Engaging readers with award-winning U.S. picture books
People have traditionally used stories to share their realities with one another. This website brings together outstanding children’s literature that represents a variety of races and cultures in hopes that we can all better understand the realities of others.
Increasingly, U.S. teachers are of middle-class status, are of European-American descent and speak only one language (Ladson-Billings, 1995). In contrast, many of their students come from ethnic and racial minority backgrounds, live in poverty, and speak first languages other than English (Au, 1980; Heath, 1983; Lee, 1993). Though most teachers do not share the same cultural frames of reference as their students, they share a classroom space where it is believed that they live and learn together. Using multi-ethnic/multi-racial texts to foster classroom discussions is one means of discovering and honoring diversity in the classroom community in which teachers and students develop cultural understanding with those with whom they do not share frames of reference.
With this in mind, Dr. Diana Garlough, an assistant professor in the Department of Education at Ohio Northern University, conceived this project to provide a clearinghouse of books, projects and discussion-starters for teachers to use to introduce issues of diversity into their classrooms while simultaneously educating themselves about various topics. Garlough worked with Dr. Robert Carrothers, an associate professor of sociology at ONU, to connect sociological concepts through children’s literature. Garlough and Carrothers believed that teachers might want to capitalize on these connections during times they share stories with their classes through read-alouds. Teachers often use read-aloud time to teach concepts that aren’t covered in the standard curriculum and to model how good readers approach texts. While the references to sociology concepts are meant only to inform the website user as to which concept and ideas are addressed in the book, there is no expectation that the teachers should actually teach these concepts as part of their lesson as these may be too advanced for children and adolescents. More detailed information on each of the sociology concepts is provided under the “Sociology Concepts” tab to provide background information. This website serves as a resource that can be used by teachers, librarians, parents and other care-takers for read-alouds or more formal lessons.
The framework that guides the lessons
The framework for teaching from these books comes from You Can’t Teach What You Don’t Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools (Howard, G.R., 2006). For white educators who seek to address their questions associated with white dominance and diversity, Howard offers a healing process. The process is fourfold and is framed by honesty, empathy, advocacy and action.
1. Honesty: For white teachers, the “assumption of rightness” and the “luxury of ignorance” are both challenged by an honest approach.
We must learn to question our own assumptions and acknowledge what we have been preconditioned to understand and believe is likely not the same for everyone. You must realize and admit that there is much you do not know – and your only access to knowing is through listening (and believing) the experience of others (also known as “wisdom”).
It is through honesty that we can see the limitation of knowledge and realize that those in the privileged groups have had the undeserved advantage of rarely being hungry, being seen as suspicious, being the sole representative of a group in a room, or having seen a person be killed. It also is through honesty that we can promote some stories of wisdom to be included in the curricular knowledge (i.e., teaching various perspectives on history, adding global literature, teaching about inequality as something that still occurs).
2. Empathy: Means “to feel with” and requires us to focus our attention on the perspective and worldview of another person.
Empathy requires more than just a “guess” as to what it feels like; it requires a reflexive role-taking where you imagine what it would be like to be someone in a given position. While teachers may have no idea what it is like to be a Hindu child in a predominantly Christian school, they likely have the ability to recall what it was like at some point in their lives where they felt like an outsider because of what they thought or believed. From there, it’s a matter of listening to the wisdom of those who have experienced specific challenges to bridge the gap between teachers and students.
Teachers can then step outside of dominant positions and see their own positions in a new light to better gauge appropriate responses to issues. Empathy may also help teachers better reach students.
3. Advocacy: Once they are honestly assessing their positions of privilege and ignorance, and developing empathy, teachers may start to work on behalf of their underrepresented students. Advocacy can take a variety of forms, from encouraging the inclusion of diversity in lessons, to speaking on behalf of the underrepresented in circles of power (thereby given them access to decision-makers), to encouraging other privileged people to take an honest inventory.
It is through acts of advocacy that structural changes may start to occur, thereby leveling the playing field.
4. Action: This leads to action where we actively work to ensure that the dominance that exists (and ultimately caused these problems) is eradicated.
We believe, as do Kivel (1996), Kozol (2005) and Howard (2006), that we are not responsible for having been born white, but we are responsible for how we respond to racism and dominance in our schools and communities today.
We borrowed from Howard’s work to develop a format through which to frame lessons using these picture books. Even though Howard’s work focuses on white educators, we believe the format will be useful to a wider audience of any racial or cultural background in sharing books from various races and cultures. We hope that this framework will be used as a starting point for many rich discussions and, perhaps, for coming to understand from a different perspective.
How texts were selected for this site
With a large number of quality pieces of children’s literature from which to choose, we decided to begin by following the guidance of the specific racial/cultural designations used by Norton (2012) in Multicultural Children’s Literature: Through the Eyes of Many Children (4th Edition). We started with the following awards, starting in 2010 to the present time: American Indian Youth Literature Award, Middle Eastern Outreach Council, Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association Award, Caldecott Medal, Coretta Scott King Award, National Jewish Book Award and the Pura Belpré Award.
While the groups that award books often have categories for children and adolescents other than picture books, we chose to focus on picture books for several reasons. First, many picture books can be understood and appreciated by a wide range of ages. Many picture books were not written for pre-readers but for those who are more mature. Stories that are represented by both words and pictures appealed to us due to the depth and complexity of navigating two media in order to appreciate the story. Interpreting both the mood of the story and character development (Kiefer, 2010), largely through illustrations, enriches the reading experience of topics we hope readers will return to several times. This, in turn, would cause more conversations on the story topics. Ms. Kathleen Barill, Director of the Heterick Memorial Library at Ohio Northern University, and the library staff have provided invaluable help in working on this project.
Work to be done
We started with only the award-winners from each of the book awards listed above. We would like to expand this list to include the honor books for these awards, include books awarded for prior years, perhaps include other noteworthy book awards, and even include books that didn’t win awards but are viewed as authentically representing a specific racial or cultural group.
We will continue to review books and add them to this site as well as encourage your reviews. Reviews must include the book’s title, author, year of publication, award or honor, guiding question(s) or assumption(s) for the lesson, and the four areas from Howard’s (2006) work: honesty, empathy, advocacy and action. You must also include your contact information with the assertion that this is your own work.
Dr. Robert Carrothers firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Diana Garlough email@example.com
Ms. Kathleen Barill firstname.lastname@example.org
Au, K. (1980). Participation structures in a reading lesson with Hawaiian children: Analysis of a culturally appropriate instructional event. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 11(2), 91-115.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Herder & Herder.
Heath, S. B. (1983). Ways with words: Language, life, and work in communities and classrooms. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Howard, G.R. (2006). We can’t teach what we don’t know: White teachers, multiracial schools, 2nd edition. New York: Teachers College Press.
Kiefer, B. Z. (2010). Charlotte Huck’s children’s literature. Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education.
Kriesberg, S. (1992). Transforming power: Domination, empowerment, and education. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465-491.
Lee, C. D. (1993). Signifying as a scaffold for literary interpretation: The pedagogical implications of an African American discourse genre. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Norton, D. E. (2012). Multicultural Children's Literature: Through the Eyes of Many Children (4th Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.
Parker, W. (2003) Teaching democracy: Unity and diversity in the public life. New York: Teachers College Press.