We at LEE & LOW BOOKS are excited and honored to share the impressive work happening in the classroom of Jessica Lifshitz, veteran educator in Northbrook, Illinois. In an excerpt of her essay, Jessica describes how she empowers her fifth grade students to analyze their classroom library for its culturally responsiveness and relevancy. She provides students with background information, including LEE & LOW BOOKS’ visualization of the lack of diversity in children’s books. Originally posted at Jessica’s blog, Crawling Out of the Classroom, this excerpt is reposted with permission.
June is finally here! Winter is already a long distant memory and students are becoming more and more fixated on the summer vacation countdowns they started in January, daydreaming of exciting and unknown summer plans, camp adventures, and seemingly endless free time.
But just because school year is (almost) over, doesn’t mean reading has to come to a halt. In fact, we are well aware of the importance of having access to books and the harmful effects of the slippery slope that is the summer slide: Continue reading
Jane M. Gangi is Associate Professor in the Division of Education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York, where she is a member of the Collaborative for Equity in Literacy Learning (CELL); CELL is working with Student Achievement Partners to make Appendix B of the Common Core more inclusive of multicultural literature. She is the children’s literature section editor for the Connecticut Reading Association Journal, and Routledge will publish her third book, Genocide in Contemporary Children’s and Young Adult Literature: Cambodia to Darfur in November.
Most educators realize children need to see themselves in text to become proficient readers and to develop healthy identities. When our classroom library collections largely contain books with white characters, white children have more opportunities to become proficient readers and to develop healthy identities. Rudine Sims Bishop (1990) described books that are “windows”—those that offer “views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange” that children “only have to walk through” imaginatively. “Mirror” books are those in which “literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience” (n. p.). What if we could embrace children of color with mirror texts, provide white children with window books (for too long it’s been the reverse), and teach writer’s craft simultaneously?
Writer’s craft is part of writer’s workshop. In a mini-lesson, a teacher might read aloud a beautifully written book and then ask children to respond to what they notice about the author’s writing. Often children notice the format of a book and come up with evocative phrases, images, and sentences they observe in the book. If, however, they do not discover writer’s craft on their own, teachers can help them see components of writer’s craft.
Guest blogger Katie Cunningham is an Assistant Professor at Manhattanville College. Her teaching and scholarship centers around children’s literature, critical literacy, and supporting teachers to make their classrooms joyful and purposeful. Katie has presented at numerous national conferences and is the editor of The Language and Literacy Spectrum, New York Reading Association’s literacy journal.
When we lived in Brooklyn, I knew my sons were growing up in a diverse community. They understood that people have different skin colors. That people speak different languages. That people eat different foods. That people believe different things. That we all share a common humanity. That life is full of complexity.
Now we live in the woods and appreciate the quiet of country living but this is far from a diverse community. For my boys, there is greater diversity in the pages of a book than on the streets of their town. Multicultural children’s literature is a doorway into greater understanding that their cultural background is not the only cultural background. That their way of speaking is not the only way of speaking. That their point of view is not shared by everyone.
When we open a book and start to read a story, we use our imaginations to walk through whatever world the author has created. Children’s literature is full of stories about boys and girls that look like my children. Rudine Sims Bishop uses the terms mirror books and window books to describe how we both see ourselves and see others when we read literature. The characters my sons encounter are often mirrors and they find their life experiences reflected in the books they read. Children from dominant social groups have always found their mirrors in books, but do they have enough access to high-quality stories that represent other cultural backgrounds in a positive way?