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September 22, 2017

Diverse Books in Your Classroom

By Brian Smith
Grades 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    Have you ever heard of We Need Diverse Books? It’s a great push for literature to become not only windows for children, but mirrors. This means that while we want books to provide a way for children explore other cultures, lands, and people, we also want every reader to see themselves reflected in the pages of what they read. Scholastic has collaborated with We Need Diverse Books to create diversity-specific book flyers you can access at Scholastic Book Clubs.

      

    I want my Hmong students to see themselves in books on my classroom bookshelves just as my students of European or African extraction do. This goes for any nationality out there. And diversity in books doesn’t just refer to cultural identity. I want the kids with dyslexia to see themselves in books — and not just in books about dyslexia. If you teach middle school language arts, what books do you have for your students who are adopted where the storyline isn’t just about being adopted?

    I have quoted the amazing Donalyn Miller in previous posts and I will quote her in the future because she is that wonderful. This summer, at the Scholastic Reading Summit in Raleigh, North Carolina I was fortunate to hear Miller speak again and one of the many quotes that I furiously wrote down during her speech is, “The books we don't have on our shelves tell as much about us as the ones we do.”

    What does your bookshelf say about you?

    My friend, Travis Crowder, who teaches English at East Alexander Middle School in North Carolina is my go-to guy for the best literature that is blind to color, religion, gender, sexual preference, or any of the other stereotypical boxes. After talking with him and reading these books this past summer, here are five that I feel belong on your middle or high school bookshelves this year, and for many years to come.  

    The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

    If you want a book to spark conversation with a student, this is it. Starr is an African-American high schooler who attends a private school but lives in a gang-driven neighborhood. Her family lives there by choice, because that’s where Starr's father grew up and he wants to make changes from within. Starr is torn; at school she has to “act white,” but in her neighborhood she shouldn’t. And then tragedy strikes. While riding home from a neighborhood party with a friend she grew up with, he is shot to death by a white police officer.

    How many great conversations could you have in your classroom about race, social inequities, and inheriting a broken system of justice after reading this book? The focus is on Starr's dichotomy as well as her father's — an ex-gang member and now a successful business owner in the neighborhood. There are many topical threads in the story that easily lend themselves to sparking thoughtful discussion in the classroom.

    This book is beautifully written in a way that breaks your heart and opens your eyes at the same time. I hope it serves as a window for those students who live an advantaged life, and as mirror for those who don't. I also think this book serves as a door. It is so well-written and feels so personal, it may be the door students walks through to begin a path of social reform.

     

    Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

    Jade is a bright young lady who, like Starr from The Hate U Give, attends a private school outside of her neighborhood and the poverty that exists there. Unlike Starr, Jade’s family doesn’t have the money to send her to the private school but Jade’s full-ride scholarship allows that to happen. Jade gets accepted into a program called Woman to Woman where she is connected with an African-American mentor. The beauty of this book is that although there are several similarities between Jade and her mentor, it doesn't guarantee there will be a connection. This book was a great read and the characters seemed so real that it felt as though I was reading about certain former students.

     

    Solo by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess

    Kwame Alexander is a modern-day, poetic genius. His books are both down-to-earth and true literary classics of poetry. Solo, his work with co-author, Mary Rand Hess, is no different.

    Blade Richardson is the son of a famous, drug-abusing, hard-partying rock-and-roll star. Blade's mom passed away years before and his dad is too concerned with being a rock and roller to attend rehab, much less be a father. Despite hardships, Blade finds solace in a music mentor of his own as well as the love of a girlfriend. His life, however, takes a turn when a family secret surfaces at the wrong time. This revelation is behind Blade's decision to journey to Ghana. It's here where I feel the story really finds its footing and becomes the must-read that it is. This book can serve as both a window and a mirror for the same student because of the twisty path the story takes you on.

     

    The Inexplicable Logic of my Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

    My daughter was born in Guatemala and was adopted by my wife and me, a white family. The Inexplicable Logic of my Life is an inversion of my personal story. High school senior Sal is white and is adopted by a Hispanic family. More specifically, a family of Mexican heritage. Sal's best friend Sam is a girl who has grown up with a single mom and who is looking for validation from any man that will give it to her. Sal has grown up with a dad who is gay and has devoted his whole life to raising Sal. I love the dichotomy that this story presents right from the opening pages.

    Transcultural adoptions are nothing new, and in fact the numbers are growing daily. This book, much like The Hate U Give, is ripe for starting student discussions about any number of topics. What did you think about the letter from Sal’s dead mom? How are parenting styles different from one house to the next? Is there a right and wrong way to parent a child? This is a book that will serve as a window for SO many students but will be cherished by the kids who see themselves reflected in its pages.

     

    Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

    Grayson Sender has suffered tragedy before the first page of this wonderfully amazing book. His parents have passed away and he has grown up living with his aunt, uncle, and cousin. That is a lot for any child, but what if that isn’t the hardest thing that Grayson has to face? I adored George by Alex Gino, where we meet fourth grader George who knows that he is a girl who was born in a boy’s body, but Gracefully Grayson takes it to the next level. The book is written for an older audience — middle schoolers — so the emotions in this book are far more in-depth. The reader will fall in love with Amelia and identify with Grayson’s emotional journey as she discovers who she is and finds her place in the world.

    What's next for my bookshelf? Alan Gratz's newest book, Refugee. I have heard early award buzz for this bestselling author's latest title. Want to join me reading Refugee? Use the hashtag #booktweeps and share your thoughts on Twitter.

    I hope you will consider making sure that your bookshelf is saying all the things you want to your students. Don’t forget to check out We Need Diverse Books for more recommendations.

    Connect with me, dad2ella, on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram and follow the hashtag #booktweeps for more conversation from my Twitter Book Club about books to help your bookshelf tell the right story.

    I can’t wait to see you next time.

    Have you ever heard of We Need Diverse Books? It’s a great push for literature to become not only windows for children, but mirrors. This means that while we want books to provide a way for children explore other cultures, lands, and people, we also want every reader to see themselves reflected in the pages of what they read. Scholastic has collaborated with We Need Diverse Books to create diversity-specific book flyers you can access at Scholastic Book Clubs.

      

    I want my Hmong students to see themselves in books on my classroom bookshelves just as my students of European or African extraction do. This goes for any nationality out there. And diversity in books doesn’t just refer to cultural identity. I want the kids with dyslexia to see themselves in books — and not just in books about dyslexia. If you teach middle school language arts, what books do you have for your students who are adopted where the storyline isn’t just about being adopted?

    I have quoted the amazing Donalyn Miller in previous posts and I will quote her in the future because she is that wonderful. This summer, at the Scholastic Reading Summit in Raleigh, North Carolina I was fortunate to hear Miller speak again and one of the many quotes that I furiously wrote down during her speech is, “The books we don't have on our shelves tell as much about us as the ones we do.”

    What does your bookshelf say about you?

    My friend, Travis Crowder, who teaches English at East Alexander Middle School in North Carolina is my go-to guy for the best literature that is blind to color, religion, gender, sexual preference, or any of the other stereotypical boxes. After talking with him and reading these books this past summer, here are five that I feel belong on your middle or high school bookshelves this year, and for many years to come.  

    The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

    If you want a book to spark conversation with a student, this is it. Starr is an African-American high schooler who attends a private school but lives in a gang-driven neighborhood. Her family lives there by choice, because that’s where Starr's father grew up and he wants to make changes from within. Starr is torn; at school she has to “act white,” but in her neighborhood she shouldn’t. And then tragedy strikes. While riding home from a neighborhood party with a friend she grew up with, he is shot to death by a white police officer.

    How many great conversations could you have in your classroom about race, social inequities, and inheriting a broken system of justice after reading this book? The focus is on Starr's dichotomy as well as her father's — an ex-gang member and now a successful business owner in the neighborhood. There are many topical threads in the story that easily lend themselves to sparking thoughtful discussion in the classroom.

    This book is beautifully written in a way that breaks your heart and opens your eyes at the same time. I hope it serves as a window for those students who live an advantaged life, and as mirror for those who don't. I also think this book serves as a door. It is so well-written and feels so personal, it may be the door students walks through to begin a path of social reform.

     

    Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

    Jade is a bright young lady who, like Starr from The Hate U Give, attends a private school outside of her neighborhood and the poverty that exists there. Unlike Starr, Jade’s family doesn’t have the money to send her to the private school but Jade’s full-ride scholarship allows that to happen. Jade gets accepted into a program called Woman to Woman where she is connected with an African-American mentor. The beauty of this book is that although there are several similarities between Jade and her mentor, it doesn't guarantee there will be a connection. This book was a great read and the characters seemed so real that it felt as though I was reading about certain former students.

     

    Solo by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess

    Kwame Alexander is a modern-day, poetic genius. His books are both down-to-earth and true literary classics of poetry. Solo, his work with co-author, Mary Rand Hess, is no different.

    Blade Richardson is the son of a famous, drug-abusing, hard-partying rock-and-roll star. Blade's mom passed away years before and his dad is too concerned with being a rock and roller to attend rehab, much less be a father. Despite hardships, Blade finds solace in a music mentor of his own as well as the love of a girlfriend. His life, however, takes a turn when a family secret surfaces at the wrong time. This revelation is behind Blade's decision to journey to Ghana. It's here where I feel the story really finds its footing and becomes the must-read that it is. This book can serve as both a window and a mirror for the same student because of the twisty path the story takes you on.

     

    The Inexplicable Logic of my Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

    My daughter was born in Guatemala and was adopted by my wife and me, a white family. The Inexplicable Logic of my Life is an inversion of my personal story. High school senior Sal is white and is adopted by a Hispanic family. More specifically, a family of Mexican heritage. Sal's best friend Sam is a girl who has grown up with a single mom and who is looking for validation from any man that will give it to her. Sal has grown up with a dad who is gay and has devoted his whole life to raising Sal. I love the dichotomy that this story presents right from the opening pages.

    Transcultural adoptions are nothing new, and in fact the numbers are growing daily. This book, much like The Hate U Give, is ripe for starting student discussions about any number of topics. What did you think about the letter from Sal’s dead mom? How are parenting styles different from one house to the next? Is there a right and wrong way to parent a child? This is a book that will serve as a window for SO many students but will be cherished by the kids who see themselves reflected in its pages.

     

    Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

    Grayson Sender has suffered tragedy before the first page of this wonderfully amazing book. His parents have passed away and he has grown up living with his aunt, uncle, and cousin. That is a lot for any child, but what if that isn’t the hardest thing that Grayson has to face? I adored George by Alex Gino, where we meet fourth grader George who knows that he is a girl who was born in a boy’s body, but Gracefully Grayson takes it to the next level. The book is written for an older audience — middle schoolers — so the emotions in this book are far more in-depth. The reader will fall in love with Amelia and identify with Grayson’s emotional journey as she discovers who she is and finds her place in the world.

    What's next for my bookshelf? Alan Gratz's newest book, Refugee. I have heard early award buzz for this bestselling author's latest title. Want to join me reading Refugee? Use the hashtag #booktweeps and share your thoughts on Twitter.

    I hope you will consider making sure that your bookshelf is saying all the things you want to your students. Don’t forget to check out We Need Diverse Books for more recommendations.

    Connect with me, dad2ella, on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram and follow the hashtag #booktweeps for more conversation from my Twitter Book Club about books to help your bookshelf tell the right story.

    I can’t wait to see you next time.

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