The African American Read-In Celebration at the University of Northern Iowa Marks Its 15th Anniversary

This post was written by NCTE members Tiffany A. Flowers and Gloria Kirkland-Holmes.

Each year, the African American Read-In is held during February, Black History month. During this program, there are many African American books read and shared with children. However, as seasoned organizers, we contend that it is just as important to promote the authors who research, write, and craft these brilliant books. It often takes years to put historical fiction picture books together. Ensuring the illustrations are authentic and well matched to a text is of great importance as well. After many years of coordinating African American Read-in programs, we have concluded that when you read a book, you are not just sharing the story; you are relating culture, experience, history, and comprehension of the author’s lived experiences.
The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) African American Read-In promotes African American authors and illustrators every year at their event.  The aim of the African American Read-In program is to do culturally specific programming for first graders in the Waterloo Community schools. This can include workshops on hair braiding, Black inventor STEM workshops, drawing workshops, math workshops, and of course workshops that host authors.
UNI aims to bring authors with unique perspectives who can inspire children to greater heights. One example is Jan Spivey Gilchrist, a researcher and cultural historian of African American children’s literature. Jan can create stories that children love. Her talent comes from years of practice, writing, rewriting, and researching how to relate African American experiences to all children. Another example is Crystal Swain-Bates,  a best-selling author who engages students through everyday stories about their worlds. Ty Allan Jackson is known for his work with Black boys. He has an uncanny ability to empower Black boys to love reading through representation. Children delight in his beautiful books focusing on self-awareness and adventure. Teacher-scholar and author Ryan Joiner  brings his books to life by promoting all the reasons that children should learn to read. Ryan believes that reading can take you anywhere.
Promoting brilliant Black authors during the African American Read-In is just as important as reading the books. This is why the African American Read-In is a success every year, and this year’s Read-In, celebrated and hosted during the 10th annual African American Children and Families Conference, sponsored by the College of Education at the University of Northern Iowa, was no exception.
In fact, this year we celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Read-In at the University of Northern Iowa! Although we initially expected to hold it in person, we switched to an online model with major modifications. It is important to note that COVID-19 did not stop the university faculty, staff, students, librarians, media specialists, public school teachers, and first graders in Waterloo, Iowa, from celebrating and attending the Read-In. February 11, 2021, saw authors, entrepreneurs, and volunteers from across the United States using Zoom to read to over 1,000 first graders from Waterloo Community schools, who listened from their homes or (socially distanced) from classrooms.

Shown reading at the AARI event (l. to r.) are Jim Bray, assistant professor, Theater, and Whitney Hanley, assistant professor, Special Education. (Photos: Chris Wiebe)

The Read-In committee stayed committed to the mission of the conference to ensure that children were able to participate in this event. We want to give special thanks and acknowledge the African American Children’s and Families African American Read-In Committee, the University of Northern Iowa technology team, and the countless volunteers who tirelessly served to connect children to an experience they will cherish long into adulthood.
As we embark on our journey as literacy professionals to deliver and promote literacy instruction to children in digital environments, sharing our strategies is key to closing the digital divide and helping all students. As program planners across the United States begin their plans for the Read-In next February, our hope is that you will make time in your program for authors to focus on writing workshops, discussions surrounding their work, and the formation of book clubs to read African American children’s books.

Chicago native Tiffany A. Flowers is a children’s author, literacy advocate, and assistant professor of education in the department of cultural and behavioral sciences at Georgia State University Perimeter College. Her research interests include African American literacy development, children’s and young adult literature, urban education, family literacy, field placement, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. You can contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @Prof_Flowers.
Gloria Kirkland-Holmes is an Emeritus Professor of Early Childhood/Elementary Education at the University of Northern Iowa. She is the conference coordinator and founder of the Annual Conference on African American Children and Families and the University of Northern Iowa Annual African American Read-In. You can contact her at [email protected]

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

Celebrate the African American Read-In with Texts by These NCTE-Published Authors

The National African American Read-In is the nation’s first and oldest event dedicated to diversity in literature. It was established in 1990 by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month. This initiative has reached more than 6 million participants around the world.
Much of the focus of the African American Read-In is on novels and trade books, but this is a great time to look at recent professional texts by NCTE-published authors as well. Have you had a chance to get acquainted with the following titles?
Toward Culturally Sustaining Teaching: Early Childhood Educators Honor Children with Practices for Equity and Change by Kindel Turner Nash, Crystal Polite Glover, and Bilal Polson (eds.) offers a timely resource for preservice teachers, teachers, scholars, faculty, and graduate students in language and literacy education, early childhood education, and culturally relevant, responsive, and sustaining teaching.
Bringing together theory, research, and practice to dismantle antiBlack linguistic racism and white linguistic supremacy, Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy by April Baker-Bell provides ethnographic snapshots of how Black students navigate and negotiate their linguistic and racial identities across multiple contexts.
Teaching Children’s Literature: Critical Inquiry to Foster Equity, an NCTE Quick-Reference Guide (QRG) by Detra Price-Dennis, features a sample lesson, approaches to critical inquiry, ways to center equity with your students, principles to guide inquiry and equity, questions to pose about oppression and humanity, questions for reflection on equity and social change, library curation, literacy curriculum audit, background knowledge acquisition, web resources, and further readings.
Follow #AARI21 on social media for additional text suggestions for the African American Read-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.

Get Ready for #AARI21 with #NCTEchat!

Join us on Sunday, January 17, at 8:00 p.m. ET for an #NCTEchat about preparing for the 2021 National African American Read-In. Your host will be Michelle Rankins (@MichelleRankins). Michelle is an NCTE Ambassador and the organizer of Cuyahoga Community College’s seventh annual AARI event, My Sister’s Keeper: Celebrating Black Women and Womxn Poets.
We will share the following questions during the Twitter chat:
Warm-up: During #BlackHistoryMonth, we celebrate the African American Read-In, which aims to bring Black authors into the canons of our communities. Share your favorite quote from an African American author. #NCTEchat #AARI21 [8:04 p.m.]
Q1: How can you help students engage with writings by Black authors in ways that honor the Black community? #AARI21 #NCTEchat [8:10 p.m.]
Q2: What types of interactive reading or writing activities do you have planned for your students during #BlackHistoryMonth? #AARI21 #NCTEchat [8:18 p.m.]
Q3: Have you hosted an African American Read-In event before? If so, what tips can you offer? If not, what questions do you have about hosting a Read-In event? #AARI21 #NCTEchat [8:26 p.m.]
Q4: How are you planning to move your #AARI21 celebration online and to be virtual? Let’s crowdsource ideas for our colleagues who need help! #NCTEchat [8:34 p.m.]
Q5: Representation matters. How do you select texts written by Black authors to ensure that many voices are represented in your classroom? #AARI21 #NCTEchat [8:42 p.m.]
Q6: To understand the current political climate in the US, what Black authors are you reading? Please share titles and links. #AARI21 #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.