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Flipping the script: At risk for school failure or funds of knowledge?

I had the pleasure of meeting with Deborah Menkart, Executive Director of Teaching for Change last week. She had attended the pre-publishing launch meeting for Ana’s Day/El Dia de Ana and as a new author, I wanted to follow up with her about suggestions she had made regarding marketing the book, as well as to share some ideas and thoughts I had about the “We Need Diverse Books Now” campaign that had gone viral earlier in the summer. Many readers are familiar with the statistics that only 10% of books published last year were about children of color despite the fact that 37% of the U.S. population is comprised of people of color.

While she agreed that there is a need for children’s books by authors of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, who can help children of color see themselves in books, she argued that there are numerous books on the market that one might perceive as hitting all the right notes, but are in fact missing out on bringing a critical lens to the stories they tell. She suggested that this critical lens would enhance a reader’s ability to see beyond the illustrations or dialogue and begin to ask questions about how children or families of color are depicted, thereby inviting discussions about race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity or religion.

This discussion with Deborah Menkart was especially exciting for me, because it stimulated a lot of thinking that I have been doing in preparation for a workshop I will be present this week for the Teacher Parent Institute at CASA de Maryland, organized by my friend Dr. Tehani Collazo, Senior Director of School and Community Engagement. The teachers will come from schools that are close to CASA and they will be working with children, a majority of whom are from diverse backgrounds. I am particularly interested in exploring the ideas of resiliency and protective factors as a way of strengthening their understanding of the cultural strengths and assets the families bring to school. I am hoping that by providing an inviting selection of children’s books by authors of color like Duncan Tonatiuh or Chris Myers, we can not only explore issues like race, class or language differences, but also help parents and teachers understand that children’s literature can provide a great springboard for these kinds of conversations.

Frances Diaz-Evans, a guest blogger for Multicultural Kids, provides timely tips for parents and teachers about the importance of encouraging discussions about race, diversity, respect for others and acceptance of differences. She recommends that parents inquire about the kinds of books that are in the classroom, and she invites parents to examine how they depict children of color from different social classes or from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds?

For my workshop, I will be sharing an “Updated Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Books” by Louise Derman-Sparks--- one of the rich resources on the Teaching for Change website. Check it out, and tell me what are your favorite children’s books to explore issues of social, cultural or linguistic diversity?

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