The development of socialization and language arts skills is an integral part of the K-2 curriculum. Discovering and making effective use of the components of reading, writing and language arts skills; learning to get along with peers; getting in touch with one's feelings; sharing everyday life experiences and discovering that many of us have similar backgrounds and experiences; understanding what it means to be part of a community and recognizing that community exists in our homes, our classrooms, our surrounding neighborhoods and beyond; understanding that diversity exists in our world and that each of us contributes to the world community all constitute crucial components of growth and development in both areas.
African-American children's literature can be used as an integral building block in empowering all students in these areas. It too can be used as a productive Social Studies device to foster a better understanding of that large group of Americans too often under-recognized for their achievements, contributions, and rich heritage overall. This type of literature can also serve as a stimulative springboard in developing creative writers, for it encompasses all the genres: Non-fiction, contemporary stories, fables, rhymes, poems, biographies . . . the range is endless.
Throughout my teaching career, I have noticed that many teachers and parents have been conditioned to rely upon stories created by picture book authors with whom we are most familiar: Arnold Lobel, Margaret Wise Brown, Dr. Seuss, Charlotte Zolotow, Maurice Sendak, et. al.—primarily Eurocentric authors. We often overlook equally wonderful and creative works by children's book authors of non-Eurocentric backgrounds. In general, it is essential that children be exposed to diverse literature, not limited solely to Afrocentric or Eurocentric titles, but from all cultural and ethnic origins.
My years in the teaching profession have also revealed that children who see themselves and their experiences in literature are often empowered in the areas of self-esteem and self-discovery. Literature, when chosen with a child's interest and developmental level in mind, motivates youngsters and helps them recognize that they too are part of a larger community. By exposing children to multiculturally diverse literature, we create an enticing and inclusive learning environment. Through this medium, we can help children embrace the philosophy of celebrating cultural similarities and developing a better understanding of ourselves, our people and others.
In order to meet the Institutes' allotted page requirement, I have narrowed my subject matter to African-American children's literature in picture book form. I have also developed this unit because I recognize that although a wealth of children's literature regarding black culture and common experiences exists, a large number of teachers, parents and students are unfamiliar with the endless number of children's titles created by and/or written about people of African descent, particularly for beginning readers.
My curriculum unit is divided into three sections: The first provides a listing of Afrocentric picture book titles to be used in the classroom setting. (They can be recommended to parents for shared reading at home as well.) The importance of introducing the author is noted, and four of my students' favorite authors are briefly highlighted. Section 2 suggests ways in which these titles can be used to develop writing skills. The writing framework is based on Lucy McCormick Calkins' Writing Process. It is one that I have modified and used at targeted times throughout the school year. Section 3 provides additional ways in which the recommended books can be incorporated into year-round classroom activities.