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What’s your name?

It’s a question we are asked and ask many times in our lives. But how often do we consider all the layers of story and identity connected with the answer?

Some strangers may not even bother to learn your name but size you up by the way you look. You may be identified by your first and last name on paperwork and be judged on that basis. Colleagues might know your name but not your nicknames. Friends might know your nickname but not the story behind them. Family might know the history behind the name but maybe not your feelings.

Each and every name carries a world of stories, feelings, histories, associations, cultures and identities. Here are five ways to mine the richness in a name so that individuals can be seen and known for a tiny, yet monumental, part of who they are and how they feel they belong or don’t.

  1. Ask Questions. What does your name mean? Who were you named after? Why? How do you feel about you name? Has your feelings towards your name changed?
  2. Use These Poems or Story Excerpts as Writing Prompts: 
    • House on Mango Street’s “My Name” chapter By Sandra Cisneros
    • Z is for Zuri in Damitra Brown Class Clown by Nickki Grimes 
    • The Name I wanted by Richard Blanco 
    • Ismi by Suheir Hammad in Born Palestinian, Born Black 
    • His Long Tapered Fingers by Fan Chiang
  3. Have the students or group create a visual representation of their names and their feelings about it and make a name quilt
  4. Investigate historical or contemporary situations where groups or individuals have had to change names to “belong”
    • Ellis Island or Angel Island and current immigration to the U.S
    • Native American “assimilation process”
    • job, loan, and other forms of paper work discrimination based on perceived ethnicity of name
  5. Role play and examine the negative impact of name calling and brainstorm creative ways to be an upstander in those moments

And in case you want one more. Here’s a bonus activity! 

Read any of the books from this “what’s in a name” bookshelf and start a discussion with whomever you are with. ( click the image for book summary.)

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 12.08.04 AMScreen Shot 2015-09-17 at 12.07.40 AM

And by the way: my name Samantha means listener in Aramaic. I was named after the Bing Crosby Song “I am a one gal guy” from the musical High Society. When I was a reporter I used the byline Sam because I liked the gender ambivalence. And when I hear my full name, it’s usually because I am in trouble with my mother.

Feel free to add your own name stories to the comments below or share other name activities.

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.

Looking for more than just sugary tales to celebrate All Hallows Eve.or Day of the Dead? Never fear; pick the treat just right for you, whether it be a window or a mirror.

 

Los Gatos Black on Hallowen by Marisa Montes

Looking for spooky Spanish vocabulary, then this Bilingual Halloween poem is for you.

Behind the Mask by Yangsook Choi

When A Korean-American boy trick or treats in his grandfather’s mask, “Talchum,” a traditional Korean mask dance, meets up with American trick or treat culture.

Shy Mama’s Halloween by Anne Broules illustrated by Leane Morin

Halloween is the way a Russian immigrant family finds acceptance.

Closet Ghosts by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Shiraaz Bhabha

When you move to a new country and find ghosts in your closet, it is time to call on the Indian Hindu monkey god,Hanuman.

Ghost for Breakfast by Stanley Todd Terasaki, illustrated by Shelly Shinjo

In 1920’s California, a Japanese-American boy and his father investigate a field of ghosts and confront their fears.

Ejoy a spooky night

Just a few weeks ago, you may have taken a moment to reflect on the great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the legacy of his “I have a dream speech.” But have you stopped to honor the work of a Mexican American civil rights leader, who almost 50 years ago this week, also changed the face of history?

On September 16th 1965, Cesar Chavez’s union joined with Filipino workers in the Delano Grape Strike and put in to motion the first agricultural strike to be successful in U.S. history. Chavez went on to be an iconic champion for Latino rights. He lead a peaceful 340-mile march, fasted for 25 days, organized boycotts, and served jail time, all of which eventually helped improve the life of thousands of migrant workers -a group with the longest working hours, lowest pay, and shortest life spans.

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez,  written by Kathleen Krulll  and  Yuyi Morales.

is a gorgeous picture book, both in its narration and its illustrations. This account of his life is worthy of multiple readings since it rich with themes of courage, perseverance, social justice, family, power dynamics and the hope that we all can create change.

For more wonderful ideas how to use this book click here, Yuyi Morales and

have created a fabulous guide.

May you enjoy it as much as I do.

Are you looking for books to help a child understand and or celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year? Keep reading.

Celebrate Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur

by Deborah Heiligman

This book describes how these Jewish Holy days are celebrated around the world. The photographs are National Geographic captivating while the text balances the historic with the contemporary cultural importance of the holidays.

 

 

New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story

by April Halprin Wayland

This charming picture book uses humor to describe the joyous ritual of wiping the slate clean for the new year by apologizing for mistakes in the old. The universality of emotions makes this book accessible to those not familiar with the particular tradition.

 

 

Apples and pomegranates : a family seder for Rosh Hashanah

by Rahel Musleah

This guidebook describes the eight traditional food and their blessings and the sequence in which they eaten. It gives a history or the fruit, recipes and folktales for family discussion.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, World: A Rosh Hashanah Celebration

by Latifa Berry Kropf

This book is ideal for the nursery school age and having a board book about Jewish traditions for young children is a rarity. It compares common birthday activities with the rituals for the Jewish new year celebrations.

L’Shana Tova

Here are 10 books to use as spring boards for discussions about skin color. They range from picture books to young adult titles. Hope they help.

PICTURE BOOKS

1.

The Skin You Live In_LargeThe Skin You Live In    By Michael Tyler, David Lee Csicsko, (Illustrator) Chicago Children Museum, 2005

This picture book uses rhyme to celebrate the range of skin color and the fact that children are simultaneously unique and similar.

2.

skinagainSkin Again   By bell hooks, Chris Raschka (Illustrator) Jump at the Sun, 2004

Another good title to discuss differences in skin color but honor that what’s inside is what counts.

3.

shadesofpeopleShades of people   By Shelley Rotner, Sheila M.Kelly Holiday House, 2010

Echoing the above titles in theme, this title uses photographs to show that skin is a covering that comes in all different shades, even within a family. Yet we have more in common when we move past these external differences.

 

4.

daisyDaisy and the Doll   By Michael Medearis, Angela Shelf Medearis, Larry Johnson (Illustrator) University Press of New England, 2005

While this story is 100 year old Daisy Turner’s memory that she recounted about her experience growing up in Grafton Vermont in the 1890’s, the emotions and issues of what it feels like to be different and face racial prejudice are no different today. Click here to find fascinating information about Daisy’s experience on the Vermont Folklore Center’s website.

NON-FICTION

5.

all the colorsAll the Colors we are: the story of how we get our skin color   By Katie Kissinger, Wernher Krutein (Photographer) Redleaf Press, 2002

A useful resource to teach children the environmental and hereditary aspects of melanin, or skin color.

6.

skininracismThe Skin I’m In  By Pat Thomas, Lesley Harker (Illustrator) Barron’s Educational Series, 2003

This nonfiction title provides young children with examples of racist acts while encouraging children to embrace differences.

7.

racism-pete-sanders-hardcover-cover-artRacism (Let’s Talk About) By Bruce Sanders Creative Co, 2005

As the title indicates, the book explains how skin color can be cause for unfair treatment. It also suggests that we can combat racism if we work together.

YOUNG ADULT / ADULT

8.

skinaminflakeThe Skin I’m In   By Sharon Flake Hyperion Books, 2007

This awarding YA title is great for older audiences. The thirteen-year-old heroine, Maleeka, doesn’t like being dark skinned because everyone at school makes it a problem. Befriending a bully doesn’t help. She has to learn to love herself and the skin she’s in.  Click here to see what one school has done with this profound text.

9.

face relationsFace Relations: 11 Stories about seeing beyond Color Marilyn Singer (Editor) Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004

This YA collection explores issues of diversity, racism and ways to move beyond with well known authors such as M.E Kerr and Joseph Bruchac.

10.

blacklikemeBlack Like Me   By John Howard Griffin Wings Press, 2011

Though it is 50 years old, this adult or young adult title is not to be missed. It explores the issue of racial injustice after a white writer darkens his skin and spends time in the American South. Click here for Smithsonian’s view of how the book has stood the test of time.

color_of_us

Talking about skin color is both never easy and entirely simple. Especially if you keep three things in mind.

  1. Any conversation is better than no conversation, so don’t worry about getting it perfect.
  2. One conversation is just that. One conversation, a beginning. It doesn’t have to do everything.
  3. Practice makes better. The more conversations you have the more natural it feels.

The Color of Us by Karen Katz ,the wonderful author/illustrator of books like Can you Say Peace and My First Ramadan is a great entryway into the conversation.

Over the years, I had read this book a number of times to my library classes before I felt comfortable enough to actually do more than a read-aloud. And I use the word comfortable loosely. I was nervous that I wouldn’t do it right, that I’d get questions I couldn’t answer, that I wasn’t an art teacher, and who was I to have these conversations.

But as soon as I read this story, asked everyone to put a hand in a circle, and started talking about the shades of color we saw, my kindergartPeople's mandala - 12 handsners were eager for more. Everyone was clamoring at once. Lena,  the seven year old in the story was cinnamon brown. What color were they?

Be forewarned, you should have lots of food and spice colors to use for all the various shades of your community. The first time I did this I didn’t have enough variations of white – peach, apricot, milk white, eggshell white only covered some of the ranges in our class. But everyone left proud of their new-found vocabulary as they headed off to art class where they mixed paint to match their skin.

For further activities and discussions for this book check out Karen Katz’s suggestions.and this link too.

Happy skin coloring with your child or class!

I was raised not to notice skin color, it was polite and kind to be color blind to not acknowledge difference. That race doesn’t matter; all people are humans;

And if indeed you are taught that racism is learned, you’d think it would make sense don’t talk about race or skin color, then children’ won’t learn to be racist. If adults don’t point out the racial differences, kids won’t see them. But in fact the opposite is true.

If you don’t have explicit conversations with children about race, they will be drawing their own conclusions without adult guidance. Children, like all humans, categorize all day long. When they are young, they can only categorize using one attribute at a time. They use the most salient one, which is often color.

And when white parents use phrases like “we are all the same” that code is confusing for children. It ignores the physical differences a child sees without actually explaining that we aspire to have everyone treated equally.

White parents often wait until third grade to talk about race. But it is too late. Research shows it must happen earlier to be effective. If you don’t have practice, these conversations can seem hard, awkward, uncomfortable. But if you don’t try, children also lack the practice and vocabulary. And suddenly when they don’t know how to acknowledge differences a child may say something like “he looks like us,” setting up an “us versus them” paradigm.

Does your child have the vocabulary to talk about skin color and race? What conclusions would you want your child to draw? Do you know what they are really concluding? Ask them. Talk with them. Find out and feel free to share your findings.

nutrure

You can learn more about the need to stop color blindness in Pro Bronson’s  & Ashley Merryman’s Nurture Shock, Chapter 3 ” Why White Parents Don’t talk about Race.”

Here’s another great article written by Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton “Should we talk to young children about race?

Stay tuned for ways I discuss race and skin color with kindergartners.