Tag Archives: historical fiction

Racism, Children’s Classics and the World Today

18 Aug

newshour.jpgThis post has been in my heart and mind for a few days now and after seeing Grace Lin speak about this very issue on PBS NewsHour and in light of recent events, I think it’s an important subject that kids, parents, teachers, librarians and everyone in between should be thinking about and discussing.

Grace Lin’s talk was titled, “What to do When You Realize Classic Books From Your Childhood Are Racist.” Recently, I’ve seen a number of posts about The Little House on the Prairie books being labeled as racist (and they are). So this wasn’t a new idea to me, but one I hadn’t really thought about much before and that’s where my white privilege comes in. I loved reading The Little House books when I was younger, in fact, historical fiction was one of my favorite genres – Caddie Woodlawn (also racist), Anne of Green Gables (relatively forward thinking) and the American Girl books were my bread and butter. As a child, I don’t think the fact that Ma hated Indians was something I saw as racist, I knew the history of the migration of European settlers onto Indian land and understood that Ma’s hatred grew out of her fear for her family as wrong as it was. The same way I knew that you didn’t use the words that Mark Twain used to describe black people in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or how I have a fond memory of a teacher reading aloud The Indian In the Cupboard, but now as an adult see how truly incorrect the depiction of Native Americans truly was in this story. It’s not that I read them and accepted them as truth, I knew that because they spoke of the past, there were things that didn’t bear repeating in the world today.

You have to realize that many of these classics were written during a time (50+ years ago) that this vocabulary, depiction, illustration, language was, if not widely used, accepted by many. That doesn’t make these stories any less racist, but it does in fact leave an opening for an adult in a child’s life to open up conversation about history (and presents times as we’ve been seeing lately). It’s a chance to teach kids why we don’t use certain words, why a certain depiction is incorrect or why an illustration is offensive, hurtful and just plain wrong.

Does it mean we clean up these stories, removing language, illustrations and whitewashing our history? No. Does it mean we ban these books from children, never letting them read what we grew up reading? No. In fact, I think it’s a great way to teach children current events, history and so much more. I have a teacher-friend who recently shared this story on Facebook – a few years ago he had the most difficult class of children he has ever taught, a fifth grade class that wasn’t afraid to throw racial slurs around the cafeteria and playground like it meant nothing. So he paired the kids up and had them interview each other with a list of predetermined questions and a Venn diagram to illustrate their differences and similarities. Of course it didn’t take long for the kids to realize they had more in common with each other than they thought and were surprised by this revelation.

Kids aren’t born hating people that are different from them. They are taught hatred and  books are a great door in which to show kids the effects of racism, sexism, and just about every other -ism out there, but it’s also about showing them what it means to have respect, empathy, kindness, compassion and hope – all things we need a little more of in this world.

Each summer we offer a book discussion for middle grade students and on more than one occasion, I’ve offered a title with a character who is portrayed as having a disability. Kids are open in a book discussion to asking questions to better understand a character’s life and they feel comfortable in the book club space to be able to ask these questions. I know that asking questions can be microagressive to people who are different from yourself and I think there’s a way to ask questions respectfully and insightfully (which is a whole other post), but I think what this world could use is more instances of kids being comfortable asking the questions they have to understand the world around them, after all they’ll be here longer than we will and I’d love to see acceptance become the norm instead of the exception. So don’t be afraid to talk to kids about what they’re reading, kids want to be able to ask questions and to understand, but if no one is there to ask the questions to, how will they find their answers?

Okay, so this post has been meandering for much longer than I anticipated, but if you’re still with me…. check out Grace Lin’s absolutely astounding Tedx Talk or her books, including Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and so many others, she’s pretty awesome.

(Unofficial) Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Titles for Shark Week

25 Jul

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I’ve had a number of kids interested in shark books – everything from picture books (for those who frighten easily) to nonfiction titles that show rows of teeth and talk about sharks as apex predators and an important part of the ecosystem. So while everyone watches Michael Phelps race a Great White Shark, here are some awesome books to share together!

  1. Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
  2. Gilbert the Great by Jane Clarke, illustrated by Charles Fuge
  3. Nugget and Fang: Friends Forever–or Snack Time? by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Michael Slack
  4. The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark by Ken Geist, illustrated by Julia Gorton
  5. I’m a Shark by Bob Shea
  6. Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns
  7. Sharks! by Anne Schreiber
  8. Fly Guy Presents: Sharks by Tedd Arnold
  9. Magic Tree House #53: Merlin Missions, Shadow of the Shark by Mary Pope Osborne
  10. I Survived: The Shark Attacks of 1916 by Lauren Tarshis

And a bonus title:

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands by Katherine Roy

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/24/17

24 Jul

I’m not doing too bad with middle grade fiction lately!  Over the past week, I read Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder and Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk. I just started Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood yesterday, so I’m working my way through that story and have Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever. edited by Betsy Bird, which I’m super excited to read. With family coming into town this weekend, I don’t expect I’ll have a lot of time to read, so anything else at this point is extra! I still have a bunch of ARCs from BookExpo America that I’d like to get to before the fall, so I might try and pick up another one of those, maybe bounce over to YA for a little while after the large amount of middle grade fiction I’ve been reading lately! Have a great week!


imwayr

Join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and share all of the reading you have done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. Follow the links to read about all of the amazing books the #IMWAYR

Themes in Middle Grade Fiction

22 Jul

I had the funniest realization while I was reading over the past week, each book I read fed into the next in with its theme. I’ll show you what I mean:

1

The first title I read of this group of books – it’s about a child growing up as (you guessed it) the warden’s daughter in a prison. Her mother passed away when she was just a baby and now as she heads into middle school, she begins looking for someone to take the role as her mother.

2

This title is about boys that are sent to an island to attend a reform school, that is run very much like a prison. Jonathan feels he deserves a dark, damp fortress after what he’s done, but when an accident leaves the group of boys without adult supervision, Jonathan must face his past in order to save the boys on the island from a massive storm.

3

This title also takes place on an island where once a year a boat comes through the fog to drop off a new young, orphan child and take away the oldest child. The nine children on the island don’t know why, they only know that it’s always been that way.

4

This is the story of Crow an orphan girl who washed up to the shore of small island inhabited by just one mysterious man as a baby. He took her in and raised her as her own, but as she grows up she wants to learn more about where she came from and who her family was/is.

I just thought it was so funny that each story had a theme that carried from one book to the next and then the next book had a theme that carried to another title. By the way, these are all amazing middle grade novels that everyone should read!

 

 

The War That Saved My Life Readalikes

21 Jul

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When your friend/colleague/children’s librarian comes into your office with a huge smile and twirls, you know life must be good. Her most recent book discussion for middle school students was on The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – a book that all eleven kids LOVED with and were so excited about that they talked for double the amount of time they normally do and almost didn’t have time for trivia questions or other activities.

I too, loved this book and am so excited to see kids get excited about it as well! It’s a Newbery Award Honor winner and Schneider Family Book Award Winner that kids and adults alike can enjoy and is also easily accessible, while at the same time teaching kids so many valuable lessons about courage and being different, accepting change and so much more. So, I decided to create a quick list of other titles kids might enjoy if they liked The War That Saved My Life. I focused on World War II novels about a wide-variety of characters and circumstances.  And though I only selected nine additional titles you can find plenty more online, from you local bookseller or your library.

  1. The War I Finally Won by Kimberly  Brubaker Bradley
  2. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  3. Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban
  4. My Family For the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve
  5. Duke by Kirby Larson
  6. Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff
  7. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  8. Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus
  9. Hero On a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes
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