies, I love that the book introduces younger children to important language connected to racism.  This book will be released on June 16th.

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The Other Side – Jaqueline Woodson

Such a powerful story about two young girls – one black and one white – who observe each other from different sides of a fence.  This poignant story explores racial segregation and the tentative steps toward interracial friendship that are taken, despite the barriers (both physical and social) the girls face.   This is such an important book for so many reasons and when I get to the last page of the book, I always get teary.  “Someday, somebody’s gonna come along and knock this fence down.”

The Color of Us – Karen Katz

This story is about a girl named Lena who wants to paint a self-portrait.  She realized that in order to get her skin color, she would have to mix some colors in order to get the perfect shade. Her mother takes her on an adventure through her community where they notice different shades of brown, connecting the colors to food such as butterscotch, ginger and coffee.  Uplifting, colorful and positive.

Skin Again – bell hooks

“The skin I’m in is just a covering. It cannot tell my story.”  This story tells young readers that the skin they have is just that – skin. If you want to truly know someone, you have to dig deeper to get to know them on the inside.  Love the poetic text that address readers directly and Chris Raschka’s signature illustrations.

I hope you are able to find a few books from this list that will help spark some important discussions with your students in the coming days.    Be well, everyone.

 

 

 

 

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Top 10 (okay, 14!) Back to School Picture Books for 2019

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Well, it’s that time of year again.  Time to face the fact that summer is drawing to a close  and school is right around the corner.  Some of you, in fact, have already started teaching.  But there is an excitement that comes at this time of year – the anticipation of a new students to get to know and a new class community to build and nurture.  But while the start of school brings excitement for some, it can bring anxiety for others.  Sharing books about starting school and all that that entails is a wonderful way for making your students feel safe and connected. Here are my top new “back to school” picture books for sharing during “back to school”  week.

The Proudest Blue – Ibtihaj Muhammad

While it doesn’t appear to be by the cover, this is a powerful story about the first day of school that turns out to be so much more.  It is about rites of passage, the bonds of sisters, overcoming classmate cruelty and taunts, and the importance of culture and faith.  This book will be released on September 10th and I highly recommend it.  Gorgeous illustrations!   An important book to share about acceptance and pride in who you are.  (Great anchor for “Who Am I?” lessons from Powerful Understanding!)


Clothesline Clues to the First Day of School – Andy Robert Davies

You will have a lot of fun with this interactive book during the first week back.  Catchy rhymes and clear visual cues introduce young readers to the people they’ll encounter on their first day of school.  Perfect for Pre K – grade 1.

The School Book – Todd Parr

Todd Parr has done it again! With his signature bright, bold illustrations, “The School Book” is a must read for back to school this year. Positive and affirming step-by-step guide to a school day, from morning routines, to meeting new people, to learning and playing together. Love the way he weaves in a cheerful, child-friendly message of sharing, inclusion, and community. A perfect book for parents and teachers to read with any little one starting or returning to school.

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All Are Welcome – Alexandra Penfold

A warm, welcoming picture book that celebrates diversity and gives encouragement and support to all kids starting and returning to school.    All children need to know they are welcome in their classrooms and feel a sense of belonging.  In rhythmic phrases, this story emphasizes the inclusiveness, acceptance, and celebration of all cultures.  The perfect book for the first week of school to promote a positive classroom and school community.

If I Built a School – Chris Van Dusen

Chris Van Dusen’s If I Built a House is one of my go-to read-alouds to inspire imaginative writing so I was thrilled to see his new book about an imaginary school!  Told in a bouncy rhyming text, a boy describes all the fantastic and amazing things he would include if he was building his own school – money and reality no object!  Puppies and zoo animals would greet you at the door, students would have movable hover desks, every library book would come to life when you opened it, you’d race on submersible bikes in the school’s pool!   What fun!  A perfect anchor book for some inspiring back to school imagination pocket writing and art!

Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten! – Lisa Robinson

Very sweet story about “Pirate Emma” transitioning from preschool to kindergarten and getting to know new classmates, a new classroom, a brand new teacher, and a new routine.  Packed with pirate language and lively illustrations, this story is a perfect “connect” book for any buccaneer that might not be feeling very brave when starting a new adventure.

Lola Goes to School – Anna McQuinn

A simple, comforting story about a little girl preparing for the first day of school.  While many similar books begin on the actual first day of school, I like how this one focuses on the preparation day before – choosing clothes, packing backpacks and lunches.   This one leaves you with such a positive, uplifting feeling that gently eases any worries young readers may be feeling about starting school.

Sorry, Grown-Ups!  You Can’t Go to School – Christina Geist

This book is an entertaining story with some reverse psychology intended to make kids want to go to school.   The role reversal outlines all the fun things that a child would be excited about – new backpacks (with secret pockets), playing games, reading on the cozy carpet, science experiments, and recess, all of which drive the adults nuts with longing!  Bright, playful illustrations. (the lack of diversity is my only criticism)  This book is fun and would certainly help to ease nerves as the school year begins.  

Butterflies on the First Day of School Annie Silverstro

Rosie is excited about the first day of school but then when the day actually arrives, she discovers she has “butterflies in her tummy.”   As the first day unfolds, each time Rosie opens up and talks to a new classmate or her teacher, butterflies – which only she can see – escape out of her mouth and fly into the sky.   As the butterflies fly out, Rosie’s confidence begins to grow, and new friendships and experiences are forged; she even finds the courage to help another shy little girl with butterflies of her own.  I love how this “butterfly” metaphor is developed into a clear analogy for kids – opening up to others to let the butterflies out.

The King of Kindergarten – Derrick Barnes

A gentle, joyful introduction to what to expect in a Kindergarten classroom and a sweet story about making friends, playing together, loving school, and putting positive energy into the world.  Such a lovely message in this one!   The artwork is stunning and the story is charming and uplifting.  Love this one!

The Pigeon Has to Go to School! – Mo Willems

Mo Willems is back with another pigeon book just in time for back to school! The Pigeon Has to Go to School is a laugh-out-loud hilarious story focusing on fears about going to school for the first time. Not preachy and a great ending. A perfect back to school read! LOVE this!

How To Read – Kwane Alexander

While not specifically about starting school, this ode to reading by the amazing team of Kwane Alexander and Melissa Sweet would make an excellent first week read-aloud.   I so loved the “how to” format filled gorgeous poetic language and literary techniques: “Once you’re comfy, peel its gentle skin, like you would a clementine…Next, did your thumb at the bottom of each juicy section and POP the words out.”  Vibrant, collage illustrations but I did find the busy layout and embedded font sometimes difficult to follow on some pages.   Great for read-aloud and wonderful anchor book for writing similes, personification and imagery.

Back to School: A Global Journey – Maya Ajmera

I so love this beautiful, joy-filled book filled with stunning color photographs of children around the world studying, learning, exploring, and having fun together.  A perfect book for any lesson on global education and includes back notes and maps about each photograph.  Seeing children’s joy about school and learning is so inspiring!   I would pair this book up with The Way to School by Rosemary McCarney.

Thanks for stopping by!  Hope you found on or two “Back to School” books that caught your eye!  Happy “New Year”, teacher friends!

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Filed under 2019 releases, Back to School, Connect, New Books, Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday – Ten Spring Releases I am Eagerly Awaiting!

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It’s been a few weeks since I posted, but now report cards are written and marking is done, I’m  happy to be sharing some new releases ( picture books and novels) that I’m excited about!   I have listed release dates and all are available for pre-ordering.  While I haven’t actually READ these yet – some have amazing track records, some are from favorite authors, while others just caught my eye!  I’m “inferring”  I shall love them all!

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1. Flora and the Peacocks – Molly Idle (release May 3rd)

Molly Idle gifted us first with Flora and the Flamingo and then Flora and the Penguin.  Darling, dancing Flora is back, and this time, she is dancing with a pair of colorful, moody peacocks.  Can’t wait to read this one!

Book Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e75i9Q40STM

2. The Bear and the Piano – David Litchfield  (April 5)

I judged this book by it’s cover and decided it was a MUST read!  I can just imagine holding this cover up and asking the students “What are you wondering?”  My brain is swirling with wonderings!

3. Twenty Yawns – Jane Smiley  (April 1)

This looks like a sweet bedtime story and I adore Lauren Castillo’s illustrations so I’m keeping my eye out for this one!

4. Elephant and Piggie – The Thank You Book – Mo Willems  (May 5th)

I’m a huge fan of this hilarious, tender series and can’t wait to add this to our library collection!

5. Duck, Duck, Porcupine! – Salina Yoon (May 17)

I have enjoyed Salina Moon’s Penguin and Porcupine books so am looking forward to this book, told entirely through dialogue.

6. Flying Frogs and Walking Fish: Leaping Lemurs, Tumbling Toads, Jet-Propelled Jellyfish, and More Surprising Ways That Animals Move – Steve Jenkins (May 3) 

If you know me, you know I love Steve Jenkins.  Not just a little love – but overflowing book love for S. J.  His nonfiction books he writes with his wife (sigh) Robin Page are fascinating, engaging, stunning, and down-right glorious.  Here’s his latest.

7.  Booked – Kwane Alexander  (April 5)

 If you have not yet read or shared Kwane Alexander’s riveting novel in verse The Crossover, which won the Newberry in 2015 – it is a MUST READ!  In this much anticipated follow up novel, basketball is replaced with soccer.

8. My Seventh Grade Life in Tights – Brooks Benjamin

Lots of buzz about this charming, feel-good story of a tween boy who wants to be a dancer.

Book Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IOwYpsPLyI

9. Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood – Liesl Shurtliff (April 12)

If you are a fan of True Stories series by Liesl Shurtliff  (Rump and Jack),  you will be excited about Red!  If you teach middle school, these hilarious fractured fairy tales make the BEST read-alouds!

10.  Raymie Nightingale – Kate DiCamillo  (April 12)

Magic happens when you read Kate DiCamillo’s books.  Everything she writes is crafted masterfully and filled with heart-breaking, poignant moments and gorgeous, gorgeous language. This is the story of  a summer friendship.  Let the magic begin!

Thanks for stopping by!  Which book has caught your eye?

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