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. Read more…