In an October 2021 post (link below), I wrote about readability and how elementary teachers level books to match their students’ independent reading levels. Although accessible texts are necessary, they’re just one small part of a great classroom library. In my humble opinion and personal teaching experience, classrooms have gone way too long without enough culturally responsive children’s books. I’m talking beyond main characters who are people of color. A larger scale than just “windows and mirrors.” Far surpassing the very common, current classroom practices of discussing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in January and famous black people in February to honor Black History Month. Even a “basket” of #ownvoices books needs a make-over as the movement aims to drop the term in order to be much more specific about the author and their characters. Read more about this: WNDB No Longer Using the Term #ownvoices
Last summer, the elementary librarian in my school district (who created some incredible resources and granted me permission to share them! Links below!) handed me a book called All the Colors We Are by Katie Kissinger In just a few lines, across the first three pages of the book the author offers a child-friendly, concrete, and scientifically sound explanation for how our skin gets its unique color. Many teachers I work with read the book to their students this fall and reflected upon the conversations it generated in their classrooms. As adults, we understand that conversations about race and racism are far from simple, but for our youngest children (Pre-K to Second Grade) the overarching concept of skin colors was as simple as, “Why would we treat anyone differently just because of the amount of melanin they have in their bodies?”
On page four, there’s a gradient of skin tones and the question, “What name would you like to give the color of your skin?” As a follow-up activity to the read-aloud, many teachers had their students name their skin color and cut out a tracing of their arm. (Our Curriculum Director ordered skin color crayons for every teacher!) Some students created their own names for their skin: toast, peach, milk, sand, freckles. Some used the name of the crayon they picked: almond, golden, rose. Crayons available on Amazon: Colors of the World Crayons by Crayola
It wasn’t until I closed the book, that I noticed the badge on the cover “20th Anniversary Edition.” I nearly fell off my chair! It blew me away that this book was published twenty years ago and yet I had never seen it in a classroom or school library (my own classroom included).
My rock-star librarian friend winked and said, “Just so you know, the 20th-anniversary edition was published in 2014.”
Now, I’m no mathematician but once I crunched the numbers and discovered that the book was published in 1994, I actually did jump out of my chair (and startled the librarian). This book has been around for twenty-seven years! I’ve been in the field of elementary education for twenty years, I’ve worked in six different schools, I’ve visited hundreds of classrooms. How have I never encountered this book? I cannot stop thinking about it. (Obviously!)
My colleagues and I dream of the day that no one has to write a blog post about the importance of culturally responsive texts in school libraries, because it’s embedded in all that we say and do with our students. For years we’ve used the term “inclusion” – but the ultimate goal is not for our students to feel included; the real work lies in all of our students believing that they belong.
In the words of Dr. Sonja Cherry Paul, co-author of Stamped for Kids: Racism, Anti-Racism and You (who recently presented at a professional development session in my district): “We need to move beyond representation (of people of color) to liberation.”
Imagine a world where all humans, regardless of age, race, religion, gender identity, eye color, shoe size, you-name-it (all humans) are liberated. The people who can build this future are sitting at desks in classrooms all around the world right now. Let’s keep striving to show them the way with our carefully chosen words and powerful illustrations. Let’s keep supporting each other in crafting the stories that need to be in educators’ hands in order to reach our youngest humans.
Links to book lists and teacher guides (created by Tinamarie Sheckells, Elementary Librarian Danvers Massachusetts Public Schools).
Related post on Writer’s Rumpus Review of Honeysmoke, written by Monique Fields and illustrated by Yesenia Moises
Related post on Writers’ Rumpus: THE DESIGN OF AN ELEMENTARY CLASSROOM LIBRARY AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOUR BOOK By Keri Demers