Tag Archives: diversity

We Aren’t the Brave Ones… a collection of novels showcasing what true bravery looks like in our public schools.

If you haven’t been living under a rock and are at all connected to the educational world- whether that be in a school, on Facebook, Twitter, or “the news”- the discord, tension, and frustrations are obvious and apparent. Some, including myself, could even call the political “educational” commotion dangerous.

With everything being said (or not being said) about the state and future of our public school system, I am lead to believe that we are operating under a few systemic flaws. First, many lawmakers do not know what truly goes on inside all schools across America. They do not understand the populations and how different those populations can range from school-to-school. We are racially and ethnically diverse, cognitively diverse, demographically diverse, and combating gender norms.

Our schools are full of students going against the grain, forging new territory, and setting examples for bravery, compassion, and empathy for their peers.

On the topic of discrimination, something that has been brought to light in current political hearings, the delegation of federal dollars to public and charter schools has been spotlighted. While I have some thoughts on this, strong thoughts I might add, the purpose of this post is to highlight stories of bravery and compassion among diverse, minority populations in some regard. To me, “minority populations” is a phrase that can stand for a multitude of student groups. ESL kids, African American students, students receiving Special Education services, and refugee populations as well as many others can be considered a minority population.

Before getting into a few books that highlight these diverse students within the school, I want to share a little story about middle school and what true bravery looks like.

There is a student at my school and we can call him T. T comes to school every day properly in his uniform. He follows the school rules as best as he can. He attempts to make friends, but due to a cognitive barrier he is labeled as different. I think he is able to understand that he is different in some way, but he usually doesn’t let it phase him. He puts on his headphones and dances with the biggest smile at school socials. He asks girls to dance, and they willingly oblige if just for a moment. He made the school basketball team and showed up early to every practice showcasing his dedication and commitment to the team even if he only recieved playing time when the scoreboard could afford it. He is the definition of bravery in a middle school where you can be eaten alive if your weak spots are shown. He is a teacher to his peers guiding them in the virtues of dedication, perseverance, and citizenship. Needless to say, it was a task to hold back a few tears when he walked across our gym floor to accept an award at our yearly Awards Ceremony today. 

All students, no matter what, deserve a chance at a true inclusive education not only for the opportunities that are available to them but for so much more. We all learn from each other in many different ways. T is as much of a teacher and leader to other students as “mainstream” students are to him. It would be a true loss for all to begin to incorporate discriminatory policies into our public education.

The following novels are stellar options to incorporate into your summer book clubs, summer reading list, classroom or home libraries, or classroom curriculum especially if critical literacy and inclusive educational ideals are at the forefront of your interests.

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Wonder by R.J Palacio- An oldie-but-a-goodie, this novel will teach everyone a thing or two about bravery. With the new movie trailer and release around the corner, this text is sure to catch quite a bit of attention again! Auggie, the protagonist, suffers a slew of medical issues leaving him with quite a few facial deformities and the subject of a lot of scrutiny. This heart-warming and heart-wrenching story allows readers to see into the daily struggle of someone who is different and the lessons he is able to teach his peers through his perseverance.

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Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt- Ally can’t read but she is clever enough to hide her inability across schools and years. Ally’s struggle with dyslexia and reading mirrors so many students who don’t ask for help or assume they are simply “dumb.” This uplifting story resonates with many young teens in that one single aspect of themselves is not their whole identity and also asking for help when needed is bravery in and of itself.

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Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals- This gripping memoir follows Melba, one of the “Little Rock Nine”, and her tense account of integration into the public school system. This story reiterates the importance of the court ruling “separate is not equal” and provides a timely reminder of why inclusive, integrated schools are imperative for all to attend. In this memoir, Melba faces the worst circumstances in her quest for equal, public education including physical violence as well as verbal violence. Combating the challenge of the horrific conditions, she perseveres though it all and never backs down on her right to an equal, integrated education.

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Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper- Melody is unlike all of her peers at school in her integrated (or inclusive) classroom. She is bound to a chair and cannot talk or write. Through Melody’s perspective readers learn that she is brilliant, has a photogenic memory that allows her to remember every single detail of her life, and is bound by her medical condition cerebral palsy. Melody is determined to prove to all, including her doctors and peers that dismissed her as severely mentally challenged, that she is not who they think she is. This is a story about determination and that people are way beyond what they look like or seem on the surface.

All of these stories tell tales of true bravery and determination whichy would not have occurred if the students were not allowed in schools due to some reasoning or policy. What books are you adding to your bookshelves this summer? Have you read and books lately that exemplify “bravery” in the school? What new books should I add to my collection to read? I would love to hear from you!


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Filed under books, Education, literature, middle school, middle school teaching, teach, teacher, YA Literature, YAL, young adult literautre

Novels to Motivate African American Males Pt. 2

Earlier last week, I detailed the struggle of the African American male in independent reading, in that the root of this issue could be resting in the lack of novels that pursue and reflect “identity” for this demographic. In this post, I have a few suggestions on novels to include in classroom libraries or in lessons to promote the identity of the African American male in the classroom, many of which I found successful with my own students this past year.

Overall, research indicates males become more motivated with a literary text when the basis is upon connecting or making the literacy life-like and relatable. This form of connecting to the text, or seeing the text as life-like, allows students to mirror their own life in the story in some context. The emphasis on including historical literary and traditional texts, especially with the African-American male population, is critical to engagement and motivation within a chosen or class-taught text. It is imperative that educators are “honoring and respecting students’ cultural backgrounds” and integrating historical and traditional African-American texts (Flowers, Urban African-American Students, p.166). This is central to actively acknowledging the various cultures.

Including a socio-historical perspective in the culturally responsive pedagogy provides students with insight into the wide range of reasons African-American males practiced reading and literacy. Historical accounts of the earlier African-American life display the “types, characteristics, and roles of writing embraced by African-American males as they sought to protect their dignity in a racist society” which is still current and relevant in student’s lives today (Tatum, Literacy Practices for African-American Male Adolescents, p.13).

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Many times students will be compliant in whole-group literacy instruction. Note compliance and engagement vary greatly and are not interchangeable. A main struggle for African-American male students regarding motivation and engagement is within the Independent Reading or Sustained Silent Reading blocks in the English Language Arts classroom. These males tend to pretend to read or lack any interest in finding a text of their choice, therefore providing high-interest and relatable texts in the classroom or school library is critical to engaging students in actively independent reading. Novels reflecting on the African-American historical cultures are important to include because they provide a long-standing and enriching perspective on the trials, perseverance, and literacy values of significant people in the culture. Such novels can include: Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, The Autobiography of Malcom X, and The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.

All of these above texts provide students with the foundational perspective of the African-American male and the hardships endured to be where the student is today.

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More modern texts further demonstrate political unrest and racial tensions as their traditional counterparts, mainly themes such as the prejudice of the black man and the white man. These texts engage students with the longing for social change and justice. Examples of these types of texts can include Monster, The Rag and Bone Shop, and Tears of a Tiger.

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 Contemporary texts published within the last few years allow students to truly understand their own identities and permit students to seemingly look into a mirror and see themselves reflected in the text. These texts do not shy away from difficult and superficially-inappropriate topics such as gangs, death, drugs, and gun violence. Many males in the African-American demographic struggle with these topics everyday and the necessity for texts allowing students to explore these in a safe environment is essential. Newer texts as these include Street Pharm, Snitch, Takedown, Tyrell, Dope Sick, Joseph, and Response. These texts exude the topics students are grappling with today and allow for the discovery of identity through culturally relevant experiences.

Allowing students access these types of texts in the classroom-historical, critical, and topical- provide engagement and motivation in independent or whole group reading tasks due to the relevance and authenticity of the authors and subjects included in the novels.

As with most of my novel suggestions,  please be aware and educated of the content. Many of these deal with “older” themes, language, and violence. I always send home permission slips for students to check books out of my library, so that parents are aware of the types of subject matter their students could be encountering.

If you have used any of these or have other great texts that you’ve used, I would love to hear about it!

-Stephanie Branson



Cormier, Robert. The Rag and Bone Shop: A Novel. New York: Delacorte, 2001. Print.

Diepen, Allison Van. Snitch. New York: Simon Pulse, 2007. Print.

Diepen, Allison Van. Street Pharm. New York: Simon Pulse, 2006. Print.

Diepen, Allison Van. Takedown. New York: Simon Pulse, 2013. Print.

Douglass, Fredrick. Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass. N.p.: Dover Publications, 1995. Print.

Draper, Sharon M. Tears of a Tiger. New York: Atheneum for Young Readers, 1994. Print.

Equiano, Olaudah, and Robert J. Allison. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 1995. Print.

Flowers, T. A., and L. A. Flowers. “Factors Affecting Urban African American High School Students’ Achievement in Reading.” Urban Education 43.2 (2008): 154-71. Web. 1 May 2016.

Jacobs, Harriet A., Lydia Maria Child, and Jean Fagan. Yellin. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1987. Print.

Myers, Walter Dean, and Christopher Myers. Monster. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1999. Print.

Myers, Walter Dean. Dope Sick. New York: HarperTeen/Amistad, 2009. Print.

Tatum, Alfred W. “Literacy Practices For African-American Male Adolescents.” Students at the Center. Jobs for the Future, Mar. 2012. Web. 1 May 2016.

Volponi, Paul. Response. New York, NY: Viking, 2009. Print.

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