A Gift of a Book

A couple of weeks ago, as we headed into the final two weeks of school, one of my colleagues reached out to me to ask if I had book recommendations for a read aloud as the Black Lives Matter movement was growing and growing. I was honest with this colleague and said that I could definitely suggest books, but that I hadn’t done anything to address this with my third graders. Being online instead of in a physical space together changed so much about our interactions and I don’t yet know how to do this well. I can’t see all my kids. (Which is fine. They don’t need to turn on their cameras. And even if they did, I can only see a few at a time.) I can’t read the room online in the way I can in our classroom at school. I opted not to discuss the current movement because I was afraid that I would do more harm than good for my Black students. I also didn’t want to put those students in the position of speaking on behalf of their race. Being online means I can’t have quiet side conversations with kids to be sure they’re feeling safe or to help them see how their statements or questions might be harmful to others. I don’t think these conversations are impossible online, I just wasn’t confident I knew how to help my students navigate it well and I was unwilling to do it any other way.

In the final week of the year I read parts of Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A-Z. This book, by Irene Latham, Charles Waters, and Mehrdokht Amini is an absolutely beautiful book in language and artwork.

Most of the words in this dictionary have a two-page spread. Each spread includes a poem with the word as its title, a quote (often from books for kids), an anecdote from one of the authors, and a try it with an idea of how to take on the word.

In our final week, I took one of our days and shared the pages for Upstander, Love, and Empathy. The try it section for Upstander asks kids to think about how their favorite superhero (from a book, comic, or real life) is an upstander and how that can be a model for them. The poem for Love is short and powerful:

Love in the time of racism
love — no time for racism.

In the short time we had, I shared those three words with my students and gave them some time to respond to each. They were mostly quiet. I hope that means they were taking in the poems and anecdotes and challenges.

On another day in our final week I shared other words from the book with them. Words I told them I hoped would be a big part of their summer. I started off with Question, followed by Create, and then Gratitude. I briefly showed them Dream and Exercise as well as we were running out of time.

This is a book that will stay by my bed all summer. I want to read each word’s spread slowly and then read them again and again. This is a book I want to know backwards and forwards because I believe it is a book I can use in so many ways in the future. The book is challenging for third graders, I believe, and could be used with much older students as well.

One last note about it, each word’s poem is a different kind and there is a short footnote on the poem pages explaining that type of poem. This book just gives and gives and gives.

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