Voices in Education

The Road to Representation - Creating the Crunchy Life Kid’s Series

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During a guided reading lesson in my Washington, D.C. classroom, I was working with a group of Fountas and Pinell level O readers. This was my remediation group where filling in the gaps for reading strategies was the priority to improve comprehension and overall reading development. As I began the “before reading” step of the Jan Richardson model, the books that we were about to preview were met with three loud sighs that came from my table. Not thinking anything of it in particular, I considered the disinterest in reading “normal” due to how much of a struggle school seemed to be in general for my “lower” group of readers. 

A search for books with characters that reflect my students
We carried on with the lesson as my students struggled to hide how they felt about the book that we were reading. During recess that same day, I asked two of the students how their morning went, and to my surprise, I was met with more honesty than I was ready for. My students told me that their day was okay but that they absolutely hated coming to my table to read. Unsure of how to respond I assumed that it was because of the task as opposed to them disliking me as a teacher. I continued asking questions until finally one of my boys told me that I always make them read stupid books that aren’t fun to read. 

I considered what titles we had read in the past and to my knowledge they were all rich literary texts that I assumed most kids would have enjoyed reading. But as my students carried on with their explanation, I soon realized that they would much rather prefer reading books that featured characters that looked like them, who sounded like them and who did things that they themselves would want to do. I then interviewed group after group of students, even from other grades. Before I knew it, I had a ton of real life, useful information that helped inform my judgment when choosing books out of our scholastic library. After countless attempts at finding the perfect book for my group to redeem myself as the gatekeeper in my classroom, I came up short each and every time, failing to provide them with a read that they’d be intrinsically motivated to take on. 

A personal journey to find relatable voices in stories
For the next two years, I carved out time for myself to write the very stories that my students had wished that they could have been reading the whole time as students in my language arts classroom. I applied ideas and themes that children growing up in the busy cities can relate to. I considered how I grew up as my mother, my siblings and I battled homelessness, how my uncles and other positive Black male role models were absent for several different reasons, how sports and music fit into my life and into the lives of my students, how current events and real life issues impact our society and how the loss of loved ones create holes in our hearts and can reveal as trauma. I pushed myself to find a true, genuine voice for what an eleven-year-old Black protagonist would sound like, how he would think and act in his community.

How the “Crunchy” title became the clear choice
During the writing process, it was incredibly challenging to make it all come to life but I knew that I couldn’t stop until I finished the job. During the process, I struggled to come up with a title. All I could think of was how difficult life was for the main character that I created but also how resilient he was at the same time. I began to think of how he continued to persevere even when he couldn’t accept or swallow the reality of his situations. And just like that, I realized that sometimes life gets crunchy but that you can’t stop chewing and carrying on the best way that you can. 

Crunchy Life Kid’s series and the roller coaster school ride
As I committed to capturing real life lessons and universal messages that would be interesting to read and powerful to hear, I completed my first five of the now seven Crunchy Life Kid’s Series books. In 2018, I created a world in which the main character of my series, Charles Anthony Thomas, was free to dream, question and express his anger as he takes the readers on a roller coaster of a ride through his fictional fifth-grade school year.

Relatable characters and authentic experiences infused into the books
The Crunchy Life Kid’s Series are books written with kids aged 8 - 12 in mind. Within the series, Charles, aka Crunchy, along with Kelvin, Jamal and Alyah, all experience one incredible fifth-grade school year as their teacher Ms. Brown quits in September. Left without a teacher, the class is then surprised to find that her replacement is the legendary NFL superstar Tyrone Leroy. Mr. Leroy is then tasked with taking a group of mischievous and academically challenged students to new heights. During the series, the students have incredible experiences including being visited by Colin Kaepernick during Black History Month. 

From start to finish, the Crunchy Life Kid’s Series includes tons of African American history that is embedded into the plots through conversation and dialogue that Crunchy's grandmother has with him as well as from the lesson that Mr. Leroy teaches in his classroom. Each of the Crunchy Life plots is also infused with a traditional fairytale that is told from an alternative rendition. For example, in book two, titled Naughty or Nice for the Holidays, Crunchy’s cousin explains that a lady sat in the back of a bus and the seat was too cold and then she sat in the middle and it was too hot. She then explains that the woman chose to sit in the front of the bus, even though she may be ridiculed for her choice but that the seat in the front of the bus was just right. The scene within the plot of book two is a representation of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. But after a closer look at the scenario, young readers make the connection that the scene was in reference to Rosa Parks. Other fairy tales that are included in the series include Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, The Gingerbread Man, The Three Little Pigs as well as Snow White.

The series includes so much about African American history that there is even a full social studies curriculum that complements the stories and lessons taught. There are also prep lesson plans that allow students to practice language arts skills that are appropriate for third through eighth grade students.

Since implementing the Crunchy Life Kid’s Series as well as other titles that celebrate authentic experiences of diversity and inclusion, my students have fallen deeply in love with reading and writing. Remember, “Sometimes life can get a little crunchy but never give up.”

Glen Mourning

Glen Mourning 4th Grde ELA Teacher https://www.glenmourning.com/

Glen Mourning is former graduate of the University of Connecticut. As a Division 1A scholarship football athlete, he completed both an English and Gender studies degree. In 2010 Glen finished his masters degree in Elementary Ed. He then began his teaching career working along side of the nationally renowned Educational contributor Dr. Steve Perry, Star of the CNN Special "Black in America II" and the host of TV One's "Save our Sons".

Glen is currently an elementary reading teacher and author of The Crunchy Life kid’s series chapter books. Throughout his career, he has motivated and encouraged minority youth to fall in love with reading and develop social and emotional skills to improve their lives. 

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