— Also, on the blog Reading While White, Allie Jane Bruce shares Thoughts on Stereotypes and offers a perspective that we share here at Vamos a Leer: “…we need to pay attention when characters are given stereotypical traits.”
— Lastly, Lee & Low Books shared the new Curated Books App by We Need Diverse Books. “OurStory is a database comprised of more than 1,200 curated books reflecting diverse characters and themes that librarians, educators, parents, and children can search for reading recommendations.”
As you might have gathered from my recent introductory post, I’m coming to Vamos a Leer with a deep commitment to finding diverse literature and bringing it directly to classrooms. I hope in the coming months to use the blog to share the voices of others who are equally if not even more deeply committed to this cause. But before I dive into that effort, I wanted to take a minute and tap into the bigger questions that underlie all this work.
I’m going to start with an assumption with which I think many of our readers would agree: We need diverse books. But what are diverse books? How do we pick them? And how do we use them?
A couple of years ago I started working in an after school program at a bilingual elementary school in Oregon. In my conversations with educators I learned that there were a variety of questions and concerns that commonly prevent diverse books from being used in the classroom.
In her article and conversation with two other authors earlier this year, Tanwi Nandini Islam wondered whether all the “buzz” about diversity had made the word become hollow. Daniel José Older, author of the young adult novel Shadowshaper (previously reviewed by Katrina), told her: “I’m fighting for diverse books, I’m fighting for honest books. When we have books or shows about New York City and it’s all white folks, there’s a lie inherent to that. It’s a question of honesty.”
When I was working with the school, though, I heard a common set of responses: But how do I (as an educator, a librarian, an administrator, a parent) find this diverse and honest representation in books? How do I pick a book about a group I don’t know anything about? How do I choose “quality” diverse books? What do I do if a book has stereotypes? What if I say something wrong? It turns out many educators and others around the country are asking similar questions.
Luckily, there are a growing number of resources to help you out – whether you are a parent, a friend, an educator, or someone who just loves to read (and of course, none of these are mutually exclusive!).
To start, check out this short Oregon-based video called Choosing Diverse Literature that hopes to address some of these concerns! (Friendly disclaimer: I helped produce it and owe a great deal to all those who made the project possible!)
Ready to choose and use diverse books in your own classroom? Here are some more tips and resources to help get you started:
It’s helpful to start by considering how books can act as mirrors and windows – Rudine Sims Bishop’s theory of books as Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors can help you start to think of books in this way. You can hear her talk about this idea in an interview with Reading Rockets.
Okay, I get it – diverse books are important – but how do I choose them? Educators at the University of North Carolina have created a critical lens to help educators make diverse and equitable choices about the books they choose for the classroom. Their lens combines the “mirrors and windows” theory with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s single story frame to consider issues of equity and power.
Keep your eyes peeled for We Need Diverse Books’ new Our Story App which will aim to help educators and children identify quality books with diverse characters, themes, and by multicultural authors. The app will launch in January of 2017!
UNM’s Latin American and Iberian Institute previously hosted a K-12 professional development workshop on teaching about the US-Mexico border. Keira and Katrina created an accompanying online resource for educators that I have personally found to be extremely helpful for understanding the complexity of the region.
Resources for Teaching about the Border is a gateway to dozens of carefully crafted K-12 lesson plans that were created by the Kellogg Institute, the Bracero History Archive, New Mexico State University’s Center for Latin American & Border Studies, Teaching Tolerance, and dozens of other reputable organizations.
Lesson plans cover diverse border issues in the areas of history, economics, immigration, media, and physical landscapes. Some examples include: Continue reading →
As the weather gets cooler and the holidays draw near, it’s time to start thinking about Thanksgiving. Specifically, how will we discuss it in our classrooms this year? Traditionally, conversation on Thanksgiving has been about the hardships of the Pilgrims, their trusty pals the Indians, and how, at harvest time (in November in Massachusetts? Yea right!), they all sat down for a peaceful, tasty meal. Now, we know that this is not the true version of events, and that the story of Native American interactions with newly-arrived Europeans is much more involved than that. So how can we communicate this with our students? Should we communicate this to our students?
For this week’s post, we are going to take a look at a resource for educators (well, it’s technically addressed to parents, but the content is equally relevant to teachers). We will be looking at Michael Dorris’ “Why I’m Not Thankful for Thanksgiving.” This article was published on behalf of Rethinking Schools and is available in its entirety for free on their website. Continue reading →
While Thanksgiving itself may not have a great deal of explicit Latin American content, it’s still an important topic for us here at Vamos a Leer. Many of the issues surrounding Thanksgiving, like the discourses used to present it in schools, are quite similar to the discussions that arise out of how to teach about conquest and colonization, multicultural education, and cultural representations, which are all topics of importance at Vamos a Leer. So for the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing resources and ideas for how to offer a different account than the standard Thanksgiving story.
Often when the topic of Rethinking Thanksgiving is broached, many respond with accusations that we’re trying to take the fun out of schools or holidays, we’re thinking about it too much, we’re being too politically correct, or we’re just making students feel guilty about who they are. Of course, none of these are the intention, and I don’t believe that they are even the necessary outcome of offering a more historically accurate version of Thanksgiving. As James Loewen wrote, “The antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history, but honest and inclusive history” (Rethinking Columbus, p. 80). Presenting a mythologized version of history or a ‘feel-good’ history only works until our students find out the truth. How do they feel once they realize they’ve been lied to? Or what about our students who already know that the stories of Pilgrims and Indians peacefully celebrating a First Thanksgiving are a lie? What about our Native American students who live out the reality of what it’s like to be Native in the United States? How do they feel when forced to dress up in construction paper costumes of Pilgrims and Indians? A quick Google Search shows that these ‘historical’ re-enactments of the first meal are still quite prevalent. In classrooms across the United States students still dress up in costumes quite similar to the craft pictured above. Continue reading →