Multicultural Literacy Text Set
This collection of resources focuses on introducing and discussing American culture as a diversity of many different cultures. Its primary audience is literacy teachers who want some resources to explore multiculturalism in their classroom. My goal is go beyond thinking of multiculturalism as something we talk about during a holiday, month or festival but as the norm thereby reflecting the reality of our country. While most resources are primarily literature about different cultures or from individuals in different cultures, there are also resources that focus on issues of multiculturalism and encourage students to explore their own position within the cultures they belong to. This is by no means a complete list but is a beginning.
Walter Dean Myers. We Are America. Illustrated by Christopher Myers. HarperCollins, 2011.
Just as the subtitle indicates, this is a book from the heart. Walter Dean Myers in a video expressed that he wished this book would help people feel ownership and connection by making up America. His theme is together we make America. He includes several individual voices ranging from Native Americans to artists. He includes quotes from famous Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life. This is a great book to introduce multi-culturalism at any grade level due to its vivid pictures and sincere, powerful choice of words.
Alexie, Sherman . The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009.
Already an esteemed Native American author, this is Alexie’s first book for Young Adults. Based on his own experiences of growing up on the Spokane reservation then going to an all-white school, the narrative is wry, hilarious and heartbreaking. Alexie’s own illustrations add to the overall feeling of the book of a kid trying to figure these out for himself. This is a theme any kid could relate to and indeed Alexie’s narrative sounds very much kid-like. Yet this is also a perspective of growing up in America that ironically is not as well-known even in minority literature. Native American literature is usually limited to historical fiction or romantic narratives of pastoral people. While Native Americans have been in this land longer than anyone else, they feel as much strangers in America as do people from different countries. Honest, blunt and moving this is a great book but not for young readers.
Dillon, Leo and Diane. Jazz on a Saturday Night. The Blue Sky Press, 2007.
The whole book has the rhythm of jazz from the smooth, lyrical words to the gorgeous, thoughtful illustrations. It is clear that this is more than a simple picture book to entertain a child. This is a powerhouse tribute to a genre and a culture. Through the words and illustrations the reader is caught up in this imaginary event where great jazz musicians share the stage for a Saturday night audience. While the even might be fictional, it registers more as metaphorical of a golden age in the history of African Americans. This book reminds the reader of the beauty, grace and power of the jazz and the African American culture which has so heavily influenced American culture at large.
Park, Linda Sue. Project Mulberry. Clarion Books, 2005.
Julia is a Korean American girl attempting to find her place between two worlds. Korea, the native country of her parents, and her homeland, America. At many times these two worlds seem to compete against each other, but the real question is how much does Julia allow them to within herself. Many second generation Americans find themselves in Julia’s shoes. They cannot erase the culture of their parents but do not necessarily feel at ease in American culture. This is a great book to read to help students who may or may not be in Julia’s position to work through the issues of what it means to be American.
Conkling, Winifred. Sylvia and Aki. Tricycle Press, 2011. Winner of the Tomas Rivera Award, Sylvia and Aki tell the story of an unlikely but true friendship between a young Hispanic girl and a Japanese-American girl. Both face huge dilemmas presented to them the racism of their time. Sylvia is refused admittance to a regular school and must go to “Mexican” school. Aki is forced from her home to live in an internment camp. Despite these difficulties, the two girls find courage to face their problems and overcome the effects of racism. The whole book is told alternating between each girl. This book helps readers face the less noble side of America and yet simultaneously give hope to change.
HarperKids “We Are America: Walter Dean and Christopher Myers.” http://youtu.be/oDQXjG0hjLQ
In this three minute video the father and son Myers talk about the reasons behind their book We Are America. Both go into detail about how they feel about America and the inspiration they drew from to produce the book. They have some great insights about America that both inspire and challenge students to consider what makes America America.
Time for Kids. Honoring America: An Interview with Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Meyers. http://www.timeforkids.com/news/honoring-america/12696
This brief interview discusses much of what the above video does and goes into detail for the inspiration of the book. Myers sites the destruction of 9/11 as a point he began to reassess himself as an American and what that meant saying to himself, “I need to take responsibility for being an American.” They then go into detail on what it means to be American and what that looks like. It is written with kids in mind so is easy to read but brings up important issues that need to be discussed in classrooms.
One of my favorite websites. Storycorps is devoted to recording stories from all over the country driven by the belief that everyone has a story to tell not just celebrities and writers. Among these stories they choose a few to animate into a film. They are short but potent. Some are hilarious. Some ironic. Some heartbreaking and haunting. Each though is a gem. Each is a testimony to the diversity that makes this country strong and unique.
Here are the ones that especially lend themselves to multiculturalism: Miss Devine, Facundo the Great, No More Questions, The Icing on the Cake.
Common. The Dreamer / The Believer. Think Common, 2011.
Common is well-known for breaking out of the gangster/pimp stereotype that unfortunately has become mainstream hip-hop and instead addressing socially prevalent issues. This album especially talks about injustices and potential of the African American experience. Common is a creative and powerful voice for expressing these issues. His words could be studied and analyzed as another multicultural text reflecting the American experience. Be warned this album does merit a Parental Advisory label. Several of the songs include language and harsh images. The last song featuring John Legend would probably be the best to share with students since it doesn’t have any swearing in it and doesn’t feature anything very disturbing. But if students (and parents) can handle the other songs, hearing them would be highly informative in the African American experience.
International Children’s Digital Library. http://en.childrenslibrary.org/
Want to find free ebooks from all over the world? Look no further. This website has it. It’s mission to bring a global collectiveness between children by providing multi-lingual, multi-era books from around the globe. The site took special notice to also make the site kid friendly with oversized, colorful buttons and icons. This is a great way to have access to thousands of colorful texts for free!
American Folklore. http://americanfolklore.net/
Vast and well-organized this website is a collection of folklore from all over America. At the heart of any culture is the folklore. Through folklore traditions, rituals, histories and languages are retained within a culture. Studying different culture’s folklore would be helpful in understanding and appreciating that culture as well as seeing similarities that link different cultures. There are several ways to look up folktales such through culture, topic or genre or to do a plain search. Each folktale is sighted from a textual resource. Lacking on cool graphics and illustrations but rich in full text folktales from all over. Where else can you access thousands of free folktales at the drop of the hat? What teacher wouldn’t appreciate that?
National Louis University, 08/2012. “Multicultural Awards.” http://libguides.nl.edu/content.php?pid=20655&sid=145694
This website lists different multicultural book awards for children and youth with a brief synopsis for each. Each title is linked to the award’s website with listings of current and past winners. This is a great resource for teachers wanting to find well-written multicultural books. The most popular awards are the Coretta Scott King Award for African American literature and the Pura Belpre Award for Hispanic literature.
This is a fantastic website that allows users to “tell stories” but instead of just using texts it incorporates video, pictures and maps to give context to that story. With this tool, students can take what they have learned about multiculturalism and either tell a story of culture, individual or even themselves just as the stories they’ve been reading. The tool is userfriendly and appealing to kids. You don’t need to be tech savvy to operate it and it makes stories look professional and insightful.
Storify is another great website to create and interact with digital stories. Storify allows you to search for images, videos and texts from search engines like google as well as social media like twitter and instagram. The site is mainly used as a social storytelling website by individuals and journalism companies like CNN due to it’s social nature. This social nature of the website also works well with multiculturalism making real and prevelant to the students’ lives and the world around them.
Morales, Becky. KidWorldCitizen. http://kidworldcitizen.org/
While not really focusing on multicultrualism in America, this blog by founder Becky Morales, “educator, speaker and mother,” is still an amazing resource to find activities, information and other resources. To boot it’s colorful and well-designed! Some articles that pertain to multiculturalism are
- “The Dangers of Telling a Single Story.” http://kidworldcitizen.org/2012/05/24/the-danger-of-a-single-story-and-teaching-kids-to-avoid-stereotypes/
- “Names and Cultural Idendetities in Immigrant Children.” http://kidworldcitizen.org/2012/06/13/names-cultural-identities-in-stories-of-immigrant-children/
- “Using Bilingual Stories.”
National Geographic Kids. http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/stories/history/
I wish I could have found a more specific website that documented cultures through the history of America, but this was the best I could find. In studying any culture, it’s important to understand that culture’s history as well. Some articles are a bit superfluous like “US Presidential Fun Facts!” but others are quite insightful like, “Walking in Two Worlds” a story about a Native American living in America. (http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/stories/peopleplaces/walkingintwoworlds/)
Library of Congress. “America’s Story from America’s Library.” http://www.americaslibrary.gov/
This is another website that might be helpful in exploring the history behind American cultures. Again its more gimmicky and prone to traditional perspectives on history but still has useful and kid friendly resources.
Cinco Puntos Publishing. http://www.cincopuntos.com/index.sstg.
Cincos Puntos is publishing house that specializes in bilingual books but also has an emphasis in multicultural books. Their books range from fiction to graphic novels to poetry. The literature is vivid and up to date. Teachers will be able to browse through this collection to enhance and update their collection of multicultural books.
This is another publishing company specializing in Hawaiian / Polynesian books. There is a great range of formats and topics.
Lee and Low Books. http://www.leeandlow.com/
Yet another great publishing house specializing in multicultural books. One of the co-founders states in the “about us” page, “When we started the company, there was a lot of interest in books focused on multiculturalism, but most of the titles were folktales about exotic people from distant lands. We felt strongly that it was important to have books with contemporary settings that reflect how people live today.” The company does a great job at providing not just festive titles but several different genres and formats such as learning to read picture books to young adult fantasy.
Scharf, Erica (Director/Producer) & King, Christina D. (Producer) (2011). Up Heartbreak Hill. USA: Native American Public Telecommunications.
Released in 2011, this documentary follows three young Navajo teenagers growing up on the reservation. It addresses the dificult topic of balancing being true to your culture as well as finding your place in the modern world. This is a special film to me because I had friends in this exact predicament. I grew up close to the Navajo reservation and saw Native American friends have to choose between their culture and their own goals. The movie is honest, sad and hopeful. It is powerful as a tool to teach about colliding cultures which is so pivotal in teaching multiculturalism.
Museum of International Folkart. http://www.internationalfolkart.org/collections/collections.html
Equally important to understanding a culture as folklore is folkart whether it be 19th century or 21st century. Folk art comes directly from the collective culture of a people and portrayed the ideologies, tastes and perspective of a culture. I must admit this is not my ideal website to find folk art, but it is the best I have found so far. I would like to find a gallery that one can choose culture, time period or theme. Still good examples of folk art can be found here to assist a teacher in showing their class.