In celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day: Celebrating Diversity in Children's Literature, I am giving away two sets of two multicultural children's books! You can enter below. Winners will be announced on my Facebook page on Tuesday, January 28th!
A More Complete Understanding
How much of a difference does it make when you hear both sides of a story? What impact does that have on your perception of the event? It can be huge, right? It can change your opinion of what is right and what is wrong. It can modify your reaction. It can alter your response.
When I became an official blogger for Multicultural Children’s Book Day: Celebrating Diversity in Children's Literature, the thing I was most excited about (besides helping to promote great multicultural books of course!) was being matched with one of the sponsors to review a book. I found out that I was being connected with Wisdom Tales Press, and I couldn’t wait to see which book I’d be receiving from them!
Well, my package arrived last week. I tore into it and this was the book inside:
I have to tell you, I was not a history buff during my school-aged years. I did not find history very interesting nor important (other than the fact that I'd be tested on it, in which case my type A personality required me to pay attention so that I'd do well on the test!) Now that I am formally educating our children at home though, I find history fascinating! I am finally able to put all these fragments of historical accounts into a unified global story. It's amazing!
I am always looking for good books that will give us the "other" side of the story in our study of history. As you know, too often in our American and World history books the accounts are written from a White man or person's point of view. I want our children to hear the side of women, of religious minorities, and of racial minorities. I want them to understand the side of the oppressor and the oppressed. I want them to know that our world and what happens in it is not black and white, cut and dry, but is complex and interconnected. I don't want them wondering where the people of color are, nor do I want them to see all people of color as either "barbarians" or "savages" as American Indians are too often portrayed in history, or as helpless victims as African Americans are too often portrayed in historical accounts. I want them to hear the voices of all involved, as often as we can.
So, Custer's Last Battle: Red Hawk's Account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn came to me as a gift. The battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, was a battle between the Cheyenne and Lakota (or Sioux) tribes and General George Custer and his soldiers along the banks of the Little Bighorn River in Eastern Montana during the American Civil War. It was a great victory for the Cheyenne and Sioux, but a victory that would unfortunately prove to be the last in their struggle to maintain their freedom and way of life. In this book, Paul Goble retells the events through a fictionalized character named Red Hawk, a fifteen year old Oglala Sioux. Goble has taken great care in writing this story so that it reflects the stories that he's read from the accounts told by numerous Native Americans. The authenticity of this story is solidified by the forward in the book, written by Joe Medicine Crow, whose grandfather was one of Custer's Crow scouts. At 98 years of age, he has met and talked with many of the survivors of this great battle. The book also includes a map, a detailed forward, and a resource list in the back for further reading.
This was a very good book - well written and illustrated in great detail. It is also an important book, for it tells the "other" side of the story like I want my children, and all children, to know. Thank you, Wisdom Tales Press!
For more information on Multicultural Children's Book Day which is on January 27th, please click on the link. There you will find dozens of book reviews on other great multicultural children's books! MCCBD is being sponsored by Wisdom Tales Press as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, but also by Lee & Low Books, Chronicle Books, and Susan Daniel Fayad, author of My Grandfather's Masbaha.
If you'd like to know more about why and how to teach the perspective of the native people of this country, a teaching resource that I highly recommend for ALL teachers and parents is Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson.
"Why rethink Christopher Columbus? Because the Columbus myth is a foundation of children's beliefs about society. Columbus is often a child's first lesson about encounters between different cultures and races. The murky legend of a brave adventurer tells children whose version of history to accept, and whose to ignore." - summary of the book off of the Rethinking Schools website.
Piggy-backing off of the Columbus theme for a moment, a great book to help children understand the difference between embracing newness or embracing fear of the unknown is Milo and Mysterious Island by Marcus Pfister. This book starts out with Milo and some of his friends going off to explore a nearby island. The book then splits into two horizontally, so that you can read what happens when Milo and his fellow explorers are open to learning about a new group of mice, and what happens when they follow their fears. A very powerful book that leads to great discussions!
To extend the learning about Custer's Last Stand, check out this series of short podcasts by The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument: http://www.nps.gov/libi/photosmultimedia/multimedia.htm. To round out this topic even further, two books that I'd recommend, both written by Joseph Bruchac and published by Lee & Low are:
So starting on this first annual Multicultural Children's Book Day, let's commit to making the conscious effort to seek out and share books that help us and our students understand ourselves, our neighbors, and our history more completely!
Disclosure: I received Custer's Last Stand from Wisdom Tales Press for the purposes of a review. The opinions are entirely my own.
Do you know how excited I was when I first discovered that there is going to be a Multicultural Children's Book Day?? This ingenious idea was co-created by Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press. Their mission: Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.
The inaugural Multicultural Children's Book Day: Celebrating Diversity in Children's Literature is going to be on January 27, 2014. I am honored to be one of the official bloggers taking part in this celebration! Bloggers all over the country will be participating by posting book reviews, hosting give-aways, sharing activities, etc. so that parents and teachers have tools to celebrate this day with the children in their care!
There are wonderful sponsors for this event as well! The main sponsors are Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, Chronicle Books, and Susan Daniel Fayad: Author of My Grandfather’s Masbaha. I am a huge fan of Lee & Low Books already, which you can see by the number of their books I recommend in my multicultural book list! I am eager to get to know the other sponsors as well!
So, I hope you will join me in "Celebrating Diversity in Children's Literature" on January 27th! But more importantly, my hope is that you'll be inspired to infuse your homes, classrooms, and libraries with great multicultural books! Stay tuned for all sorts of related posts in the coming days!
Let's Talk About Race
Race is not an easy thing to talk about with children. Or with anyone, really.
What is race?
Here is the definition according to Merriam-Webster:
Definition of RACE
1 : a breeding stock of animals
2 a : a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock
b : a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics
3 a : an actually or potentially interbreeding group within a species;
also : a taxonomic category (as a subspecies) representing such a group
b : breed
c : a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits
4 obsolete : inherited temperament or disposition
5 : distinctive flavor, taste, or strength
(Personally I think my favorite is #5! I'm picturing it describing all the different ethnic groups of people and it's niiice! - You have to read it and say it with some flair in order to understand what I mean!)
Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D, in her book, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?," And Other Conversations About Race, states that "race is a social construction. Despite myths to the contrary, biologists tell us that the only meaningful racial categorization is that of human. Van den Berghe defines race as, "a group that is socially defined but on the basis of physical criteria," including skin color and facial features." (For more information, see the notes and bibliography in Tatum's book. Or ask me, and I'll share the references with you!)
We began talking about race in our family when our now nine year old son was three. He was keenly aware at this young age that his skin color was different than ours, and he was uncomfortable with this. We frequently told him his adoption story and explained how his birth parents had brown skin which is why he has brown skin. Around this time is when I began reading Tatum's book, mentioned above (and pictured below.)
In it Tatum relates a story about a conversation she had with one of her sons. Her son came home from preschool one day and said, "Eddie says my skin is brown because I drink too much chocolate milk. Is that true?" Tatum answered, "No, your skin is brown because you have something in your skin called melanin. Melanin is very important because it helps protect your skin from the sun. Eddie has melanin in his skin, too. Remember when Eddie went to Florida on vacation and came back showing everybody his tan? It was the melanin in his skin that made it get darker. Everybody has melanin, you know. But some people have more of it than others. At your school, you are the kid with the most!" I loved that! I explained to our son about melanin, and it seemed to help him understand more about skin color.
Once you start talking about skin color, a conversation about race is sure to follow soon, as it did in our case. A White person's skin is not actually white, it's a shade of peach or beige. A Black person's skin is not actually black, it's a shade of brown. Tatum does what I think is a superb job talking to her preschool aged son about this, which then unexpectedly led her to an (excellent, in my opinion) age-appropriate explanation of slavery. In it she not only gives her son a brief history of slavery in our country, but also touches on Black and White resistance, so as not to portray all Blacks as victims nor all Whites as victimizers. (So important! This was the first time I had ever thought about that.) This idea can then be applied when talking to your children and/or students about any race relations.
I could go on and on about the greatness and importance of this book! Tatum talks about racial identity formation in the early childhood years, through adolescence, and into adulthood. She addresses "Understanding Blackness in a White Context" as well as "Understanding Whiteness in a White Context." She also discusses "Critical Issues in Latino, American Indian, and Asian Pacific American Identity Development" and "Identity Development in Multiracial Families," including in adoptive families. This is a book that would benefit all parents and teachers to read - I highly recommend it!
Now, going back to the skin color conversations, there is a beautiful book entitled "Tan to Tamarind: poems about the color brown." In it Malathi Michelle Iyengar and Jamel Akib not only portray the beauty of the various tones of the color brown, but also the beauty of being a child, a person, of that color. I just love the last poem and want to share an excerpt with you to give you a taste of what lies within the book:
or coca brown,
café con leche brown or
radiant ocher brown.
Our hands, our fingers.
or rich coffee brown,
sandalwood brown or
rosy adobe brown....
We are brown. We are beautiful.
Another book I recommend along these lines is "Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea" by Joyce Carol Thomas.
With either of these books, you could have your elementary aged children write a poem about themselves modeled after or inspired by one of the poems. That's what I had our son and I do when we read them this past fall. I was surprised (and so happy) with how much effort our son put into his, and how beautifully it turned out. (I wanted our daughter to draw a picture of herself in response to listening to the poems, but she was being her strong willed self at the moment and I decided not to push it. She played with Legos on the floor instead.)
"Skin Again" by Bell Hooks is another great book to open up or further a discussion on skin color and race! It rhythmically illustrates how the skin we are in only tells a small piece about who we are. It's what is underneath our skin that truly matters, who we are in our hearts and in our minds, celebrating the stories of who we each are. "The skin I'm in is just a covering. It cannot tell my story. The skin I'm in is just a covering. If you want to know who I am, you have got to come inside and open your heart way wide."
And now if you are still hanging with me, I've saved the best for last! This is a phenomenal must-read book! It received a star review from School Library Journal, and instead of creating my own summary, I'm just going to use theirs as I couldn't have said it better!:
"This stunning picture book introduces race as just one of many chapters in a person's story. Beginning with the line, "I am a story," Lester tells his own story with details that kids will enjoy, like his favorite food, hobbies, and time of day. Then he states, "Oh. There's something else that is part of my story…I'm black." Throughout the narrative, he asks questions that young readers can answer, creating a dialogue about who they are and encouraging them to tell their own tales. He also discusses "stories" that are not always true, pointing out that we create prejudice by perceiving ourselves as better than others. He asks children to press their fingers against their faces, pointing out, "Beneath everyone's skin are the same hard bones." Remove our skin and we would all look the same. Lester's engaging tone is just right and his words are particularly effective, maintaining readers' interest and keeping them from becoming defensive. The pairing of text and dazzling artwork is flawless. The paintings blend with the words and extend them, transporting readers away from a mundane viewpoint and allowing them to appreciate a common spiritual identity. This wonderful book should be a first choice for all collections and is strongly recommended as a springboard for discussions about differences." - Mary Hazelton, Warren Community School and Miller Elementary School, ME
Race is not an easy subject to talk about, but one that is important to talk about none the less. I believe we should talk about it early on with our children, so that it feels natural to them, unlike how it feels to most of us. I can attest that it's getting easier the more we do it, and I'm so grateful that there are wonderful picture books out there to guide our family discussions, as well as great books out there like Beverley Tatum's to inform us and give more context and shape to the discussions we'll have with our kids. Please share in the comment section what books you've used in your family and/or classroom, and let's get started (or continue) talking about race!
Dolls from Around the World!
Our daughter is six years old and has never really been into dolls. She came home to us when she was two, and immediately had all these exciting toys competing for her attention. We had a couple of dolls waiting for her, but what interested her the most were the toys being played with by her new older brother! Legos, Duplos, trains, cars, blocks, action figures, etc. were way more interesting to her than a doll that didn't do anything. So even though I had carefully chosen a beautiful handmade doll for her even before we knew she was to be our daughter (and actually even before we knew we were having a daughter!), what she wanted was what her brother had. Her dolls have sat on a shelf for most of the last few years, until this summer when she started playing with one of them intermittently. My hope piqued a bit. I'm all for her playing with cars, blocks, and action figures, and encourage it in fact (Why does our society as a whole insist on genderizing toys??), but I so enjoyed playing with dolls as a girl and wanted her to experience some of that joy, too.
About a month ago I read a posting on Facebook from an acquaintance of mine about dolls that were from different countries. Immediately my interest was piqued. (How often does one get to use the word piqued, and I just used it twice in one sitting! Now three times!) I asked her for more information about them and here is the site: http://hearts4heartsgirls.com/. Finding dolls (baby dolls, doll house dolls, Playmobil, action figures) that have brown skin is easier than it used to be, but finding dolls that are from particular cultural or ethnic backgrounds is much more difficult. To my delight, Playmate Toys has partnered with World Vision to create beautiful, multicultural dolls from around the world!
The dolls are supposed to be around ten years of age and have a story that goes with them, modeled after real girls from her country of origin. There is a doll from Laos, India, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Mexico, Belarus, Brazil, and then three from the USA, one of them being Native American. (I wish it said which tribe she was from, but that's another posting for another day!) And if the concept of these dolls isn't enough to grab your attention, the price will be! They can be found at many major retailers around the country for less than $25! Compare that with the price of American Girl dolls!
Well, I decided to try the doll thing one more time with our daughter. When we were at the store together a few weeks ago I brought her down the doll aisle and showed her these dolls. She grabbed the girl from Afghanistan, held the box tight to her chest, and begged me to buy it! (Sold!) After much talk, she reluctantly agreed to put the doll back with her friends on the shelf, and then my husband and I went back to the store later that week and bought one for her for Christmas!
Our daughter still prefers Legos over doll's leggings, but she is enjoying her beautiful new doll very much!
A New Year, a New Focus!
I'm excited to expand my website to include this blog where I'll be sharing resources, thoughts, and experiences that my family and I have as my husband and I choose to parent and teach our children multiculturally! I welcome all suggestions about books, music, toys, educational materials, etc. for me to review. I hope this site becomes a resource for teachers and parents who are committed to raising children to become global citizens!