At the beginning of the school year, teachers in Grades K - 1 play a major part in helping children feel comfortable in their new classroom environment. Although off to a good start, educators face a challenge in that we inherit a diverse group of students: Some students have never experienced the joys of being read to one-on-one or being a participant in a cozy group storytelling setting. Others, in general, may never have had interactive shared learning classroom experiences. Some children are apprehensive about meeting their new instructor and/or have not yet internalized the reason for coming to school. Quite a few come from single-parent homes and non-traditional families. Some have latch-key lifestyles or rely on babysitters and caretakers to provide care and supervision while parents are off at work. Many find it difficult to let go of Mommy's or Daddy's apron strings. Sibling rivalry, jealously, disappointment, fear, successes, failures, disillusionment, and growing pains are not unfamiliar to even our littlest people. Children's literature can be used as a healing mechanism in these areas: The following picture books can be used as empowering language arts and social development tools.
Mary Hoffman, Dial Books for Young Readers.*
Grace attends a multi-culturally diverse elementary school. Students are auditioning for the part of Peter Pan in the school play. A few students assert that Grace cannot portray Peter because she is "black" and "a girl." This contemporary work reveals that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it.
The Black Snow Man
Phil Mendez, Scholastic Books.*
Jacob and Pee Wee are the main characters in this modern-day fairy tale. Pee Wee is the optimistic younger brother. Jacob, the older sibling, is a pessimist who asserts "
everything black is bad
." The two discover a tattered Kente cloth strewn in a garbage can, and later learn that this African shawl has magical powers. Jacob miraculously recognizes that his is a rich heritage, and Black is beautiful.
Jamal's Busy Day
Wade Hudson, Just Us Books
. A parent's role is to provide for, nurture, and take care of each member of the family. Jamal, the central character of this book, recognizes that he too has important duties to fulfill. This book serves as a terrific opener for the school year, empowering children to recognize how they fit in—that despite being small, they too have major responsibilities to assume.
Me and Neesie
Eloise Greenfield, Thomas Y. Crowell Company
. Janell, an only child, has an imaginary friend, Neesie. Janell's relationship is very real, but it's driving her parents batty. The last straw occurs when Grandma comes to visit and Janell is frenzied because Grandma almost sits on and squashes her invisible playmate. You'll find many children relating to the storyline. Perfect book for shared reading!
Mary Hoffman, Oxford University Press
. It's difficult being the middle child. You're not big enough to ride a 10-speed bike, but you're too big to sleep in your baby sister's crib. That's Nancy's dilemma, and she doesn't like being in middle-ground. This rhythmically patterned story is an easy read for beginning readers. This book can be used as a follow up to Math and Language Arts lessons to reinforce visual discrimination and logical thinking skills.
I Can Do It By Myself
Thomas Y. Crowell Company.*
Donny is sick and tired of his older brother telling him "you're too little." He's going to prove he's old enough to handle tasks all by himself—including purchasing a beautiful birthday gift for Mommy from the neighborhood plant shop. His mother reluctantly agrees, and allows her youngest son to go make his short journey without sibling supervision. Donny achieves his goal, but soon learns that taking a stand for one's independence has its terrifying moments.
Short Story - Non-Fiction
Colors Around Me
Vivian Church, Afro-Am Publishing Company
Some African-Americans are as dark as licorice; others are as light as vanilla ice-cream
. This work portrays the spectrum of skin tones found among black people, revealing that despite color variations, many people of African descent are classified as
. This book can serve as an empowering tool to diffuse namecalling based on physical attributes (that sometimes occur in the classroom and in other social settings). I have found that many children question why a rainbow of people sometimes exist in black families. If tastefully presented,
Colors Around Me
can be used to address this inquiry: incorporate it into a Social Studies lesson on the miscegenation of black people during their trek from Africa to the Americas to Europe.