April 7th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! This week I found interesting resources, I hope you enjoy!

– You might appreciate Mexican author Valeria Luiselli’s book-length essay, Tell Me How It Ends, if you are teaching about Central American migration, and especially about child migrants. “Until it is safer for undocumented folks to share their own stories, to argue on their own behalf, Luiselli makes for a trusted guide.”

— Check out these three authors shortlisted for the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature. “The finalists were selected by a jury administered by the Bocas Lit Fest and made up of writing, publishing and educational professionals with expertise in young adult literature.”

–In this era of technological advancement you would expect children to use technology for reading but here are the reasons why children prefer to read books on paper rather than screens. “But young people do not have a uniform set of skills, and the contention that screens are preferred is not backed up by research.

– Here is a book review of the new YA novel Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar. Highly recommended by Latinos in Kid Lit, the reviewer expressed, “I read this book and couldn’t put it down and then gave it to my 11-year-old son to read and he couldn’t put it down.”

– Look at these 10 Exciting New Middle Grade Books with Latinx Main Characters (including the now familiar Lucky Broken Girl).

Lee and Low Books shared advice on how you can save federal funding for libraries and help teens.

-Also, if you are in search of a new game for class, try Compound it All: The Compound Building Game. The game is meant to “expand your vocabulary, critical thinking skills, and even your math skills” and “is equally fun to play with friends and family.”

–As they do every year, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) has released its statistics on diversity in children’s and YA lit. Check out the latest ” This year, the number jumped to 28% – the highest year on record since 1994 (and likely the highest year ever). 2016 also marked a number of important award wins for authors of color…”

–In related news, the CCBC has also released their list of recommended books for 2017. Check out their 2017 compilation for “a fully annotated listing of 246 books published in 2016 for birth through high school and recommended by the CCBC professional staff.”

– Ever wondered if your school has a plan for bias incidents? Teaching Tolerance draws on schools in California as examples for how to respond.

– Lastly, if you’ve ever wandered what’s up with the recent appearances of the term “Latinx,” you might want to share Arianna Davis’ self-reflective piece on coming to terms with “Latinx.”

Abrazos,
Alin Badillo


Image: fist pump. Reprinted from Flickr user mike nerl under CC©.

 

Book Review: Out of Darkness

out of darknessHere’s our review of this month’s featured novel, Out of Darkness.  It prompted great discussion at our monthly book group.  I can’t wait to hear what our online community thinks of it! Keira and I had the pleasure of meeting Hope Pérez at September’s Américas Award ceremony where she was one of the recipients of this year’s award.  She’s absolutely wonderful! If you have the opportunity to hear her speak or meet her, take advantage of it! You’ll be glad you did.

Out of Darkness
Written by Ashley Hope Pérez
Published by Carolrhoda Lab, 2015
ISBN: 978-1467742023
Age level: 15 and up

Book Summary

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them.

“No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs.”

They know the people who enforce them.

“They all decided they’d ride out in their sheets and pay Blue a visit.”

But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

“More than grief, more than anger, there is a need. Someone to blame. Someone to make pay.”

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

My Thoughts

Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness is a book that is both beautiful and brutal. I’ve come to refer to these kinds of books as brutiful. The first time I started it, I put it down. I got to page 40 and thought, I can’t do this right now. I was hooked, but I also had a pretty strong feeling about where it was going, and I didn’t want to go there. Admittedly, that’s evidence of my own privilege. I get to choose when, where, and how I engage with a story such as Out of Darkness because it’s not reflective of my own life experience. It’s not a mirror for me; instead it’s more of a window, or perhaps a door.

Despite the significant number of honors and award it’s received (see the end of the post for a list), some continue to question the book’s appropriateness for high school students because it deals with racism, racial violence, and sexual abuse. I understand this. There is the idea that we must protect the innocence of our students for as long as possible. But I think we need to stop and unpack this idea of protection and childhood innocence. When we look more critically at this notion, we must address a number of questions: Who gets to remain innocent? Whom or what are we protecting when we refuse to give voice to the trauma many of our students experience? As Malinda Lo notes, “It is natural to want to protect young people from horrible truths, but all too often we forget to question whom exactly are these young people we want to protect? Typically, they’re white. Young people of color have already experienced racism; they are beyond this kind of protection.” Bringing to light the stories of those who have been silenced or marginalized can be painful, but that doesn’t mean that those stories shouldn’t be told. Too many of our students have had similar experiences, and it’s our job to create the spaces for them to process these experiences.

As the We Need Diverse Books movement continues to reiterate, we all deserve to have empowered protagonists that reflect our own realities. To not provide those for our students is to create a shame of invisibility. According to Brené Brown (2008), “Invisibility is about disconnection and powerlessness. When we don’t see ourselves reflected back in our culture, we feel reduced to something so small and insignificant that we’re easily erased from the world of important things. Both the process of being reduced and the final product of that process—invisibility—can be incredibly shaming.” As if living through racism, sexism, bullying, or sexual, emotional, and physical abuse isn’t painful enough, we add another layer of shame in erasing these experiences from the literature we use in our classrooms. For more on this topic, check out The Atlantic’s recent article How Banning Books Marginalizes Children.

Recently I’ve noticed a flurry of articles discussing the importance of teaching empathy to our students (you can read more about this here, here, here, and here). I think this is a significant part of discussing appropriate literature and the protection of our students. No one is advocating for the use of Out of Darkness in an elementary or middle school classroom. School Library Journal suggests it is for grades 9 and up. For the majority of high school students, I’d argue this could be an incredibly powerful reading, and not just for those who find themselves reflected in the characters. It’s just as important for those who don’t. If we believe empathy is an essential skill, as research continues to suggest, then we must expose our students to stories and points of view that are different from their own.  There’s more I could write about here, but for the sake of time, I’ll direct you to Hope Pérez’s article “Embracing Discomfort in YA Literature.”

I’m sure we’re all familiar with iterations of the following famous quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Santayana, 1905). Our current situation of race relations in the U.S. didn’t occur in a vacuum. There is a history of racism and white privilege that we continue to gloss over in our classroom curricula. We’ve all heard the saying “History is written by the victors.” I’m afraid that as long as we continue to read the victors’ versions, we’re going to continue to make the same mistakes. Books like Out of Darkness provide the opportunity to read another version, a narrative counter to what is often presented in mainstream literature and textbooks.

Out of Darkness is a profoundly affecting book. There is a continued state of suspense that keeps the book moving forward and will be sure to keep students engaged. While I can’t speak for young adult readers, my guess is the majority of adult readers know where the book is headed. The injustice is painful. Hope Pérez creates characters the reader truly cares about. Yes, they’re fictional, but, as Hope Pérez writes in the “Author’s Note,” the suffering these characters endure is based on similar documented events throughout the South. So, while fictional, the stories of Naomi, Wash, Beto, and Cari provide an understanding of what life was like in the South during this historical period.

They say, “Once a teacher, always a teacher.” While not in the classroom now, I continue to evaluate books based on what they could accomplish in a classroom setting. What can be taught through the book? What discussions can be broached? What can students learn through the book? How might we be changed through the process of reading the book? The discussion above has touched on a number of issues Out of Darkness addresses, but there are a few more that I’d like to mention. Racism and abuse are explicit themes throughout the book, but there is also a critique of sexism and gender norms that is perhaps more implicit. Henry (the father/stepfather) represents a more stereotypical social norm of masculinity. He’s a “man’s man”—he hunts, he works, and he expects to be unquestionably waited on and obeyed by the women in his home. He’s also one of the most unstable and mentally unhealthy characters in the book. He attempts to force Beto into taking on this same type of masculinity. But Beto resists. Beto doesn’t conform to this social norm, and that may be part of why he survives, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The book also provides an engaging context for teaching about fiction and non-fiction and the ways in which those boundaries can be blurred through historical fiction. Hope Pérez’s “Author’s Note” is useful here, particularly in discussing why one may choose to write a fictional account of an historical event and how this could be a more effective way to teach about a period in history.

If your students have read or will read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Out of Darkness provides the opportunity for an interesting comparative study as both are tragedies about star-crossed lovers. “The Gang” is an interesting character in Out of Darkness. As both Shakespeare and many of the Greek dramatists use a Chorus, students familiar with either of these could do a comparative study on the role of these group characters. “The Gang” in Out of Darkness provides a segue to critically discuss groupthink and its role in bullying.

The list of awards, honors, and starred reviews for Hope Pérez’s most recent novel continues to grow. Out of Darkness has received the Michael L. Printz Honor for Excellence in Young Adult Literature (2016), the Tomás Rivera Book Award (2016), and the Américas Award (2016).  It was also listed as a School Library Journal Best Book of 2015, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2015, a 2016 Top Ten TAYSHAS selection, and a Spirit of Texas book. It received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal and was praised in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

For more information on the author, read Alice’s recent post all about Ashley Hope Pérez.

If you’ve had the chance to read Out of Darkness, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Just leave a comment below.

If you’re an educator, our Educator’s Guide Page has resources for using the book in the classroom. The Américas Award is currently creating a guide to accompany the book and we will update our page as soon as it’s available.

Until next week,

–Katrina

UPDATE:

Based on various conversations we’ve had about the book and its use in the classroom, we thought we’d provide both background on why we believe it’s so important that books that deal with topics such as those discussed in Out of Darkness be used in the classroom, and resources that can be used to support teachers and students who read the book.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a colleague who had worked at the local Rape Crisis Center. During this conversation I was made aware of some shocking and gut wrenching statistics on sexual abuse in New Mexico (NM).

Statistics compiled from Sex Crimes Trends in New Mexico: An Analysis of Data from The New Mexico Interpersonal Violence Data Central Repository 2010-2014, and New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey (YRRS) High School Survey Results Bernalillo County Grades 9-12, 2015

Out of Darkness deals with the issue of sexual abuse, and many have questioned whether or not it is appropriate to use in schools because of this. When I look at the statistics above, it seems very clear to me how important it is that we use books like Out of Darkness in our classrooms. Given the high probability that we will have students in our classes who are or have been victims of sexual abuse, we must provide the spaces that allow them to process these experiences and seek any help or support that they may need.

Obviously, no educator should introduce a book like Out of Darkness without significant forethought and planning. After speaking with a colleague who has experience in offering classroom outreach and training on sexual assault and related issues, we have a few recommendations for ways that educators could prepare for teaching this book:

First, we would suggest that the educator contact the school’s social worker or counselor and let them know that she/he will be using the book in the classroom, and that it deals with issues of sexual violence and abuse.

Second, for our NM teachers, we suggest contacting the Rape Crisis Center. They have staff trained to come into high school classrooms and do presentations on these topics. Teachers using literature dealing with themes of sexual abuse regularly arrange these presentations so that students have a context from which to understand the topics they are reading and discussing. During these presentations, the Rape Crisis Center staff can also speak to students about the services in the community available for survivors of sexual violence. If you are not a local NM teacher, we would suggest seeking out your local resource center(s) before implementing the book in the classroom.

Third, we suggest viewing the documentary Audrie & Daisy. The film is an urgent real-life drama that examines the ripple effects on families, friends, schools and communities when two underage young women find that sexual assault crimes against them have been caught on camera. It takes a hard look at American teenagers who are coming of age in this new world of social media bullying, spun wildly out of control. It is currently (as of October 2016) available to stream on Netflix.

Fourth, have an alternate reading available. Our colleague from the Rape Crisis Center pointed out that when someone has had their power taken away from them through sexual violence, it is very, very important for there to be options in how they want to heal from that experience. For some survivors, reading a book like Out of Darkness will be empowering. For others, it may trigger PTSD, in which case it is of great importance that they have an alternative option.

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En la Clase: Using the Film Pelo Malo in the Classroom

Pelo MaloAs part of our spring programming this semester, we held a free screening of the film Pelo Malo/Bad Hair.  The film touches on a number of important themes relevant to this month’s topic of women’s history as we consider the complexity of gender constructs and expectations, and the stereotypes that result from these.   For today’s post, I’ll share our thoughts and reflections on the film, as well as our accompanying educator’s guide.

It’s certainly not an easy film to watch, but one which I highly recommend.  Set in Caracas, Venezuela, Pelo Malo tells the story of nine-year-old Junior who has stubbornly curly hair, or pelo malo.  He desperately wants to have it straightened for his school photo, but his mother, a young widow, can’t understand his obsession.  The more Junior fixates on his appearance in an attempt to make his mother love him, the more angry and hurtful she becomes, ultimately rejecting him.

It deals with heavy content, and is likely most appropriate for older students and adults.  It’s certainly a powerful classroom resource, as it provides the context to discuss gender roles, expectations, and constructs, as well as race and its impact on societal norms of beauty.  Much of Junior’s mother’s rejection comes from her inability to accept the ways in which her son doesn’t fit her own ideas of masculinity.  As a result, she assumes he’s gay, something that is intolerable to her.  The point of the film is not Junior’s sexual identity, but instead his mother’s issues and assumptions that provide the context to analyze the ways in which our gender stereotypes are harmful and superficial.  Interestingly, while Junior’s pelo malo juniormother holds him to stereotypical standards of masculinity, she defies these same standards of femininity in her work as a security guard.  Much of this seems to be the purpose of the director, who writes, “I also wanted to talk about intolerance in a social context that is riddled with dogmas, which don’t embrace otherness, where public affairs extend to the private life of its inhabitants, highlighting their differences, be they social, political, or sexual.”

While reading reviews of the film, I was surprised to see descriptions that seemed to be making excuses for the mother’s behavior, describing her as a worn-out and tired single mother who had no patience with her son’s antics, as if this made her abusive behavior understandable or acceptable.  I think this is an important distinction to discuss with students.  The mother, a young widow struggling to find work, was overwhelmed and exhausted.  But this does not make her psychological or emotional abuse okay.  In past posts I’ve written about how important I think it is to talk about love in the classroom.  Love is relevant here as well.  As much as we want all of our students to be in nurturing, healthy, authentically loving environments, some of them aren’t.  We need to give them the tools to recognize when pelo-malo-review-rondonsomething or someone is unloving.  They need to have the language to discuss this with adults who can help.  In talking about the film, the director writes, “I’m interested in talking about helpless characters, who lack resources for emotional survival. . .Bad Hair is the intimate story of a nine-year-old child’s initiation to life.  A child who still plays, but who plays with everyday horror.”  Perhaps in using the film, we can begin to discuss with our students some of these resources for emotional survival, better preparing them to be successful psychologically and emotionally, in addition to academically.

Of equal importance is the way in which the film engages in a discussion of race and racism.  The title alone invites discussion of how and why certain types of hair are labeled “good hair” or “bad hair.”  Societal notions of beauty as interpreted by Junior and his young female friend clearly demonstrate the damage such stereotypes can do.  Their obsession with beauty pageants and their photographs plays an important and telling role throughout the film.

If you’re interested in reading more about the film, check out our educator’s guide.  It includes general teaching ideas for using film in the classroom, as well as comprehension questions and projects specific to the film.  Please note, the film is unrated, but with sexual scenes and nudity, some parts may need to be omitted for classroom use.  In the guide we have clearly noted the times of these scenes so they can avoided if necessary.

If you’ve seen the film, or decide to watch it, we’d love to hear your thoughts.  There was certainly some interesting conversation after our own screening.

Until next week,

Katrina

WWW: Teaching about Haiti with Love

¡Feliz viernes a todos!

I am so happy you are reading today because I am showcasing a great resource from Teaching for Change, which is another blogging site full of great teaching guides and supporting resources for the classroom. This week, to honor our themes of Afro-Caribbean cultures, Black History Month, Haiti, love and community, I am highlighting their resource for Teaching about Haiti. Because of all the supporting documents available through the page, this resource makes including Haiti in classroom discussion even easier! According to Teaching for Change, “It is important for students to gain a deeper understanding of the history and the roots of…Haiti. The U.S has been involved with Haiti for centuries, yet it has received little attention in textbooks or the curriculum. Part of our commitment to the people of Haiti can be to not only increase our support but also our awareness. As informed citizens, we can advocate for respectful and constructive relations with Haiti in the months and years ahead.” Continue reading

En la Clase: “Everybody is Unique–Teaching Respect in a Racially Diverse Classroom”

In keeping with this month’s back-to-school theme on multicultural education, I thought it would be helpful to feature different lesson plans or mini-units focused on issues relevant to multicultural education. For the next few weeks, each “En la Clase” post will highlight a different mini-unit and include a pdf of the lesson plans discussed in the post (all of which have been linked to the appropriate common core standards).  Often times, many of the resources we share on Vamos a Leer are easier to adapt to middle school or high school classrooms.  The lessons you’ll see in the coming weeks will focus primarily on the younger grades.  Many times parents and educators believe we don’t need to (or even shouldn’t) discuss things like race, class, gender, difference, or acceptance, with our younger children.  Yet research has shown that young child do notice these things.  They talk about them, think about them, and draw conclusions based on what they see and hear, which for me means we shouldn’t wait until they’re older to begin discussing these things in explicit ways in the classroom.

This week’s unit, “Everybody is Unique: Teaching Respect in a Racially Diverse Classroom,” was written by Carey Rojas, a pre-service teacher in UNM’s Teacher Education Program.  Her lessons were written primarily for first grade students, but could be easily adapted for k-3.  In writing the lessons Rojas had a specific purpose in mind–she wanted activities that would help to create a classroom environment that is accepting and repsectful of all racial diversity, while also encouraging students to develop empathy and understanding towards others. Continue reading