Celebrating differences by sharing high-quality texts
Over the past few months I have been fortunate to hear a number of speakers talking about ‘Celebrating Differences’ and the importance of equality in primary schools. As Andrew Moffat states in his book, ‘No Outsiders in Our School,’ (available at Madeleine Lindley book centre)
Darren Chetty highlighted the words of Malorie Blackman, “You want to escape into fiction as well as read about other people, other cultures, other lives, other planets and so on. But I think there is a very significant message that goes out when you cannot see yourself at all in the books you are reading. I think it is saying ‘well you may be here, but do you really belong?” Darren explored this further by recognising the challenge for us as teachers – to develop literature where BAME children are:
• Not invisible
• Not monsters
• Not stereotypes
• Not ‘the single story’
Within this blog, I would like to share some high-quality texts that can be used in the classroom with a range of ages to ensure that no children (young people and adults) feel invisible, like monsters, stereotyped or ‘the single story.’
Using poetry as a vehicle for discussion
Poems about Families – chosen by Brian Moses and illustrated by Steph Marsall (2017).
Just a quick glance over the Contents page of this new compilation of poems about families for children highlights the range of topics explored, for example: being adopted, having a step-mum and step-dad, being a twin, being disabled, sibling difficulties and family members growing old. Here are some examples of some of the poems that form this anthology.
Wicked World – Benjamin Zephaniah (2000).
You only have to read the blurb, (which is an excerpt from one of Zephaniah’s classic poems) to know what this collection consists of.
‘All people are people
And as far as I can see
You’re all related to me
That is why I say that
All people are equal’
As with all his collections, Zephaniah does not disappoint as his poems bounce off the page: ‘A Mystery from History’; ‘Fearless Bushmen’; ‘Bengali Rap’; ‘Kurdish Land’ ;’Inuit’; ‘The Vegans’; ‘I Luv Me Mudder’; ‘Jamaican Summers’ and ‘We Refugees.’ I would like to share two of my favourites: ‘Who are We?’ and ‘The British.’
Picture books that celebrate families
More People to Love Me- Mo O’Hara and Ada Grey (2016)
Who’s who in your family? This little girl is faced with a mammoth task to draw her family tree. As her own family extends so do the pages in a delightful fold out ending!
The Great Big Book of Families – Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
This is a wonderful book that explores family members (who they might be); family homes (what this might look like) and family life (what you might do with your family). Each page displays various scenarios for children to identify with and learn from. This book would also be an excellent opportunity to teach children how to skim and scan – there is a cat to spot on every double page and the detailed illustrations will promote much valuable discussions too.
Heather Has Two Mummies – Leslea Newman and Laura Cornell (2015)
In 2016, Walker books published the new edition of ‘Heather Has Two Mommies’ in the UK as ‘Heather Has Two Mummies’. Heather has two mummies: Mama Jane and Mama Kate. When Heather starts school, somebody asks about her daddy and Heather asks herself ‘Am I the only one here who doesn’t have a daddy?’ This beautifully illustrated book depicts the familiar message about families and love.
Pearl Power and the Girl with Two Dads – Mel Smith
When Pearl meets a new friend at school called Matilda, she realises that Matilda’s family is different to hers. Matilda has two Dads. In typical Mel Smith style, this book is written mostly in rhyme and the illustrations capture the real characters of Pearl and Matilda. After spending the evening at Matilda’s house, Pearl reflects that even though Matilda has two Dads, Matilda’s family is just like her own!
Picture books exploring identity
The First Slodge – Jeanne Willis and Jenni Desmond (2015)
This striking fable really underpins what it means to share and how the world belongs to everybody. The First Slodge sees everything in the universe for the first time and believes everything is hers. Until she meets another Slodge – who equally thinks everything is his! ‘My sunset’ soon changes to ‘Our Sunset’ as the pair realise that we share the world. This delightful tale is complete with ‘Our babies!’
Something Else – Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell (1994)
‘He just wants to find somewhere to belong…’ is the message on the front cover. What a powerful text to share with young readers! Something Else is the main character and life is difficult for him – he doesn’t look like anyone around him; he doesn’t talk their language and he doesn’t eat what they eat. So, they tell him that he doesn’t belong! All is dark until there is a knock at the door and another creature arrives. They are not the same either but they try to play each other’s games; eat each other’s food and celebrate being different until another creature arrives and they make room for him too!
The Thing – Simon Puttock and Daniel Egneus (2017)
Taken from the blurb: ‘A story about thoughtfulness, an adventure in friendship and a subtle commentary on the search for meaning in modern life.’ Children (and adults) will really think whilst reading this book. ‘The Thing lay where it had fallen,’ is the opening line and other characters are referred to as ‘someone passing by,’ ‘another,’ ‘a third,’ and ‘a fourth.’ As we continue through this beautiful book, characters are revealed as Cobble, Tummler, Hummly and Roop. These characters are intrigued by ‘the Thing’ but all share the same determination to look after it. However, many others become interested in ‘the Thing’ and some people argue that it doesn’t belong. Until one morning ‘the Thing’ was gone. Cobble, Tummler, Hummly and Roop realise that ‘the Thing’ has brought them together, but the true message of this story is down to you, the reader!
Introducing Teddy – Jessica Walton and Dougal MacPherson (2016)
Errol and Thomas are pals and play together every day. But, one day Thomas is not a happy teddy and wants to share a difficult secret. Will Errol understand that Thomas wants to be called Tilly? This is a heart-warming story about friendship and acceptance. When Errol questions, ‘Is that why you have been so sad? I don’t care if you’re a girl teddy or a boy teddy! What matters is that you are my friend,” Jessica Walton subtly changes the character to respond as Tilly rather than Thomas, ‘You’re the best friend a bear could have,’ said Tilly. As Tilly develops more confidence she moves her bow tie to her hair proudly announcing, ‘ I’ve always wanted a bow instead.’
Picture books that challenge stereotypes
What are you playing at? Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol (2013)
Fed up with typical girls and boys books? This book challenges statements and will provide much food for thought amongst children aged 0-100! Here are some clever and inspiring examples from the text and under the flaps!
Picture of girl playing with a doll ‘boys don’t play with dollies’ Picture of a Dad feeding his baby girl ‘why would they?
Picture of a boy playing football ‘girls do not play football’ Picture of professional female footballers ‘they really don’t like all that sweaty stuff’
Mister Seahorse – Eric Carle (2004)
This classic book from Eric Carle highlights the fact that seahorses, stickleback, tilapia, Kurtus nurseryfish, pipefish, bullhead catfish (and some others) are different to most fish families as the father cares for the eggs. Mr Seahorse swims through the sea carrying in his pouch the eggs Mrs Seahorse has laid. Along his way, he meets more fish who are all Dads babysitting their eggs. At the end of the story, the babies wriggle and twist to find their way out of Mr Seahorse’s pouch. A great text to share with children of all ages and discuss a different role for Dad!
Pearl Power – Mel Smith
‘You throw like a girl, you run like a girl, you _________ like a girl,’ rings in Pearl’s ears when she starts school. But, watch how she reacts to it! Pearl well and truly gives the boys a run for their money. At the end of the book, she comforts a little boy who responds with a delightful, ‘You hug like a girl!’ A wonderful text to share with all budding readers.
I’m a girl – Yasmeen Ismail (2015)
The girl in this book is forever getting mistaken for a boy! As we read through the book, more and more people make the same mistake – ‘Look how fast that boy is going!’; ‘You okay Sunny?’; ‘Hey! Watch out young man!’ and ‘I’ve got just the book for a little boy like you.’ Young readers will delight with the hilarious mistakes supported by brilliant illustrations all confirming that who says pink is for girls and blue is for boys?
Books for young adults and their teachers
If you only have time for 3 reads… make it these:
If I was your girl – Meredith Russo (2016)
This book is just so powerful and is a must read for all… Amanda Hardy is the new girl at school and is desperate to fit in. However, she harbours a secret that at her old school she was called Andrew. This poignant book follows Amanda’s journey and details reactions from family members, friends and boyfriends as she discovers who Amanda really is. The reader feels like they are walking every step with her on this journey.
The Hate U Give (THUG) – Angie Thomas (2017)
This book is brutally honest and is the wake-up call we all need. Sixteen year old Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend by the police. The book follows the challenges Starr faces as she decides who to take advice from. At times, this book is uncomfortable as a young teenager’s simple life is thrown into chaos and as the reader, you feel every jolt of guilt too.
No Place to Call Home – Love, Loss, Belonging – JJ Bola (2017) @JJ_Bola
This is JJ Bola’s debut novel and it navigates the lives of a Congolese family who escape the harsh realities of their homeland only to face new harshness in their new ‘home’. Words cannot express what it means to read this book and be a part of the story, simply by being the reader. Read it yourself, you will know what I mean.
There are many, many, more rich texts that could have been part of this ‘Who are You?’ blog as we continue to give children and young adults a diet of high quality texts to digest.
I would like to recommend a few key people for you to follow on Twitter who have been influential in what I choose to read:
Andrew Moffat @moffat_andrew
Darren Chetty @rapclassroom
Diane Leedham @DiLeed
Martin Galway @GalwayMr
Mat Tobin @Mat_at_Brookes
Dawn Robertson @justdawned
and of course, the Madeleine Lindley Book Centre @teacher_books where all of these books (and many more!) are available.
Maddy Barnes, July 2017 @moonmaddy
It’s always great to share amazing displays from local schools. Here are some displays that scream of equality from Crab Lane Primary School, Manchester and Crumpsall Lane Primary School, Manchester