I am an elementary school librarian in an urban setting in Massachusetts. Through the work of creating a more representative and inclusive library collection for my students, I learned a lot about the politics of the publishing industry, the accepted institutional racism and purposeful exclusion of communities in books and that we should be outraged at the continued disenfranchisement of our children.
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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Digging In: Dear Primo: A Letter To My Cousin

Dear Primo: A Letter To My Cousin, by Duncan Tonatiuh

In grades 1 and 2 students begin to study letter writing. Of course, Ezra Jack Keats's "A Letter to Amy" is a classic, and the newly published, "The Crayon Box That Talked" is a hoot. But, Dear Primo adds another dimension to the conversation.

The author and illustrator, Duncan Tonatiuh, celebrates the unique and special cultures of both Mexico and the United States. As a citizen of both countries, he is uniquely seated to do so.Two cousins, one in Mexico and one in New York, write each other letters about what they eat, what they like to do on weekends and their favorite games to play. At the end of the book, each cousin wants to visit the other and share in his experiences.

The illustration in this book is quite unique. The characters are only drawn in profile, reminiscent of native Mexican art. The illustrator also uses photographs and collage to ultimately create a one of a kind visual experience. Students will definitely want to view these pictures up close.

Please be sure to include the author's note in your read aloud. Tonatiuh describes his experiences growing up in San Miguel and Western Massachusetts. He ends his note with the following:

"I am both Mexican and American (literally; I have two passports), and what I've discovered is that despite the apparent differences between these two countries- the buildings, the food, the day-to-day routines, physical appearances, the politics- at the end of the day, we are more similar than different. People are people."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Digging In: When I Was Eight (Back to School Edition)

Welcome back to a new school year! I am excited to dig back into work in my school's library. With the beginning of the year comes the happy task of matching books to curriculum and choosing stories that will pique interest, start conversations and offer windows into worlds perhaps different than our own.

When I Was Eight, by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (Based on "Fatty Legs")

I adore this book for many reasons. I love the illustration, the resilience and focus of Olemaun, the female protagonist, the language the author uses and the general inspiration it gives my students at the beginning of the year.

I chose this book as the first read aloud I did with grade 4 this year. In grade 3 students are introduced to our state's native population and begin to develop an understanding of colonialism. With this background knowledge, I am able to introduce this book, and Olemaun as an Inuit girl. In the story, she refers to "the outsiders", Catholic Europeans that run the schools.  Olemaun is determined to learn to read, as her older sister had done before, but her father is hesitant to send her to the Catholic school with good reason, but succumbs to his daughter's pleas.

Upon arrival, Olemaun's braids were cut, her l clothes removed and her name taken, she was given a new one- Margaret. What Olemaun went through to learn to read was unimaginable to many of our students. The most common reactions from the students I see are cries of unfairness and disbelief. This book can be used to lead discussion on education as a right or privilege. While no school may seem like a great idea at times to students (especially if summer was super fun), what would they ultimately lose? How far would you go for the ability to read?

"I was Olemaun, conqueror of evil, reader of books.
 I was a girl who traveled to a strange and faraway land to stand against a tyrant like Alice. 
And like Alice, I was brave, clever and as unyeilding as the strong stone that sharpens the ulu.

I finally knew this, like I knew many things, because now I could read."