By Todd Nesloney and Travis Crowder
Since we started an inquiry into campuswide literacy initiatives, we have read some incredible books, ones that have stretched our thinking and nudged us to become stronger participants in our democracy. In some cases we read these books together. Other times, we read them separately. We did, however, talk about them, and across our work together, they became shared reading experiences.
As we have talked with other educators—teachers, administrators, and leadership teams— we have expressed the need for inclusivity in classroom and school library collections, as well as in the texts students study. Throughout our presentations and conversations, we iterate how critical it is that educators read, too. At this time in our nation, it is critical that we celebrate stories written by Black authors, as well as learn from their wisdom and, in turn, effect positive changes in our world.
For this article, we have collected a list of books we hope you will find meaningful. Please read, but more than anything, share and act. All of these books would work well as book studies. Some of them would work well as whole-class texts. As you read, consider how they could be used in your building, but also consider how they are helping you unpack your understanding of people.
“The Season of Styx Malone” by Kekla Magoon
It all starts when Caleb Franklin decides he doesn’t want to be ordinary. When his life intersects with Styx Malone, a mysterious new neighbor with a wonderful personality, Caleb realizes that this is his opportunity to do something extraordinary. Caleb’s brother, Bobby Gene, goes along with the plans that Styx concocts, but as the stakes increase and trouble mounts, Caleb and Bobby Gene learn the value of true friendship and loyalty. Will they abandon their new friend or will they fight for him?
“Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom” by Matthew Kay
Classrooms can be places where students come together to discuss race. Often, topics that include race are shuffled to the side in favor of “other” conversations. But the time is now. Matthew Kay provides a framework for discussing race in the classroom, and although he writes for a secondary audience, this book is critical for teachers of all students. It will help you better understand the nuances of race conversations and facilitate discussions in your school.
“New Kid” by Jerry Craft
We’ve all felt like the “new kid” at one time or another. But what about if you’re the only kid at school who looks like you? This graphic novel is an engrossing read about starting a new school, working through racism, and coming out even stronger in the end. You’ll laugh, you’ll tear up, and if you’ve never found yourself a “fan” of graphic novels, this might just be the book that changes your mind!
“Black Brother, Black Brother” by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Jewell Parker Rhodes is one of our favorite authors. From her books like Towers Falling and Ghost Boys, she continues to tap into our hearts over and over again. Black Brother, Black Brother is her newest novel and another tear jerker. What do you do when you’re constantly judged by the color of your skin? When your mom is black, but your dad is white, and your brother was born with much lighter skin than you. This journey of self discovery, family, and identity is more timely than ever.
Books open our eyes, and our hearts to new thoughts, ideas, and experiences. They aren’t the end of the journey of discovery by any means, but they can often be a great starting point.
We encourage you to continue to introduce yourself, and your staff and students, to a steady stream of diverse and inclusive texts that represents all the students we serve.
Todd Nesloney is TEPSA’s Director of Culture and Strategic Leadership. He is an award winning educator, author and international speaker.
Travis Crowder, a National Board Certified Teacher, teaches middle school students in North Carolina. He co-hosts the popular podcast series “Sparks in the Dark” and is co-author of Sparks in the Dark.
TEPSA News, August 2020, Vol 77, No 4
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