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Why We Need Diverse Books

I love buying new books. I think in order to be an elementary teacher, you have to have a weakness for print. I can spend hours browsing the shelves looking for something special to take home. My latest purchase is Matthew de la Peña's Newberry Award winner Last Stop on Market Street.  I love the Nana in this story. 


About a year ago I made a promise to make a greater effort to buy products with pictures of students that actually looked like my students.  At the time, I was still teaching in a Title 1 school that sat on the edge of the "bubble" known as The Woodlands, TX.  While Houston is a diverse place to live, The Woodlands is still seen as an affluent, white suburb.  I wanted the students of color in my classroom to see images of children that actually looked like them.

I wasn't at the point in my awareness yet of thinking about stories that actually had meaning for them.
Fast Forward a few months later, and I stumbled upon DiverseBooks.org. After reading their mission and vision, I really began to think about what I chose to read aloud to my primary students. It was humbling.


OUR MISSION

Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children.

OUR VISION

A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.

Could my students really see themselves in the pages of the books I read to them each day? Was there anything I could do about this?

I've made small changes over this past year, but nothing that has earned me one of those invisible I'm a Great Teacher badges we secretly like to put on our sleeves from time to time.  I made another small goal- If you see a good book that has diverse characters, buy it. 

Last week I Skyped with a PhD student at Texas A&M who is researching teacher's views of diverse literature in the classroom, and her questions drew out of me even more thoughts to think about. When asked what challenges I face in regards to using diverse literature in my classroom my first thought was time. Taking the time to find and use these books. But I knew that was just an excuse. 

Time, professional development, empathy (or lack of)...there are so many reasons these things slip through the cracks of our teaching.  Unfortunately I think it boils down to unconscious bias. No matter what your intentions are, your life experience shades the lens that you look through.  

So why do I share this? Accountability mostly.  I often let my love of "busy" keep me from thoughtfully making choices in my planning for my classroom.  I've had an entire week to think about how to make the last 50 days of this school really count, and what literature I choose to use is a very big piece of the puzzle. 

How do you address this issue? Are you on a supportive team or campus that goes out of the way to incorporate these books? I'd love to hear where you are in this part of your teaching journey. :)



3 comments:

  1. I understand your struggle. I work at a secondary school(we start high school after grade 6) in St. Maarten. My biggest problem is we do not have bookstores on the scale of Barnes & Nobles. We do have access to Caribbean literature via regional publishers. These books appealed to some students, but we noticed a common theme in these books - single parents, poverty, and violence. The students wanted more. Although they may look like the characters in the books,live in a similar region, their lives were quite different. So I would travel not too far from you (Humble,TX) every summer and get samples of books that might appeal to our students. They love American Born Chinese, The Outsiders, Thirteen Reasons Why.

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  2. Books develop critical thinking skills. A book is read by an individual. It has no laugh track or musical score that emotionally primes a reader’s reaction. You alone decide what you think about a book and its contents with no one leaning over your shoulder telling you how to think. Books develop and nourish kids’ imaginations, expanding their worlds. Picture books introduce young children to the world of art and literature. Novels and nonfiction books stimulate kids’ sensory awareness, helping kids to see, hear, taste, feel, and smell on an imagined level. Books inform our imaginations, inspiring creativity. Check this out for more information about writing.

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