WOW Dozen: Inspiring Journeys: Overcoming Adversity on the Road to Olympic Victory

By Mary L. Fahrenbruck, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM

In July 2024, the world’s attention will turn to Paris, France, as athletes from across the globe come together to compete in the summer Olympic Games. Millions of spectators will watch as these Olympic athletes showcase their physical talents in running, jumping, throwing, rowing, cycling, tumbling, diving and swimming events among others, all competing for a chance to write their names in sporting history.

Olympic athletes, past and present, are often celebrated for their physical achievements, but their journeys to the medal podium are also filled with inspiring stories of overcoming adversity. This month, the WOW Dozen features stories about past Olympic athletes who overcame significant obstacles including racism, sexism, poverty and illness to reach the peak of their sports. Notable stories include Sammy Lee, who practiced his diving skills in a backyard sandpit due to segregated pools, eventually winning gold and bronze medals, and Billy Mills who overcame personal obstacles and surpassed expectations with his remarkable victory in the 10,000-meter race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

This WOW Dozen features stories about courageous individuals who had the determination and confidence necessary to succeed against all odds. Sharing these Olympians’ stories celebrates their lives and teaches valuable lessons, inspiring the next generation. Continue reading

WOW Dozen: Multiple Perspectives on Names and Naming

By Janine M. Schall, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

People’s names are one of the foundational building blocks of identity. Whether it is a name we are given or one that we choose for ourselves, names can carry multiple layers of meaning, including culture, history, connections to heritage and family, or an expression of personality. In addition to the names of people, names of animals, plants, and other things can also carry historical and cultural meanings.

Most people have more than one name: a legal first name, one or more middle and last names, nicknames (sometimes multiple) given to us by family or friends, and usernames associated with social media accounts. In addition, many people have a religious name and/or a traditional name connected to their culture. There may be specific naming practices or rituals within cultures or groups and names may change, voluntarily or involuntarily, at different stages of life such as adoption, coming of age, or marriage. Continue reading

WOW Dozen: Children’s Books for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage

By Stephanie E. Mahar, Washington State University

Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month occurs every May. The U.S. Congress officially acknowledged the history and contributions of Asian American communities in the United States in 1977. Representative Frank Horton of New York and Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii spearheaded the commemoration to be observed for the first ten days of May. The celebration was initially marked for one week but was later extended to a full month-long tribute, starting in May 1990. May also commemorates the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States in 1843. Additionally, May marks the transcontinental railroad’s completion on May 10, 1869, which Chinese immigrants primarily built. This WOW dozen contains an assortment of 12 picturebooks and middle grade books to honor and celebrate the cultures of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander people. Continue reading

WOW Dozen: Books About Voting

By Charlene Klassen Endrizzi, Westminster College (retired), Rebecca Ballenger, Worlds of Words, University of Arizona, Tucson and Aika Adamson, Worlds of Words, University of Arizona, Tucson

Voters’ rights vary around the world, with some countries granting universal suffrage while others restrict voting based on criteria such as age, citizenship or criminal record. In the U.S., voters’ rights have been marked by obstacles like poll taxes, literacy tests and intimidation at the polls, which aimed to disenfranchise people based on race, economic status or gender. The books included in this WOW Dozen portray pivotal moments (historical and fictional) when communities fought for their voices to be heard in the democratic process. These narratives educate about past injustices and inspire young readers to become informed, engaged citizens who advocate for equality and fairness in voting rights. Continue reading

WOW Dozen: Biographies of Latin American and Latinx People in STEM

By Janine M. Schall, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

With increasing emphasis on nonfiction in the classroom, we must remember to seek out nonfiction that features people from diverse backgrounds. Representation matters in nonfiction as much as it does in fiction! Yet, while 25% of U.S. children have Latin American heritage it remains difficult to find quality nonfiction featuring Latinx characters, settings, or experiences. Continue reading

WOW Dozen: Biographies of Latin American and Latinx Activists, Politicians and Freedom Fighters

By Janine M. Schall, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Latin American and Latinx people have a long history of fighting to make their world a better place. In the face of oppression, discrimination, or inequality leaders have emerged to work for change across generations. Sometimes they do so by working within the system as a political or military leader but sometimes they seek change by working outside the system to disrupt institutionalized injustice.

This collection contains 12 picturebook biographies of Latinx and Latin American activists, politicians, and freedom fighters working for political freedom, better working conditions, environmental justice and more. Some of these people are beloved by all, while others have controversial histories. While the causes, movements, and actions vary, each biography depicts someone passionate about their cause and focused on improving their community. Continue reading

WOW Dozen: Social and Emotional Growth and Children’s Books

By Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM and Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District, Tucson, AZ

This COVID-19 post-pandemic era has been difficult for many of us. In the school district I (Junko Sakoi) am working for, stories have played a significant role in social emotional support for children and teens. Stories have eased their anxiety, stress, fear, and trauma, and helped them find a way to cope with the difficulties. This collection includes PreK–12 titles that portray young characters’ social and emotional struggles. These books could help children build resilience through self-discovery and growth as they cultivate empathetic connections and caring perspectives in relationships. Continue reading

WOW Dozen: Young Adult Fiction Featuring Jewish Adolescents

By Melissa Wilson, Leeds Trinity University, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK

Many young adult books about Jews or being Jewish are set in the Holocaust (Shoah) or in Israel. These settings limits readers from building connections to Jews who are currently living in the diaspora (not living in Israel). This WOW Dozen highlights young adult realistic fiction featuring these Jews. Each novel shows Jewish younger people living lives not directly connected to the Shoah or to the Middle East. This text set illustrates that diaspora Jews, like all cultural groups, are not a monolith. We live all over the world, speak different languages, and have varying degrees of religious orthodoxy. Yet there are ties that bind all of us, ties of traditional languages (Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino), otherness, and a non-Christian world view. Enjoying and transacting with these texts will help students to connect with Jews and Jewish culture in the here and now. Most importantly, these connections will challenge the entrenched antisemitism that infects our American culture. Continue reading

WOW Dozen: Contemporary Korean American Books

By HeeYoung Kim, West Texas A&M University

Literature is a cultural artifact. Contemporary literature serves as a valuable mirror, capturing our ever-changing beliefs and values. An author’s unique perspective, shaped by their life experiences, beliefs, and cultural backgrounds, permeate their work with distinct viewpoints, opinions, convictions, and biases. Understanding this perspective allows us to uncover hidden motivations and intentions within their words. Collectively exploring books from multiple contemporary authors helps us better comprehend current culture. In this month’s WOW Dozen, I present a collection of children’s books, encompassing picturebooks and young adult novels, that have been published this year by Korean Americans. Through these writers’ lenses, readers can gain insights into diverse ways of life by contemplating the values and dreams of Korean Americans. Continue reading

WOW Dozen: Nonfiction Adaptations for Young Readers

By Celeste Trimble, Saint Martin’s University

Adult nonfiction titles adapted for young readers are excellent for engaging secondary and even undergraduate students in vital contemporary issues and conversations. This WOW Dozen highlights newer titles that make essential books written for adults accessible to younger readers. Many adaptations include contextual information that is not included in the original version because of assumed prior knowledge. Also, by using more familiar vocabulary or defining unfamiliar language, and other strategies for increasing accessibility, young readers are invited into the essential understandings and concepts from popular adult nonfiction, encouraging intergenerational community dialogue. Continue reading