Girl Young Lords: Literature as Mirrors

By Teri Davis, Robin Sowell and Lisa Stockdale, Kershaw County School District, and Julia López-Robertson, University of South Carolina

Girl Young Lords!! Yes, for the first time, there were girl Young Lords.

This quote is the most relative to my classroom today. In The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano, Evelyn is almost set on fire for the revolution’s cause after seeing girls like her who were Young Lords. It gives her something greater to connect to other than the needs of her people. It gives her a “hero”, someone she relates to and admires. One general strategy for ELLs is to ensure our classrooms are welcoming places that represent all cultures. Having texts in my classroom to support ELLs is a positive and necessary part of my instruction.

As I expand my classroom library, taking thought and care to include more multicultural books, I see the reactions in my young students as I read a book about an African-American girl or boy their age. Hearing the excitement of my Latino students as they learn about the life of Sonia Sotomayor, realizing that for the some of them, it is the first time they hear of a successful, famous Latino. This has become more and more evident with each “book box” that arrives. They are ready to tear into the box to see what treasures each one holds.

Books about El Chavo, Mae Jemison, Martin Luther King Jr., Frida and Cesar Chavez elicit excitement because students can read about people to whom they relate–much like the new movie Black Panther give young African-American boys a superhero who “has a face like them.” It saddens me to think that it took me so long to truly understand this need and desire in my own classroom. Now I see it, and I am careful to research and find books that not only contain diverse characters but are also written by people of different cultural backgrounds. I need my students to see that people just like them can become writers, actors, and anything they want to be in this life.

Reading about the changes Evelyn went through, from Rosa or Evelyn and back to Rosa, makes me want to push my own students to dig deeper into who they are and what they want their futures to look like. I want them to have every opportunity to learn about their culture and the melting pot that creates America. Many of my ELL students’ parents and grandparents immigrated to the U.S. for the “American Dream” for their children. I want them to not only become outstanding Americans, but outstanding Latino-Americans with a sense of culture and who they are. They say you should never forget where you come from, but I want my students to also know where they can go.

Using literature is one of the most magical ways I can provide them with their own revolutions. As they read about people just like them, read about the countries their families immigrated from, they become powerful and able to chart their own destinies. Without a doubt, if Rosa Maria Evelyn del Carmen Serrano had not been a fictional character, I am sure she would have encouraged her own children to explore their culture and past to become people who change their communities and world.

Students and I make several connections with our readings. One is that Evelyn seems to be a lot like some of our students. As they come in our classroom, we assume that our students are familiar with their culture, background and language. However, some of the students are like Evelyn and do not know a lot about any of these things and may not be fully fluent in their native language. Second, it is important for us as teachers to help our students understand their culture and background by exposing them to their culture through books and lessons in our class. Like the chapters we have already read in our book, ELL students come from a variety of places, have a variety of language skills, and need a variety of things from their teachers. That is why it is important for teachers to differentiate instruction, because you never know what your students know and have been exposed to.

Resources:
Children’s Books
From mamiverse.com: So that parents can supplement their children’s required reading lists, Mamiverse is proud to share this round-up of 50 top Latino children’s book that should be required–and desired–reading of any child and parent who wants to read books that celebrate and reflect a multitude of cultures.

Information on Puerto Rico
From islandsorpuertorico.com: The hard work behind this guide is fueled by our love and passion for the island based on great experiences of vacationing and living here. It is our goal to help you plan a fun and memorable Puerto Rico vacation of your own…your tourism dollars will help the island recover from Hurricane Maria, a vacation you can feel good about. Full of colorful pictures and descriptions of all things Puerto Rico.

Resources for teachers:
Colorín Colorado is a national multimedia project that offers a wealth of bilingual, research-based information, activities, and advice for educators and families of English language learners (ELLs). Colorín Colorado is an educational service of WETA, the flagship public broadcasting station in the nation’s capital, and receives major funding from the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association.

Teachers can use Puerto Rico Herald to incorporate Puerto Rican “hot topics” in opinion writing.

Elboricua.com has a wealth of information and lesson plan ideas for teachers who wish to incorporate research on Puerto Rico and sample the culture.

[Editor’s Note: We encourage you to read last week’s post on this topic. Also, check out our previous discussion on how The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, which encourages readers to think about how familial capital helps challenge inequitable situations. Additionally, we talk about how this book can inspire students to start internal revolutions, revolutions of the heart.]

Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

5 thoughts on “Girl Young Lords: Literature as Mirrors

  1. Hope Robinson says:

    These are inspiring stories of the positive influence multicultural teaching and resources can have on our ELL population. I LOVE all the resources and research provided. These will be so helpful when working with our students.

  2. Jessie Chaloult says:

    I really connected with this blog post because I have been reading a lot lately about including multicultural books in the classroom and making sure that your students are represented in your classroom books. One of the teacher bloggers that I follow, “Miss Behavior,” often talks about the importance of making sure that students can relate to the characters in the books that they read in the classroom. “Miss Behavior” teaches mostly African American students and works hard to make sure that the characters in the books that she reads represent her students. This is something that I never really thought about before reading her blog. The authors state, “as I expand my classroom library, taking thought and care to include more multicultural books, I see the reactions in my young students as I read a book about an African-American girl or boy their age.” If I am trying to teach my students a message about a character trait or something that they can apply to their own lives, they need to be able to see themselves in the book characters. This is something that I am going to be more mindful of in the future. I am going to try to find more books that show students of different cultural backgrounds and disability levels to include in my classroom.

  3. Johnny Anderson says:

    “They say you should never forget where you come from, but I want my students to also know where they can go.” I think your quote beautifully sums up the power that considering cultural relevance can have when making text selections. I feel almost ashamed for not understanding the power of this earlier. I generally saw the idea of multi-cultural literature as important for children to see people like them to increase engagement. It always seemed like a positive thing for sure. But I did not realize the power of it until recently. You made a comparison to the recent Black Panther move. I think this is a wonderful example of how empowering these ideas can be. We have young black children who can see themselves in a popular big screen super hero for the first time. But it is so much more than just seeing who they are…it is, like your quote says, understanding where they can go. These considerations should be taken when teachers select texts for literacy strategies and activities. It not only engages more individual students but makes personal and empowering impacts on them too.

  4. susan russell says:

    As a special needs teacher I read to my students almost daily. I have a hard time finding books about students with disabilities and when I reach out for help I always get the same type of books. I get books about students in wheelchairs or students who have been bullied in school. Don’t get me wrong these are very great books but I need my helpers to step out of the box. When a student reads a book where the hero looks like him or talks like her it is a rewarding experience. In my classroom that can be hard to come across. My students use devices to speak and to them that is their normal, in children’s books that is not anyone’s normal. Some of my students have visual impairments that make them look differently, in picture books the students may be different races , heights and genders but not many have physical disabilities (other than the students in wheel chairs). This blog post is so important because it shows just how challenging it can be to stock a class library full of books that matter. I also like that you brought up how long it took you to realize why the diverse books were so important in the classroom, I think that is an oversight we as teachers can make a lot of the time. Reading is critical, being read to, reading alone or reading with peers is something students should get to enjoy every day.

  5. AH says:

    Don’t you love when children become excited about reading? I know I do! I have also found that my students enjoy reading more when the books include characters in which they can relate. This may be because one of the characters has a similar culture, family, living situation, race, etc. as the individual student. I really like when I am able to find a book that my students can not only relate to, but that also provides a wonderful example of where they could go in their lives. You stated, “They say you should never forget where you come from, but I want my students to also know where they can go.” This, by far, is my favorite statement made throughout the entire post. So many of my students feel that they will never become anything more than what their parents are. They may not see themselves ever going to college or may not even being able to hold a job. For this reason, the books that provide such examples are of such importance. The students are able to read about someone who did just what they say they cannot. Even if the character is fictional, the story continues to make such a great impression.

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