I wrote the post below on Sunday. Today, Monday, my six year old got in the car after school and this is what she said:
In gym, Shelly let people touch her new sparkly sneakers. But not me. I looked at who she let touch them. I think she didn’t let me because I have brown skin.
Now, Wren can be sensitive and dramatic at times, so I consider all perspectives when hearing this story. But any way you slice it, I’m sad that she even thinks this way. That these are thoughts running through her sweet six year old head.
This is what I wrote on Sunday:
Last week our principal shared NPR’s piece titled, Dr. Suess Books Can Be Racist, But We Keep Reading Them. I was proud of her for sharing this piece with our staff. I teach in an affluent community where there isn’t a whole lot of diversity. When I first became a coach in our building, we did a lot of work to build classroom libraries. This was around the time that I heard about the organization, We Need Diverse Books. I made an effort to do a better job about choosing books that represented different people in a variety of settings.
This past week, reading through Slices, I read SVALTER’s pieces, on her blog Read. Reflect. Teach, entitled, “All Books for All Kids.” Here she talked about a day of learning with Alfred Tatum, who I had never heard of. She described her big take aways, about putting quality literature into kids’ hand. “The books that matter to students are the ones that shift their thinking and touch their hearts. This shouldn’t be limited by a parallel between the life of the reader and the content of the book.”
I was left thinking…
Then, today, reading Sherri’s post/invitation “A Challenge To Fellow Slicers To Share a Story About Race,” I felt compelled to take the challenge on-to push out of my comfort zone.
For me, I found all three of these pieces intersecting. In August, I curated a list of books that helped me talk to my own children about race and celebrating differences. I called the list “Picture Books that Help Us Navigate What it Means to be Human.” I feel so fortunate to live in a time, to be raising my children, in a world where we can find literature to help us talk about big issues.
Last year, I found myself recommending books like Jason Reynold’s Track Series and Kwame Alexander’s books, over and over again, during our book club units in fifth grade. I didn’t try to push these books on kids who looked like the main characters. I encouraged all kinds of kids to read these books, so they could read about places and issues facing kids that were different than their own lives. Perhaps they’d find similarities. Perhaps, their eyes would open to the world beyond their own backyards.
I recently listened to Jacqueline Woodson’s novel, *Harbor Me. I loved this book. It was about a group of kids who were given time to just be together and share their stories. At first it was awkward and they didn’t see the gift that they were given. In the end, we the reader, realize the power in having our stories heard and in sharing our own.
I immediately thought of our fifth graders and thought how this would be the perfect book for them to read aloud. Not because the characters looked like them or their experiences matched perfectly. But because this story helps us navigate what it means to be human, considering that we’re all coming with our own stories.
I ended my August, “Navigating the World” book list with this:
I saw a Tweet from Katie Clements, from TCRWP, who shared a quote from James Howe. It said, “The world we are living in now makes the world of the book all that much more important as we consider what we want to say to our children about how to live, about what being human in a community should look like.”
That right there is what I tried to share with Wren today when she shared her story from gym class. I am grateful for so many beautiful authors, writing stories that help us have big conversations- to give us a vision for humanity.
*At the end of the Audible version of Harbor Me, Jacqueline Woodson’s ten year old son interviews her. He sounds like a fine young man, an inspiration for raising kids to celebrate all people. This was one of my favorite parts of the listening experience.