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Diversify Your Classroom Bookshelf with Multicultural Books

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“I don’t like to read!” “Reading is BORING.”  “I can’t find a book that is interesting to me!”  All are quotes taken from students that I have worked with over the past seven years. 

As a former teacher who has taught in the primary grades, the struggle of getting students to engage in reading is all too familiar. So is the challenge of making reading more appealing than playing video games and watching television or videos on YouTube. My previous students were not disengaged because of a shortage of books – my classroom library was overflowing with fiction and non-fiction books varying in reading level and topic. My previous students were disengaged because the books available did not relate to their lives.   

Connecting with Culturally Relevant Stories

Most of the families of the students I have taught in the past were originally from countries outside of the United States.  This included countries in Asia like India, Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and countries in South America like Peru and Colombia. Accordingly, my previous students were searching for books that were culturally relevant, texts that are  defined as books or other forms of print that individuals can connect to.  Culturally relevant narrative texts include characters and problems similar to students’ own lives and identities.  A good example is Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey, by Amy Shrodes and Doug Kuntz.  It is a true story about an Iraqi family forced to run away from their home and leave their pet cat behind.  It provides context for connections to war, love and loss that children and families from overseas countries often experience. Check out this resource: http://libguides.luc.edu/c.php?g=49784&p=320661 from Loyola University Chicago’s Lewis Library for more culturally relevant text suggestions.

Bringing books to read from home was always an option in my classroom. However, the books that students had access to at home were also not providing enough opportunities for authentic connections to be made. Local book stores like Barnes and Noble and public libraries had a much better selection for students to choose from, but the high price of books and inconvenience of getting to the local library prevented students from obtaining culturally relevant texts from these locations. 

The Research to Increase Reading Motivation

Yvonne and David Freeman have conducted research on the relationship between culturally related texts and student engagement.  The Freemans believe that when teachers use culturally relevant books, students gain a better understanding of those books and reading engagement is increased.  Their research has also led them to believe that this engagement leads to higher reading motivation.

There is a great need for a variety of good books that students can access, relate to and connect with in the classroom. Ponciano & Shabazian (2012) say that [students] are developing an understanding of differences both within and outside of their families and communities.  Which is why it is valuable to incorporate more representation in your classroom and within your curriculum.

So, teachers, if you are looking to add to your book collection this school year, consider cultural relevance before purchasing. More books with characters that are closer representations of current classroom populations, from different backgrounds and countries, will help get your students engaged in reading! 

The following booklist was curated by the participating educators on a live chat during a recent PBS webinar event. It is a starter list of culturally relevant books that will give you opportunity to build a foundation of respect and inclusion of difference in your classroom (Ponciano & Shabazian, 2012).

Ponciano, L. & Shabazian, A. 2012. Interculturalism: Addressing Diversity in Early Childhood. Dimensions of Early Childhood, vol 40(1), 23-29

Including All Readers Event - Book List

Marley Dias Get’s It Done And So Can You by Marley Dias

Zoey and Sassafras Series by Asian Citro

Jacqueline Woodson books

Jerry Pinkney and Brian Pinkney books

The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci

The Selkie Girl by Susan Cooper

The Faithful Friend by Robert D. San Souci

Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold

Erandi’s Braids by Antonio Hernandez Madrigal

Cherries and Cherry Pits by Vera B. Williams

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

Moon Girl Novels by Amy Reeder

Jason Reynolds books

Fear Street Series by R.L.Stine

Love, Amalia by Alma Flor Ada

Todd Parr Books

Dancing in the Winds by Debbie Allen

Jane Yolen Books

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

Being the Change by Sara Ahmed

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

I Like Myself! By Karen Beaumont

A Chair for my Mother by Vera B. Williams

A Doll Like Me by Kimberly Gordon

Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn

Pam Munoz Ryan Books

https://socialjusticebooks.org/

https://www.tolerance.org/

NEA Read Across America

Kristin Carney

Kristin Carney PBS Community Engagement Manager

Kristin is a former elementary school educator from the Washington, D.C. area.  She has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education from East Carolina University and a master's degree in Education Curriculum and Instruction from George Mason University.  Currently, she is helping to build and support the home to school connection between parents and early childhood educators at PBS.

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