Read Across America week is an exciting time for students and teachers across the world! It is a time to celebrate reading! Many schools have used this opportunity to also celebrate Dr. Seuss and his contribution to literature. In light of recent news about black face and minstrel caricatures found in Dr. Seuss’s work, many people are frustrated and looking for ways to diversify Read Across America Week. I started the Read Woke challenge at my school for high school students. I created a reading challenge to encourage students to read. I curated a list that reflected current events in our society. This list featured characters that looked like my students. From African-Americans to LGBTQ+protagonists, read woke books cover a variety of topics and deal with many issues plaguing our society. A read woke book must….
• Challenge a social norm • Give voice to the voiceless • Provide information about a group that has been disenfranchised • Seek to challenge the status quo • Have a protagonist from an underrepresented or oppressed group
I thought why not create a Read Woke list for Read Across America Week. As a result, Read WOKE Across America Week was born. You are never too young to learn more about other people’s cultures, struggles, and dreams. There are so many picture books with powerful messages about immigration, racism, and other social justice issues. Also, picture books can be used with high school students too. From English Language Learners to students with learning disabilities, all students can benefit from picture books.
America Border Culture Dreamer : The Young Immigrant Experience form A to Z by Wendy Ewald
The author uses each letter of the alphabet to capture the immigrant experience. Along with powerful images, the author uses definitions and stories to shed light on the immigrant experience. This picture book can be used with students of all ages because of the pictures. Many of the sections have long descriptions but I feel the pictures can be used to help the younger students understand.
Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dee Romito and Illustrated by Laura Freeman
When I asked my students to write about an African-American who inspired/inspires them, almost 90% answered Dr. Martin Luther King. Although Dr. King was a key figure to the Civil Right Movement, he was not alone. He was supported by many unsung heroes like Georgia Gilmore. This beautifully illustrated story sheds light on a woman who used her gift of cooking to support the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Ms. Gilmore had to keep her mission a secret, “But whenever people asked where the money came from she remembered her promise to keep it a secret. ‘It came from nowhere,’ she’d say. Because of this, her brave group of women bakers became known as the club from Nowhere.” This is a must read for anyone who wants to learn more about Black History. There is even a pound cake recipe in the back that I can’t wait to try. I purchased Patti Labelle’s Sweet Potato pies as an extra treat for my students!
Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey with Gwen Strauss illustrations by Floyd Cooper
Although Ruth’s story is fictional, it is based on an actual historical experience. I did not learn about the Green Book until I was an adult! I was astonished that there was an entire network of businesses and places that provided a safe haven for black travelers. Because of Jim Crow Laws, many businesses would not serve blacks. Follow Ruth and her family as they travel along and finally learn about the Green Book in this beautifully illustrated and historically accurate book.
Their Great Gift: Courage, Science, and Hope in a NEW LAND by John Coy photographs by Wing Young Huie
Immigrants come to this country looking for better opportunities but they also bring Their Great Gift. John Coy poses the question, “What will we do with THEIR GREAT GIFT?” The beautiful photographs capture the diversity of the immigrant experience. Readers can truly see the beauty of immigrants and their struggles adapting to a new land.
Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vanda Micheaux Neslon and illustrations by R. Gregory Christie
This is the true story of a real Western hero, Bass Reeves. You’ve read of legends of the Old West but I bet you have never heard of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal. This richly illustrated book shares the story of a former slave turned hero. Readers will love the stories of the fearless lawman who “couldn’t be bribed.” This is a great story to share with young students who love adventure. It includes a glossary of Western Words, a timeline, and a further reading and website list.
Soy Muslim by Mark Gonzales Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
“Dear Little One,….know you are wondrous, A child of crescent moons, a builder of mosques, a descendant of brilliance, an ancestor in training.” Yo Soy Muslim is a father’s letter to his daughter celebrating the beauty and diversity of the Muslim faith. It sheds light on the plight of Muslims across the world and he encourages his daughter to remember the richness of her culture and say “Yo soy Muslim” when people ask where you are from and people don’t smile at you. This breathtaking picture book shares the journey of loving one’s own culture in the midst of Islamophobia. It is a great way to show young readers and adults alike the history, beauty, and complexity of the Muslim community.
Alma y Como Obtuvo Su Nombre by Juana Martinez-Neal
Alma tells her dad her name is too long and doesn’t fit. This sparks a lesson into the history of her name. Through each story of each relative that Alma is named for, she learns that she comes from a legacy of spiritual, compassionate, and talented people. She also learns that she has a connection with each of her family members. Using graphite and colored pencil illustrations, Martinez-Neal weaves a beautiful tale about family pride, tradition, and the power in one’s name. Alma’s lesson will inspire students to embrace their names in a world that sometimes judges us harshly by our names. I remember as a teacher asking my students the meaning of their names and many of them had no idea of the importance of names. So, this could also be a book to share on the first day of classes for all grade levels. This book is also available in English. I have Spanish copy because we have a high ESOL and Hispanic population in my school.
My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete pictures by Shane W. Evans
According to the Center for Disease Control, researchers have determined that African-American children may be diagnosed as much as 18 to 24 months later than many children who diagnosed with Autism at around 4 years old. (American Autism Association). This powerful story is told from the perspective of Ryan whose twin brother has been diagnosed with Autism. Ryan shares that although they are twins and very much alike, they are also very different. Reading the story from Ryan’s perspective helps the reader grasp the journey of living with someone with Autism and learning that love is expressed in different ways. It also provides information that can help our students become more tolerant of people who are different from us. We learn an important lesson, “Charlie has autism but autism doesn’t have Charlie!”
Let’s join together and Read WOKE Across America. It is time to show our students a world that is beautiful, diverse, and full of wonder. Let’s show them a world where everyone does not look the same, worship the same, or even think the same and let us teach them that this is beauty of the world. Let’s teach them that in spite of all of our differences we are more alike than different and learning brings us closer together. Join the movement today and #readwoke!
Cicely Lewis is a Library Media Specialist at Meadowcreek High and the self proclaimed Read Woke Librarian. Follow her on Twitter @cicelythegreat. Also, google Read Woke or check out #readwoke to learn more about how reading is changing the world.