Monday, August 19, 2013

I Have A Dream Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Book Courtesy of Random House.

Recently Random House asked if I would participate in a book tour of Kadir Nelson’s beautifully illustrated new book on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s  I Have A Dream speech.  I quickly responded that I would love to.  I mean how hard could it be to be involved with blogging about a wonderful book?  I had seen the book, I knew the speech, and spent many years teaching about Dr. King’s dream.  Well, it has turned out to be quite challenging. 

Fifty years later Race is still a tough topic to broach.  As a white male teacher I try to make my classroom as culturally responsive as possible, but I know that it isn’t always the way I want it to be.  There are times when different cultures and races do clash.  For example black youths are still targeted for walking down the street, and college students spew racist hatred on reality TV shows.

So, as I am writing this and looking at Mr. Nelson’s paintings and listen to Dr. King’s words I know there has been great changes in the past 50 years.  We have an African-American president, but at the same only 10% of children’s picture books have main characters of color.

As I share this book with my students I hope that we can continue the conversation and wonder if they will make the changes that will make Dr. King’s words ring true?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Picking the First Read Aloud of the Year!

In the past I have written about the importance of the read aloud in the classroom, so I’m not going to repeat the reasons why it must be mandatory in school.  Instead I’m going to focus on picking the first read aloud of the year.  The beginning of the year is filled with setting up rituals and routines, and community building.  It should go without saying that without these students cannot learn.  The first read aloud is the keystone to the success of the school year.

There are many teachers that read the same book at the beginning of each year.  Over the years they have found a book that they love and they stick with it.  I don’t have a problem with this, but I try to find a book that is new to me and to the kids.  Sounds easy?  There are hundreds of books published each year. It is far from easy. Wonder, Twerp, and TheTerrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket are a few I would read aloud to older middle grades; yet I have really struggled the last two years to find that perfect read aloud for third grade.   Last year I read Golden and Grey by Louise Arnold, for a second, which is a wonderful story to have community discussions about being new, an outsider, and bullying. 

Why is it so hard?  At The Year of Reading Franki eloquently writes about picking a book that will help the students grow. Talk about pressure.  In this horrid era of high stakes testing, education, as a whole, has lost its way through the forest.  Finding that perfect data tree has taken away from the beauty of the forest.  This past Sunday there was an essay in the NewYork Times Book Review by Terry Eicher entitled One Book In… A 20-year search for a beloved children’s story.  “The best part of sixth grade at Grady Elementary School in Houston, in 1960, was after lunch when Mrs. Wise stood in front of the classroom and opened a red book and read a few pages aloud.”  Dr. Eicher goes on to write about how he spent 20 years looking for a copy of one of the books Mrs. Wise read to her class.  He eventually found a copy at a used bookstore in New Haven Ct. When he took it to the desk to buy it he was worried the owner would “smell his eagerness”.  Dr. Eicher writes “I told him that I had been searching for this book for more than 20 years (most of my life, then!), he looked chagrined.  I reassured him: No value, really.  My own quirk.  A teacher read it to me a long time ago.”  “A teacher read it to me a long time ago. “ The power in this short sentence.   Talk about a perfect example of a book that helps a student grow.

As I prepare to start a new school year, at a new school, I have narrowed down the list to four or five books for the honor of being the first read aloud.  I still have a couple more weeks, so something different may make it to the top.   I am confident that when I open the cover of that book, and begin reading that I will plant the seeds that will help our community grow.