Read Woke is a movement. It is a feeling. It is a style. It is a form of education. It is a call to action; it is our right as lifelong learners. It means arming yourself with knowledge in order to better protect your rights. Knowledge is power and no one can take it away. It means learning about others so that you can treat people with the respect and dignity that they deserve no matter their religion, race, creed, or color.
Parents across the country are having to have “the talk” with their children about ways to prevent the police from seeing them as a threat because of the color of their skin or because of the way they are dressed. Families are being torn apart and deported to countries of which they know nothing. I was inspired to encourage my students, friends, and family to read in the midst of current events. Every day I would turn on the T.V. and witness some act of social injustice. From Trayvon Martin being killed and his murderer walking free to bathroom rights of the Transgender being challenged, to the travel rights of Muslims being banned, injustices are happening everywhere. I would come to school and talk about it with my students and many of them had opinions but not much knowledge. Working in a school with over 70% Latino students and dealing with the repeal of DACA made me even more determined to educate my students and make them more “woke”. As a library media specialist, I knew that my power was in providing knowledge and access to information. So, I began researching, reading, and listening to podcasts about books. I started reaching out to authors via social media and talking with my colleagues to better prepare myself. Every year I have a theme in my school’s library media center. Last year it was a Harry Potter theme. The year before it was “Hit a Grand Slam with Reading”. This year I knew I had to do something deeper. With our current political climate, I knew a cheesy theme would not suffice. I had to address the issues but still remain open to serve the needs of all of my patrons. One day while perusing my magazine orders, I came across the Stay Woke edition of Essence Magazine. It featured prominent black women like Shonda Rhimes, Angela Rye, and more. The women were all wearing these shirts that said, “Stay Woke!”. I loved it and I immediately knew that I wanted to start a Read Woke movement at my school’s library. I had my theme for the year and I knew just the books to include to encourage my young readers to #readwoke! In order for a book to be woke it must meet the following criteria
- Challenge a social norm
- Tell the side of the oppressed
- Provide information about a group that has been disenfranchised
- Seek to challenge the status quo
- Shed light on an issue that many may not perceive as being an issue
Students are encouraged to read these books and complete a reading challenge. If they complete the challenge, they can win a shirt, a picture on our ReadWoke wall, and a free book. Our circulation has increased as a result and we even have teachers onboard who have earned shirts.
By compiling this list of books and creating the reading challenge, I am hopeful that we can enlighten a generation. I welcome your feedback.
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
Juliet Milagros Pilante has a secret. She tells her family and doesn’t know if her secret will sever ties with her family forever. Juliet concocts a plan to help her figure out how to cope. Will she be able to learn how to live out her truth in spite of what her family thinks? Will her problems be too much to handle?
This Mississippi native writes an apologetically black novel about a fearless young queen named, Starr. Thomas shows the complexity of Starr through her love of Harry Potter to her love of Tupac Shakur. Starr is torn between two worlds. Her prestigious private school world contrasts greatly to her impoverished, crime infested neighborhood. We travel with Starr as she witnesses the unthinkable and how she survives and overcomes, well you will have to read to find out.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Dear Martin is the story of a young man who has decided to write to Dr. Martin Luther King about his life and the world today. Justyce is a young black male who has been admitted to Yale but in the back of his mind he wonders if he will always be seen as an affirmative action recipient or as what he really is as an intelligent, young hardworking black man. This story will awaken readers to the bias thoughts of others and the struggles of many. You will not be the same after reading Nic Stone’s debut novel, Dear Martin.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez
This book had me at hello. The title is everything. Teaching in a school with over 70% Latino students and the majority of those Latino students being from Mexico, made this book a no brainer for my collection. This novel is about a young girl’s struggle losing her sister, Olga. “Olga. Saint Olga, the perfect Mexican daughter. Sometimes I wanted to scream at her until something switched on in her brain. But the only time I ever asked her why she didn’t move out or go to a real college, she told me to leave her alone in a voice so weak and brittle…Now I’ll never know what Olga would have become.”
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
Based on a true story, this story tells the tale of a the smallest library. Dita is a teenage prisoner of the Nazis at Auschwitz. Uprooted from her comfortable life, her family is forced from their home to Terezin and then the Auschwitz in Poland. While imprisoned she is granted the most sacred job of all, the librarian. She is in charge of 8 precious books that have been smuggled in by the prisoners. This is a story of the power of reading as an escape during one of the darkest periods in history. It is a story of how you can imprison a person’s body but not the spirit and the mind.
Hunger by Roxane Gay
“During the first two years of high school, I ate and I ate and I ate and ate and I become more and more lost. I started high school as nothing and then became less than nothing….I was trying to sop feeling those boys on and in my skin ….as they ruined me.” Bad Feminist author, Roxane Gay takes us through the harrowing memoir a her body. Ms. Gay explores the hidden issues behind being overweight and she challenges the idea of attaining true happiness through weight loss. This is a story that has not been told and that needs to be listened to with great attention.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Aza Holmes is a 16 year old high school student who suffers from an anxiety disorder. This anxiety disorder has caused her to lead a lonely sheltered life but she finds true friendship with Daisy. With Daisy, she can be herself and feel accepted. After reconnecting with her long lost friend, Davis, who is also the son of a millionaire, Aza finally starts to feel that she can let others in her life. Aza and Daisy decide to try to search for Davis’ father who has been missing. What she discovers will hurt her and possibly ruin her friendship with Davis and Daisy or will it make their bond stronger? You have to read to find out the outcome!
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
When Piddy Sanchez hears that Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass. Her world start spiraling downward. Meg Medina tells a harrowing story of the evils of school bullying and how easy it is to go unnoticed. She sheds that light on a subject that is tormenting our young people across the world. This issue transcends race, class, and gender. This novel will make young readers see the frivolousness of bullying. Readers will either identify with Piddy or Yaqui but either way their eyes will be opened.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
If you ask most people if Jim Crow has ended, they will answer yes. Michelle Alexander challenges that notion, “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” There are more black men incarcerated today than were enslaved during the height of slavery. Alexander’s book challenges the legal system and justice for all. Many times I had to stop reading and just digest the information. The information was so powerful, so riveting. This book will make you look at the justice system in a totally different light and you will never be the same.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kiely
The story of two teens. Two different stories , two different lenses, one truth….This is the story of a terrible violent act that tears apart these young boys’ world. It is a quintessential read in our times when young black unarmed men and women are being gunned down and no one is being held accountable. What makes this story different from all the rest is that it is told by two different authors, one white, one black , just like the characters. The reader can see the situation from two different viewpoints. In today’s time, we need to look at situations from other viewpoints in order better understand and stay woke.
I am Malala :The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
When Malala was 15 she was shot in the head by the Taliban because she wanted an education. Although she was not expected to recover, she did and became a global citizen for change. Now her story inspires girls everywhere. Girls everywhere can see that no matter how young you are or dire your situation, you can make a difference.
Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard
This book challenges the idea behind what is to be “real ” girl. Penelope aka Pen is having trouble identifying her gender. She doesn’t feel comfortable confining herself to labels and has a hard time trying to live up to everyone’s expectations. When her family and friends can’t help her, she has to come to terms with who she is in a complicated word. In today’s time when our LGBTQ community is fighting for their rights, this is a story that needs to be told, read, and listened to by all.
Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall
Sugar is the story of a young woman struggling with her weight. Her life is devoted to taking care of her obese mother and she is bullied in school but also at home by her brother, Skunk. Sugar copes with the pain through eating. Eating is her comfort but also her vice. Then, her whole world changes when she meets a new friend who challenges all of her preconceived notions. Can her friendship survive her negative thoughts, her family’s maltreatment of her or will she never rise above the ashes? Hall takes us into a world that many of us may not consider when we talk about groups who face discrimination. She sheds light on an issue that is rampant in our school’s hallways but many times is dismissed.
These are just a few books. There are many more. In order to stay woke, you must read woke and remember #booksmatter. If you see a book, that is not on the list and you think it should be, please feel free to leave the titles in the comments. Also, visit my IG @mhsmediacenter for more great reads!