Brave Acceptance

Think back to a book you have read that was so absorbing, so beautiful that it made you want to be a participant in the story. I often feel like I want to befriend a character in a book that I am reading, but it is rare for me to wish that I could just pack up and move to live within a fictitious community. Reading The Brave by James Bird was definitely one of these rare experiences.

The book begins with Collin, the main character, being expelled from yet another school in California. In what seems to be a not uncommon scenario in today’s schools, Collin has been asked to leave because he is being bullied. You read that right, Collin is the one being bullied. He is unable to respond in conversations without counting the letters in words that someone has spoken to him and beginning his own speech by reporting on that number. Collin can’t control this compulsion-it is painful for him not to announce the numbers- but everyone, including his father, is annoyed by the counting. Collin lives with his dad and hasn’t seen his mom since he was an infant. So finding out that he is going to live with her on a Native American reservation in Minnesota is a bit of a surprise.

From the moment he arrives, though, Collin finds belonging and acceptance. While there are still bullies at school, he has people to come home to who see his counting as just something that he has to deal with and not as something that is wrong with him. It is a stumbling block that he will get past when and if he is meant to. In the meantime, he is exactly who he is supposed to be. It isn’t just Collin’s family who sees him this way, it is also the wildly wonderful young woman who lives next door. She spends most of her time in a treehouse where she paints and feeds members of her family (many of whom happen to be butterflies).

This hints at the mysticism that is included in the book, but I would shy away from using words like fantasy or magic. There are ghosts and metamorphoses, but they are handled so gently by Bird that none of it ever seems unbelievable. These parts of the story always feel right; like nothing else could be so real or justified. Collin helps us to accept these elements because they are also so new to him. Near the beginning of the book, Collin asks his mom if all of her feelings and intuitions are a “Native American thing” and she responds by pointing out that he, too, is Native American. The way we see the world might be influenced by our cultural backgrounds, but in the end it is always up to us. We choose how we view ourselves, each other, and the events that shape our world.

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

Identity 4: I express pride and confidence in my identity without perceiving or treating anyone else as inferior.

Diversity 8: I respectfully express curiosity about the history and lived experiences of others and exchange ideas and beliefs in an open-minded way.

Diversity 9: I relate to and build connections with other people by showing them empathy, respect and understanding, regardless of our similarities or differences.

Common Core Standards:

RL.2- Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

RL.3- Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

Elevating Black Voices to Support Black Lives

I don’t know what to do or what to say. All I know is that doing and saying nothing is indefensible. Lately, I have been hearing so many people say that actions speak louder than words. This is often true. Still, I believe that words are powerful and that stories can change people’s hearts and minds. The action that I can take today is to lift the voices of individuals who have lived and are living Black lives. Because Black lives are beautiful. Black lives are honorable. BLACK LIVES MATTER.

(I know this list is woefully short. It represents only a few of the voices that need to be lifted. Please share more with each other, with your students, and with me.)

Picture Books:

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis written by Jabari Asim and illustrated by E.B. Lewis

The Undefeated written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Hair Love written by Matthew A. Cherry and illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Little Leaders and Little Legends written and illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Let’s Talk about Race written by Julius Lester and illustrated by Karen Barbour

Julian is a Mermaid written and illustrated by Jessica Love

Don’t Touch My Hair! written and illustrated by Sharee Miller

Thank You, Omu! written and illustrated by Oge Mora

Wings written and illustrated by Christopher Myers

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Coretta Scott written by Ntozake Shange and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World written by Charles R. Smith Jr. and illustrated by Shane Evans

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills written by Renee Watson and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Ekua Holmes

This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by James Ransome

Middle Grade:

Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

The Watson’s Go to Birmingham and many other books by Christopher Paul Curtis

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Ghost (Book 1 of the Track series) by Jason Reynolds

The Land (entire Logan family saga) by Mildred D. Taylor

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi

Young Adult:

Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess

We are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson with Tonya Bolden (and other works by Tonya Bolden)

Little and Lion and other works by Brandy Colbert

Tyler Johnson was Here by Jay Coles

Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Christian Gill

Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes

Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson

A Certain October and anything else written by Angela Johnson

How it Went Down and other works by Kekla Magoon

How I Discovered Poetry written by Marilyn Nelson with illustrations by Hadley Hooper

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty written by G. Neri and illustrated by Randy DuBurke

When I Was the Greatest and all other works by Jason Reynolds

Dear Martin and other books by Nic Stone

On the Come Up and other works by Angie Thomas

If You Come Softly and other works by Jacqueline Woodson

American Street and other books by Ibi Zoboi

Who Tells the Story

In Color Me In, by Natasha Díaz, issues of belonging and advocacy are contemplated at the deepest of levels. The story begins with Nevaeh Levitz’s introduction to Harlem, where she is now living with her mom’s family, whose Liberian and Jamaican, Baptist background differs significantly from her father’s Ashkenazi Jewish one. Nevaeh has never really felt like she fit in anywhere. She isn’t white, like the overwhelming majority of students at her suburban private school, but she is also made to feel like she isn’t Black, both by her white peers and her Black cousin.

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Being Together While We Are Apart

Around the world right now, we all have something in common; being kept apart. While some places around the world are starting to return to something resembling normal, there is a sense of insecurity that comes from being around other people. In the time of a global pandemic, it becomes even more important for us to teach children about our common bond as a global community. If we don’t, we risk becoming more divided than we were before COVID-19.

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Sticking Together

Most of the recently published material that I read comes from the library and, at least right now, I haven’t been making as many library trips as I used to. This has afforded me the opportunity to revisit some of my favorite books from the past that reside on bookshelves at home. One rediscovered treasure is The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristin Levine, which was published in 2009. Oddly enough, this book takes place in Alabama from the summer of 1917 through the summer of 1918, including one short portion of the Flu Pandemic to which our current coronavirus crisis is being compared. That, however, is not the main focus of Levine’s story.

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A Sporting Chance

** Thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the opportunity to review an Advance Reader Copy. This book will be available for purchase on April 7, 2020.

The world is currently in the midst of a pandemic, which has prohibited many sports teams from competing or even practicing. This might not seem like the perfect time for a book about sports to be released. Still, I think it is the perfect time for this book about sports. Social distancing had a different meaning to soldiers with spinal cord injuries after World War I. They were seen as a lost cause and were given little help, even from the medical community, to survive. A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic Games, written by Lori Alexander and illustrated by Allan Drummond, tells the story of one doctor who refused to accept the status quo and upended society’s beliefs about disability in general.

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A Literary Celebration of Eid

**Thank you to NetGalley and ABRAMS Kids for the opportunity to review this Advance Reader Copy. This book will be released on May 5, 2020.

When I was younger, one of my favorite parts of the Jewish holidays were all of the books and stories that went along with them. Hanukkah was one holiday with endless books that I enjoyed, but one of my favorites was While the Candles Burn: Eight Stories for Hanukkah by Barbara Diamond Goldin. I think I liked this book so much because it had eight stories, each one different and each one representing a different Jewish experience. Once Upon an Eid, edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, includes 15 stories of one of the most joyous celebrations of the year for Muslims around the world. It reminded me of reading While the Candles Burn because it shares many stories of a diverse community of people all celebrating the same holiday in different ways.

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Revolutionary Love

Many of us grew up with Sonia Manzano. We just didn’t know it. To us, for 44 years, she was Maria and she lived on Sesame Street. However, Sonia Manzano is much more than the television character she portrayed (as wonderful and iconic as that character continues to be). One of the many aspects of Manzano’s life that we might be less familiar with, even as educators, is her writing. Manzano has written several books for children and young adults, the first being The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano which is a Pura Belpre Honor Book of 2013.

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Progress in Fits and Starts

It is 2020 and one of the prospective Democratic candidates for the presidency of the United States is an openly gay man. Not only that, he kinda, maybe, sort-of won the Iowa caucuses (sorry about all of the confusion, by the way). This can be hard to reconcile with the fact that forty-six years and two months ago, homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. How far we have come and how far we have to go.

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History for Every Month

To me, it seems important that we have sections of the year that are dedicated to the history of marginalized communities. This provides one more “nudge” to encourage teachers to make sure that these communities are included in our instruction. However, these months or weeks devoted to the study of particular identity groups come with a risk that students will compartmentalize these events and individuals separately from what they consider to be “history”.

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