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Mrs. Vienneau’s Top 10 Reads - Start Some Good Conversations about Black History Month

I am a huge advocate for diverse libraries in each of our classrooms. Our children need to see themselves reflected in the literature around them. Books are often referred to as being mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors into another world. When we look into a book and see our own lives reflected in the characters and situations, that book is a mirror. Books are windows when they allow us to look through into the lives and stories of others who are different from us. If we are able to be transported into another world/story and learn how to feel empathy for the character, that book is a sliding glass door that opens for us. We need all three (mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors), to help us grow and become more accepting of each other. 

February is Black History month. Lincoln Alexander, Willie O’Ree, Viola Desmond, and Jeanne Augustine are just a few of the MANY Black Canadians who made an impact on our society as we know it. While we read a variety of literature in our classrooms all year, not just in specific months, I wanted to take a moment to recognize the importance of this month and highlight a few good reads.  Many of the books listed below have American connections, but the themes and stories create some vibrant classroom conversations and connections. I am always looking for more recommendations as well - please share if you have some books in your family that we may all enjoy and learn from. For now, I hope you enjoy a few of my favourites.

* The write-ups are courtesy of Google :) 

I Color Myself Different by Colin Kaepernick - Picture Book

When Colin Kaepernick was five years old, he was given a simple school assignment: draw a picture of yourself and your family. What young Colin does next with his brown crayon changes his whole world and worldview, providing a valuable lesson on embracing and celebrating his Black identity through the power of radical self-love and knowing your inherent worth.

I Color Myself Different is a joyful ode to Black and Brown lives based on real events in young Colin's life that is perfect for every reader's bookshelf. It's a story of self-discovery, staying true to one's self, and advocating for change... even when you're very little!

A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson - Picture Book

There’s a sweet, sweet smell in the air as two young girls sneak out of their house, down the street, and across town to where men and women are gathered, ready to march for freedom and justice. Inspired by countless children and young adults who took a stand, two Coretta Scott King honorees offer a heart-lifting glimpse of children’s role in the civil rights movement.

Knock Knock by Daniel Beaty - Picture Book 

Every morning, I play a game with my father. He goes KNOCK KNOCK on my door, and I pretend to be asleep till he gets right next to the bed. And my papa, he tells me, ‘I love you.’

But what happens when, one day, that KNOCK KNOCK doesn’t come? This powerful and inspiring book shows the love that an absent parent can leave behind, and the strength that children find in themselves as they grow up and follow their dreams.

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine - Picture Book

Henry dreams of a world where his life belongs to him. But when his family is sold, he risks everything for what he knows is right. With the strength and conviction of the best kind of hero, Henry makes a harrowing journey in a wooden crate - and mails himself to freedom! In this powerful true story, Ellen Levine weaves the extraordinary events of Henry “Box” Brown’s life with poignancy and grace. 

New Kid by Jerry Craft - Graphic Novel

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan turns out to be one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds - and not really fitting into either one. Middle school’s hard enough without all the unspoken rules and expectations that come along with being the new kid! Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander - Young Adult Book (story in verse)

Basketball phenom Josh Bell and his twin brother, Jordan, are kings on the court, with crossovers that make even the toughest ballers cry. But when Jordan meets the new girl in school, the twins’ bond unravels. Basketball and brotherhood intertwine to show Josh and Jordan that life doesn’t come with a playbook and, sometimes, it’s not about winning.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson - Young Adult Book (story in verse)

Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson shares her childhood growing up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s. Touching and powerful, her story is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely - Young Adult Book

Two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this four-starred reviewed tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken directly from today’s headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson - Adult or Young Adult version

From one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time comes an unforgettable true story about the redeeming potential of mercy. Bryan Stevenson was a gifted young attorney when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the furthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man sentenced to die for a notorious murder he didn’t commit. The case drew Stevenson into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship - transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Tell Me Who You Are by Winona Guo - Reference Book for Adults

(Identity and racial inequalities in general)

In this deeply inspiring book, Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi recount their experiences talking to people from all walks of life about race and identity on a cross-country tour of America. Spurred by the realization that they had nearly completed high school without hearing any substantive discussion about racism in school, the two young women deferred college admission for a year to collect first-person accounts of how racism plays out in this country every day--and often in unexpected ways.

In Tell Me Who You Are, Guo and Vulchi reveal the lines that separate us based on race or other perceived differences and how telling our stories--and listening deeply to the stories of others--are the first and most crucial steps we can take towards negating racial inequity in our culture. Featuring interviews with over 150 Americans accompanied by their photographs, this intimate toolkit also offers a deep examination of the seeds of racism and strategies for effecting change.

This groundbreaking book will inspire readers to join Guo and Vulchi in imagining an America in which we can fully understand and appreciate who we are.

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