This year has been a year of discussing and seeking books with diversity. It started years ago and continues today. (#weneeddiversebooks)
I was/am always looking for books that included and star children of color, especially African American children. The reason I was looking ( hmm – do I really need a reason) was they were the students in my classroom and they needed to see themselves in the stories we read. I found some after searching but most of the time they were stories of slavery or a biography of someone. They were great books but not what my students wanted to read all the time. (It is still amazing to me that in 2014 I am still looking for books – not just going to pick one up.)
It is changing – slowly I admit but changing. The stories I find now are stories about children’s adventures, mysteries and travels – the children just happen to be children of color, or may have special needs of some kind but they are children on an adventure first and for most. They are solving problems, dealing with issues and making friends -race, culture or special needs are not the main topic of the book. Children are the focus, all children.
Two books I read this week fit into this discussion. One is Vanished by Sheela Chari and the other one is Rain, Reign by Ann M. Martin. In both books the main character is a girl who must:
- solve a mystery or a problem
- is struggling with their parent or parents
- learns about themselves and how to be a problem solver
- they each take risks
- they each must decide what is right and wrong and what to do
- they are each persistent and
- learn to deal with their own temper
- are outsiders in their classroom but find friends and helpers over time
Rain Reign by Ann Martin is the story of Rose who loses her dog in a Hurricane. Rose struggles with her life – living alone with her dad who is also struggling with his emotions, his job and how to care for a young girl. Rose is a child who is autistic and so she works hard to understand the demands of the world around her. She is a person who needs routines, clear rules, loves homonyms, words and not to much noise.
Rose brings you into her world and why she needs to count by prime numbers, find pairs of words that are homonyns and have a set schedule. You learn that this helps Rose deal with issues that are hard to understand. You see and experience her world but you always know she is a young girl with lots of handle and a lost dog to find. Children are children and they can be strong and unsure all at the same time.
This is a great read and would make a great read aloud for a group of students. There is so much to talk about here.
The second book is Vanished and it would be a good read aloud as well. It is a book with a young girl whose family is from India. She plays a Veena but in every other way she is another American girl going to school. It takes her awhile to break down the barriers between herself and the other students in her class. It is the Veena that begins to open doors to friendships as well as the source of the mystery.
Chira does a great job of weaving the Indian culture into the story but not giving it center stage. There are wonderful places where you could have a good conversation about cultural teasing but you could also just move on to follow the mystery of the missing veena.
I loved the details in each book and how they give an authentic feel for the people who are the main characters without taking over the story.
The three books I am reading this week are:
- Get Happy by Mary Amota
- Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera
Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon Flake