3 Questions to Ask for a Critical Re-Evaluation of Your Classroom Library

“Really, Mrs. Ripp, another book about Civil Rights?” Spoken by one of my African American students as I pulled out the picture book I intended to use in our mini lesson.

Another book about Civil Rights….

His words followed me all of the way home.  Not because I was worried he didn’t know enough but because of what had followed those first words.

“You always pick those books…”

And he was right.  In my eagerness to embed more knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement into our mini lesson on advice from older characters, I wasn’t thinking about his representation to the rest of our mostly white class.  How once more what I showcased only supported a familiar narrative.  His words prompted a realization that seemingly the only picture books I used or that we even had in our classroom library featuring African Americans in them had to do with either slavery or Civil Rights.  Not every day life.  Not non-famous African Americans.  Just those two topics.  This realization has shaped a lot of my book purchasing decisions as of late and just how much work I still have to do.

I have been focused a lot on diversity of books, it’s hard not to when our world seems to need understanding, empathy, and fearlessness more than ever.  While our classroom library has been ever expanding with more diverse picks, I have realized through the help of my students that diversity is not enough.  That simply placing books that feature anything but white/cisgender/Christian characters in them is not enough.  It is a start, sure, but then how do we go further than that?

We ask ourselves; how are characters represented?

Prompted by the comment from my student, I now look for how characters of any race/skin color/culture are represented in all of our books.  Is everyone represented?  Even sub-groups that my students may not even be aware of?  Are we only showcasing one experience?  Are we only highlighting the famous people of that sub-group?  Are we only representing one narrative of a group of people that live a myriad of narratives?  My own ignorance has often led to blunders, such as the one described here, but I can do better. I can make sure that the books I bring in lead to realizations and understanding about others, not more of the same.

So don’t just ask who is represented, but ask how are they represented?  How would I feel if my own children were represented in this way?

We ask ourselves; do we have #OwnVoices authors represented?

The #OwnVoices hashtag is one I have been paying attention to as I look at the diversity of our classroom library and even on my own reading experiences.  Started by Corinne Duyvis the hashtag focuses on recommending books written/illustrated “about marginalized groups of people by authors in those groups.”  That is why I know Google who the author is and what their background is as I decide on placing a book in the library.  That is why I read blogs like Disability in Kidlit  (soon to be shut down which breaks my heart), follow Reading While White which had an entire month dedicated to OwnVoices books,  and also try to educate myself on what is out there.  If we want true representation in our classrooms then we have to do the legwork to make sure all marginalized groups are represented in the books we share with students.

So don’t just ask do I have broad representation in characters, but ask do I have broad representation in authors/illustrators?

We ask ourselves; how are books highlighted and selected?

Gone are the days where I haphazardly selected books to put on display or book talk.  Now my displays and selection process takes a little bit more time; which books are put out to grab for students?  What do the covers look like?  Who are the stories representing?  I also do not “just” put African American books on display for February to celebrate Black history month, but have them out all of the time.  My students should be immersed in a diverse reading experience at all times, not just in carefully selected months.

So don’t just grab a few books to put out because they are new; grab books that will offer students a wide reading experience and will expose them to new authors/titles that will broaden their own world.  Do not reserve diverse texts for a few months but have them on display at all times.

While I have grown, I have a long way to go.  My wish-list of books right now are a few hundred titles deep, especially as I focus on the sub-groups that are severely underrepresented in our library.  I am still educating myself, seeking out new titles, and seeking out those that know more than me.  If you want to see books that are getting added to our classroom library, follow me on Instagram as I share all new titles there.

One picture book that I urging every one to read and buy is this one

when-we-were-alone

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson and Julie Fleet.  

From Amazon:

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Our Mock Caldecott Winners 2017

For the past week my students have been busy dissecting, discussing, and loving picture books as we tried to select the one winner and three honors books for the 2017 Caldecott.  This is the second year I have done this exploration with 7th graders and as one student told me, “This is one of my favorite units” and I agree.  Picture books allow all of my students to access tough issues, complex ideas, and also to gain a new appreciation for this artform.  They are a constant companion of what we do in our classroom and in our reading journey.  They form the ties of our community.  Delving into these books have allowed my students to think deeply about their own opinions and also worked on their debating skills.  While our exploration was short, I used some ideas from Jes Lifshitz’s longer Caldecott unit and then meshed my own ideas with it.  To see her post go here.

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Some of our Mock Caldecott potentials

 

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Love these beginning thoughts from my students.

I asked each class to come up with one winner and three honors books.  Here are our choices:

 

1st Hour

Honor:  Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Honor:  They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:  Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead

 

Winner:  The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

 

3rd Hour

Honor: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Honor: 

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Winner: A tie between 

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

And

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

5th Hour

Honor:

Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe

Honor:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Winner:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

6th Hour

Honor:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:

Ada’s Violin – The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Honor:

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman illustrated Beth Krommes

Winner:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

7th Hour

Honor:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

Honor:

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Honor:

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman illustrated Beth Krommes

Winner:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Now we wait until January 23rd to see how right or wrong we were

Small Victories

It is within the small victories we find the biggest changes.

“Are we reading today?”  A child asks as the bell rings.

Usually my answer would be obvious, of course, but today we had speeches to get through and so reading would wait.  I tell him so and he says, “Good, because I hate  reading…”

How often does this scene play out in our classrooms.  I know it has been playing out in here since September 1st, sometimes multiple times in a day.  Sometimes new voices join the chorus or nod their head vigorously.  I hate reading too, and so they bond in their shared hatred.

I smiled at the boy in question yesterday and I asked him, “Do you hate reading as much as you did on the first day of school?”

To which he answered, “No…”

This is the small moment I live for.

This is a victory beyond belief.

This is progress.  He may not be a convert, sometime the kids never are, but his opinion has changed.  His mindset has changed.  If even just the slightest.

Too often we look for the big wins.  The kids who declare that we are the best teacher they ever had.  That this is their favorite class above them all.  That reading , or doing math, or experiencing science, or whatever you love so much is their most favorite thing to do in the whole world, now.

But the reality is that those big wins don’t happen very often.  Those big life changing moments for a child don’t always come in school.  Or they don’t tell us about them.

But when this kid shared his truth with me, knew that his words were safe, knew that although I had not converted him he had changed his mind just a little, that is what I aim for; growth, change, giving something a chance.

Too often we feel like failures, like we are not enough because we the kids have not grown enough.  Have not come far enough.  This is what happens when we only look for the big moments.  You will wear yourself out chasing them.  So instead, look for the small victories.  Look for the truths being shared.  Look for the child that perhaps still hates whatever you are doing but hates it just a little less.  This is what change is built on.  This is what it means to teach; finding the small victories and realizing that what we do makes a difference even if we don’t see it every day.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

My Favorite Picture Books of 2016

I thought I wouldn’t be able to pick all of my favorite picture books from 2016, and then I realized that I do not need to.  I can write this post as a way to pay homage to the picture books that started conversations, that taught us to think, to question.  That made us laugh out loud, that made us cry.  This post is therefore not the best picture books of the year necessarily, they are the ones I loved.  The ones I remember as I sit at home fighting off the flu.  I can guarantee you that when my head clears and I am back in our classroom, I will add more to the list because inevitably some will get left off.  While most of these were published in 2016, some were not, some were simply discovered by me finally.  Also, to save my own sanity at the length of the post, I will only write one sentence about each book. I encourage you to read them, to buy them, to praise them, to read them in your classroom and to advocate for the use of picture books with all ages.

So in no particular order, which books am I so grateful to have discovered in 2016?

Be A Friend by Salina Yoon

Friendship. Loneliness. Beautiful.

A Piece of Home written by Jeri Watts and illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Fitting in. Feeling lost.  Appreciate differences.

To the Stars!  The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan, illustrated by Nicole Wong.

Inspiration. Wonder. Empowerment.

Jazz Day:  The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxanne Orgill and illustrated by Francis Vallejo

In-depth.  Eye-opening.  Mesmerizing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Ida, Always by Caron Lewis and Charles Santoso.

Tears. Death. Beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Night Gardener by the Fan Brothers

Magical. Hopeful.  Enchanting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Deep. Thoughtful.  Love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wildest Race Ever:  The Story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon by Megan McCarthy

Unbelievable. True. Informational.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville written by Pat Zietlow Miller illustrated by Frank Morrison

Dreams. Perseverance. Equality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Raul Colon

How did I not know about this before?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be In This Book) written by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Tim Miller

Funny. Creative. Inventive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Dance! Dance! Underpants! by Bob Shea

Laugh out loud funny. Must be acted out.

 

Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and illustrated by Benji Davis

Story craft. Inventive. Funny.

How This Book Was Made written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex

Story craft.  Collaboration. Hi jinx.

I Am A Story by Dan Yaccarino

Thought provoking.  Imaginative.

This Is My Book! by Mark Pett (and no one else)

Creative. Funny. Writer’s craft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Call Me Grandma written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Fierce. Unapologetic. Thought provoking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jack’s Worry from Sam Zuppardi.

Discussion starter.  Community builder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, My Name is Octicorn created by Kevin Diller and Justin Love

Celebrating differences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead.

Creativity boosting.  Writing process. Storytelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baa Baa Smart Sheep by Mark and Rowan Sommerset

Funny. Naughty.  Great read aloud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School’s First Day of School written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson 

Meant to be read aloud.  Mentor text.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Me Finish written by Minh Le and illustrated by Isabel Roxas.

Makes me want to read more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return by Aaron Becker

Inventive.  Masterful conclusion.  Dreamers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson.

Bridging differences. Adventure.  Appreciation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Dragon by Josh Funk and illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo.

Finding commonality.  Social justice.  Funny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surf’s Up illustrated by Daniel Miyares

Just let me read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pink is for Blobfish written by Jess Keating and illustrated by David Degrand.

Another book, please?!  Knowledgable.  Crowd favorite.

Inventive.  Perspective. Thought-provoking.
Love is love is love is love is love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison.

Friendship. Perspective. Loyalty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith

Gratitude. Fitting in.  Perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe and Laura Ellen Anderson

Finding common ground.  Social justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samson in the Snow by Phillip C. Stead

Heart-attacher.  Caring for others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shy by Deborah Freedman

Gorgeous. Empowering.  Tender.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead

Humanity. Loneliness. Connections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bear and the Piano by David Lichtfield

Chasing dreams. Loneliness. Finding home.

Finding commonalities.  Seeing good. Social justice.

 

Poetry comes alive.

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Maybe Something Beautiful written by F. Isabell Campoy and Theresa Howeel and illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Inspiring. Dreamy. Do something.

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Gilbert Ford’s The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring

Informational. Inventive. Inspiring.

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I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

Power. Empowering. Speak up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ferocious Fluffity written by Erica S. Perl and illustrated by Henry Cole

Surprising. Hilarious.  Sequel, please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The Not So Quiet Library by Zachariah Ohora

Monsters in the library.  Imagination.  Read another time, please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Read it again.  Surprise.  Shock.

Just one single promise, please.
You can feel the love with every word. Social justice.
How something was salvaged from the horror of 9/11 and made into something powerful.
How do we cope with the changing minds of our grandparents?
Aresting visuals.  Heartbreak and creativity.
 May we never forget our own humanity when helping refugees.
Who knew learning about octopus could be so beautiful?
I know I left some off because I am writing this from home.  However, this is a start, this is a way to say thank you to all of the books and those who create them that made this year even better.

Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration

Since 2010, my students and I have been bringing the world in.  We have asked others to be our teachers, whether authors, experts, children.  We have asked others to share more of their world with us so that we could make more sense of our own.  We have created, we have become experts.  We have made the world smaller by becoming a moving piece of the world, and we have grown.  In our literacy collaborations and creations, we have become authors, poets, performers, and teachers.  We have become more than what we started as.

So when I was asked what I would propose to make school different, the answer came quickly; besides empowering students, I feel an urgent need to infuse global collaboration throughout our literacy instruction (or any subject matter for that sake).  That in a world that seems so divided at times, where we seem to be hellbent on finding each others differences and using them to distance ourselves, we need to actually know our similarities.  We need to bring the world in to make the world smaller, kinder, more empathetic.  Have students create so that they can become the person they envision rather than just pretend.

I have written this book three times over.  Starting over every single time because it was not good enough.  Within the span of sixty pages I get to plead my case for why doing global collaboration is an urgent endeavor.  For why it is easier than you think to bring the world in.  For why it should be at the top of our lists when we plan our literacy instruction. And the how.  How can you do it, what are ideas, what does it look like.  By opening up my own classroom practices, as well as other educators, I hope to inspire those that need ideas or a boost to jump in.   To create another consideration as we plan our school year and our learning adventures.  And now, it is ready for the world.  My newest book Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration is out for pre-order with a birthdate of January 20th, 2017.  I cannot believe it is almost here.

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I hope you find it useful, that is truly my biggest dream for this book.  That you will learn something, that it will inspire you to try and to change in ways that are meaningful to you.  It may have been a long process to write this book, sometimes that is how it goes, but the words are genuine.  We need to create classrooms where students learn with others, for others, and through others.  And our literacy instruction time gives us the perfect conduit for just that.  Welcome to the world.

To see the book on Amazon, go here.To see the book on Amazon, go here.To see the book on Amazon, go here.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

If Not Us, Then Who?

http-www-pixteller-com-pdata-t-l-541830

When I was 17 years old, my history teacher pulled me aside and told me tone it down.  “It” being my opinion in case it intimidated others.  “It” being speaking my mind because sometimes I would come across so forceful that others did not want to engage.  So I stopped speaking in his class.  I stopped jumping in, afraid that I was going to rock the boat or upset the other students.  I knew I had opinions, but I didn’t want to be known as someone who did not make room for others.

A long time ago I decided that staying quiet would not get me anywhere.  That hoping that someone would understand what I needed without me actually speaking up was a delusion.  That I could no longer wait until someone spoke the words that burned within me so I could quote them and pretend I hadn’t thought the exact same thing.  I started writing, speaking, and teaching as the whole me, rather than the 17 year old girl who had been told to tone it down.  It has been quite a journey since then.

As educators we speak up all of the time.  We speak up for ourselves when changes need to be made in our schools.  We speak up for our students when they need us to advocate.  We speak up for our own needs and hopefully for the needs of our students.  We speak up when we see injustices that need to be righted, when our teacher stares are not enough.

So I think it is time for us to speak up and let our voices be heard because when I look at my classroom library, when I really study the books I am able to put in the hands of my students, I cannot help but wonder; where are the books from non-white authors?  Where are the picture books that center around kids that are going about their every day life that look like some of my students?  Where are the holiday books, the birthday books, the first day of school books, the books that share small slices of life that have characters that are not white?

While I buy the ones that I know of thanks to blogs like Reading While White, We Need Diverse Books, and the Nerdy Book Club, I am constantly reminded of how few there are out there for us to purchase.    When I receive a package of books I am constantly reminded of how often the kids in the books look just like my own kids in all of their whiteness.  How my kids must take it for granted that, of course, the books they read have people in them that look like them.  That I do not have to scour the internet to find books that remind them of themselves because those are the majority of books out there.   That in book upon book being white as a character is the standard not the exception.

We need diverse books.  We need own voices books.  We need more than what is out there and so we need to raise our voices.  There will be no change if we do not say loudly; “This is not enough.  This is not ok.”

So as educators we can speak up.  We can reach out and demand better.  We can spend our precious budgets on books that do not just offer up more white narratives, but actually mirror the diversity that we are surrounded by.  We can tell publishers that we need books that show all of the kids we teach.  We need books about Native American written by Native American, or other #OwnVoices authors.  We need books that go beyond the standard stories being shared so that when all of my students open up a book they can find a character that looks like them.  Or when my own white children read a book, they will see a character that does not look like them and understand that that too is the norm.

For too many years we have waited for publishers to notice the major gap that has been created, and while changes are under way, the process won’t speed up until we speak up.  So use your voice, use your connections, use your money to show the world that when we echo that “We need diverse books!” it is not just because it is a catchy phrase, but is the truth.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.