I have written before about the read aloud and its power for older students. I have written about how read alouds brings us all together, how they offer us a new language to speak as we build our community. How read alouds allow us to step into a world we might not know or invite others into one that we already live in.
Since founding the Global Read Aloud in 2010, I have been responsible for selecting a read aloud to be shared around the world. The task always feels heavy. The task also brings a lot of joy, but as I have mentioned, the task of selecting the books to be read aloud have also made me curious; what is already being read aloud in the United States? What are the corner texts that, we as communities, keep coming back to year after year? What do our students get to experience from year to year as they travel through our classrooms?
Rather than just be curious, I figured I would ask. So will you help me out by taking this survey and sharing it with others? I tried to make it easy to take but still offer up valuable information. I will share the results once I have enough responses, because once we know more we can learn together.
In 2010, I created a project called The Global Read Aloud, for the past 11 years I have been the driving force behind this global literacy initiative. For 11 years, I have asked educators to recommend books for us to read aloud on a global scale. To suggest books they feel would make for an incredible connection around the world. That will inspire students to learn more about others. That will inspire students to learn more about themselves. That will generate connections that maybe were not possible before.
You could say that for the past 11 years, I have seemingly had a front row seat to the most recommended read aloud books in America. And I am here to tell you something; they are almost all by White authors featuring White kids.
Probably not a shock to many, but still something to sit with for all.
I used to not notice. That’s what happens when White privileges blinds you to seemingly obvious things. I would gladly go with the suggestions not thinking about skin color or ethnic heritage as the read alouds were selected. Not thinking past the book and into the life off the author, after all, a read aloud is separate from the person who creates it, right? And these books were great. These books would generate conversations. These books had merit. These books had endured and would guarantee a beautiful read aloud experience for all of us. And they did.
And yet, a few years in, someone kindly asked; when will the “Global” part of the name come true? When will you pick a book that isn’t set in America, that isn’t written by a White author? I felt so dumb when the comment came my way. How could I have not noticed? How could I have forgotten to think deeper about what the project recommended?
Now looking back at the years of recommendations, patterns emerge quickly. Despite asking for #OwnVoices authors and stories set outside of the White dominant culture, these books continue to be the most often recommended. The same authors keep popping up. The same titles even. Even when they have been chosen in previous years, I am told that they would make for a great read aloud again because surely nothing can beat the experience we already had. Even if the books have been deemed problematic, they are still recommended.
This is not a trend limited to the Global Read Aloud. I see it play out on social media all of the time. Someone asks for a recommendation for a read aloud and in that list are the same White books. The same books that we, White educators, have loved for years and years and continue to read aloud because to us they mean something more. The same authors but with new titles. The same situations. The similar story of yet another White child overcoming obstacles. And of course, we need these stories too, however, we do not need them as much as we are using them right now. With a teaching profession in America that is dominated by 80% White people, it shouldn’t be a surprise, and yet, it should be something that we, as a profession, recognize and see the harm in.
Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, of course, reminded and continues to remind us of the power of seeing yourself in books. We Need Diverse Books started from yet another moment of exclusion in a White dominated conference field. The CCBC continues to remind us how White children’s books are. Lee and Low reminds of how White the publishing industry is. But that doesn’t mean our read alouds need to be. In fact, quite the opposite. This is the once again urgent reminder to all of us, White educators, and those who choose the books that we hold up and venerate enough to make a part of our curriculum, of our experience, that we need to audit our read alouds.
That we need to look past the books we have loved for a long time and see what else is out there.
That we need to start recommending #OwnVoices books. Books written by people who are marginalized within our society.
That we need to expand our loyalties. Our lists should contain numerous names of BIPOC authors who are writing incredible stories.
That we need to start reading more widely ourselves in order to discover the new authors who are creating stories that we so desperately need in the hands of our children.
That we need to stay current.
That we need to audit across grade-levels so that we can see what the read alouds are from one year to the next and disrupt the pattern of White dominance that inevitably occurs within most schools because an audit is not done.
That we look around and ask ourselves; what is the story told of kids of color? What is the story told of White kids? And how often is the story told? How does my read aloud cement or disrupt the dominant culture and how we view others?
Whose story is highlighted? Whose story becomes a part of the community we weave together? Whose stories hold power for all of us?
We need to think of the patterns we continue to perpetuate when we fail to see how much power a read aloud holds. Especially if we teach in White majority schools or in schools with White majority teaching staff. Our kids deserve stories about kids whose lives may not mirror their own, but who are still living incredible lives.
Because that’s what a great read aloud does; it creates connections, it leads to revelations, it it binds us together in deeper sense because we have lived through the story of another.
So we need to keep asking; whose stories are we living through? And how does that impact the students we teach? Because it is, and it does, and it is up to us to do something about it.
One of the most common questions, I receive in regard to the Global Read Aloud is how, and whether, it integrates into a pre-existing literacy curriculum. Is this project merely a fun add-on or is there actual academic value in it that can be defended in case it needs to be?
While there would be little wrong with the program if it was “just” a fun add-on, the answer is that; yes, the Global Read Aloud has academic value, and not just for the students, but for the teachers themselves as well. So let’s break it down a bit.
Because the program centers around a read aloud, that means you have a mentor text. Many participants use the text as their central text while they work through lessons on story development and analysis. However, that is not all it is. The driving idea behind the project is to connect with others and the way that is accomplished is often through writing or speaking. This then adds another layer of meaning to the project because it allows us to center our teaching on not just text exploration and discussion, but idea creation and sharing with others. For the sake of ease, let’s dive into the Common Core Reading standards for a moment as most are covered through the GRA.
“Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.” Because the text is not only read aloud but also discussed with a worldwide audience, students are not only expected to understand the text but also be able to infer and formulate their opinions about the text in a way to effectively communicate with others.
“Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.” The whole notion of the read aloud is to understand the story, to predict what will happen, to discuss and share with others, and be able to hold the whole text in your mind while you continue to listen to the read aloud.
“Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.” Tracking the characters along with the story allows us to work on stamina, to work on long-term predictions, and to get to know the characters and story on a deeper level.
“Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.” In order to convey nuance, the read aloud often lends itself well to studying the craft of writing as seen through word choice and figurative meaning.
“Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.” One of the main points of the GRA is to dive into perspective, this does not only include the perspective of the narrators but also how our own perspective and lens impacts our understanding and experience with the text.
“Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.” Because there are additional tools layered in with the Global Read Aloud, such as author videos, student presentations, and other content created by students around the world, this is a natural extension of the learning.
“Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.” I love having my students discuss with others what they believe will happen in the story, as well as what the characters should do in order to stay within character. Diving deep into a character and then being able to articulate and argue one’s opinion is a vital skill.
“Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.” I always add in other sources and use the Global Read Aloud as a springboard into inquiry. Because the books chosen are often set in unfamiliar places or center around unfamiliar events, students naturally have a lot of questions. This is why the resource sharing is an incredibly powerful tool of the GRA.
This is just discussing the reading component, but the beauty of the GRA is that it is so much more than “just” reading. Coupling it with the collaborative global aspect offers us the opportunity for students to work on writing, on speaking and listening, on the act of collaboration itself, as well as meaningful technology integration. It allows us to focus on building an understanding of others, of developing empathy and activism. This is at the center of what great 21st century learning looks like; providing authentic and meaningful ways to engage in a world wide dialogue around relevant topics.
And for the teachers involved, it allows for new tools to be introduced, new connections to be forged that will bolster their teaching, as well as a meaningful way to dive into literacy that will model what literacy experiences should look like.
But don’t just take my word on it. I asked educators who have done the GRA to share how they integrated the project into their curriculum and here is what they said.
My district encourages the SAMR model for technology integration. Using technology to share ideas and collaborate with students from other parts of the country/world is a task that falls under the highest level of the SAMR model.
I use FlipGrid as a way to respond to the text while assessing speaking and listening standards, come to discussions prepared and adding to the discussion. I also assess postcards for adding media to support text. In addition to literacy, GRA really fits into our S.S. theme of world regions and cultures.
GRA works across all levels, promotes excellent collaboration, learning styles, communication, technology integration and global connections. The teacher has the flexibility to incorporate using standards/skills that he/she sees fit. I’ve shared about it only positively.
Refugee was a huge addition to my 7/8 curriculum last fall, and I’d wager that it was an experience that would be at the top of the list for what kids will remember from my class. We use a workshop model, largely, and so the chapters would be built in as model texts for minilessons in reading and writing workshop. We’d do quickwrites about character development, inferences, vocabulary in context, to name a few . . . Most important to me, however, was just the chance to share a terrific story and know it was also happening in classrooms around the world – so powerful!
We were asked this year to use a read aloud to model fluency and what a reader is thinking while they read. Our 6th graders seem to think letting the words pass through the eyeballs without going to the brain is sufficient, and we are trying to change that perception. Two of us could attest to its effectiveness due to GRA. We did Refugee this year and it opened up all sorts of thinking and discussion.
At the end of Refugee, I had them create one pagers, and I met individually to discuss questions related to the book and standards. For instance, what was the theme, how do you know, how did it develop through the story. What was your favorite scene and why was it important to the whole story. Really just took a look at State standards and created questions. Then, we followed up with self-selected research topics related to the story.Also, brought in non-fiction pairings to add to depth of topics.
It’s the epitome of 21st century skills – the kids have to communicate and collaborate with others around the world; they think critically about meaningful issues that impact their peers; they come up with creative projects and responses. They’re also highly engaged with a great text.all great things!!
It lends itself SO well to standards and curriculum!! I teach 1-2 on a loop and did A Boy Called Bat and before that the BFG! Asks and answers questions for sure, technology (connecting with other classes), social studies and map skills (finding new friends on the map)….not to mention that they LOVE reading and get interested in authors and their other books!!!
I teach in South Africa and participated in GRA for the first time last year. It was the highlight of the year. Our school year starts in Jan and my present class have a countdown going for when they can start GRA. I integrated Refugee into all subjects I teach. The book became real and even more so with the global connections and sharing we made. 21st Century teaching is all about communication, collaboration and creative thinking. This is exactly what GRA does.
It is so important that students learn of different cultures in our ever changing world. We use the Lucy Calkin’s UOS for our literacy block. We read the book aloud as the read aloud time for the day and it reinforced the skills being taught in the workshop that dealt with social issues. We also hit so many listening and speaking goals by connecting through Flip Grid and Google Hangouts with a global audience for both. We learned about author’s trade through our weekly videos we watched made by the author. We wrote authentically with sharing our thoughts on Padlet and posting on social media under the guidance of our teachers and me the librarian. We gained knowledge and empathy for what people in other cultures across the world might experience through hyperdocs created by educators to be used to help us learn vocabulary and history about the culture of the people in the books we shared.
I’ve been able to integrate the picture books into the standards we’re teaching during that time. Since it’s so close to the beginning of the year, it’s your basic story elements.
And so, much like I have said before; why take the time to do the GRA? Global collaboration is necessary to show students that they are part of something bigger than them. That the world needs to be protected and that we need to care for all people. You can show them pictures of kids in other countries but why not have them speak to each other? Then the caring can begin.
To sign up for this year’s incredible project, go here. It kicks off September 30th!
As the 9th annual Global Read Aloud wrapped up, I received the following letter from Aisha Saeed, the author of Amal Unbound. It made me think of how grateful I am for this project, for the people who believe in it, and for the movement it has created around the world.
And so, this is the blog post I posted on the Global Read Aloud blog, I thought I would share here.
Whenever I choose a book for the GRA, I hold my breath for a long time. Will the people who read it aloud get why I chose it? Will they see the beauty? The possibility of understanding? The connections between themselves and others whose lives may seem so different? The books chosen this year once again allowed people to step into a culture that many had not experienced. To cheer for a girl who seemed to face impossible circumstances and yet trusted herself to make a difference. To understand a boy who in the end just wanted to be himself. To hold our breath for three refugees as the world turned against them, to understand a girl’s path to adulthood when the world only sees her through one part of an identity. To dive into indigenous culture and see it for its beauty and its presence all around us.
To the authors and illustrators of these books, in sharing your words with us, you allowed us to share our words with the world, and that means that the world has now changed. I cannot thank you enough for creating these books because while the Global Read Aloud may be coming to a close, for us all, these books and their stories have provided us with something bigger – a beginning. And for that, I will forever be grateful.
Aisha Saeed, the author of Amal Unbound, wrote the following thank you.
When I was eight years old my mother packed me leftovers for my school lunch: keema with roti. Children teased me mercilessly in the cafeteria. They scrunched their noses and pretended to gag at the sight of the unfamiliar food.
During the Global Read Aloud you ordered samosas, pakoras, jalebis, chai, and full Pakistani feasts for your children to sample. I saw a picture of a South Asian child sharing with pride the roti they had for lunch with their class.
When I was ten years old I ran into kids from school while my family and I were at the grocery store. We were on our way to a dinner party and dressed in our finest shalwar kamiz. For weeks after, children poked and prodded me about the “strange” costumes.
During the Global Read Aloud I watched parents visit your classrooms in shalwar kamiz to share their Pakistani culture. I saw photos and videos of children wearing their ancestral clothing, standing before their classrooms as they discussed the beautiful outfits of South Asia.
When I was twelve years old, I went to school the day after Eid with deep orange henna still on my hands from the holiday. Children shrieked and pretended my hands were diseased. Despite my explanations, they refused to sit next to me until the color at last faded from my hands.
During the Global Read Aloud, you discussed henna, you brought them into classrooms. You celebrated the tradition and children decorated one another’s hands.
All through my elementary school years, I was taunted for my identity. And yet I couldn’t hide from who I was. My skin, my hair, my name— spoke too loudly. And as painful as it was, I thought it was normal. I accepted it.
During the Global Read Aloud, so many of you went beyond the book and dove into Pakistani culture. You brought in music. You Skyped with classrooms and people in Pakistan and around the world. You invited local community members to share about the people and the culture of Pakistan. You walked into South Asian markets and clothing stores and bought pomegranates and chadors and did everything you could to bring “over there”— here.
In a world where Pakistan is often equated to dangerous, you helped combat stereotypes. You helped children see the underlying humanity that all people possess which bind us together—because that is the truth. There is no “us versus them”— we are all people.
I’ve read your e-mails and posts. I’ve looked at all your photos and videos. I’ve visited classrooms for school visits and through Skype. I’ve loved the discussions you’ve had with your students on patriarchy, indentured servitude, fairness and justice, and hope.
But you did something else too.
You not only helped children glimpse life in another person’s shoes, you helped children feel seen. You honored them. You validated them. You celebrated them.
When I got the e-mail from Pernille Ripp that AMAL UNBOUND was selected to be part of the global read aloud I was humbled and grateful. What a dream as an author (and a former educator!) that my book would be read by your students. But I could never have imagined just how deeply meaningful and personal this experience would be for me. In honoring your children, the scars from my childhood feel healed.
Regardless of which book you chose, by participating in the Global Read Aloud you opened children’s minds and hearts and connected with the world around us and in doing so you created a whole heaping of empathy that the world can never have enough of. And as the whirlwind six weeks of the Global Read Aloud come to a close, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
Being a reader means, naturally, that I read many books. Being a teacher of 7th graders means that I mostly read children and young adult books. Being me means that I love every minute I get to spend reading, discovering stories, creating new relationships, and yes, also dreading that very last page. Yet, one of the downfalls of reading a lot of books is that sometimes books end up flowing together, of feeling old before I have even finished reading them. It seems that the more I read, the harder it is sometimes to find a new book to fall in love with. These past few months I have gone out in and out of reading slumps, blame it on the book I am writing (now in production, hallelujah), the tougher year of professional growth, being tired and sick more, my kids staying up later, or even just discovering Tiny House Hunters (400 square feet – that sounds amazing). Whatever the cause; my reading has suffered. I have started many books but finished fewer than normal. I had gotten lost as a reader a bit, but then some hurried packing led me back to my essence.
On a plane headed toward Canada, I cracked open the first page of Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder and immediately fell into its pages. I adore Laurel’s other books and so when Orphan Island had been on my dresser it was an easy book to pack. On that airplane, I was transported to a little island, in the middle of nowhere, waiting there on the shore…
What was this world that Laurel Snyder had created where children just showed up on an island, seemingly from nowhere, and only had each other to rely on for survival? Who sends the boat? Who was there first? And what would I do if I found myself one day on an island surrounded by eight other children? It reminded me of one of my favorite children’s books, and the very first Global Read Aloud book; The Little Prince, which come to find out is partly what inspired this book. Strange…
Yet, what keeps me thinking about Orphan Island is not just the story, although that has stuck with me or a long time, but more the language. The feel of the book. The yearning, even when one doesn’t quite know what to yearn for. I shared that same feeling as a child and so reading about Jinny and how she starts to question her very existence led me back to my own childhood and right up unto today where I still question what our role is here.
I picked up Orphan Island hoping for a great read, perhaps a five-star book, but I continued to read Orphan Island because my heart yearned for its story. It has stuck with me for the last month and although the book finally comes out May 30th, I am already thinking of when I can re-read it. Surely there is more to connect with the second time around. So if you love middle-grade novels. If you need a read that connects with your heart. If you need to be transported, I recommend Orphan Island, the very first contender for Global Read Aloud 2018.
To win a copy of the book, please leave a comment on this blog post. Make sure you enter your email on the comment form so I can contact you in case you win.
This year in English we have really been focused on learning about others. Others whose life experience may be so very different from our own. Others who have so much to teach us. Others who some may tell us to fear. So our collection of chapter books and books have grown with a focus on breaking down biases and broadening understanding. I, therefore, thought that it would be helpful for others to see which books have helped us do just that. Many of these books have been on other lists that I have posted, but there are a few new ones.
What’s in a name? As educators, we know the inherent power of pronouncing a child’s name correctly to make them feel accepted and included. This picture book from 2009 shares the story of Sangoel, a refugee from Sudan, and what happens when he comes to America. A must add as we try to break down walls and build understanding for others in our classrooms.
One of the most powerful picture books to be published in 2016, The Journey is about a family as they flee from war and the decisions they have to make as they search for safety. Beautifully illustrated this picture book packs a punch.
Also a picture book about a family that has to leave their country in search of safety, the artwork is all done by stone. With both English and Arabic text, I am so grateful for the vision of this picture book.
Why would a child set out on foot toward America, knowing that there were thousands of miles filled with danger ahead of them? This picture book illustrates the journey that more than 100,000 children have taken as they try to reach safety in the United States. Told in poetry, this picture book helps us understand something that can seem inconceivable.
Sharing the story of Oskar, a young boy who has escaped the horror of the Jewish persecution in Germany and arrives in America with only a photograph and an address of an aunt he has never met. He must make his way through the streets of NYC, but rather than being afraid, he sees the blessings he meets along the way. Another must add as we discuss refugees, and not being afraid of others in our classrooms.
Taken from his own life; this story of having to hide in a planetarium as the government looks for his activist father is one sure to get students talking. What happens when you speak up but the government does not want you to. Reminding us that even when it is scary, we should still stand up for what is right, and sharing the story of why some people have to flee, this is another must-add to your collection.
In Grandfather’s Journeyby Allen Say I am reminded of how split we can feel when we belong to two countries. Beautiful and still relevant more than twenty years after its release, this is a wonderful way to discuss what it means to feel home.
Sometimes the books that tell us the most do not even have words. The Arrival by Shaun Tan a wordless graphic novel/picture book is one that will mesmerize readers.
by Warren St. John.This story of a how a youth soccer team changed attitudes of a southern town is a great conversation starter. What are the biases we have and how can find our similarities rather than our differences?
This list wouldn’t be complete without the Newbery-winning Inside Out and Back Againby Thanhha Lai. Following a Vietnamese family as they re-settle in the United States, this book is a powerful invitation into how we treat others.
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg is another free-verse novel that follows the story of Matt Pin, a Vietnamese child brought to the US during the Vietnam War. The story follows him as he tries to make sense of his own past while being confronted by the past of others.
This Global Read Aloud contender for 2017 packs a powerful punch. Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate follows Kek as he comes to the US without his mother after fleeing the Civil War in his home country. This free-verse book is one that will resonate with many children.
A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park is one of those books that sticks with you for a long time after yea read. Based on the true story of Salva and his experience as a Lost Boy of Sudan, whenever students read this book they inevitably have more questions and these questions always lead to a broader understanding of the world and more empathy toward others.