Being a professor of education for over a decade, I have read lots of children’s books. Over the past five years, I have focused my reading on children’s books representing people with disabilities, and you might be shocked at what I found or maybe not…
You can find many picture books about disabilities, but few picture books where the main character has an exceptionality.
You can find the sports stories of athletes who play traditional sports, but you cannot find picture books about athletes who play adaptive sports.
You can find lots of pirate picture books featuring amputees holding weapons or bottles, but you cannot find books about going back to school that include children with limb differences.
When I reflect on what I can and cannot find for young readers, I wonder what messages they are getting from the books that do and do not appear on our shelves. Are these the messages we intended?
You can talk about disabilities, but you can’t talk with people who have exceptionalities.
You can hear the sports stories of traditional athletes, but the triumph of athletes who play adaptive sports are not as valuable.
You can read about amputees as villains, but they shouldn’t be included in your classroom.
Fortunately, there is a growing representation of people with exceptionalities in the media. You can see a young boy in a wheelchair on a poster at Target. In my Athleta catalog, a young girl who is an amputee is running across the page. So now, I simply wonder when children’s literature will catch up and include everyone on the shelf.
Until then, I will blog, teach, and present the sports stories of athletes who redefine ability and believe in the possible because I know representation matters. Don’t believe me. After a group of third graders, heard my son, Ian, and I share the sports story of wheelchair rugby champion, Nick Springer, and they asked to write him letters.
“You showed me that anything is possible. You showed me that there are no limits to what I can do.” -Sierra
“I think you are brave and I know you are strong.” -Olivia
“Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do and what you can.” -Emerson
“Everyone loved how you persevered.” -Grace
“I think you are brave like a superhero. I like the way you do wheelchair rugby.” -Ahmed
“I bet you liked crashing, slamming, banging, and helping your team. I think it would be fun to play wheelchair rugby.” -Logan
“It felt good telling your story to the class. I was proud of you and Mom and me. It also felt good to talk about someone else who has a disability like me. The best part was doing it with Mom. Love, Ian”
I just love talking with kids about books and helping them find the right book to read. It can open up a whole new world to them. Now with summer here, I’ve gotten some requests for summer reading lists for Team Possible families. So, I thought I would share ten goals that I have for my family and resources to support reaching them. I hope you and your family will find these reading goals and books lists helpful. Let me know if you do and what goals you accomplish. And, if you have a book to add to these lists, please share it with me.
Goal #1: To read a book with a main character who is differently abled.
Goal #3: To read a book with interesting facts about my world.
Yes, my kids and I love to snuggle up at bedtime and travel the world by reading a world atlas. It is so fun to learn about different countries and the language, economy, landscape and more. Give it a try. No packing or tickets required for this trip.
Goal #4: To read a book about an issue that is important to me.
Starting a new job at a all women’s undergraduate university, I felt compelled to learn more about women’s issues and empowerment. The books listed here have helped me, my students, and my daughter thrive. They have also helped me find ways to talk with my husband and sons about gender equity issues. I encourage you to follow your passion and share it with your family.
Living in New England, we are surrounded by many amazing local authors. We have children’s literature icons like Eric Carle and Jane Yolen. We also have rising authors like Jarrett Krosoczka who is breaking new ground. He is the focus of my local author list.
Over the past month, Caitlin and I were snuggled up in her bed each night reading, A Time to Dance, written by Padma Venkatraman. Inspired by the beauty of Venkatraman’s poems that create the amazing story of Veda, Caitlin wanted to craft her own book review written in verse. Here are her thoughts on the book.
Veda, a young dancer in India.
Paati, Veda’s grandmother and a spiritual leader to Veda.
Ma, came from the rich and left it all behind when she fell in love with Pa.
Pa, Veda’s father and Paati’s son.
Veda loses her leg in an accident.
She loses dance, too.
Govinda, a young man who dances from the heart.
He teaches Veda to dance again.
Why the Book Is Worth Reading
Written in verse.
Transports you to India.
The dancing creates beautiful images in your mind.
The story creates beautiful feelings in your heart.
Veda changes and her way of dance changes.
If you are interested in learning more about the book, you may want to watch the book trailer. If you have suggestions for other exceptional books that Caitlin and I could read together, please leave your ideas in the comments section below. Happy Reading and Keep Believing in the Possible!
An Interview with Wendelin Van Draanen, Author of The Running Dream
Have you ever been reading a book and the words jump off the page and touch your heart like you have been searching for those words? Then, tears start to fill your eyes and stream down your cheeks because now you know someone else in the world understands your heart. This is what happened to me when reading The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen.
Van Draanen wrote the book I had been searching for on the bookshelves for young people. On page 131 in black and white, she had presented the reader with HOPE. The kind of HOPE that I want to explore with this blog and someday present in my own books for young children. As a result, I had to reach out to the author about her work. She graciously agreed to be interviewed and share her secrets to writing The Running Dream. Here is Van Draanen in her own words…
What sparked the idea to write The Running Dream? I was on a flight home from the New York after running the marathon, and I was falling asleep with my head on the window, but I couldn’t get this character out of my head. There were many runners in the race with physical challenges. I was in awe of what the human spirit could accomplish.
This experience made me want to write a book an amputee that would be hopeful and not filled with darkness or despair. When I was a high school teacher I remember feeling guilty because I was not emotionally gritty enough to support a student with cerebral palsy. It was this culmination of the desire to write a book of hope, a character I could not shake from my thoughts and the memory of a student that prompted me to write The Running Dream. I then wanted to move the message of being inclusive from lip service into the heart. As a teacher, I wanted this shift, especially for my high school students.
What do you hope readers learn or gain from reading The Running Dream? I hope readers gain a broader empathy for others. I want readers to come away with a clear sense of hope. I want them to know that they can succeed at whatever they dream if they approach it step-by-step.
What advice do you have on writing, running and life for other aspiring writers, runners or life adventurers? It’s funny you ask that question. I am writing an entire book to answer that question. It is a book for readers about pursuing their own dreams step-by-step. They just need to do three things: dream big, work hard and don’t give up.
Wendelin Van Draanen and her husband, Mark Parsons ready to run and read with Exercise the Right to Read.
In addition to writing, Van Draanen also is an avid runner and stars in her family rock band. Combining her passion for running and reading, Van Draanen founded Exercise the Right to Read, a non-profit focused on raising funds for school libraries by promoting reading and fitness among young people. The way it works is simple. Students read for 26 minutes a day and run or walk a mile a day for 26 days while raising funds through sponsorship. At the end of 26 days, the students have read and run a “marathon.” 90% of funds raised through the completion of the “marathon” go to the participating school’s library and 10% of the funds go to First Book, which provides books for children in underserved communities. Talk about a WIN-WIN!
I must admit I am a big fan of Wendelin Van Draanen and her passion for getting youth reading, exercising and contributing to the community. Thank you, Wendelin, for believing in and writing about the Possible!
There are many reasons why I recommend this book, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling:
It’s really good.
The main character, Aven, is funny, kind, interesting and cares a lot about her two best friends.
It has really good mysteries in it.
Aven has no arms and plays soccer.
The story shows you what it means to have true friends.
It teaches you not to be afraid and that you can do anything.
* Caitlin and I received this book as a gift from a friend. We have enjoyed talking about the characters, their struggles and trying to solve the mysteries in Aven’s life. When we finished the book, Caitlin immediately asked to write a book review. This is her first book review. I hope there are more reviews in her future.
I was thrilled when I was asked to review No Limits: No Boundaries My Journey through the ABCs by Julian English & Natasha Moulton-Levy for Multicultural Children’s Book Day. My excitement grew as I realized all the connections I shared with the authors, Julian and his mom. Here are a few:
We have special people in our lives who were born prematurely.
We have special people in our lives who learn differently.
We love to travel and see the world.
Because this was a unique book with a special purpose, I decided I wanted to share it with readers who know a lot about books. So I headed to one of my favorite second grade classrooms in the district where I am a literacy coach and asked Mrs. Jackman’s class for their help.
Julian and his mom, Natasha Moulton-Levy Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun
We started by reading “A Note from Julian” and learned why Julian and his mom decided to write this book. Julian explains, “Mom and I wanted to write this book for all the kids with special needs like me. Like you, I know it’s not easy seeing the world differently. But we do and that’s that!” Julian’s note helped us as readers understand the purpose of this book and also enabled many of us to share stories about people with exceptionalities in our own lives.
From reading the book we learned that Julian is conquering some of his fears by trying new things, that you can learn your ABC’s by traveling, and that we all learn in different ways. When reading the book we liked how Julian sees lots of animals, how Julian keeps trying even though he is scared, and how Julian takes risks without ever giving up. After reading the book, we suggest that Julian and his mom write another book about numbers and colors and that readers read it more than once.
No Limits: No Boundaries My Journey through the ABCs by Julian English & Natasha Moulton-Levy reminds all of us that everyone has a story to tell and when we are brave enough to share our story with others we can make a difference in the world. Julian and his mom reminded us to challenge ourselves and to never give up. Anything is possible! Go Team Possible!
A Special Note: I want to thank all of the guest readers and writers who helped me write this book review with a special shout out to Peter B., Philip, Ryan, Andrew, Dominick, Liam, Isabella, Peter L., Caelan, Andrea, Amelia, Olivia, Ainsley, Haley, Devin, Jack, Makenna, Madelyn, Quinn, Moira, Gabriel, Faith, Grace, Hope and Mrs. Jackman. Keep believing in the possible!
More Information About Multicultural Children’s Book Day/ #ReadYourWorld
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.
Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
A Book Review for Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2016
Hi Team Possible Readers,
Some of you may know that I spent the past seven years teaching undergraduate and graduate students about multicultural education and literacy. If you were in one of my classes, you also know that I always tried to weave in the opportunity to read a picture book aloud to students, and then use the text to help make connections to difficult concepts or new theories. If you happened to stop by my office on the third floor, you soon found yourself among shelves filled with colorful picture books telling the stories of our diverse world. Therefore, you might be able to imagine my excitement when I was given the opportunity to be a book reviewer for Multicultural Children’s Book Day founded by Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press.
Before I begin my review I should mention that I have never listened to an audiobook. It is not because I don’t value them. It is simply because I love the tangible feel of the pages turning when I am reading. But, I do remember the pure joy of sitting in front of a tape recorder listening to the story and waiting for the beep to signal to me that it was time to turn the page in my book. So I was excited and a bit nervous, when my book to review arrived in the mail in the form of a three disc audio book. Fortunately, I also received an email from the author suggesting I listen to the book while riding in the car. He even encouraged me to share the book with my children, a second and fifth-grader. He promised me they would be silent in the car while it played. With a promise like that, I couldn’t wait to listen to Tales from Davey Jones Locker Quetzalcoatl Series by Carl Gundestrup.
Tales from Davey Jones Locker Quetzalcoatl Series by Carl Gundestrup Photo Credit: Amazon.com
He was right. It was like driving around town inside a mobile movie. The full orchestra provided a beautiful musical score and sound effects to every scene. While 22 voices portrayed by actors made the book come alive in my SUV. And to my amazement, as the music played and the story unraveled my children were silent. I could almost see the images dancing around in their heads as I looked back at them in the rearview mirror. Our drive had become an odyssey of the Quetzalcoatl.
The main character in the story is Garrett Spencer- an adventurous, athletic and brave 13 year-old. Garrett never turns away from a challenge and excitement is always around the corner including fights with school yard bullies, a sea dragon, a killer whale and much more. The story itself is set in a small northern coastal town. With the music and rich description you can nearly feel the cool mist and craggy cliffs that surrounded Garrett.
Since we spend a lot of time in Maine, my children made a lot of connections to the setting and could easily imagine Garrett climbing down to the water. However, their favorite images and moments in the story are those of the beautiful and majestic Quetzalcoatl. Their faces lit up every time the Quetzalcoatl emerged from the waters.
A part they struggled with in the story was the use of the word, “crippled.” Garrett is described as being born with a “severely crippled” leg, and this term bothered both of my children. They felt it was mean and inaccurate which led to lots of rich conversations about exceptionalities and how to treat others.
There are many other lessons to be learned from reading the Tales from Davey Jones Locker Quetzalcoatl Series and many of them connect directly to the Bible. It is important for readers to know that this book has numerous references to the Christian faith. It would be an excellent book to incorporate into a Christian or church school curriculum. With the music and incredible imagery, I would encourage listeners to engage in painting or another art form when listening to story. A wonderful group activity would be to create a 3-D model of a Quetzalcoatl. Also, this story is a natural to weave into an anti-bullying curriculum for upper elementary students or middle schoolers.
Finally, I want to thank Carl Gundestrup for giving me hours of quiet while driving around with the kids in the car, but more importantly for the rich discussions that took place whenever we arrived at our destination. And a big thanks, to Mia and Valarie for organizing this event. I truly appreciate being a part of it. Until next time…
Keep believing in the Possible!
To all my educator friends: Help spread the word about the Classroom Reading Challenge. This very special offering from MCCBD gives teachers and classrooms the chance to (very easily) earn a free hardcover multicultural children’s book for their classroom library. These books are not only donated by the Junior Library Guild, but they are pre-screened and approved by them as well.
Mission Statement from MCCBD: Multicultural Children’s Book Day is to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. #Multicultural Kids Book for Your Classroom! #teachers, #books, #teacherlife , #ReadYour World