My students come from all walks of life. In each class, I have dependents of active military, first and second generation immigrants, students who have or are currently experiencing homelessness or the foster care system, differently-abled students, students navigating their own complicated gender identities, and so, so many others. Many are living below the poverty line, and don't always have access to books at home (or at school) that are interesting and relevant to their lives and identities.
I'll never forget the moment last year when a student of Samoan heritage came to me and said "I read a lot of books, but this is the first time I've had books to read that weren't just about white people." It is crucial for students of all backgrounds and identities to see themselves represented in literature, and not just as background characters.
As I've worked to acquire more diverse titles for my classroom, more and more students (many who entered my class on the first day of school declaring "I DON'T read") became interested in giving reading a chance.
Last summer, I became a master book hustler. I could be found at thrift stores and book banks and garage sales every weekend, trying to find books that A) I could afford and B) that might encourage reluctant readers to pick up a novel and give it a shot. Although many of these books were damaged (as was my bank account), kids picked them up, and loved them.
I've never had students rush to be the first to class to have first choice of new books, but as I included more diverse book selections in my classroom library, it became a frequent event.
Arguments broke out over who had next dibs on a title. Students would hide a book somewhere in the classroom so they could read it next. Many asked if books had sequels, or what they should read next, or if they could check out multiple books at once. Many more did their own research, and asked me to add titles.
Now, I want my students to have the same options and excitement about reading when they participate in book clubs with other kids. We do this up to four times a year, and each time I want students to have book options that reflect their identities. This has driven the selections I made for this project, with the help of weneeddiversebooks.org. Within my selections are stories about being a refugee, about being a person of color in the United States, and about mitigating the expectations of family and community while also staying true to their developing identities. With these books available to students, I am confident more students will be engaged in reading, discussing, and learning, and I am equally confident that they will feel more valued as they see themselves included in our classroom literature.
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