Build Your Stack: #Blackgirlmagic: Adding a Little More Sparkle to Your Bookshelves

This blog post was written by NCTE member Christian Hines. It’s part of Build Your Stack,® an NCTE initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. Build Your Stack® provides a forum for contributors to share books from their classroom experience; inclusion in a blog post does not imply endorsement or promotion of specific books by NCTE.

COVID-19 is not the only pandemic that has been taking centerstage in the media outlets and in our classrooms. Racism still sits like a festering wound with a bandaid that refuses to stay on. But what does this mean for educators? What does this mean for our current and future students? How can we ensure that they can feel seen, heard, and valued in society?
Thinking particularly about Black girls, whose names and experiences are often forgotten and not centered in discussions of racial violence and silencing, how might we use literature for what Rudine Sims Bishop conceptualizes as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors into new worlds?
As educators, we know that diverse literature promotes perspective taking and social/emotional learning and critical engagement in student voice and activism. But what does it mean to have a classroom truly representative, inclusive, and equitable of diverse experiences? Of Black girlhood experiences? What might it mean to have a space where students read and engage in literature that pushes beyond racial tensions and political consumptions?
This is not to dismiss books that focus on those topics because those stories are important too, but they are not the totality of the Black experience. What about a story about a multilayered, nuanced character who is discovering herself during the exciting yet awkward time of becoming a teenager?
If students are able to imagine and empathize with a young wizard living in a cupboard under the stairs, is it so impossible to imagine that they can do the same for a Black girl who dreams up a world where she is an intergalactic space cadet, like Ebony in Ibi Zoboi’s My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich? Do we make room in our classrooms to center Black joy, while providing students from other cultural and ethnic backgrouns a window and sliding glass door of their Black peers’ experiences?
Immersing and engaging in literature that centers Black girls can have impacts that extend far beyond the classroom. Georgetown Law’s  2017 data driven study “Girlhood Interrupted,” concluded that Black girls “ are seen as less innocent and more adult like than their white peers”(Epstein, Blake & Gonzalez, 2017) This is commonly referred to as adultification bias. When our students, especially our Black girl students everyday experiences are devalued and erased it negatively impacts their identity and their education and reifies negative and often racist perceptions of their bodies and lives.
Having students read about Black girls and the multilayered ways they appear in literature helps (re)shape positive societal views and fighting against adultification bias. Students are able to make connections, understand commonalities, and appreciate cultural differences as opposed to engaging in “othering.” The notion of “othering” can be combatted by counter storytelling and including silenced stories that give voice and agency to a demographic that is typically marginalized and misrepresented. These untold counter stories are being told, they are just rarely amplified. Giving our students access challenges them to think critically and holistically about the everyday lives of those around them.
Books that show Black girls and the daily lived experiences of childhood often grapple with topics like beauty, identity, mental health, familial bonds, coming of age, falling in love, and friendship. The characters in these books are bakers, advocates, game developers, scientists, writers. They are portrayed as real human people experiencing human emotions, trials, and tribulations. However, they exist in a world that sees race and gender before they can visualize an actual person. It is our duty to help or students have access to stories and perspectives that aid in creating a truly anti-racist society.
Some benefits of introducing these books into the classroom are:

Cultural visibility
Co-constructing antiracist spaces free of bias
Promoting empathy
Challenging stereotypes and assumptions
Expanding student’s awareness of the world

We do our students a disservice by not allowing them a chance to interact with these and other books that can provide them with opportunities to deconstruct any narrow ideas or assumptions they may have about Black girls and Black people.
Listed below are some books to look into to add some Black girl magic to your shelves!

Middle Grade
Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson
Ryan Hart can be and do anything. Her name means “king”, that she is a leader, and she is determined to keep growing into the name her parents gave her. She is all about trying to see the best in people, to be a good daughter, sister, and friend. But Ryan has a lot on her mind. For instance: Dad finally has a new job, but money is still tight. That means some changes, like moving into a new (old) house, and Dad working the night shift. And with the fourth-grad talent show coming up, Ryan wonders what talent she can perform on stage in front of everyone without freezing. As even more changes and challenges come her way, Ryan always finds a way forward and shows she is a girl who knows how to glow.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
Makeda June Kirkland is eleven years old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much, Makeda often feels left out. When Makeda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena— the only other adopted black girl she knows— for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Makeda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore and at school, she can’t seem to find one real friend.Through it all, Makeda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence. What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. Things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show. But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi
Twelve-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet has lived with her beloved grandfather Jeremiah in Huntsville, Alabama ever since she was little. As one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA, Jeremiah has nurtured Ebony-Grace’s love for all things outer space and science fiction—especially Star Wars and Star Trek. But in the summer of 1984, when trouble arises with Jeremiah, it’s decided she’ll spend a few weeks with her father in Harlem.
Harlem is an exciting and terrifying place for a sheltered girl from Hunstville, and Ebony-Grace’s first instinct is to retreat into her imagination. But soon 126th Street begins to reveal that it has more in common with her beloved sci-fi adventures than she ever thought possible, and by summer’s end, Ebony-Grace discovers that Harlem has a place for a girl whose eyes are always on the stars.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime? A crime he says he never committed. Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.) But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what? Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum. Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn’t face her fear, she’ll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.

Blended by Sharon Draper
Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.
Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels completely stuck in the middle, split and divided between them more than ever. And she is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad involves more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?” And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?
It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst thing happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
 
Young Adult
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor. But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington. The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
In a society determined to keep her under lock and key, Tavia must hide her siren powers. Meanwhile, Effie is fighting her own family struggles, pitted against literal demons from her past. Together, these best friends must navigate through the perils of high school’s junior year. But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice at the worst possible moment. Soon, nothing in Portland, Oregon, seems safe. To save themselves from drowning, it’s only Tavia and Effie’s unbreakable sisterhood that proves to be the strongest magic of all.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Who Put This Song On? By Morgan Parker
Trapped in sunny, stifling, small-town suburbia, seventeen-year-old Morgan knows why she’s in therapy. She can’t count the number of times she’s been the only non-white person at the sleepover, been teased for her “weird” outfits, and been told she’s not “really” black. Also, she’s spent most of her summer crying in bed. So there’s that, too. Lately, it feels like the whole world is listening to the same terrible track on repeat–and it’s telling them how to feel, who to vote for, what to believe. Morgan wonders, when can she turn this song off and begin living for herself?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert
Marva Sheridan was born ready for this day. She’s always been driven to make a difference in the world, and what better way than to vote in her first election? Duke Crenshaw is so done with this election. He just wants to get voting over with so he can prepare for his band’s first paying gig tonight. Only problem? Duke can’t vote. When Marva sees Duke turned away from their polling place, she takes it upon herself to make sure his vote is counted. She hasn’t spent months doorbelling and registering voters just to see someone denied their right. And that’s how their whirlwind day begins, rushing from precinct to precinct, cutting school, waiting in endless lines, turned away time and again, trying to do one simple thing: vote. They may have started out as strangers, but as Duke and Marva team up to beat a rigged system (and find Marva’s missing cat), it’s clear that there’s more to their connection than a shared mission for democracy.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Color Me In by Natasha Díaz
Growing up in an affluent suburb of New York City, sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial roots. When her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom’s family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time. Nevaeh wants to get to know her extended family, but because she inadvertently passes as white, her cousin thinks she’s too privileged, pampered, and selfish to relate to the injustices African Americans face on a daily basis. In the meantime, Nevaeh’s dad decides that she should have a belated bat mitzvah instead of a sweet sixteen, which guarantees social humiliation at her posh private school. But rather than take a stand, Nevaeh does what she’s always done when life gets complicated: she stays silent. Only when Nevaeh stumbles upon a secret from her mom’s past, finds herself falling in love, and sees firsthand the prejudice her family faces does she begin to realize she has her own voice. And choices. Will she continue to let circumstances dictate her path? Or will she decide once for all who and where she is meant to be?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
A Love Hate Thing by Whitney D. Grandison
Despite having been shot, Tyson Trice has survived the mean streets of Lindenwood, so nothing can faze him—not even being tossed into the affluent coastal community of Pacific Hills. Nandy Smith, the golden girl of Pacific Hills, is not pleased when she hears her parents are taking in a troubled teen boy. Nandy suddenly fears her summer plans, as well as her reputation, will go up in flames. The wall between Trice and Nandy’s bedrooms feels as thin as the line between love and hate. Through time, Trice brings Nandy out of her shell, and Nandy attempts to melt the ice that’s taken over Trice’s heart. Only, with the ever-present pull back to the Lindenwood streets, it’ll be a wonder if Trice makes it through this summer at all.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
 Slay by Brittney Morris
By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend. But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.” Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
Alaine Beauparlant has heard about Haiti all her life. But the stories were always passed down from her dad—and her mom, when she wasn’t too busy with her high-profile newscaster gig. But when Alaine’s life goes a bit sideways, it’s time to finally visit Haiti herself. What she learns about Haiti’s proud history as the world’s first black republic (with its even prouder people) is one thing, but what she learns about her own family is another. Suddenly, the secrets Alaine’s mom has been keeping, including a family curse that has spanned generations, can no longer be avoided. It’s a lot to handle, without even mentioning that Alaine is also working for her aunt’s nonprofit, which sends underprivileged kids to school and boasts one annoyingly charming intern. But if anyone can do it all . . . it’s Alaine.
Annotation is from the Bookshop webpage.

Graphic Novels
 Ironheart Vol 1: Those with Courage by Eve Ewing
Riri Williams steps boldly out of Tony Stark’s shadow to forge her own future! Caught between her need for independence and her obligations at M.I.T., Ironheart needs to make some tough decisions! Luckily, Riri has a will of steel, a heart of iron and a new A.I. on her side! Unluckily, the search for a kidnapped friend will send her stumbling into an ancient power — and it’s deadly! Plus: When Miles Morales goes missing, who better to search for him than his fellow Champion, Riri — who he’s never actually gotten along with that well!
Annotation is from the Marvel Comics webpage. 
 Shuri, Vol 1: The Search for Black Panther by Nnedi Okorafor
T’Challa has disappeared, and everyone is looking at the next in line for the throne. Wakanda expects Shuri to take on the mantle of Black Panther once more and lead their great nation—but she’s happiest in a lab, surrounded by her own inventions. She’d rather be testing gauntlets than throwing them down! So it’s time for Shuri to go rescue her brother yet again—with a little help from Storm, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, of course! But when her outer-space adventure puts the entire cultural history of her continent at risk from an energy-sapping alien threat, can Shuri and Iron Man save Africa?
Annotation is from the Marvel Comics webpage. 
 Moon Girl and the Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 1: BFF by Amy Reeder and Brandon Monteclare
Lunella Lafayette is a preteen super genius who wants to change the world-but learned the hard way that it takes MORE than just big brains. Fearful of the monstrous INHUMAN genes inside her, life is turned upside down when a savage, red-scaled tyrant is teleported from prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call TODAY.
Annotation is from the Marvel Comics webpage. 

Christian Hines is a doctoral student and instructor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University. She is a former high school English teacher who believes in the transformative power of reading and in exposing students to a wide array of multicultural literature, engaging them in culturally inclusive reading materials, and empowering them with mentorship and community building. Twitter handle: @Mshines831. 

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

Celebrate Pride Month with NCTE Resources

June is Pride Month, when cities across the US show support for LGBTQIA rights, culture, and communities. In the late 1970s, NCTE began to chart a path forward by insisting that as an organization we had to have a more substantive focus and concentrated attention on inclusion. Read more about our Legacy of Pride here.
Years ago, NCTE created a Resolution on Strengthening Teacher Knowledge of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Issues at the Annual Convention in New York. 
These NCTE “Guidelines for Affirming Gender Diversity through ELA Curriculum and Pedagogy“ support ELA educators as they guide their students, as well as their colleagues, to understand, expect, and embrace gender diversity. They present the historical background of this work; key concepts for discussing gender and gender diversity; current trends in schools and ELA classrooms; recommendations for teacher preparation, curriculum, and pedagogy; and resource lists for students, teachers, and teacher educators.
“The more that educators can work to ensure that LGBTQIA topics are the norm, the safer our students feel, and the greater everyone’s opportunities for success.” Read additional suggestions in “More Than Inclusive Lessons and Diverse Books: How Literacy Teachers Can Support LGBTQIA Students.”
“Teachers as Change Agents: Piloting an LGBTQ Book Club for Middle-Grade Students” describes a close-reading unit which used five queer theory lenses to unpack texts and give students analytical language to discuss questions such as gender norms, identity, and discrimination.
“Identity, Community, and Family: What Love, Victor Can Teach Us about Our Classrooms” offers insights into how to imagine our classrooms and teachings as spaces where LGBTQ youth can be affirmed and loved.
“Beyond Safe Spaces—A Queer Endeavor Aims to Expand Conversation Around Gender and LGBTQ Youth” shares tips to help educators create more inclusive classrooms for LGBTQ youth.
“Building Diverse Collections of LGBTQ-Inclusive Children’s Literature to Expand Windows and Mirrors for Youth” reminds us that diverse depictions are important so that youth do not develop stereotypes that all LGBTQ people look the same, act the same, or experience the world in the same ways.
Find additional resources in this post from 2018.
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

Making Students the Subject and Not the Object: Mukkaramah Smith on Embracing, Not Muting, Children’s Authentic Selves

NCTE member Mukkaramah Smith was interviewed for this post by freelance journalist Kimberly Fields.

Mukkaramah Smith, a 2020 corecipient (with Kaitlin Jones) of the NCTE Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing, isn’t your typical teacher with an expected classroom lesson plan.
Her classroom at A.J. Lewis Greenview Elementary in Columbia, Richland School District One, South Carolina, is her “village,” a place where she reconstructs societal and cultural influences. It is where she supports students not only in gaining knowledge but in developing high self-esteem and self-acceptance, and ensures they see themselves reflected in their education.
It became apparent to Smith while a undergraduate that the African American vantage point was being muted instead of embraced. So when she became a teacher 21 years ago, she felt it important to place emphasis on meeting her students of color where they are, humanizing their Blackness and heritage, and allowing students to be their authentic selves.
What does that look like exactly?
“Humanizing them is being organic,” says Smith. “When I say that I want children to be authentic, I want them to be who they are, including their language. [Children] come to school with [their] African American language and we try to change that language.”
Using What Children Bring to the Classroom
Smith believes in teaching children using what they already bring to the classroom: their habits of reading, writing, and speaking; their love of learning; and their family and community environments. She doesn’t alter their language or ideas, but instead uses them to ensure her students are proud of themselves and feel accepted as they are.
As a first-grade teacher, Smith has seen students develop feelings of inferiority or display a lack of confidence in their writing. She helps to combat this by allowing students to see themselves reflected in the literature they read and the subjects they study, and by giving them permission to just be. Smith says it is imperative not to be critical about what or how they are writing, but to validate their ideas and choices. These are ingredients for creating Black joy.
Black Joy in the Classroom
“That’s where Black joy starts,” says Smith. “You have to love yourself. You have to love your Blackness. You have to love the good, the bad, the grit, the grind.”
Black joy in the classroom involves teaching from the vantage point of who the students are. Smith has found that bringing in different kinds of literature written by and about African Americans allows her students to connect more and see themselves in the stories.
When it comes to empowering her students, Smith has found success in student-based projects, with ideas coming directly from students.
“I take a lot of cues from the children that I teach,” says Smith. “They talk about superheroes—well, let’s talk about the superheroes. And from that comes ‘let’s talk about those kings and queens,’ those African queens and kings that were. Let’s talk about the pharaohs.” She builds on what students know, because “that information, [that] knowledge is power.”
One project in particular was built out of appreciation for hair. She and her preservice teacher noticed that the students had a strong interest in hairstyles. They used this interest and incorporated it in various subjects—English language arts, science, and even social studies.
Making These Experiences Possible for All Students
Smith doesn’t want the experiences of empowerment, Black joy, authentication, or humanizing Blackness to end with her. She believes it is important for every teacher to make these experiences possible for all students of every race and cultural background.
One important thing that needs to occur, she says, is that teachers have to check their biases and understand that the classroom isn’t about them, but about the students they are teaching.
“Let the students be the subject,” says Smith. “Let them be the subject of what is going on and not the object.”
Kimberly Fields is a freelance journalist and editor and is CEO of The Write Place, LLC, based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

The NCTE Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing
Mukkaramah Smith and Kaitlin Jones are the corecipients of the 2020 Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing.
Mukkaramah Smith is a first-grade teacher at A.J. Lewis Greenview Elementary School in Richland School District One, South Carolina. She has worked as an educator for 25 years as a classroom teacher, lead literacy facilitator, department chair, coaching teacher for preservice teachers, and mentor. Mukkaramah is a board member for NCTE’s Professional Dyads of Culturally Relevant Teaching (PDCRT) program and also serves on NCTE’s Elementary Section Nominating Committee. Kaitlin Jones is a first-grade teacher at Rice Creek Elementary School in Richland School District Two, South Carolina. During her student teaching internship, she participated in the Urban Cohort of the University of South Carolina’s early childhood education program and collaborated with Mukkaramah Smith in developing culturally responsive instruction.
July 1 is the nomination deadline! Learn more about the Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing here.

Build Your Stack: #Blackgirlmagic: Adding a Little More Sparkle to Your Bookshelves Copy

This blog post was written by NCTE member Christian Hines. It’s part of Build Your Stack,® an NCTE initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. Build Your Stack® provides a forum for contributors to share books from their classroom experience; inclusion in a blog post does not imply endorsement or promotion of specific books by NCTE.

COVID-19 is not the only pandemic that has been taking centerstage in the media outlets and in our classrooms. Racism still sits like a festering wound with a bandaid that refuses to stay on. But what does this mean for educators? What does this mean for our current and future students? How can we ensure that they can feel seen, heard, and valued in society?
Thinking particularly about Black girls, whose names and experiences are often forgotten and not centered in discussions of racial violence and silencing, how might we use literature for what Rudine Sims Bishop conceptualizes as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors into new worlds?
As educators, we know that diverse literature promotes perspective taking and social/emotional learning and critical engagement in student voice and activism. But what does it mean to have a classroom truly representative, inclusive, and equitable of diverse experiences? Of Black girlhood experiences? What might it mean to have a space where students read and engage in literature that pushes beyond racial tensions and political consumptions?
This is not to dismiss books that focus on those topics because those stories are important too, but they are not the totality of the Black experience. What about a story about a multilayered, nuanced character who is discovering herself during the exciting yet awkward time of becoming a teenager?
If students are able to imagine and empathize with a young wizard living in a cupboard under the stairs, is it so impossible to imagine that they can do the same for a Black girl who dreams up a world where she is an intergalactic space cadet, like Ebony in Ibi Zoboi’s My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich? Do we make room in our classrooms to center Black joy, while providing students from other cultural and ethnic backgrouns a window and sliding glass door of their Black peers’ experiences?
Immersing and engaging in literature that centers Black girls can have impacts that extend far beyond the classroom. Georgetown Law’s  2017 data driven study “Girlhood Interrupted,” concluded that Black girls “ are seen as less innocent and more adult like than their white peers”(Epstein, Blake & Gonzalez, 2017) This is commonly referred to as adultification bias. When our students, especially our Black girl students everyday experiences are devalued and erased it negatively impacts their identity and their education and reifies negative and often racist perceptions of their bodies and lives.
Having students read about Black girls and the multilayered ways they appear in literature helps (re)shape positive societal views and fighting against adultification bias. Students are able to make connections, understand commonalities, and appreciate cultural differences as opposed to engaging in “othering.” The notion of “othering” can be combatted by counter storytelling and including silenced stories that give voice and agency to a demographic that is typically marginalized and misrepresented. These untold counter stories are being told, they are just rarely amplified. Giving our students access challenges them to think critically and holistically about the everyday lives of those around them.
Books that show Black girls and the daily lived experiences of childhood often grapple with topics like beauty, identity, mental health, familial bonds, coming of age, falling in love, and friendship. The characters in these books are bakers, advocates, game developers, scientists, writers. They are portrayed as real human people experiencing human emotions, trials, and tribulations. However, they exist in a world that sees race and gender before they can visualize an actual person. It is our duty to help or students have access to stories and perspectives that aid in creating a truly anti-racist society.
Some benefits of introducing these books into the classroom are:

Cultural visibility
Co-constructing antiracist spaces free of bias
Promoting empathy
Challenging stereotypes and assumptions
Expanding student’s awareness of the world

We do our students a disservice by not allowing them a chance to interact with these and other books that can provide them with opportunities to deconstruct any narrow ideas or assumptions they may have about Black girls and Black people.
Listed below are some books to look into to add some Black girl magic to your shelves!

Middle Grade
Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson
Ryan Hart can be and do anything. Her name means “king”, that she is a leader, and she is determined to keep growing into the name her parents gave her. She is all about trying to see the best in people, to be a good daughter, sister, and friend. But Ryan has a lot on her mind. For instance: Dad finally has a new job, but money is still tight. That means some changes, like moving into a new (old) house, and Dad working the night shift. And with the fourth-grad talent show coming up, Ryan wonders what talent she can perform on stage in front of everyone without freezing. As even more changes and challenges come her way, Ryan always finds a way forward and shows she is a girl who knows how to glow.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
Makeda June Kirkland is eleven years old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much, Makeda often feels left out. When Makeda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena— the only other adopted black girl she knows— for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Makeda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore and at school, she can’t seem to find one real friend.Through it all, Makeda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence. What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. Things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show. But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi
Twelve-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet has lived with her beloved grandfather Jeremiah in Huntsville, Alabama ever since she was little. As one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA, Jeremiah has nurtured Ebony-Grace’s love for all things outer space and science fiction—especially Star Wars and Star Trek. But in the summer of 1984, when trouble arises with Jeremiah, it’s decided she’ll spend a few weeks with her father in Harlem.
Harlem is an exciting and terrifying place for a sheltered girl from Hunstville, and Ebony-Grace’s first instinct is to retreat into her imagination. But soon 126th Street begins to reveal that it has more in common with her beloved sci-fi adventures than she ever thought possible, and by summer’s end, Ebony-Grace discovers that Harlem has a place for a girl whose eyes are always on the stars.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime? A crime he says he never committed. Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.) But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what? Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum. Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn’t face her fear, she’ll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.

Blended by Sharon Draper
Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.
Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels completely stuck in the middle, split and divided between them more than ever. And she is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad involves more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?” And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?
It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst thing happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
 
Young Adult
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor. But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington. The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
In a society determined to keep her under lock and key, Tavia must hide her siren powers. Meanwhile, Effie is fighting her own family struggles, pitted against literal demons from her past. Together, these best friends must navigate through the perils of high school’s junior year. But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice at the worst possible moment. Soon, nothing in Portland, Oregon, seems safe. To save themselves from drowning, it’s only Tavia and Effie’s unbreakable sisterhood that proves to be the strongest magic of all.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Who Put This Song On? By Morgan Parker
Trapped in sunny, stifling, small-town suburbia, seventeen-year-old Morgan knows why she’s in therapy. She can’t count the number of times she’s been the only non-white person at the sleepover, been teased for her “weird” outfits, and been told she’s not “really” black. Also, she’s spent most of her summer crying in bed. So there’s that, too. Lately, it feels like the whole world is listening to the same terrible track on repeat–and it’s telling them how to feel, who to vote for, what to believe. Morgan wonders, when can she turn this song off and begin living for herself?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert
Marva Sheridan was born ready for this day. She’s always been driven to make a difference in the world, and what better way than to vote in her first election? Duke Crenshaw is so done with this election. He just wants to get voting over with so he can prepare for his band’s first paying gig tonight. Only problem? Duke can’t vote. When Marva sees Duke turned away from their polling place, she takes it upon herself to make sure his vote is counted. She hasn’t spent months doorbelling and registering voters just to see someone denied their right. And that’s how their whirlwind day begins, rushing from precinct to precinct, cutting school, waiting in endless lines, turned away time and again, trying to do one simple thing: vote. They may have started out as strangers, but as Duke and Marva team up to beat a rigged system (and find Marva’s missing cat), it’s clear that there’s more to their connection than a shared mission for democracy.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Color Me In by Natasha Díaz
Growing up in an affluent suburb of New York City, sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial roots. When her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom’s family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time. Nevaeh wants to get to know her extended family, but because she inadvertently passes as white, her cousin thinks she’s too privileged, pampered, and selfish to relate to the injustices African Americans face on a daily basis. In the meantime, Nevaeh’s dad decides that she should have a belated bat mitzvah instead of a sweet sixteen, which guarantees social humiliation at her posh private school. But rather than take a stand, Nevaeh does what she’s always done when life gets complicated: she stays silent. Only when Nevaeh stumbles upon a secret from her mom’s past, finds herself falling in love, and sees firsthand the prejudice her family faces does she begin to realize she has her own voice. And choices. Will she continue to let circumstances dictate her path? Or will she decide once for all who and where she is meant to be?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
A Love Hate Thing by Whitney D. Grandison
Despite having been shot, Tyson Trice has survived the mean streets of Lindenwood, so nothing can faze him—not even being tossed into the affluent coastal community of Pacific Hills. Nandy Smith, the golden girl of Pacific Hills, is not pleased when she hears her parents are taking in a troubled teen boy. Nandy suddenly fears her summer plans, as well as her reputation, will go up in flames. The wall between Trice and Nandy’s bedrooms feels as thin as the line between love and hate. Through time, Trice brings Nandy out of her shell, and Nandy attempts to melt the ice that’s taken over Trice’s heart. Only, with the ever-present pull back to the Lindenwood streets, it’ll be a wonder if Trice makes it through this summer at all.
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
 Slay by Brittney Morris
By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend. But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.” Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?
Annotation is from publisher’s webpage.
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
Alaine Beauparlant has heard about Haiti all her life. But the stories were always passed down from her dad—and her mom, when she wasn’t too busy with her high-profile newscaster gig. But when Alaine’s life goes a bit sideways, it’s time to finally visit Haiti herself. What she learns about Haiti’s proud history as the world’s first black republic (with its even prouder people) is one thing, but what she learns about her own family is another. Suddenly, the secrets Alaine’s mom has been keeping, including a family curse that has spanned generations, can no longer be avoided. It’s a lot to handle, without even mentioning that Alaine is also working for her aunt’s nonprofit, which sends underprivileged kids to school and boasts one annoyingly charming intern. But if anyone can do it all . . . it’s Alaine.
Annotation is from the Bookshop webpage.

Graphic Novels
 Ironheart Vol 1: Those with Courage by Eve Ewing
Riri Williams steps boldly out of Tony Stark’s shadow to forge her own future! Caught between her need for independence and her obligations at M.I.T., Ironheart needs to make some tough decisions! Luckily, Riri has a will of steel, a heart of iron and a new A.I. on her side! Unluckily, the search for a kidnapped friend will send her stumbling into an ancient power — and it’s deadly! Plus: When Miles Morales goes missing, who better to search for him than his fellow Champion, Riri — who he’s never actually gotten along with that well!
Annotation is from the Marvel Comics webpage. 
 Shuri, Vol 1: The Search for Black Panther by Nnedi Okorafor
T’Challa has disappeared, and everyone is looking at the next in line for the throne. Wakanda expects Shuri to take on the mantle of Black Panther once more and lead their great nation—but she’s happiest in a lab, surrounded by her own inventions. She’d rather be testing gauntlets than throwing them down! So it’s time for Shuri to go rescue her brother yet again—with a little help from Storm, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, of course! But when her outer-space adventure puts the entire cultural history of her continent at risk from an energy-sapping alien threat, can Shuri and Iron Man save Africa?
Annotation is from the Marvel Comics webpage. 
 Moon Girl and the Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 1: BFF by Amy Reeder and Brandon Monteclare
Lunella Lafayette is a preteen super genius who wants to change the world-but learned the hard way that it takes MORE than just big brains. Fearful of the monstrous INHUMAN genes inside her, life is turned upside down when a savage, red-scaled tyrant is teleported from prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call TODAY.
Annotation is from the Marvel Comics webpage. 

Christian Hines is a doctoral student and instructor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University. She is a former high school English teacher who believes in the transformative power of reading and in exposing students to a wide array of multicultural literature, engaging them in culturally inclusive reading materials, and empowering them with mentorship and community building. Twitter handle: @Mshines831. 

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

The Other Pandemic: Anti-Asian Sentiment

This post was written by NCTE member John Hansen.

When news reports surfaced in January of 2020 that China was where COVID-19 may have originated, I let out a deep sigh to myself and looked away from the television. As an Asian American, I felt a sense of dread. My son noticed and asked me, “What’s wrong, daddy?” “Oh, nothing, don’t worry about it, buddy,” I said smiling in his direction.
I sat there for a few minutes knowing there was a good chance of seeing more stares or hearing more racist comments when I was in public. It brought back similar sentiments from the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, when I was a senior at the University of Iowa. Only back then, the sigh I gave in my one-bedroom apartment on S. Dodge Street went unheard.
For the next few weeks, I decided to not ride the CAMBUS to classes, not to go out on Thursday nights, and not to go out with friends to the Airliner, a sports bar in Iowa City. I even participated less in class discussions. Perhaps, I thought, this would help me keep a low-profile until things blew over. I thought playing more basketball at the rec center would be a safer activity. It wasn’t. I should have known better. During a pickup game, I had made two 3-pointers in a row and as we were going down the floor, one of the opposing players blurted out “Hey, can someone cover that f—–g g–k!?”
I’ve always noticed racism towards Asians—in the form of jokes and racist comments—whether during team sports, parties, or hanging out at the mall. Even today, I can’t figure it out and don’t think I ever will. While I heard the occasional racist term or comment in high school or college, it was often because I was doing something well or something that was deemed “cool”: like the time at a local bar when I danced with a popular girl and two men said “Look at this d*****s Chinaman.” There were other Caucasian couples dancing together. Was I not good enough to dance with a girl as well? Did these men think I was taking on a role reserved for people like themselves?
Later, after moving to Arizona, I was at a gas station. A large truck pulled up with a KKK decal proudly stuck on the window. One of the five men got out and began to interrogate me—he wanted to know my name and why I was in town. Yet his condescending tone shifted when, in a clear Midwestern accent, I told him I worked at the community college. “I’ll tell the guys not to mess with you,” he said.
Until the pandemic, I had been one of the “lucky” Asian Americans—I’d only dealt with verbal racism. However, this past March, as I walked out of a local store in town, I heard some yelling in the parking lot. I thought the commotion was directed at others nearby. As I got into my car, I saw two men in their early twenties quickly approach me. I heard them yell derogatory comments and tell me to “Get the f–k out of here. We don’t want your kind here.” They gestured with their arms and hands pointing to the parking lot exit. After I shut my door, they began to beat the hood like a drum. I had it. I got out of my car and once they saw my six-foot-one frame and the anger on my face, they jogged away. But what happens to Asians who are unable to fight back and stand up for themselves?
Not only has the pandemic heightened my awareness of being a Korean American (and my surroundings), but this apprehension has spilled over into being a college English instructor. Before COVID-19, I’d always have a few students on the first day of a face-to-face class look puzzled to see an Asian man standing at the front of the room for their composition or literature course. They would often ask hesitantly “Is this English 101?” “Yes, it is,” I’d say smiling and warmly ask them to sit anywhere they would like. I would also try to make small talk with these students because I always felt that if they could hear me speak clearly or know a little bit more about my schooling or personal life, it might lessen whatever fear or anxiety they had of me teaching them about essay writing or British literature.
I was hired to teach English courses online and I’m even more thankful for that opportunity now. The learning management system at the college has a feature which allows you to upload a profile picture. I’ve always been hesitant to put one up and now it is out of the question. I figure it would help lessen any anger a student felt if they did hold a grudge towards Asians because of COVID-19 or if they didn’t think it was right that an Asian was teaching them about the English discipline.
Additionally, there were times when I didn’t even want my face to appear on Zoom during a meeting with students because of the increase we’ve seen in hate and violence towards Asians. When the campus fully opens for the next fall semester, I wonder how students will view and treat me?
I hope that more Asian Americans write about their struggles and experiences and that more publications are willing to share their perspectives. We need for more people to be aware of and to take seriously anti-Asian sentiment.

John Hansen received a BA in English from the University of Iowa and an MA in English literature from Oklahoma State University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Summerset Review, Spillwords Press, Trouvaille Review, 50-Word Stories, One Sentence Poems, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Eunoia Review, Amethyst Review, Sparks of Calliope, and elsewhere. He is on the English faculty at Mohave Community College in Arizona. Read more at johnphansen.com.

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

Studying family life may offer insights into personalised learning

Personalised learning has been hailed as a way of helping all children reach similar levels of attainment. With much still to be learned about how teachers might individualise instruction, could studying family life provide some new insights? Writing in the Nature partner journal Science of Learning, researchers Sophie von Stumm and Jasmin Wertz recently suggested … Read more

Build Your Stack: Unapologetically Me! Characters Who Are Confidently, Courageously, and Proudly Themselves

This blog post was written by NCTE member Aliza Werner. It’s part of Build Your Stack,® an NCTE initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. Build Your Stack® provides a forum for contributors to share books from their classroom experience; inclusion in a blog post does not imply endorsement or promotion of specific books by NCTE.

Look up “unapologetic” in the dictionary and you will find two definitions: one that underscores absence and another that highlights presence.

Unapologetic
adj.
/ ˌən-ə-ˌpä-lə-ˈje-tik /

Refusal to express remorse or regret
Sense of strength and pride in being your true self

The absence of guilt and the presence of pride in the many pieces of identity is what it means to be “unapologetically me.” Characters in early chapter and middle grade books, fiction and nonfiction, have the potential to show readers how they navigate, discover, and experience all that is intertwined with their identity. To be “unapologetically me” means authenticity. Honesty. Freedom from others’ labels and the power to claim and name your own truths. Laying down the burdens of arbitrary, rigid rules.
To be “unapologetically me” means not settling for tolerance, nor satisfied with acceptance, but expecting celebration, fully and unconditionally.
To live out loud and love the pieces of yourself is not without struggle. It’s the human way. From our first breath on our first day, we are born into boxes, stickered with labels, and tethered to constructs that confine and constrain. Let’s dream. What if we waited for each new human to tell us who they were before we decided for them? What if we nudged them out of the boxes as a mother bird does with her hatchlings in their nest? Let them learn. Let them explore. Let them try and fail and grow. Let them fly. What if we let them love themselves for who they are, not despite it?
I want readers to see it all. Their books should show the struggle, the heartbreak, the reckoning, the metamorphosis, the celebration. The joy it is to be yourself.
I look to characters on this journey, who will now or someday say, “I will NOT apologize for . . .

Shattering gender norms and breaking boundaries
(Suggested books: A Black Woman Did That, Brave. Black. First, Isaiah Dunn is My Hero, Jasmine Toguchi, I Am Not a Label)

The shape of my body(Suggested books: Starfish, It’s Girls Like You, Mickey, All of Me)

My neurodivergent brain(Suggested books: Get a Grip Vivy Cohen!, Tornado Brain, Each Tiny Spark)

Getting my period
(Suggested books: The Moon Within, Go With the Flow, Revenge of the Red Club)

The bright and brave rainbow I radiate
(Suggested books: The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team,  The Best at It, The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, Martin McLean, Middle School Queen, The Insiders)

Carrying my ancestors in my bones and spirit
(Suggested books: Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, Root Magic, Meet Yasmin!, Sadiq and the Explorers, Ana & Andrew, Planet Omar: Unexpected Super Spy, Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices, Any Day with You, A Place at the Table, Orca Origins)

Living at intersections of identity
(Suggested books: Lupe Wong Won’t Dance, Stand Up, Yumi Chung!, American as Paneer Pie, Red, White, and Whole, The Year I Flew Away)

Being different from you 
(Suggested books: Frank and Bean, Fox & Rabbit, Sydney & Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World)

What if we handed readers armloads of books with characters who show that it’s not only okay to be you, but it’s phenomenal to be you? One of those stories might be the nudge they need to spread their wings, brave the leap, and explore beyond the nest. Let’s show our readers that when they are unapologetically themselves, no dictionary could ever define them.

 
Aliza Werner (she/her, @alizateach) is an elementary educator and consultant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Aliza holds a B.S. in Deaf Education from Boston University and M.S. in Curriculum & Instruction with a focus in Language and Literacy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She serves on the Wisconsin State Reading Association’s Children’s Literature Committee. At Milwaukee Film, she is a Curriculum Writer, Fellowship Facilitator, on the Education and “Rated K For Kids” Film Screening Committees, and is developing media literacy programs for educators and families. Aliza is passionate about literacy education: multimedia/multimodal literacies, anti-bias/antiracist pedagogy and practice, and inclusive, diverse, & representative children’s literature. She and her husband have two kids with paws, Liffey and Poet. World traveler. Reader. Writer. Jewish. Acquired disability. Knitter. Photographer. Auntie.

NCTE and independent bookstores will receive a small commission from purchases made using the links above.
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

Ungrading to Build Equity and Trust in Our Classrooms

This post was written by NCTE member Anthony Lince. 

Many educators around the US are having meaningful conversations about building inclusive classroom spaces. In English language arts and first-year-writing classrooms, I’ve noticed that the bulk of these discussions are focused on diversifying the texts that are taught and read.
As a Mexican American who rarely read diverse texts in school, this change makes me incredibly happy. Students of color are going to have a chance to see themselves reflected in the stories and texts they read. This is extremely important.
But the conversations and efforts to build inviting classroom spaces cannot stop there, not if our goal is to truly include and welcome all students and help them succeed—especially students who, historically, have been in the institutional margins. In speaking on the work of researcher James A. Banks, Tricia Ebarvia notes that diverse texts do little to change the inequities in our schools. In fact, Ebarvia further contends, diverse curriculum might just mask larger systemic issues that need to be resolved.
This isn’t to say that diverse texts aren’t important. They are. But we simply must do more. We need to challenge harmful systems that continually exclude and harm our students of color and multilingual students. And what has hurt these readers and writers the most in our classrooms? Grades.
In talking about the barriers that students of color and multilingual students often face, Mike Rose points out that grades pass “judgments about [students’] ability . . . at a very young age, and those judgments, accurate or not, affect the curriculum they receive, their place in the school, the way they’re defined institutionally.” Eventually, students internalize the judgments passed down by their schools, an issue that is particularly problematic for students of color and multilingual students, as they are disproportionately assigned low grades (even more so now during the pandemic).
Those low marks, then, aren’t just a judgment on the work and ability of particular students in a given class, but rather a judgment on who these students are as people—and they are, if their grades are taken as the indicator, failures.
To make matters worse, traditional grading systems don’t just affect students’ perceptions of themselves; teachers, too, start to hold negative beliefs about students of color and multilingual students and their ability to succeed in school. We might say that our grading systems are fair and objective, but biases often enter our evaluation practices. For instance, a recent study conducted by David M. Quinn suggests that “racial stereotypes can influence the scores teachers assign to student work.”
Thus, when marginalized students reach our classrooms, it’s no wonder if they have negative relationships, identities, and emotions related to reading and writing. Though we say, “Our classrooms are inclusive spaces, and everyone has the chance to succeed,” our assessment practices indicate otherwise, which leads students to not believe us. Our judgments, accompanied by letters and numbers that mark students as deficient, have destroyed students’ faith in the educational system.
So, what can we do to build trust in our classrooms? I think we need to stop grading our students.
But we can’t just stop grading our students on their assignments, can we? Actually, we can. In fact, many educators are currently not grading (or are ungrading) in their classrooms. There are a lot of options to choose from when deciding to ungrade, including labor-based grading and mastery-based grading.
In my first-year-writing courses at the university level, I’ve chosen to use a labor-based grading model (based on the work of Asao Inoue, whose scholarship focuses on antiracist assessment practices). I chose this route because “labor-based grading contracts,” as Inoue asserts, “attempt to form an inclusive, more diverse ecological place, one that can be antiracist and anti–White supremacist by its nature.” With this methodology, only measurable labor is used to calculate a student’s final course grade, and no letters or numbers are placed on student writing or other work.
Many educators report that, without grades, students are able to focus on their learning in meaningful ways and put forth much more effort in their work. In my courses, I’ve noticed that too. I’ve also noticed that going gradeless can lead to a classroom environment that fosters trust—trust in the teacher and trust in peer-to-peer relationships. In this piece, I won’t speak much about the numerous other benefits that ungrading leads to in our classrooms. That’s because, first and foremost, we need to focus on gaining our students’ trust, especially when we’ve lost it from our most vulnerable students. Only when every student feels that the classroom is an equitable, safe space can we focus on learning.
These days, when I provide feedback on writing, I don’t have to worry about assigning a grade that gives no substantive information, and I don’t mark students down for not meeting a single dominant standard, one that often disadvantages multilingual students and students of color. Instead, I focus exclusively on giving useful feedback during the writing process, on building meaningful connections with my students, and on having genuine conversations that engage with their ideas. No longer do I see student writing with a deficit lens; rather, I look at it for what it was trying to accomplish in that moment and what it could accomplish.
With this approach, students who have been hurt the most by traditional grading practices are able to come into our classrooms knowing that they can trust our feedback, trust our words, to help them improve as writers. They can let go of those past judgments and just focus on the productive labor that will lead to learning. Diverse students will also feel comfortable knowing that the many Englishes they bring to our classrooms (for example, African American English) are embraced, not turned away, because the dominant standard is not a barrier anymore. This gradeless environment allows the teacher-student relationship to flourish in authentic ways.
Student-teacher relationships aren’t the only dynamics that improve in our classrooms. The classroom environment as a whole improves as well. Grades usually lead to partitions among our students; they create detrimental hierarchies. Because low grades are more often given to students of color and multilingual students, these structures and divisions in our classes often grow along racial and linguistic lines, which could perpetuate negative assumptions and beliefs about the ability of these students to succeed. When there are no grades on assignments—especially on essays—there’s an opportunity for those hierarchies to come tumbling down.
In my classes, I’ve seen that students don’t divide themselves by arbitrary standards. They are able to focus on their peers’ ideas and writing without those marks and judgments getting in the way of the dialogue. In an end-of-semester survey on labor-based grading, one of my students said, “Working with peers felt more real than in other English classes with grades. We weren’t focused on standards, on who’s better, just on the writing and how to help each other improve.”
The entire classroom community, then, benefits from not having grades in the class. In many ways, labor-based grading sets the foundation for a positive classroom community, one that can be built on trust.
Because grading practices have gone mainly unquestioned, our students have suffered, and many continue to suffer today. It’s time to end the harm that grades cause. All of our students deserve to have meaningful, equitable places of learning, strong classroom relationships, and classroom communities that are truly inclusive and supportive.
As Adam Rosenblatt has commented, if we choose to ungrade in our classrooms, we can finally start challenging “one of the academy’s most pervasive and unquestioned forms of structural injustice.” Let’s ungrade, so we can make that happen today.

Anthony Lince is a writer, Latinx scholar, husband, and dad. He’s pursuing a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in rhetoric, and he’s also teaching first-year-writing at San Diego State University. His research centers on antiracist assessment practices. Twitter: @LinceAnthony

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified. 

Bilingual Books for Emergent Bilinguals

This post was written by NCTE member Dorian Harrison.

As a literacy and language professor, I know from my own research that bilingual books offer both a cultural and a linguistic experience for all readers. Children experience the joys of learning about cultures and languages that are near to and distant from their own.
As educators, we know that our classrooms embody a repertoire of languages that are not often privileged in curricula. However, we have the power to invite and challenge these curricula by exposing our students to the exciting world of bilingual books.
There is a wide range of complexities when considering bilingual books in your classroom. In my teaching of K–6 and preservice teachers, I provide examples of Spanish-English texts to use.
If you are just entering the world of bilingual texts, I suggest authors such as Duncan Tonatiuh, who offers in-text pronunciations.

Yuyi Morales uses multiple cognates and writes in such a way that readers can easily infer the meanings.

Adam Rubin, in El Chupacabras (illustrated by Crash McCreery), challenges readers’ knowledge of two languages, both Spanish and English, with mid-sentence language shifts.

Bilingual books build engaged readers who feel at home and challenged by the texts. They offer students a richer literary experience when readers can immerse themselves in the language of others. Dr. Rudine Sims-Bishop writes that we must seek to include literature that shapes and forms windows onto the world. The move toward bringing bilingual books into the curriculum is one way to accomplish this goal.
Bilingual books are not about simply placing the books in your library and hoping they will get utilized by your students. Likewise, the books are not an answer to diversity issues in your classroom teaching. Bilingual books deal with the same issues that monolingual books address: colorism, gender, and more. These social issues are global, so similar themes may be observed within these texts as well. However, when bilingual books are woven into the classroom in authentic and critical ways, the classroom culture and environment grow in ways that cannot be measured.
There are several ways you can use bilingual books in your classroom.

Library Section: You can highlight having a bilingual text set in your classroom library. Make use of the books during read-alouds or shared reading. Then make sure you highlight where students can locate the books after you are finished.
Multiple Perspectives: Bilingual books can highlight historical journeys in American history from new perspectives and often add authentic voices to your classroom. In other words, build a text set that includes Sylvia and Aki as well as Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation.
Home-to-School Connection: Bilingual books can be used as a bridge between your classroom and your students’ homes. Families whose first language is not English may appreciate the bilingual books being used and your highlighting of those texts. However, note that not all families want their children focused on the home language while in school.
Cultural and Global Knowledge: Bilingual books can be used to enhance your students’ cultural and linguistic knowledge of languages around the world. From the alphabetic systems to characters, students learn various modes of communicating across countries and continents.
A Love of Language: While every school cannot be a dual immersion program, students can still be exposed to various languages and begin to learn those words and phrases. This could spark a continued love and passion for a particular language that could last a lifetime.
Empathy Building: At times, students are not aware of the struggles our English language learner (ELL) students experience learning English. When you use bilingual books that connect to your ELL students’ home languages, you place them in a position of power and expertise. They know how the language should sound and how to assist others with pronunciation. This creates an environment of understanding for all involved.

Many of these suggestions and benefits come with the understanding that culturally responsive teaching efforts must be paired with these texts. Before you can assign books that are relevant, you must first learn what is linguistically relevant in the lives of students and the community.
Below are some additional resources for creating your own book stack in various languages:
Colorín Colorado 
Worlds of Words Libros 
ALA Bilingual Booklist 
School Library Journal’s Fuse 8 Production Blog (featuring a Spanish-English booklist) 
Bringing bilingual books into your classroom is an application of culturally and linguistically responsive teaching to your everyday activities for students and their families. In this way, students feel valued and respected and grow in their knowledge of the world.

Dorian Harrison is an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University at Newark. Her research interests focus on equity issues in literacy education, paying particular attention to how race, class, and language impact teaching and learning. Harrison is a member of the NCTE Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English. Currently, she teaches literacy courses aimed at developing students’ awareness and use of diverse literature in their classrooms and theories of comprehension and writing for K–8 teachers. Twitter: @dr_dorih
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

ESSC and ECEA of NCTE Respond to Anti-Asian Discrimination and Offer Resources

This statement was authored by the NCTE Elementary Section Steering Committee (ESSC) and the NCTE Early Childhood Education Assembly (ECEA).

The members of the NCTE Elementary Section Steering Committee and the Early Childhood Education Assembly denounce racism, hate, and white supremacy, and express our solidarity and support of our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander colleagues and community today and always. We demand justice for these communities and support the movement to #StopAsianHate
On March 16th, 2021, six Asian women were murdered as an act of hate and racism. These acts, fueled by white supremacist rhetoric and xenophobia, have surged throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This past year, a report issued by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that hate crimes against Asian Americans in major US cities have surged by nearly 150 percent in 2020.
This violence is not new for marginalized communities, but attending a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina; going to synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; or going to work in a massage parlor in Atlanta, Georgia, should never equate to not coming home. These acts of violence and hate are all rooted in white supremacy. Therefore, it is vital that we stand in solidarity. The revolution will be intersectional. And we need everyone to fight against white supremacy.
This call is specifically for educators in schools and teacher education programs, recognizing that  as we are teaching future generations and teachers of these generations, each one of us has a responsibility to do something. These children will grow up and will either perpetuate anti-Asian hate or disrupt it. As educators, it is imperative that we realize that silence is not the answer. We lean on the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: If you are neutral in situations of injustices, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. 
Below we provide some reflection questions and resources to help you in this journey of disrupting anti-Asian hate:

How do you decenter whiteness in your curriculum every single day? (Resource: Decentering Whiteness in My Classroom) 
How do you honor the voices, experiences, languages, and stories of Asian/Asian American communities as a classroom norm? (Resource: Humanizing Asian Americans in the Classroom Through Children’s Literature)
How do you teach about the diversity, history, and contributions to the world’s knowledge from Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities? (Resource: After Atlanta: Teaching about Identity and History) 
Look at your picture books, library, and curriculum. Whose voices and stories are absent or merely token additions in your classroom library and instructional texts? (Resource: The Best 9 Children’s Books to Combat Asian Racism with Tips to Raise Anti-Racists)
In the wake of COVID-19, how are you teaching students to be critically conscious and act against Asian American hate? (Resource: Young, Proud, Sung-Jee, by Joyce Y. Lee and Emily Ku)  (Resource: Addressing Anti-Asian Racism: A Resource for Educators)

As educators, we must work together, across differences, to do the deep and necessary work of digging into ourselves—to unearth the biases, prejudices, and racism that we hold inside of us–to engage in the active process that Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz describes as the archeology of self.
This is a process of working through the internalized stories and ideologies that we carry with us through our schooling and the other spaces of our lives. We draw on the wisdom of scholar-elders like Grace Lee Boggs, who reminds us: You can’t change any society unless you take responsibility for it.
Moving inside out and back again, we can do the work of dismantling racism and white supremacy in our world, our schools, and our teaching.

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.