This week was a long and short week. Could be that I didn’t do any homework on Wednesday because it was my birthday. Could be that the weather has been weird and makes me feel wonky. Who knows. But I certainly got my 4 hours in with reading The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
This novel, by Sherman Alexie, follows the story of Arnold Spirit Junior. Junior (as he is known on the reservation) is a big-headed, strong minded Spokane Indian just trying to discover who he is and what his role in life will be. After getting suspended because he threw a book at a (white) teacher, Junior is encouraged and then demands to attend the white school in nearby Reardan.
When he goes to Reardan, Arnold (as he is known by his white friends and teachers) navigates the world of high school. We follow him through a tumultuous freshman year. His older sister Amy marries quickly and move to Montana. His grandmother passes away. His best friend Rowdy, and nearly all of the other members of his tribe, consider him to be a traitor. He is first ignored by the white students, then slowly becomes friends with them. He gets a semi-girlfriend. He navigates the boys basketball season – even being a freshman Varsity starter.
I loved this book. While many of Arnold’s struggles are specific to a Native American or other outsider, I related to so much of his life. His journey really is one that mirrors all of our journeys – discovering who we are, what our identity is, and the often confusing and hilarious struggle of our life.
Have you read this Sherman Alexie novel? What book have you read that mirrors the journey of discovering our identity? Let’s talk below…
Another month has gone by…can’t believe it is March! This week I read only 2 books….life got in the way of reading. I wanted to share them with you anyway!
This week I finished the Pura Belpre winner Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina. I did a reading log about this book and my thoughts, so check it out over here.
Overall, I really loved this book. I was a little bit confused with the blending of Spanish words and phrases. I did really, really get into the book. The author does a great job delving into the realities of being a victim of bullying, finding yourself as you go through high school, and discovering your strength. I really recommend this book for those who have ever struggled to discover who they are (aka all of us!).
My second book was a graphic novel for this week’s book club discussion. American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang, blends the stories of Danny, Jin Wang, and the Monkey King. It is a colorful and beautifully illustrated graphic novel.
I have to say that my understanding has been enhanced by discussion with my husband. He knows more about Asian beliefs and sacred stories. He even helped me out with translating a few of the Chinese characters. Putting this book into the context has deepened my understanding. I would put this book in my “Restricted” section right now because I am not sure if all middle schoolers could read this book with an open mind-frame. However, once I know a student, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
Well, that’s it for this past week! Coming up is mid-term break for CSC. That means more free time to read YA and share with you!
We have focused on issues of diversity in YA Lit the past couple of weeks. We have learned about the need for diverse characters and diverse authors. We’ve looked into some amazing resources on the web for reviews and news about diverse YA Lit (see Rich in Color, Diversity in YA, and Disability in Kidlit).
Tonight, I am pondering what it means to me to be a diverse reader. My diverse reading life would be one that sees me reading widely, not deeply. This means I will read books written by many authors – authors who look like me and those who do not look like me. I will also read from many different genres – both my favorites and my non-favorites.
The Road to Reading Widely
How will I get there? First, I want to continue to give myself reading challenges. This semester we are working towards a Book Bingo – forcing us to read widely. There are other challenges though, too – Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge has 24 tasks to complete.
There will, of course, be challenges to reading widely. The first is the challenge of access. I can’t afford to buy every diverse book out there. I can’t even afford to buy every book that I read. Living in small town Wyoming can also contribute to the access challenges. While we have an amazing public and school library, we do not always have funds to supply them with the latest books. Finally, I need to be held accountable. Whether it is through blogging, challenges/book clubs with friends and colleagues, or some other method, having someone keeping me reading widely will be necessary.
The Importance of Reading Widely
I’ve laid out the numerous reasons why it is personally important to read widely. But, it is also important for our young people to read widely and diversely.
Diversity in the reading lives of teens is imperative! There are many worlds and viewpoints that students may not have been exposed to before. There will be situations that students will encounter that are different from their own. One way that we can prepare students for encountering these situations is by encouraging to read widely. It will prepare them for real life.
I want to also have a plan for helping my students read widely and diversely. First, I will do my best to have a diverse and wide classroom library. I want to have book talks (by myself or by students) about a diverse array of authors and characters. I will create classroom display that rotates and features different genres, authors, characters, and recommendations.
The final thing I will do is something that I have been thinking about and beginning to do already. I will gather a list of my students’ favorite books. Then, I will do my best to read their favorites. I want to model reading widely. I will share my reading with my students. I will keep a running list of their suggestions and a tally of my reads.
It is my honest hope that I can lead by example and teach my students to read widely.
What does diverse reading mean to you? What books should I include in my wide library? Let’s talk below….
In 2013, 2% of children’s literature books that were published featured an African American character. TWO!
Wait! What are you talking about?
This week I read some articles about the lack of diversity in young adult and children’s literature. I learned some really shocking things. The most obvious one is the extreme disparity in books that feature characters different from the majority population. I’m talking about books that feature strong, intelligent people from all walks of life, all skin colors, all gender identities, all beliefs. The statistic above is that 93 of 3,200 books published in 2013 for children and teens featured a character of African American descent. Yikes!
Why is this happening?
That is the subject of numerous opinion pieces and articles. Christopher Myers says it beautifully in this op-ed from the NY Times. “The closest I can get to the orchestrator of the plot – my villain with his ferret – is The Market.” Meyers is arguing that publishers and editors say no to books by and featuring characters with differences because no one would buy them or there is no market for this. Really publishing industry? Really?
Zetta Elliott, author of books for children, teens, and adults, brings the issue to the bare bones. She writes,
What I am trying to say to children’s publishers is that the lack of books for children in our communities IS A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. I am not asking you to level the playing field as a “favor” to people of color. I am asking you to work with us in our efforts to transform children’s lives.
It is imperative that all students can see themselves in the books they read. It is essential that they learn about others who are different in the books they read.
Walter Dean Myers wrote about books and diversity. He writes, “Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity.” This is the crux of it for me. When we read and share books with students, we are also sharing a snapshot of our values as a culture and society. Our society doesn’t look like the ones in most YA and Children’s lit books.
So what can we do about it?
I think the first thing we can do is to realize that there is more we can do! Again, Walter Dean Myers is a simple and effective voice. “There is more to be done.” We as readers and educators need to do more to get books about all types of people into our students’ hands.
We can get these works in our students hands by buying them ourselves, reading them, book talking them, sharing them with students. As teachers we have an obligation to show our students the truth of the world and inspire them to change it for the better. If we don’t read these books, we can’t book talk them honestly or recommend them honestly. It is our duty as teachers to do this.
I have been fortunate enough to grow up in an area where being different was expected. I looked like some of my friends, and looked like the opposite of others. We had different beliefs, customs, colors of our skin. I never knew the world to be any different from that – I thought everyone lived this way.
And yet, I live in a place now that this is not a reality for our community. We are not a very diverse community. I believe that is why it is especially important for me to put books into my students’ hands that reflect the world I know is outside our town. I need to be sure to read diversely, book talk diversely, recommend diversely.
I hope that the books in my classroom library will represent the beautiful mosaic of our world. I hope my students can see the beautiful picture made up of different sized, different colored, different textured pieces. Maybe they won’t see the beautiful picture. But maybe, just maybe, they will get a glimpse of that different colored tile – an experience different from theirs – and they will be able to honor and respect it.
Why do you read diversely? What makes a diverse library? Let’s talk below…