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Using Literature as a Catalyst

February brings the celebration of Black History Month as well as the African American Read-In. While this time of year often a reminder to read and discuss literature by African American writers, it is also a great time to use literature for a bigger purpose.

The themed issue of School Talk titled “Multicultural Literature and Social Change” provides many suggestions: the history and the challenges of using multicultural texts in education, using a variety of literature to develop critical readers, and how to choose the best multicultural books. The article “Multicultural Literature: Story and Social Action” poses the question, “In what ways, then, can African American children’s literature in the classroom be seen as a catalyst for social action and social change?” See more in the following resources from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org.

Author Sharon Draper was the 2015 winner of the ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE) Award for Outstanding Contribution to Adolescent Literature. Among her other titles, she is author of Tears of a Tiger, Forged by Fire, and Darkness before Dawn. Listen to Draper after winning her award. In the ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan “Analyzing First-Person Narration in Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind” students explore the different facets of complexity in the compelling first-person narrator in Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind.

Walter Dean Myers has published well over 100 works. Much of Myers’s work revolves around young people struggling to figure out who they are and how they will survive against a backdrop of violence and turmoil as described in this article from the Council Chronicle. Myers also wants to help young adults learn the basic tools to cope with their lives. In the ReadWriteThink.org lesson “I Have a Dream: Exploring Nonviolence in Young Adult Texts” students will identify how Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of nonviolent conflict-resolution is reinterpreted in modern texts, including a text by Walter Dean Myers and rapper Common.

Nikki Giovanni in the Classroom: “The same ol’ danger but a brand new pleasure”, the first volume in the NCTE High School Literature Series, features primary source materials including many of Giovanni’s poems reprinted in full, easily adaptable lessons and activities, and a resource section for students and teachers wishing to study Giovanni further. “Childhood Remembrances: Life and Art Intersect in Nikki Giovanni’s ‘Nikki-Rosa’“, a lesson plan from ReadWriteThink.org invites students to read Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “Nikki-Rosa,” and then writing about childhood memories of their own.

Even if they are few in number, diverse books do exist. Tune in to the Text Messages podcast episode #weneeddiversebooks to hear about recently-published YA titles that celebrate diversity in a range of genres. There’s something for every reader here: comic book superheroes, Civil Rights history, love stories, humorous essays, poetry, artwork, and stories of suspense.

What titles do you suggest to use as a catalyst?