In recent weeks, there has been a lot talk about the lack of diversity in children’s literature. Then the recent BEA BookCon nonsense in which an all-white male panel of “luminaries” in children’s literature was announced and the outrage was evident very quickly.
Yesterday, my students and I discussed the power of words and the effects our choice of words may have on others. We are reading Things Fall Apart and The Purple Hibiscus and language plays a powerful role in both books, along with gender roles and expectations. When I shared the Bookcon panel with my students they immediately realized the power given to a panel labeled as “luminaries”. We discussed how money talks and that when an all male, white panel is described as luminaries then people will buy their books. When people only buy books by white men or starring straight, white characters then that is what bookstores will stock. And then those books will earn spots on popular lists and the cycle continues.
My students started sharing their own experiences of looking for books that never seemed to exist. We don’t really have an indie bookstore in the area so it’s big box or bust for my teens. They talked about a lack of Asian characters, a lack of LGBTQ characters, a lack of POC, a lack of Native American protagonists, a lack of their own reflection in the books available in those stores. So we talked about getting involved and making a change. I promised to be even more conscious of the books I offer in my classroom library. They started following the story online and even tweeting about it.
The world is more diverse than panels, bestseller lists, and bookstore shelves would lead us to believe. Heck, my classroom is a whole lot more diverse than those items would lead you to believe! So when the awesome Kate Messner challenged her readers to put their money where their mouth is, I immediately jumped on board. And so did author Shannon Hale. And John Green. And many, many others. Now there are contests between indie bookstores over who can handsell the most copies of Varian Johnson’s awesome upcoming novel The Great Greene Heist. There are authors offering prizes. And the best part? There is a huge Twitter campaign aimed at spreading the word about diversity in children’s literature and making sure the books that are out there get into our students’ hands.
The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is taking over Twitter and I’m joining in!
From their tumblr:
Now is the time to raise our voices into a roar that can’t be ignored. Here’s how:
On May 1st at 1pm (EST), there will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. We’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. We want people to tweet, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blog, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.
For the visual part of the campaign:
- Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you.
- The photo can be of you or a friend or anyone who wants to support diversity in kids’ lit. It can be a photo of the sign without you if you would prefer not to be in a picture. Be as creative as you want! Pose the sign with your favorite stuffed animal or at your favorite library. Get a bunch of friends to hold a bunch of signs.
- However you want to do it, we want to share it! There will be a Tumblr at http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/ that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1stto firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on our Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day.
- Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be your job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever you think will help get the word out.
- The intent is that from 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word. We hope that we’ll get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets.
- The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long we need to keep this discussion going, so we welcome everyone to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st.
On May 2nd, the second part of our campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.
On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of our campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign! More details to come!
Will you be participating?
Take a look at the bookshelves in your classroom. How diverse are your offerings? Can your students see themselves in the books on your shelves?
I’ve pre-ordered my copy of The Great Greene Heist. I’ve ordered a second copy to donate to a local school. What about you?
— David George Haskell (@DGHaskell) April 22, 2014
On Earth Day my students were lucky enough to Skype with Dr. David Haskell, author of The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature. Over the course of the school year the students have adopted their own mandalas, a square meter of forest space, and made monthly observations. I work with my biology colleague and the students have been learning how to communicate scientific knowledge to a general audience through informational writing, narrative writing, and poetry. It’s been a magical experience and one I can’t wait to continue next year.
How did this all come together?
In October 2012 my former colleague Jon Olsen and I read an article in The New York Times Science Times about Dr. Haskell with our freshmen. The article struck a chord and we reached out to Dr. Haskell on Twitter. He spoke with the students and eventually we set up a brief Skype session so he could talk about the overlap between the humanities and science. The Skype session went so well that we decided to use his book as a touchstone text between English and biology this year. We placed an order for 80 copies of the book and started planning. We knew we wanted a field study and writing component to go alongside the book and we worked on ideas for the next few months.
In September we introduced the book to our students. They were a little unsure at first because we were telling them that biology and English would work together during the year, combining our classes at least once each month. Thankfully, my school embraces interdisciplinary work so they “saw the light” very quickly.
Over the course of the year our current freshmen have read a variety of essays in Dr. Haskell’s book. In September we broke them into 2 groups of 40 and within the groups broke them into triads. Those triads worked together all year, finding mandalas close to each other and relying on the buddy system during our field studies. They observed organisms, practiced using specialized vocabulary, wrote poems, and sat outside during the polar vortex. We’ve been rained on, sleeted on, snowed on, and now it’s finally starting to warm up. We’ve seen the circle of life, complete with a dead deer carcass in one mandala and a fierce cardinal defending its turf in another.
Before each class we settled on a seasonally appropriate focus and the students read at least one of Dr. Haskell’s essays. You can see our schedule below:
- Sept – perception / selecting & mapping mandalas (preface, April 14th & Sept 23rd): Mike and I chose the same readings and challenged the students to figure out why an English and Bio teacher chose the same ones (without planning it that way).
- Oct – respect / identifying a resident organism (March 13th & April 22nd), writing a descriptive paragraph modeled after Dr. Haskell’s.
- Nov – ecological succession / change / spectrophotometry & color / wavelengths (Nov 5th), writing a poem modeled after a few nature poems we studied in class.
- Dec – adaptations (structural & behavioral) / breathing / your response to cold (Jan 21st & Dec 3rd,) writing a description of the way the cold infiltrates the human body.
- Jan – patterns / Kepler’s snowflakes (Jan 17th), studying snowflakes and writing haikus.
- Feb – habitat / food + cover + water (Nov 15th), creating a photo slideshow and brief description of their mandalas
- March – equinox / seasonal change, preparing for Dr. Haskell’s visit.
You can see a sample of the instruction sheet here. Each month it changes based on the focus.
This is one of the best projects I have ever been involved in. The biology and English combination is pure magic and I love having the opportunity to teach a bit of science communication.
Dr. Haskell took an hour out of his day earlier this week to read some of the students’ writing, look at their Flickr group, and share his expertise. It was fabulous and I couldn’t ask for anything better as an English teacher! Thank you to Dr. Haskell!
Interdisciplinary work is the best. The world isn’t divided into neat little subject boxes like the constructs we model in schools. Life is messy, subjects mingle together. But communication, reading and writing, is vital regardless of the field students may choose to pursue. Appreciating the environment that surrounds them is also vital to our wellbeing as a species.
Filed under: PLC, science, storytelling, Voices from the Land, writing | Tagged: David George Haskell, David Haskell, Forest Unseen, High Technology High School, narrative writing, STEAM, STEM | Leave a comment »
I’ve known Meenoo Rami through Twitter for a few years and we have worked together on #engchat for the past couple of years. We met in person at NCTE Las Vegas (despite the fact that we live only an hour or so away from each other!) and I was blown away by her passion and dedication to the teaching profession. Needless to say, when her new book Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching was published a few weeks ago I read it cover to cover. (Ok, to be fair, Meenoo also asked me to write a few paragraphs for the book, so there were a few reasons I wanted to read it immediately…haha)
Thrive is a book I want to send to every teacher I know. I want every teacher education department to give it to their teacher babies. I want to hand it out at every PD session I attend. It’s just that amazing.
It’s a tough time to be a teacher. We all see it and sometimes it’s hard not to feel beaten down. But Meenoo’s book is a bright light in the darkness. She learned early in her career that teaching can be a lonely career if you don’t reach out to the community around you. In Thrive she shares the strategies that she uses in her professional life and the ways that teachers can apply them to their own. I’ve seen this firsthand through Twitter and Meenoo was one of the first teachers who reached out and walked me through community-building on the network. When I stumbled upon #engchat I knew I had found one of my tribes and I’ve been a fixture in the chat ever since. There are days when my Twitter PLN keeps me sane and I’m so glad Meenoo has captured the importance of that community in her book.
But it’s not all about social media. No! Meenoo shares ways that teachers can reach out to colleagues in their departments, their buildings, their local and national professional organizations, and much more. Teaching is a profession that works best when we mentor others and allows ourselves to be mentored. Thrive is perfect for first-year teachers who are just entering this crazy world of education, and it’s also the rejuvenating spark that veteran teachers need! We should be reaching out and helping our colleagues while also recognizing that teachers are life-long learners who can learn from their colleagues and students.
Thrive will help you (re)discover the joy in teaching. I can’t wait to give a copy to my student teacher. And my sister. And my best friend. I imagine Thrive sitting on the shelf next to Harry Wong’s First Days of School and other vital teaching resources. It’s that important. Be sure to pick up a copy today!
Be sure to check out some of the other stops on the Thrive blog tour!
Meenoo Rami is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches her students English at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. Mixing moments of joy, laughter, risk and encouragement, Meenoo pushes her students to think critically about their connection to the word and the world. Meenoo did her undergraduate work at Bradley University in Illinois in areas of Philosophy and English and completed her Master’s degree in Secondary Education at Temple University. Meenoo also contributes to the work of school-wide events and professional learning communities at SLA. Meenoo works as a teacher-consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project. She has shared her classroom practice at various conferences such as: NCTE, ISTE, ASCD, EduCon, Urban Sites Conference for National Writing Project, and #140edu. Meenoo also runs a weekly twitter chat for English teachers called #engchat which brings together teachers from around the country to discuss ideas related to teaching of English. Her first book, THRIVE from Heinemann will be out in March 2014. In her free time, Meenoo can be found on her bike, on her yoga mat or in her kitchen tinkering with a vegetarian recipe.
To connect with Meenoo, you can find her on these social media networks: