#DecolonizeReading2023 Books Early Readers Features Genre Lifespan of a Reader Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] Redemption and Hope in Truthful Stories About Slavery in a Luminous 2023 Picturebook

"How do you tell that story and not want to weep for the world?" - Kwame Alexander and Dare Coulter, "An American Story."

Myra here.

We are delighted to dedicate our Wednesdays to featuring nonfiction titles, as per usual.

This year, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized
  5. Translated or international literature

An American Story (Amazon)

Written by Kwame Alexander Illustrated by Dare Coulter
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers (2023) ISBN: 9780316473125 (ISBN10: 031647312X) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Around a month ago, I shared The 1619 Project: Born On The Water and delivered a talk at University College London on Culturally and linguistically diverse children in picturebooks and classroom practice, very ably organized by a dear friend and colleague, Dr. Ruanni Tupas under the Centre for Applied Linguistics. One of the questions asked by one of the attendees is whether there has been ‘push-back’ from the teachers in using diverse picturebooks in the classroom. To think that I have not even shared this powerful title published just early this year in my presentation:

In the Author’s Note of this powerful book (sure to win all them awards next year), Kwame Alexander wrote about his own experience of ‘push-back’ from his child’s teacher, which was actually what inspired him to create this story:

I wrote this story after a racially charged incident happened in my daughter’s fourth grade classroom. They were learning about life in the thirteen colonies without discussing the impact and trauma of slavery. During a parent-teacher conference to discuss the matter, my daughter’s teacher became defensive, distressed. We realized that her anxiety came from a fear of teaching slavery, which stemmed from the fact that she was never taught how to teach slavery in the classroom.

Those last few lines almost punched me in the gut, mainly because that is my role as a teacher-educator: to build the capacity of teachers to make informed choices on what reading materials they can include in their classrooms as part of a more inclusive, culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy. Indeed, the discomfort may stem from the fact that not enough is being done to immerse teachers to powerful literature that can prove to be transformative in the classroom for both teachers and students alike.

Take this book, for instance. Kwame Alexander’s lyrical text paired with incredible art by Dare Coulter is one such gift provided to teachers – literally handed over – in truth and love and hope – to read with children, in the hopes of raising a more enlightened, critical, reflective generation. The art in this book has reawakened in me a desire to learn more about art history and styles – because I have no idea how Dare Coulter managed such alchemical creation – just see the below art, I’m like: how? HOW?

Speaking truths and educating minds is a privilege that teachers are given. There is power in that. May it be wielded courageously by brave souls and kind hearts in classrooms everywhere in the world.

#DecolonizeReading2023 Update: 33 out of target 100

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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