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.

A Tribute to a Giant: Remembering Richard “Dick” Robinson

From Kylene Beers, NCTE President, 2008–2009
The books are award-winning and iconic: Front Desk (Kelly Yang); Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963 (Sharon Robinson); the Harry Potter series (J. K. Rowling); the Baby-Sitters Club series (Anne M. Martin); the Captain Underpants series (Dav Pilkey); the Goosebumps series (R. L. Stine); Martin Rising: Requiem for a King (Andrea Davis Pinkney & Brian Pinkney); Esperanza Rising (Pam Muñoz Ryan); My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World (Malcolm Mitchell); The Life I’m In (Sharon G. Flake); the Hunger Games series (Suzanne Collins) and on and on and on. While each in its own way connected children to the power and joy of reading, they all connected us to one of the world’s best-known publishing houses: Scholastic. And that connected us to its president and CEO, Richard (Dick) Robinson.
Most readers—child or teen or adult—don’t know the president of publishing houses, but those of us who attended the NCTE Annual Convention had a chance to meet Dick, visit with him, thank him for his commitment to publishing. Perhaps you visited with him in the Scholastic booth with Clifford, the Big Red Dog, or saw him standing near a Magic School Bus mural. Or perhaps you saw him at the annual Scholastic Dinner. No matter the place, so many teachers shared memories with him about attending Scholastic book fairs as children and now teachers; we told him our own stories about looking forward to our favorite Scholastic magazine, about our students who have entered the Scholastic writing or art contests, about children who became readers through any of the many series books published by Scholastic. No matter the place we visited with him, he loved each story, shook every hand, and leaned in to listen intently to each person.
It was, therefore, with great sadness that many members of NCTE along with the world of publishing mourned the sudden death of Dick Robinson on June 5, 2021. It’s a loss that has touched the book world, classrooms around the world, and our world of NCTE. The 2010–2011 NCTE President Yvonne Siu-Runyan wrote, “Grace, humility, compassion, and passion, plus intelligence and presence are the words that come to mind when I think about Richard (Dick) Robinson. Mr. Robinson and his vision made readers, writers, and thinkers.” He did. He not only wanted children to become lifetime readers, but he wanted them to be lifetime thinkers. Yvonne continued: “I will miss Mr. Robinson’s heartfelt delivery of the speech from the ‘unknown sponsor’ at the annual dinner at NCTE’s Convention. I always wept tears of appreciation and joy at this event. Mr. Robinson, you are missed and will be missed by many. Thank you, Dick Robinson, for all your years of devotion to literacy and learning.”
Carol Jago, 2009–2010 NCTE President, shared her personal thoughts about him that express the thoughts of so many: “The first time I met Dick Robinson was at Scholastic’s New York offices. I told him how important the TAB book club and books were to me as a young reader and that I still remember reading Shakleton’s Valiant Voyage by Alfred Lansing. I recalled that the book had cost only 20 cents. In subsequent years when we met again and again at NCTE Thanksgiving banquets, Dick always remembered that story. The field has lost a hero. One might call it ‘Robinson’s Valiant Voyage.’”
Carol said it perfectly. It was a valiant voyage, one that has helped countless children set sail on their own voyages as lifetime readers.
In the following section, Sheridan Blau, 1997–1998 NCTE President, explores that valiant voyage Dick Robinson made with and for our National Council of Teachers of English.
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Memorializing Our History: Dick Robinson, NCTE, and Me
Dick Robinson was a lifelong champion of books for children and a consequential contributor to literacy education in America, honored throughout his career for his generous and courageous efforts to promote reading for children of all social classes and to foster a thoughtful and critical literacy for all Americans. Scholastic, under his leadership, was widely admired for publishing books that dealt honestly with issues like civil rights, global warming, and racial injustice, and Dick was justifiably proud of the number of Scholastic books that were banned in schools and communities across the country. He was also a legendary publisher who turned his father’s small publishing company, notable for its children’s magazine, into what became arguably the most successful and influential independent publishing company in America.
To the leaders and members of NCTE, Dick Robinson was also a friend and benefactor, the pater familias and host of the annual Scholastic dinner at the NCTE Convention, where anyone at the Convention could pick up a ticket at the Scholastic booth and attend the pre-dinner wine reception and the turkey dinner, with a traditional menu that commemorated a long history, starting in 1932, across which the Scholastic dinner party was an actual Thanksgiving dinner held on Thanksgiving Day. That surprising tradition reflects the equally surprising fact that from the first NCTE Convention in Chicago in 1912 through the 1979 Convention in San Francisco, NCTE Annual Conventions were held during the long Thanksgiving weekend. And in 1932, at the NCTE Convention in Memphis, Dick’s father, “Robbie” Robinson, founder of Scholastic publishing, having noticed Convention attendees forlornly eating their ordinary dinners singly and in pairs in hotel restaurants on Thanksgiving Day, decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner for anybody interested in attending.
As the story goes, the dinner featured a single turkey, which provided adequate meat and stuffing for the small number of attending guests, most of whom were publishers and book salesmen like Robbie himself. But they enjoyed themselves and agreed to meet for a similar dinner the next year at the NCTE Convention in Detroit, where Robbie would host an even larger party that began to include a number of teachers, more and more of whom attended at each subsequent Convention, requiring larger and larger dining rooms year by year, until dining rooms gave way to double dining rooms, and then ballrooms and double ballrooms.
Dick Robinson attended many of these dinners as a Scholastic employee before he himself became the host after his father retired in 1975, carrying on his father’s tradition faithfully by treating the guests as Thanksgiving dinner guests, which meant not submitting them to the speeches that characterize Convention banquets. There was only one short speech given by the host to welcome the guests, and Dick honored that tradition and his father by giving word-for-word the same speech his father gave. And when NCTE changed the date of its Annual Conventions to the week before Thanksgiving and the dinner became a Saturday night event attended largely by classroom teachers, many of whom were not regular Conventiongoers and were unlikely to know other attendees with whom to share dinner Saturday night, Dick continued to maintain the tradition of hosting lonely teachers for a complete Thanksgiving dinner, the weekend before Thanksgiving, and continued to give his father’s speech.
At all the dinners I have attended faithfully (as do all past presidents of NCTE), every year for the past quarter century (except last year when there was no dinner), Dick would circulate the room while everybody was eating, greeting the teachers/dinner guests typically sat at tables with strangers who quickly became part of the huge NCTE family. Then, he would take to the stage to welcome this extended family on behalf of what he called “our nameless sponsor,” and he would give the same speech his father gave during the years when Robinson, Senior, was the president of Scholastic and the host of the dinner.
It is difficult to explain how this speech that many of us had heard 25 times or more moved us as it also moved those who were hearing it for the first time. In fact, as one heard it more often, its power grew, perhaps with our growing sense of participating in a historic tradition of honoring all of us as English teachers and as members of an extended family of English teachers, collectively joining with Dick in the noble enterprise of celebrating literature and promoting a humane literacy for a humane future. For me, the dinner was also intensely like a family gathering, because for the past fifteen (or more) years, my former doctoral students from California and New York would make the Scholastic dinner a site for our reunion. Designated individuals would rush into the dining room when the doors opened and grab and reserve seats at two tables for the dozen or so of my former doctoral students, now professors (plus a few current students) who would renew their connection with each other and with me in this space of remembering and celebrating connections and shared commitments. Dick would always come over to our tables, where I would introduce my students to him, and he would generously acknowledge the significance and tradition of our special reunion.
Of course, Dick’s actual family and his army of admirers and friends will miss him terribly. But so will those of us who saw him once a year as our host, our Convention friend, our literacy hero. My own connection to Dick may not have been unique, but it was built around our shared commitments and our shared cultural experience as agemates. He was only two years older than I, and we had much in common in our values and historical experiences. For the past dozen years, at least, the few minutes of private talk that we would capture after the dinner each year turned to friendly inquiries we would make of each other about how we were handling the problems of aging and when and why we might retire. Neither of us felt at all inclined to retire, though as we approached becoming octogenarians, we admitted feeling that the time was not far away.
I write this the day after Dick died while he was engaged in exercise, walking with his son near their summer home on Martha’s Vineyard. Apparently in excellent health and showing no signs of slowing down in his life or his pace, he died suddenly from what has been assumed to be a stroke or a heart attack. A tragedy, of course, for Dick’s family. But from the perspective of old men like Dick and me, it’s an ideal ending to a hero’s journey. What could be better than to pass from this world, after a long and successful and satisfying and extraordinarily magnanimous life, than by passing away while still enjoying it—to be fully alive and savoring life until the last second.
Sheridan Blau
NCTE President, 1997–1998
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So many NCTE officers shared their fond memories of Dick Robinson! Here are a few:
Dick Robinson was an incredibly generous, caring, and compassionate individual. Being with him at NCTE was always a highlight of the Convention. At the annual M. R. Robinson dinners on Saturday evenings, Dick greeted every guest—longtime attendees and first-time attendees—with genuine warmth. Many of us celebrated these annual Scholastic dinners—with hundreds of guests—as welcoming, inclusive celebrations of colleagues, friends, and family. In the 1990s, I introduced Dick to my family at one of his dinners, and every year thereafter, he kindly remembered them and sent them his personal greetings. Dick’s dedication to high standards and passionate commitment to literacy, language, and literature transformed education and the publishing world. Students, educators, authors, parents, and stakeholders have all benefited from his vision, creativity, and work ethic. We are forever blessed to have known Dick Robinson. I shall miss him greatly.
Beverly Ann Chin
NCTE President, 1995–1996
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I couldn’t imagine an NCTE meeting without our genial Mr. Robinson. The generous Scholastic dinner was a “must” for me: I enjoyed meeting new people and I looked forward to Dick’s famous comments from the “unmentioned host.” We will truly miss him.
Ruth K. J. Cline
NCTE President, 1989–1990
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To those who loved Dick Robinson:
My graduate school mentor Steve Dunning introduced me to Dick Robinson long before I knew who Dick really was. But I quickly learned that Dick was the generous person who continued his father’s gracious hospitality to English teachers who were away from home on Thanksgiving. (Yes, I remember attending NCTE’s Annual Convention when it still met on the holiday instead of the week before, as it now does.) In my early years as a professor, I was sometimes able to snag an invitation by going to the booth in the book display area. Eventually I managed to get on “the list” and watched my mailbox in the fall for that envelope. As I became more and more active in NCTE, I became increasingly aware of the important relationship between my professional organization and the publishing company Dick headed and I shared my gratitude with many others.
I will miss Dick, “the speech” he always gave, and the many ways he supported NCTE, but I will treasure the memory of a business leader who prioritized people, benevolence, and books.
Anne Ruggles Gere
NCTE President, 2000–2001
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Richard Robinson, a teacher of secondary English, becoming aware of the power of authentic literacy experiences in the hands of readers, dedicated his life to discovering and providing rich, never-ending opportunities for readers of English and Spanish, worldwide.
Yetta Goodman
NCTE President, 1979–1980
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What powerfully rich contributions in the areas of literacy, teaching, and leadership left to us by Dick Robinson! His commitment to children’s literacies and literature, to digital media and accessibility, as well as to diversity, inclusivity, and joyful learning will always have a lasting impact on children, young adults, and English language arts and literacy educators, researchers, and leaders. I am forever indebted to his graciousness and dedication to ensuring that stories of hope, love, and courage are shared, heard, and embraced. Thank you, forever, Dick Robinson.
Valerie Kinloch
NCTE President-Elect, 2020–2021
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We opened our June Executive Committee meeting with a moment of silence to mourn Dick Robinson and to honor his life. His passing was a loss of one who championed literacy in America, of one who celebrated teachers of English with wit, wisdom, and Scholastic legacy annually at our Convention. We will miss him dearly.
Alfredo Celedón Luján
NCTE President, 2020-2021
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Dick was a friend of literacy teachers and a tireless advocate for books, reading, and children. I have no idea how he could remember so many names, but he always seemed to have time for the professionals that meant so much to him. He could have retired and done so many other things, but he stayed for so long and worked so hard because he loved us. He loved the company that his father built and that he led to international recognition. But he loved even more the people who devoted themselves to the social and academic development of our children. He was our champion and we will never forget him. He was truly a great man, and he had a real impact on me as a professional and a person.
Ernest Morrell
NCTE President, 2013–2014
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Living His Legacy (Kylene Beers)
Sheridan offers that leaving this life while still enjoying it is an ideal end to a hero’s journey, to what Carol called a valiant journey. I would add that we make the lessons he taught us all lasting lessons by keeping his words close. Dick understood the power of a literate life; he recognize that reading is more than an enjoyable experience. Reading is power. Reading empowers. He understood that our democracy is delicate and that words can tip thinking this way or that. A part of the Scholastic mission is to “help build a society free of prejudice and hate, and dedicated to the highest quality of life in community and nation.” In accepting the 2017 Literarian Award at the National Book Awards program, Dick said, “ . . . books and reading are not just the gateway to academic success, but [reading] is a great way to learn more about yourself and who you want to be.” He went on to say that “Equal education [for all children] is not only the law of the land, but the only solution to maintaining a democratic society.”
Let us continue to build that society free of prejudice and hate, a society in which reading for all is the mission. Let our students enter our classrooms with a promise that we will teach them all to read and to read well so that they leave with a purpose-driven life, a literate life, one that Dick Robinson would say gives them a voice in helping them shape themselves, their community, and the world in which they live.
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.

Build Your Stack: Where I Find Books and How I Match Them to Students

This blog post was written by NCTE member Theodora (Lolly) Salazar. 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.
 
Searching for Something to Read
I became an independent reader at the age of five. My parents suggested books for me. We visited the library and selected books to enjoy. When I started reading Highlights magazine, I started to see that there were different types of writing out in the world: jokes, poems, short stories, and more. That was my entry into the search for reading material in many places other than the library.
As I grew up, I began to rely on suggestions from other readers, recommendations printed in children’s magazines, and other sources. Now as an adult reader, I incessantly scour the library’s website,Twitter, Goodreads, professional journals, blog posts, publisher’s sites, and professional books written about books  to find recommendations of books to read and how they can be used in the classroom. The Ramped Up Read Aloud by Maria Walther (Corwin Literacy) is one recent book that comes to mind.
Another practice I have participated in for several years now is the #bookaday challenge during the summer. It was launched by none other than independent reading proponent and reading enthusiast extraordinaire Donalyn Miller. Participating in the challenge helps garner many book titles and provides a preview of how the books can be used in classrooms, what topics a book covers, and suggested grade levels to use them with. Not only do I find recommendations for what to read, but I also read them! This allows me a wide range of touchstone books that I can recommend to others.
Now how do I get them into the hands of kids?
You hear it said time and again, “Get to know your students.” It really is important to get to know them, whether through conversations, conferences, written responses, journal entries (if students allow you to read them), or other activities. In getting to know students, you will also be more likely to find books that can help a student connect with characters who experience something similar to what they have experienced or with whom they can identify. It may help bring different mindsets to students’ reading lives that can spill over into their everyday lives.
Imagine students exercising empathy for someone in their class who may have lost a pet, because they read about how a character dealt with it in The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst ((illustrated by Erik Blegvad). In this book, a small boy loses his cat Barney. His mother suggests they have a funeral, also encouraging the boy to think of ten good things about Barney. Perhaps students learn about being resilient from Sadako in Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr (illustrated by Ronald Himler), as Sadako tries to complete folding one thousand paper cranes so she can be cured of the illness she is afflicted with years after the bombing of Hiroshima. Perhaps students can relate to characters in Hiroshima by Laurence Yep and identify with other children in war-torn countries who have to figure out how to deal with the fear associated simply with going to school.
Unfortunately there are many students in our classrooms who may not know how to deal with different feelings and situations, but the right book placed in their hands by a teacher who is aware of their personal stories can make a world of difference.
It is my hope that teachers will seek out knowledge about books and stories that can meet their students’ reading needs. Books find their way into our hands at just the right time we need them. Be the teacher who can suggest just the right one.
Here are some other go-to books from my stack that help students explore their emotions.

La Catrina Emotiones/Emociones by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein, illustrated by Citali Reyes.
This book is great for young readers to be introduced to emotional expressions in English and Spanish.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Taking a giant leap into anything you are learning or haven’t done before takes courage. Jabari finds his as he takes a plunge.

The Boy with the Big, Big Feelings by Britney Winn Lee, illustrated by Jacob Souva
An awesome book to show boys and girls that it is okay to have deep feelings. It validates that boys can certainly feel and not be less of a boy because of the feelings he wants to express.

Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell
A fun read in verse. Children can explore the many moods they may experience throughout their day from being silly to being cranky or sad. It helps them see that it is okay to have changing moods.

Angry Octopus by Lori Lite, Illustrated by Max Stasuyk
Everybody needs to learn to relax and unwind. We also need to learn to manage our anger and frustration. In this gem a sea child teaches an angry octopus to calm himself by learning to breathe and get control of his feelings.

My Heart by Corinna Luyken
The lyrical text and beautiful illustrations empower a reader to love and accept themselves for who they are.

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies
Evan experiences the loss of his dog and chooses not to foster the garden he and his dog would enjoy together. His heartbreak keeps him from enjoying it. One day he discovers that beauty can grow out of the misery he feels.

B is for Breathe: The ABCs of Coping with Fussy and Frustrating Feelings by Melissa Boyd
Everybody likes a good ABC book! This one inspires kids to talk about their feelings and practice ways to calm themselves down whether they are afraid, upset, sad, etc.

Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You! by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Rafael López
Using her personal lived experience of being diagnosed with diabetes at a young age, Judge Sotomayor drives home the point that instead of jumping to conclusions about others different from us, all we have to do is ask. Sometimes it is in asking that we preserve the other person’s feelings.

Millie Fierce by Jane Manning
Millie is a kind and quiet girl who gets overlooked often. She decides she will be fierce. Unfortunately she is deemed mean. She realizes that she must change her ways, but knows she can be fierce on the inside to stand up for herself when she needs to.

Theodora (Lolly) Salazar has been teaching since 1990. She is currently an Academic Technology Instructional Support teacher in San Antonio, Texas. She loves to read and write and likes to encourage others to do the same. Having a conversation about books brings her so much joy. If you engage in a conversation with her, you had better have a little time to do so! You can find her on Twitter sharing #bookaday posts during the summer. Twitter: @SalazarLolly. Instagram: @reading_teacher32
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.

Bringing Back the Classroom Novel

This blog post was written by NCTE member Luke Schlueter.

There are many ways to describe what makes us human. We are the creatures who use language; we are driven by curiosity to explore, and by creativity to create and invent; we think about life, death, where we came from, and whether there is something that comes next. One definition offers a particularly rich vein of reflection: we tell stories, and we order our lives by the stories we tell. And never is storytelling more important than when trying to understand and work through the unique challenges and difficulties we all occasionally face.
Stories, after all, are the most basic means we have of making sense of ourselves and our lives. And when a narrative, a stable sense of meaning, however much or little we had thought about it beforehand, is disrupted, the human instinct is to turn to narratives that will help to explain, console, and in some manner heal.
Never is this more clear than when thinking about this past year. There is no person who has not been touched by some type of loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it be economic loss, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of all the time that we might have spent with people we love, doing the things we love doing.
For many children and young adults, the loss of the physical classroom and the experience of learning alongside peers in the scrum of a physical space has had dramatic consequences for learning and for mental health. As we slowly begin to return to those lives that had been so abruptly pulled out from under us, there is a call for teachers and schools to provide their students with the opportunity to engage with stories that will help them to work through what they have experienced and to think anew what this busines of being a human being is all about.
To embrace this opportunity means recognizing, to begin with, the pleasures of storytelling and the central place storytelling has in our lives.
As far as the pleasures of storytelling go, there is nothing in human experience that compares to the wonder of being so swept up in the world of a novel that you leave yourself and your own world momentarily behind. But good novels don’t stop there. They lead us, at the same time, to reconsider the shape and purpose of our own lives in the light of the characters we read about, and this happens regardless of how dissimilar the outward features of those characters’ lives are from our own.
There aren’t any readers, after all, who will know what it’s like to be a cricket living in a subway station, but they will immediately be absorbed from the first page of A Cricket In Times Square in the story of Chester, a cricket from the Connecticut countryside who finds himself in just such a place.
There are few young readers, likewise, who will know what it is like to live in the backwoods of the Ozarks, but they will immediately recognize the passion that prompts Billy Colman, the hero of Where the Red Fern Grows, to devote a year of his life to saving up money to purchase a pair of hounds for hunting racoons.
More readers may relate to the situation of Ghost, the hero of Jason Reynold’s wonderful novel, who discovers a surprising sense of fellowship with a misfit band of track runners, but even readers who haven’t had such an experience will immediately sympathize with the pain and confusion Ghost feels over the betrayal of a parent.
We read stories because they allow us to experience other lives and other places, and if that were the only reason that would be good enough. But there is one other reason, and one that is perhaps the most important reason of all—they help us to reimagine our own lives, and in that act of imagination we are given the opportunity to reflect upon where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going.
All of this happens at some level when we read a good story, but there a few ways of making sure that every young reader has this experience and in the most meaningful way possible.
Teachers, to begin with, can ensure that students read novels that have the power to draw students into their world and hold them there. Not all novels are equal; certain novels, through some magical mixture of plot, character, and language, are uniquely able to give the students the kind of transformative experience that we look for in stories, and teachers should prioritize the novels that do just that.
Second, teachers can give students the opportunity to share their own experience of reading a novel with their peers. There are few things more enjoyable, after all, than the shared experience of reading and discussing a novel with others who have been equally moved by it and have interesting things to say about.
Third, teachers can give students opportunities for making connections between their own lives and the lives of the characters they read about.
As students begin to return to physical classrooms, they will be hungry for the kind of experience that lies at the very heart of storytelling—the opportunity to tell their own stories, to hear the stories of others, and to find meaning and consolation in novels that appeal to their hearts and minds. Although reading stories is a deeply personal experience, it can also be a richly communal one, and schools that carve out space for this experience will be giving their students a gift that will reap benefits in their immediate lives and for those new lives that they are only now starting to imagine.

Luke Schlueter is an associate professor of English at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, and a principal author of Inspiring Readers, a whole-class, whole-novel literature program for schools. Find Luke on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/

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.

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.

How to Read (with Compassion): An English Teacher Explores Compassionate Reading through Thich Nhat Hanh’s Mindfulness

 This post was written by NCTE member Adam Mackie. 

The Miracle of Reading
On, between, beyond & through the lines
On the same spot I sit today
Others came, in ages past, to sit.
One thousand years, still others will come.
Who is the singer, and who the listener?
—Nguyen Cong Tru

In high school, when I was the age of the students I teach, I remember going to the public library and discovering Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness (1975). I was forever changed.
Like Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and others, Thich Nhat Hanh has offered a longstanding voice of peace, love, nonviolence, and compassion to the world. His writings continue to help me to slow down, to not be in such a rush to wash the dishes or peel a tangerine, and to guide my heart and mind to begin seeing life in a mindful way. Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings have encouraged me to listen with compassion, a way of listening he discusses in a 2010 interview with Oprah Winfrey.
As I teach English language arts (ELA) at West Anchorage High School in Alaska, it’s my continual task, among so many others, to teach students to use the kind of mindfulness and compassionate listening Thich Nhat Hanh teaches in an effort to closely, critically, and, perhaps most important, compassionately read. As I grow as an ELA teacher, I’ve realized that for students to learn to read I must continue to use tried-and-true reading and annotation strategies.
One annotation strategy I use is the double-entry log (organizing quotes and paraphrases in one column and metacognitive responses in another). With much success, I’ve used the double-entry log both as a student and as a teacher. I’ve seen the double-entry log assist readers at all levels to read, as it’s sometimes said, on, between, and beyond the lines of a text effectively.
I’ve found other strategies and approaches as well. Over my years of teaching, I’ve turned to Reading for Understanding: How Reading Apprenticeship Improves Disciplinary Learning in Secondary and College Classrooms (Greenleaf, Murphy, and Schoenbach, 2012), Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom (Ed. Garcia, 2014), and A Writer’s Guide to Mindful Reading (Carillo, 2017), to name a few.
Most recently, I’ve relied on the Reading for Understanding book to help readers with emerging literacy skills in a Reading Apprenticeship course find personal connections in what they are reading and identify reading roadblocks inside themselves. I must also mention the significance of sharing my personal passion for literature with students in hopes that students might become more compassionate toward ELA as a discipline.
Beginning from a place of passion and enthusiasm, I aim to help struggling and advanced readers alike identify their own reading roadblocks and more skillfully realize who they themselves are on a deeper level.
This helps students understand facts about themselves as readers that might be holding their literacy back from real growth and evolution. Roadblocks typically involve vocabulary or connotations of meaning beyond students’ life experience that prevent them from denoting and comprehending what a text is trying to communicate (reading on the lines).
From here, of course, readers go further and formulate their own inferences and understanding (reading between the lines). Once close reading of a text has been performed, and critical analysis begins, I attempt to point students to connect what they read to their own worlds. I also point students to explore inroads into other supplemental texts in a synthetic fashion (reading beyond the lines). However, I’ve noticed that something is often missing. No matter if students decode, or even analyze and synthesize a text, students still need to begin from a position of compassion to enter into reading on a more personal, genuine level.
Deeply encountering a text through the lines of compassion bridges the gap for students between the head and the heart and between reason and emotion. In bridging this gap, I see the necessity of exercising compassion to create a consciousness capable of reading through the lines. While reading on, between, and beyond the lines continues to be of vital importance, I further aver that reading compassionately through the lines—whether determining denotative or connotative meaning—is paramount and that there is a myriad of beautiful ways to arrive at this kind of reading in ELA classrooms and across the disciplines.

Holding Space
Staying in touch with ourselves and others
Attachment to the false view of self means belief in the presence of unchanging entities
which exist on their own. To break through this false view is to be liberated from every
sort of fear, pain, and anxiety.
—Thich Nhat Hanh

A friend who is a local yoga instructor talks a lot about “holding space” for her clients in her yoga nidra sessions. I once told her that “holding space” in the classroom, as an educator, is what I attempt to do for students as well.
It’s worthy of some thought to consider what kind of space is being held in an ELA classroom for students and where there is room to cultivate compassionate listening and reading within this held space. Creating and holding a space for students to discover themselves allows students to engage and become in tune with their own learning processes and become better readers.
Space can be held in the classroom in a variety of ways. I start every class by giving students the opportunity to share “good things” (or bad things) as a way to check in on how everyone is doing. I’ll often begin classes with a moment of silence or a guided writing prompt that points students inward to explore their private thinking. Norman Fischer’s Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer’s Odyssey to Navigate Life’s Perils (2011) is an excellent resource I’ve used to teach The Odyssey. Activities from Fischer’s text are designed for participants to actively use their imaginations to visualize the ocean, homecoming, and how to treat others, and allows students to hold space within themselves, as their own audience.
Holding space can even be as simple as giving students the freedom to investigate their inner character and landscape within the held space of a mandala-like circle drawn on a blank sheet of paper.
Thich Nhat Hanh talks about tiep, a word relevant to this discussion of compassion, which literally means “to be in touch.” In his Essential Writings (2001), Thich Nhat Hanh says:
In modern society most of us don’t want to be in touch with ourselves. We want to be in touch with other things like religion, sports, politics, a book—we want to forget ourselves. Any time we have leisure, we want to invite something else to enter us, opening ourselves to the television and telling the television to come and colonize us. So first of all, “in touch” means in touch with oneself in order to find out the source of wisdom, understanding, and compassion in each of us.
Another meaning within the word tiep, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, involves being “in touch” with others. In order for me to effectively teach students how to read compassionately, I have to simultaneously be in touch with myself and my students. Likewise, my students must be in touch with themselves, with other students, with me, and with the learning objective all at the same time. One way I’ve been able to hold space in my classroom for students in this way is to open the space for them to share their cultural background in class as we explore challenging themes and motifs in the literature we read as a community.
In teaching students to read closely, critically, and compassionately, I strive to guide them toward becoming more in touch with themselves, other students, and the curriculum. Continuing to teach students sound reading approaches and strategies, such as the double-entry log or those included in Reading for Understanding, remains necessary. However, many students may desire more compassionate approaches in their reading. I invite others to join this conversation about compassionate reading and Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching on mindfulness, and to share their experience. I look forward to a day when compassionate reading is second nature both to us and to our students.

Adam Mackie teaches mythology, world literature, reading, and writing courses at West Anchorage High School in Anchorage, Alaska, as well as literacies and poetry courses at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He loves going on epic adventures with his two children, Noah and Hazel, and his wife, Margaret.

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.

Three Pillars of Vocabulary Teaching

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that vocabulary knowledge is crucial for pupils’ school success. Pupils are language sponges, learning thousands of words each year. Like increases in a child’s height, it is a slow but inexorable development. On a daily basis it is near-imperceptible, but when you begin to count the passing of school … Read more

A Look at Close Reading during Children’s Book Week

The following post is excerpted from an article by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Diane Lapp called Learning Cycles That Deepen Students’ Interaction with Text from the May 2015 issue of Voices from the Middle.
It is important for students to develop as readers in order for them to become adults who can successfully interact with various texts and interpret them throughout daily life. In order for teachers to help facilitate this development, they must initiate and return to a cycle of asking compelling questions to engage students initially with a text, teaching students techniques to read closely, fostering collaborative conversations about the text, and finally, showing how such reading inspires further thought.
So what does truly understanding the text mean for teachers? We see this as a cycle that begins with a compelling question and then involves reading and writing, with a chance for students to use the information they have learned to share with others, which in turn invites them to ask more questions, once again facilitating additional reading, learning, discussing, and identifying still more new questions.
The Cycle:

Compelling Questions Students are invited into a text by the right question because they want to know the answer to the question. They learn that both literary and informational texts have answers to the big questions in life.
Close ReadingOne key to deepening students’ understanding of texts during close reading involves the questions that teachers ask. The questions ultimately take students on a journey, from the literal level to the structural level to the inferential level.

What does the text say?
How does the text work?
What does the text mean?

Collaborative ConversationsTo really deepen students’ interactions with texts, they must talk about those texts. They must stake a claim and provide evidence for their ideas. They must follow the rules of discussion, remain on topic long enough to interrogate their ideas, and ask questions of one another.
Being InspiredWe read closely and want to deepen our interactions with texts when there is something important and worthwhile to do after the reading. And that is the answer to the question: Why should students care about deepening interactions with text? Because they are inspired. They are inspired to engage in research and investigation. They are inspired to present or debate. They are inspired to continue discussing a text, perhaps even with a Socratic Seminar. And they are inspired to write about the text.

Douglas Fisher, NCTE member since 2000, is professor of educational leadership and teacher leader at Health Sciences Middle and High Schools.
Nancy Frey, NCTE member since 1999, is professor of educational leadership and teacher leader at Health Sciences Middle and High Schools.
Diane Lapp, NCTE member since 1980, is professor emerita of literacy education and teacher leader at Health Sciences Middle and High Schools.

April 2021 #NCTEchat: Celebrating 25 Years of Children’s Day, Book Day

Join us on Sunday, April 18, at 8:00 p.m. ET for an #NCTEchat where we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Children’s Day, Book Day. 
Founded by author and poet Pat Mora, Children’s Day, Book Day is a year-long commitment celebrating the importance of bookjoy. It was inspired by the Mexican traditional holiday El día del niño (the day of the child). Mora thought, “We have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. We need kids’ day too, but I want to connect all children with bookjoy, the pleasure of reading.”
NCTE members Denise Dávila (@ddavila_atx) and Tracey Flores (@traceyhabla) will host the chat.
We will share the following questions during the Twitter chat:
WARM-UP: Please introduce yourself by telling us your location and role. Share a photo of a text that brought you #bookjoy as a child or teen. #NCTEchat [8:04 p.m.]
Q1: Children’s Day, Book Day is April 30. Have you celebrated this day in the past? If so, what tips can you offer to those planning a Children’s Day, Book Day #bookjoy celebration (virtually or in person)? If not, what ideas do you have for future celebrations? #NCTEchat [8:10 p.m.]
Q2: Children’s Day, Book Day is often called Día to emphasize the importance of daily reading. How do you foster #bookjoy every day? #NCTEchat [8:18 p.m.]
Q3: How do you engage families and communities in promoting a love of reading? #NCTEchat [8:26 p.m.]
Q4: What strategies do you have for sharing readings and incorporating storytelling in our current digital environment? #NCTEchat [8:34 p.m.]
Q5: What professional texts have you been reading that correspond with #bookjoy? #NCTEchat  [8:42 p.m.]
Q6: Share any book that you have recently read and/or are currently reading and why you would recommend it to others. #bookjoy #NCTEchat [8:50 p.m.]
We hope to see you there! Be sure to join us by using #NCTEchat.
Never participated in a Twitter chat before? Check out this guide to help you get started.

Has the COVID-19 crisis affected reading development?

“Hello reader! Go ahead and read this sentence aloud. And maybe this one too.” Did you, by any chance, time yourself? If so, you have measured your “oral reading fluency.” This simple measure—the number of words read aloud correctly divided by the length of time it took—is used to chart the development of reading skills … Read more