Archives For January 2014

If you have a young child in your life you may have experienced frustration, shock, confusion or a variety of other feelings, when the child just doesn’t “get” the civil rights movement, or the power of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy. Or he/she thinks this chapter happened centuries ago even though it might have even happened in your life time.

Who can blame them?! We all would like to think that it was so far back in unimaginable history when we didn’t treat each other fairly. However, if children don’t have a visceral understanding of the horrors of “history” or if they are not informed that even though great strides have been made, this fight isn’t over, we only have adults to blame.

One way that I have found to help children understand the  flaws of the abstract concept of “separate  but equal” is to use This is the Dream by Diane ZuHone Shore & Jessica Alexander, illustrated by James Ransome.

Some people may question what is wrong with “separate but equal?” But if one uses visual literacy and critical thinking skills while examining this books, it is hard do draw any conclusion but “separate is NOT equal.” Take a look at the picture below and see if you can list all the reasons that a second grader can list when they think about the rightness of “separate but equal.”

What do you notice?

 seperate but equal

I have a dream that if I share enough stories that connect, inspire and educate, then the world will become a better and kinder place. And who better to inspire and connect than Martin Luther King Jr?  So I am sharing a few personal favorites that I hope move young audiences to become new advocates for peaceful change.

ImageMartin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Bryan Collier’s stunning mixed media illustrations and Doreen Rappaport’s simple but poignant text make for a powerful tribute to King’s life. Ideal for the young  and older audience alike, the theme that “hate can not drive out hate. Only love can do that” is highlighted by Collier’s  award winning use of different collage elements to forge unlikely connections. Even students in the second grade can grasp how his technique brings power to this hero’s story.


Martin & Mahalia: His Words  Her Song

By Andrea Davis Pinkney Illustrated by Brian Pinkney

This talented husband and wife team have once again combined talents to bring to life hitherto unsung parts of history.  In a story of how Mahalia Jackson and Martin Luther King Jr’s lives mirrored each others, the power of an individual’s voice to make a difference comes through loud and clear. It is no surprise that is takes a duo not unlike the subject matter to play off each other to make the world richer for us all.

Who knew trying to find a set of state books could prove so disappointing. But  as I mentioned in my previous post , a promising candidate did not meet my standards so it won’t live on my shelves anytime soon. In other words, it failed the anti-bias test. Especially when I examined the visuals for stereotypes, tokenism or invisibility.

Two photographs out of nine were of African-Americans. They were both in the Jazz chapter. This struck me as cause for concern. If a child’s only association with the African-American population of Louisiana is with jazz, it can lead to stereotyping, or at best limiting one-dimensional view of their experience.

I want a child to appreciate the wonderful contributions that the African-American community has made to music.  But I want a more complex presentation so readers can understand and appreciate the diversity of African-American heritage.

In fact, I was also shocked that there were no photographs of Hurricane Katrina. A natural disaster, and the failure of government and its social structures can be a complicated topic to introduce to young readers. But omitting it is whitewashing a disturbing history from which we can all learn. And  those in the 9th ward who are still suffering must feel a state of disequilibrium when such a life-changing event is ignored in a possible text-book.

I worry about another unconscious message that a young reader can absorb. All the images in the chapter about playing are of white people. Why not have more visual diversity that reflects the actual population shown at play?

I hope the state books published in 2015 will do a better job of an equitable presentation of the richness of all life experiences.

It is embarrassing to confess that my school library collection has state books that are twenty years old. But I am more willing to admit that my collection is woefully out of date because publishers are still publishing books that are filled with bias.

If in 2014 I can’t find an updated series that is inclusive in its representation and history, I’d rather keep my old ones.

lousiannaDuring my recent search for new state books, I was at first seduced by Children’s Press’s (an imprint of Scholastic) Blast Off Readers. It offered some compelling features for the budding researchers in my school. I liked that it had:

  • A table of contents
  • An index
  • Useful and interesting topics including history, the land, landmarks, wildlife, food, festivals, work, play, and fast facts
  • An up-close map of the state, with some major cities, and surrounding states
  • An insert map of where the state is located within the U.S.
  • Attractive photographs
  • A clean and simple appealing lay out (so many books have confusing or cluttered design.
  • It had a nice balance of text to visuals.
  • Clearly presented text which wasn’t so simple that it didn’t say much and not too complex for my younger students.

I was ready and excited to blast off with the series. But then I was saddened and even a bit disgusted to I realize the series did not stand up to the anti-bias test.

In fact, I hadn’t even officially run it through my checklist. Yet flipping through the Louisiana book I was struck by how few photos of African Americans were included.

Louisiana’s population is approximately 60% white so having 2 photos of African Americans out of 9 photographs or drawings of people is almost not egregious. However, one of the two photos is a small insert (eve though the caption does give credit to Louis Armstrong for being one of the most famous jazz musicians of all time).  The other photo of a jazz band in New Orleans has some of the African American musicians but several of them are in the gutter of the book and therefore the visual focus of the photo is of the Caucasian audience.

Why is this a big deal you make ask?  Because I worry about what conclusions children are unconsciously drawing. I am guessing that they are probably picking up some of the same messages the publishers, designers, writers etc. are unconsciously perpetuating.

(At least I hope they are unaware of the impact of their choices.)

So I started to closely examine the book and put it through my anti bias check list.  Such scrutiny is more than one posting so I will share my findings on Thursday.

While different cultures around the world observe the New Year in a variety of ways and at various times, they almost all share the idea of taking stock. New Year is often marked by reflecting on the passing year and celebrating a new opportunity for better things to come. Many of us in the West, who use the Gregorian calendar to bring in the New Year in January, make resolutions.

I usually use September and the start of a new school year as my time to set goals. However, this year, I’ve decided I need another occasion to be mindful. So I am joining the millions who have made recent resolutions. In 2014 I want to leave my unkind baggage behind back in 2013.

So I have resolved to try and let go of attitudes that weigh on me and put others down. I will strive to:

  1. Let go of all thoughts that judge people as “other.” Especially if there is fear in that judgment.
  2. Let go of all thoughts that categorize something as normal. If there is a normal there has to be an abnormal. How do you think it feels for someone to be categorized as abnormal? And why would I do that to someone?
  3. Let go of the fear of those who are different from me, especially if my fear is because I am unfamiliar with that difference and so I am making appalling assumptions because of my own anxiety.
  4. Let go of thinking that my perspective is the only one. I will try and remember that the globe has 360 degrees of perspectives.
  5. Let go of thinking there’s a right and wrong way to do things or to see the world. Enjoy the contrast and celebrate the diversity and richness of life.
  6. Let go of listening to only a limited range of stories. I will seek out the biggest window, or stories that are outside my comfort zone that I can find.
  7. Let go of anger towards those who hold perspectives I have struggled to understand yet find hard to embrace.

Seven resolutions seems like it should be doable. But unconscious messages can sneak up on you. So I know it will be a fight. One worth having, but a battle nonetheless. Wish me luck and feel free to hold me accountable.