By Amy Ludwig Van Derwater, 2023 CCIRA Conference Speaker

Many years ago, my friend Tim bought a VitaMix. You know the VitaMix, that blender you could feed car parts into and still end up with a tasty smoothie? Tim made salsa. Gallons of salsa. For every block party and birthday party years after Tim’s purchase, we could count on him to bring salsa. And we loved it. Salsa became Tim’s signature dish, and from the day he bought that VitaMix on, he was the salsa man.

Eating Tim’s salsa, I was reminded of my childhood and of Mrs. Roske, church secretary and mom at my childhood church. Mrs. Roske was well known for her Cardamom Braid Bread. And then there was my husband’s Babci who was famous for her Pineapple Cake. Even as her eyesight failed and she worked from a recipe written in one inch high letters, she made this cake. And Mark loved Pineapple Cake so much that for my bridal shower, I received a copy of the recipe along with a glass baking dish and all of the ingredients.

These cooks were famous for one thing, and decades later, I still remember them for their signature dishes. Well, last year, after 22 years away, I returned to the classroom for one year as a fourth grade remote-and-in-person teacher. I knew how much I didn’t know, and I was nervous, so I made a simple commitment to do one thing well. To stay true to one simple ritual: my fourth grade ELA students and I would begin each class by reading poems out loud. 

On the first day of school, I introduced a poem written on chart paper (remote students shared a Google Slides poetry notebook), and I read it with a pointer. Then we read the poem together. After a whole class choral reading, individual students volunteered to “have a turn.” We read this poem together on each of the first few days of school.

On the first full-week Monday, we read our poem together again and added a new poem. On the third Monday, we added a third poem. On the fourth Monday, we dropped off the first poem so that we remained at reading three poems aloud to begin each class. And each week thereafter we dropped and added a poem. We read funny poems, serious poems, poems with lots of rhythm, poems to celebrate the change of seasons, and challenging poems such as “The Shaker Abecedarius.” We read old and contemporary poems written by so many poets. Sometimes it felt as if choosing the just-right poem was my most important task.

Poems Hanging On Our Interactive White Board

Children hand copied our weekly poem into their Poetry Notebooks. I could have given them printouts, but the hand copying helped the poems sink into our hearts. When we read aloud together, some students looked up at the charts and slides, and some chose to read their own handwritten versions of the poems.

From Olivia’s Notebook

We experienced grand surprises. When we read Rachel Field’s “Something Told the Wild Geese” and I played a song version, one boy asked to sing it to us on his own, and we all sat in wonder-filled silence afterward. Students noticed craft moves in poems that I had not noticed. Later in the year, students would request that old poems come back “for a visit.” Some children chose to read our poems aloud and alone with their eyes closed, to self-check if they had a poem memorized, knowing they could open their eyes at any time. Some brought poems to submit as possible class poems. Reading poetry aloud and together became part of who we were as a family. We carried the same 36 poems written on our hearts.

As June approached, my almost-fifth-graders asked, “On the last day of school, can we read all of our poems during ELA class?” And we did. Together, on our last day, all of us read 36 poems in unison, remembering our year by walking through those familiar and well-loved lines and stanzas.

My parting gift to these young readers was a gift of pencils. I purchased a  foil stamping machine and stamped each student a set of four colorful pencils, each with a line from one of our shared poems. When giving the gift, I read each of four lines out loud, and together, they named the poems. Months later, they remembered.

Poem Pencils from 2020 – 2021

Photos by Amy LV

Poem Pencil Lines:

AS LONG AS EVER YOU CAN from “Rules of Conduct” by John Wesley

WORDS ARE MAGIC from “Treasure Words” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

HOLD FAST TO DREAMS from “Dreams” by Langston Hughes

COME TO THE EDGE from “Come to the Edge” by Christopher Logue

The 2020-2021 school year was a challenging whirlwind for many, including this new-again teacher. I am grateful to poetry for holding my class and me steady, for slowing us down and teaching us about ourselves and each other. I am grateful to poetry for reminding me that one ritual, repeated with love, matters. In difficult times, a simple ritual can provide comfort and peace.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is author of several poetry and picture books for children including Forest Has a Song, Write! Write! Write!, and her latest If This Bird Had Pockets: A Poem in Your Pocket Day Celebration. A former elementary school teacher (ages ago and for one year during COVID), Amy is also author of the professional book Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres. She keeps two popular classroom blogs – The Poem Farm and Sharing Our Notebooks – and looks forward to sharing poetry at the CCIRA 2023 conference in Denver. Find Amy online HERE.

Sharing the Stories of Refugees

By Don Vu

Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have books about refugees because no one ever needed to escape their homeland in search of safety and freedom? Unfortunately, refugees will always exist in a climate of greed and lust for power. And, books can help us share their stories, foster connection and build empathy in this ever-divisive world. 

In 1975, as the American War in Vietnam ended, my family and I narrowly escaped Saigon in search of safety and hope. We were some of the fortunate first 120,000 Vietnamese refugees to have landed in America during that time.

Almost 50 years later, I was with my father when a similar situation unfolded halfway across the world in Afghanistan. I turned to my father as the evening news flashed chaotic scenes of people rushing onto airport tarmacs to escape certain persecution as the country fell into the hands of the Taliban. With misty eyes, he quietly got up and said, “The exact same thing is happening again. We never learn our lessons.” 

It’s been several weeks since the Russian invasion of Ukraine that created over 10 million new refugees in the world. One day, people were living normal lives– shopping for groceries, watching their favorite television shows, taking their children to school, making dinner for their families. The next day, they are waking up in a tent or subway station, wondering what the future will bring. If and when they do come back home, it will never be the same.

Image courtesy of Zac Ong at Unsplash

You don’t have to be a former refugee to have sympathy for the refugees in the world. But you need to know their stories. And this is where books come in. 

Books can be the windows (and for many of our students, mirrors) that allow refugees to share with us their loss, their fears, their hopes and dreams. Books give a voice to those displaced and marginalized. And they allow readers to connect beyond the 30 second soundbites on the nightly news. When we are able to see that their hopes and dreams are not much different from ours, we will realize that there is not much difference between any of us. Refugee status can be applied to anyone– regardless of nationality, skin color, or ethnicity. Here are a few noteworthy children’s books about refugees that can be shared with students:

Wishes by Muon Thi Van. With only 75 words, this picture book is poetic in describing the emotions of leaving a home in search of a new one. Each page offers educators an opportunity to explore the loss, fears, hopes, and dreams of those seeking refuge away from home. Because it does not specify where the setting is, readers can apply the discussion to any refugee scenario. 

Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egneus. Set in a refugee camp, Lubna creates a new friend from a stone she finds on the beach to help her adjust to her new life. When she meets another child who just arrived to camp, they become friends until it is time for her to move on. This picture book allows us to get a glimpse of life in a refugee camp and how friendships can make all the difference.

Refugee by Alan Gratz. For older kids, this fictional work tells the stories of 3 young people, from different countries and different eras in history, as they face unimaginable danger as refugees. Students will be able to not only find the common threads of humanity across the stories but they will have an opportunity to reflect on how they would feel in similar circumstances. 

These are but a few of the many books that are being published every day that share the stories of refugees. As educators, we have the responsibility to share these stories. We hope that our students will never have to endure the pain of losing their homes (although many are in our schools for that exact reason). However, when students read about the refugee experience, we can help the next generation develop understanding and sympathy in hopes that one day we will all recognize the humanity in one another. 

Don Vu is the author of Life, Literacy, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Supporting Our Immigrant and Refugee Children through the Power of Reading. He has worked in schools for 24 years as a teacher and principal. He is looking forward to sharing the stories of immigrants and refugees at the 2023 CCIRA conference in Denver. You can find out more about Don at

Make Grammar Instruction Engaging and Authentic

by Whitney La Rocca

My 5th grader, Emmeree, recently auditioned for a role in Shrek the Musical through our local youth theatre company. She was hoping for one of two roles: Lord Farquaad or Gingy, the Gingerbread Man. “Not the gumdrop buttons!” To prepare, she decided to watch a variety of live recordings of the Broadway musical on YouTube. She studied the actors’ mannerisms, their voices, their craft. She observed, she noticed, and she compared and contrasted versions of these craft moves. Emmeree then tried out the moves on her own, imitating what she observed while also bringing in her own personality and ideas. She continued to practice, trying out the moves, revising them, recording herself and comparing them to her mentors on Broadway. Emmeree landed the role of Gingy, and I can’t wait to see this production live in May!

In her natural world, Emmeree used a simple process to learn how to do something authentically. In her academic world, Emmeree has used the same process to learn how to effectively use grammar and conventions in her writing without worksheets or endless editing/correcting practice. In our Patterns of Power resources (grades PreK-12), Jeff Anderson and I, along with several other coauthors, invite teachers to use this inquiry process to teach writers how they, too, can study the moves authors make and try those same moves out for themselves. 

 The Patterns-of-Power Process is simple and easy to use:

  • Invitation to Notice

Lift a sentence or short excerpt from a published piece of age-appropriate literature that demonstrates the skill you want to teach. If you have emergent writers in your class, use an entire page from a picture book that includes both pictures and words. Read the sentence aloud, and, rather than telling your students what to look for, invite them to share what they notice, allowing your students to take charge of their learning. 

Honor what they notice, no matter what it is. I like to invite them to point it out in the book or on the screen to ensure I’m not making assumptions about their observations. Name what they have noticed, or reinforce the name if they have the name for it. If they notice an apostrophe, for example, and call it a comma floating in the air, honor it by saying something like:

 Oh yes, that is an interesting mark the author has used. It does kind of look like a comma in the air. We call this an apostrophe. Why do you think the author chose to use this? Yes, she could have said cannot, but she chose to use the apostrophe to squish some letters out and make the contraction can’t.

You may also choose to extend on the noticing, giving your writers a little more about the skill:

Some other contractions writers might use are didn’t or won’t. What would these be if the author chose to not use the apostrophe?

The extensions are optional and you will choose which teachable moments you feel are beneficial at the time and which are not. Don’t feel that you need to extend on everything. 

Photo Credit:

Continue to ask What else do you notice? to engage your writers in conversation about the moves the mentor author makes. When the conversation moves in the direction of the skill you have chosen for the lesson, honor, name, and extend on it and introduce the focus phrase: a short learning target statement in the I-voice that is in child-friendly terms. For example, if you have chosen a lesson on nouns and the students notice the people, places, and things in the sentence, discuss the words the author chose to use. Then share the focus phrase–I use nouns to show people, places, and things.–which you have written on a sentence strip. Post this focus phrase in the classroom. You will revisit this focus phrase often throughout the rest of the process. 

Continue this conversation around what students notice for no more than ten minutes. The conversation is key here. It grounds students in choices writers make for meaning and effect rather than about what is right or wrong. We want our young writers to make their choices for their readers, not for us. 

  • Invitation to Compare and Contrast

The next day, revisit the mentor sentence and introduce your students to another sentence that is similar to it. This sentence is often an imitation of the mentor. Invite your students to discuss how the two are alike and different. Continue the conversation by honoring, naming, and extending on what the students observe. When the focus skill, i.e. nouns, is discussed, revisit the focus phrase, repeating it together several times. This part of the process should take no more than ten minutes, giving students enough time to dive deeper into the discovery of the moves writers make–why they choose to make them and how. 

  • Invitation to Imitate

Now that writers have been given time to really study short snippets of writing that illuminate a specific skill, invite them to try it out with you. Show them how to use the scaffold of the mentor sentence to compose a new sentence demonstrating the skill. Together, compose one through shared writing, interactive writing, or even with a partner. I like to use this time to really  model the planning and rehearsing that takes place when we write. 

What should our subject be? What types of nouns should we use: people, places, things? What should our verb be? What other details or moves from the mentor can we use? Let’s say our sentence aloud together. Ok, now let’s write it.

After composing an imitation together, students use their own ideas to imitate on their own. They may write their imitations on sentence strips, sticky notes, blank paper, index cards, or in a digital format. 

You may choose to imitate together one day and invite your students to imitate on their own the next day. This tends to be the class’s favorite part of the process because they have the confidence to make choices and apply what they have learned using their own ideas without a threat of being wrong on a worksheet. 

  • Invitation to Celebrate

We take time to celebrate the students’ imitations with a quick share and display. You may choose to play some music or add some movement to the celebration. Students can share with the entire class or in small groups or partners. I like to play music and give them time to walk around the room, sharing with several classmates. After some time for sharing, display the student writing with the focus phrase: a wall display, a door display, or even a digital display. I often take the imitations and compile them into a class book for the classroom library or on a ring to be hung somewhere accessible in the classroom.

This invitation is not to be skipped. With this celebration, we send the message that the writers CAN effectively use the skill and are ready to continue this work in all writing they do. 

  • Invitation to Apply

Now it’s time for writing in the wild for several days. You’ve used a mentor to get you started, but now you can take your students on other paths with the skill. Invite your students to continue to use the skill when they write in all subject areas. Repeat the focus phrase and refer to it often. You may choose to make an anchor chart or show your writers other ways to use the skill. For example, if you’re using the focus phrase, I use nouns to show people, places, and things., you may choose to create an three-column chart together by collecting nouns used in books the students are reading. Another option is to use a picture to inspire more writing. Label the picture with people, places, and things your students see and use the labels to write sentences or even paragraphs about the picture. Invite students to go back into their drafts in writing workshop to revise or edit with the focus phrase on their mind. The best kind of editing checklist is one that is created with the students, not for the students. Using the focus phrases to create a checklist together has an incredibly high impact on how writers edit their own writing. 

  • Invitation to Edit

To culminate the lesson, revisit the mentor sentence and invite students to share what they have learned from the author, including the focus phrase. Then, take the sentence and change something in it. This change could make the sentence incorrect, but it doesn’t have to. You  may choose to change the verb tense or maybe change some lowercase letters to capital letters. Invite your students to discuss what has changed and what is the effect of the change. This conversation continues to reinforce the idea that writers make choices for their readers. And every choice has an effect on the meaning of the sentence or on how the reader reads it aloud.  This conversation is about meaning and effect instead of right and wrong. Continue by sharing the mentor again with a different change made and then again. By the end of this invitation, your students have engaged in conversation about meaning and effect with three different options in addition to the original mentor. Students are more likely to edit their own writing with intent when they consider the meaning and effect they are creating for their readers.

This Patterns-of-Power Process is most effective when we give our students time to engage in it. We recommend ten minutes a day across two weeks for one lesson. Each invitation takes about ten minutes. By giving yourself two weeks, you are giving yourself and your students time to really gain an understanding of the skill and some flexibility in your schedule for interruptions. Because there are essentially seven steps across ten days, you may choose to spend several days on the Invitation to Apply, or you may choose to use one of the extra days to catch up on something else. Aren’t we always behind on something? Time in our day is always the biggest puzzle to solve. Because this process brings together reading and writing in conversation about author’s purpose and craft, you will find the time you spend in it productive and meaningful. The work your students do here will filter back into the work they do in both of your reading and writing blocks of time. It’s worth it. 

Our students, like my daughter, Emmeree, are constantly learning how to do things outside of school by watching others. This is how they learn. This is how they grow. This is what makes them confident in what they do. Let’s bring this same style of learning into the classroom. Ditch the worksheets and the constant editing practice. Use this process instead. Introduce them to mentor authors. Celebrate what your writers try out. Watch them grow and feel confident in the choices they make for their readers. 

To learn more about the Patterns of Power family of resources (PreK-12) with ready–to-use lessons that can be immediately implemented, check out this link.

Whitney La Rocca, with more than 20 years in education, has been a teacher, a literacy coach, and a consultant, working with children and teachers across grade levels, schools, and districts. With a deep knowledge of content, standards, and best practices, Whitney enjoys delivering professional development and coaching teachers to support children as they develop their identities in the world of literacy. She continues to learn from children each day.

It’s Time to Think About Summer Reading

By Lynne R. Dorfman 

Every parent understands that reading is a critical skill for their children. Once they have the skill, they need to practice and learn to enjoy reading. There are many ways children can practice reading, including reading aloud, reading at bedtime, and partner reading with a sibling or friend. To continue to improve our fluency and comprehension and grow our vocabulary, we need to read year-round!  Summer is just around the corner and it’s important to start to think about how we can keep our kids reading over those summer months. Summer reading is for everyone!  It is essential if our students are going to retain knowledge and skills learned in this school year. Students who don’t read are at a real risk of falling behind their classmates. Teachers, along with parents and other family members, can avoid this by making sure kids set aside some time to read every day.

Courtesy of Unsplash: Levi Perchick

How to Prepare for Summer Reading

As we examine the research about readers, one thing we find that if we want our readers to go home and read over the summer, we should give our students periods of time when they can read daily while they are in school. While young people may not get better at reading just by reading alone, they certainly improve when we add the sustained silent reading time to our reading program in addition to all the other good things we are doing. In fact, children who participate in sustained independent reading programs in school show clear increases in the amount of free reading they do outside of school (Pilgreen & Krashen, 1993), and those effects seem to last years after the program ends (Greaney & Clarke, 1975).

 Free choice is a factor in reading motivation (Guthrie & Davis, 2003). If we want our students to read over the summer months, then we have to be more flexible in the choices we provide our students. Do we want everyone to be a reader or are we more concerned that they read what we tell them to read?  Studies of summer reading in Massachusetts (Gordon & Lu, 2008) show that low-achieving students don’t think they have free choice, while high-achieving students think that they do.  Perhaps this is true because low-achieving readers typically do not do much reading outside of school – in the summer or any other time – so most of their reading is mandated by the curriculum.  In order to make sure students have free choice, we have to provide alternatives to novels and the classics such as magazines, graphic novels, newspapers, and even websites (Gordon & Lu, 2008).  Most summer reading programs present graded lists that narrow the choice to recommended books.  If schools encourage students to read what they actually enjoy reading, they will motivate them to read more. 

Access to Books

It is true that people read when they have access to reading materials and that those students who have more access to books read more (Krashen, 2004).  The Columbian government dramatically increased access to reading materials. Fundalectura, a government agency, promoted a program called I Libri al Viento (Books to the Wind) and flooded the country with inexpensive reprints of out-of-copyright novels, short stories, and poetry.  Books were placed at bus stops, train stations, and markets, and as a result, more people read and the literacy rates improved. 

 An informal student survey can help teachers know what books are in the home and what are the family members’ reading habits.  Information about access to books in the home can be gathered during parent-teacher conferences. Easy access to books is important to summer reading. One way to promote summer reading is to spend some time collecting books at garage and yard sales and saving them for students to choose several books or more as an end-of-the-school-year gift. Schools or grade levels can hold book swaps during the summer months either in the school library, gym, or cafeteria if this exchange is established with principal/district approval and a committee of teachers and parents become the volunteers to run the book swap. Flyers can be sent home and posted in local markets, or on the school’s website or Facebook page. 

Make it possible for the local librarian to visit your school for an assembly program – either in person or virtually. Local libraries often host summer programs that kids can join for free. Librarians can highlight new books at every level and help students make good choices.  

Local reading chapters can get involved, too. If it’s possible, ask the local librarian to co-host  a “Night at the Library” with you during an evening in spring for your children and their parents. You might be surprised to learn that not everyone has a library card. That night would be a good time for families to acquire one! 

My chapter of Keystone State Literacy Association has hosted a book fair with a local B & N in Wyomissing. We were able to get local authors to come to read to the children and sign their books. It was so successful that we are hosting two more book fairs including one at a new location in the 2022 – 2023 school year.  A Book fair in late spring with one or several children’s authors and members of the local reading council book talking the books on their award lists could stir a lot of interest. We even had a visit with a therapy dog that goes into schools to “read” with kids. One of our guest authors, Lisa Papp, read from her book Madeline and the Therapy Dog.  Parents and their children were delighted!

Educational Opportunities are Not Equal 

The summer effect on student achievement is well researched. It is important for school districts to design inclusive summer reading programs for all students (Gordon & Lu, 2008).  Research findings have consistently reported that student learning declines or remains the same during summer months and the magnitude of the difference is based on socioeconomic status (Malach & Rutter, 2003). Disadvantaged children showed the greatest losses, with a loss of three months of grade-level equivalency during the summer months each year, compared with an average of one month loss by middle-income children when reading and math performances are combined (Alexander & Entwisle, 1996).  When school is not in session during the summer, there are inequalities in educational opportunities.  While summer reading is a good idea, it often violates research-based beliefs about free choice, the importance of access, and the social aspects of reading.  Despite what research says, summer reading lists often insist that reading be curricular and consist of “good” books.  There is no attention paid to reading across nonprint media formats. Research shows that stimulating tasks increase situational interest and can increase reading motivation and comprehension (Guthrie, et al, 2006), but summer reading tasks are often limited to a book report. For most reluctant and struggling readers, writing a report about what they have read is punitive, not rewarding.

How Can We Motivate Today’s Students to Continue to Read?

Finally, summer reading and other reading motivation initiatives often have problems when they offer extrinsic rewards for reading.  These rewards, combined with competition, suggest that students are resistant to reading. If we broaden our view of what students can read, that is largely untrue.  Our students are reading. They are reading text messages, e-mails, and blogs. They are on twitter and Facebook. They thrive on social interaction.  We need to meet our readers where they are, opening the door to reading for our tweeners and teeners by giving them choice, and access to books and computers.  We should provide social interaction through reading clubs, literature circles, blogs, podcasts, and radio shows. Some social aspects of reading could be continued through summer months.  Students can review books and report them in podcasts and Voice Thread.  Examining current reading practices and research-based beliefs that may or may not guide our current practices can help us improve future practices. Let’s help our students be successful readers of new forms of literacy and create reading communities that translates reading into a social activity in an interactive digital environment. Let’s meet our students where they are!  Summer is coming. What will you do to help your students continue to read over the summer months?

Lynne Dorfman is an adjunct professor at Arcadia University.  She enjoys her work as a co-editor of PA Reads: Journal of Keystone State Literacy Association and past co-president of KSLA Brandywine/Valley Forge, She is also a past president of Eta, a chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa.  Dr. Dorfman is a co-author of many books including Grammar Matters: Lessons, Tips, and Conversations Using Mentor Texts, K-6 and A Closer Look: Learning More About Our Students with Formative Assessment, K-6. Her newest book, Welcome to Writing Workshop, is with Stacey Shubitz.

Now is the Time to Read, Write, and Talk about Books; Not Ban Them

By Brian Kissel

This week, I have been invited to speak to Colorado teachers at CCIRA about the comprehension connections that occur when students read texts, write responses to them, and engage in rich discussions about their meanings.  Reading, writing, and talking about texts in our classrooms comes at a precarious time in our country.  More and more states, including my home state of Tennessee, are in the process of passing “prohibited concepts” laws which forbid the teaching of accurate, authentic history that is not whitewashed or sanitized. According to EdWeek, as of January 2021, 36 states have introduced bills to restrict “critical race theory” or limit how teachers discuss racism and sexism in their classrooms.  Increasingly, legislators, school boards, and activist parent groups are dictating what books are appropriate and inappropriate.  And, too often, the books most often banned are those focused on identity, race, and historical accounts of racism in our country.  

Here in Tennessee, examples of book banning abound.  Recently, in McMinn County, about 180 miles east from my house, the school board voted 10-0 to ban the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman from the 8th grade curriculum.  The book, an autobiographical retelling of the Holocaust told from the perspective of Spiegelman’s father, depicts the horrors of the Holocaust using different animal species as representations for various groups. Their objection to the book: the occasional inclusion of the word “god damn” and “naked pictures” which are illustrations of various Holocaust victims (represented as mice) stripped of their clothes as they experience the inhumanity of the concentration camps.

Before voting to ban the book, School Board member Troy Allman justified his vote through the following declaration (school board minutes): “I am not denying it was horrible, brutal, and cruel. It’s like when you’re watching TV and a cuss word or nude scene comes on it would be the same movie without it. Well, this would be the same book without it. I may be wrong, but this guy that created the artwork used to do the graphics for Playboy. You can look at his history, and we’re letting him do graphics in books for students in elementary school. If I had a child in the eighth grade, this ain’t happening. If I had to move him out and homeschool him or put him somewhere else, this is not happening.”

I wonder: How are adolescents supposed to understand the “horrible, brutal, and cruel” experiences of the Jews during the Holocaust if they are denied access to reading and discussing books that authentically describe such inhumanity?   

Meanwhile, in Williamson County, Tennessee, the county where I currently live and where my children attend school, a local chapter of Moms for Liberty has advocated against Wit and Wisdom, a literacy curriculum recently adopted by the county in consultation with teachers and community members who voted on its inclusion into county schools.  They objected to several books contained within the curriculum—specifically, books that focus on Black historical icons and racial events from history.

One book that faced such objections was Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story.  In this autobiographical account, Bridges talks about her historical integration into New Orleans Public Schools and includes photographs of the events that unfolded during that time period from her life.  Parents within the Moms for Liberty group objected to the book for the following reasons:


Those objecting to the book claim that it, “causes shame for young impressionable white children”.  It makes one wonder: If a six-year-old is old enough to experience racism, aren’t second graders old enough to read, write, and talk about racism in their classrooms? 

In her foundational essay, Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors, the brilliant Rudine Sims Bishop (1990), implored teachers to populate their classroom libraries with books that reflect the students learning within the classroom (mirrors) alongside books that describe the lived experiences of others (windows). We hear quite a bit about her mirrors and windows symbolism, but not enough about her third symbol: the sliding glass door.  For me, the sliding glass door represents what we, as teachers, should be doing with books to instructionally navigate children through the meanings contained within the pages and their implications for what’s happening in their lives outside those pages.  In essence, it’s not enough to bring books into the classroom; we must engage with these texts so children are provided an accurate account of the country from which they live.  How can we expect them to help guide our future if they are denied the truth of our past?

Reading, writing, and talking about books is the work we must do despite legislators attempting to scare us into silence.  I’m not saying this work will be easy.  Teachers feel more surveilled and face more scrutiny than any time before.  But if we are to ever eradicate the scourge of racism within our country, it won’t be through silence.  And it certainly won’t happen by banning books from our classrooms. 

Brian Kissel has been an educator for 20+ years as a literacy professor, former elementary school teacher, and former elementary and early literacy coach.  He graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia where he focused early childhood development—particularly in the area of young children’s writing development. Currently he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy and serve the Department of Teaching and Learning as the Director of Elementary Education and ECE Programs at Vanderbilt University.