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Written by guest blogger Amanda Bletsh
From a very early age, children are faced with obstacles such as tying their shoes, making friends, and dealing with emotions. Conversations surrounding these topics, especially through the use of children’s literature that addresses these and many other obstacles, are important for children to participate in consistently.
Furthermore, the literature that allows children to explore and discuss obstacles should include characters of diverse backgrounds. As Susan A. Colby and Anna F. Lyon stated, “Multicultural literature helps children identify with their own culture, exposes children to other cultures, and opens the dialogue on issues regarding diversity” (Colby & Lyon, 2004).
The use of multicultural literature in the classroom has increased over the last two decades. As populations and communities have shifted and evolved, the need for literature that mirrors this and the obstacles that are present becomes even more evident.
As discussed previously, children are faced with obstacles very early on. Some are fairly universal, while others are more specific due to familial experiences, extenuating circumstances, and personal challenges or tragedies.
Exposing children to how various characters, who may or may not look like them, overcome obstacles such as these is an important part of the social-emotional learning that takes place in classrooms. “When teachers gain awareness that multicultural literature may be used as a stimulus for creating classrooms where all students are valued, then children can celebrate their own cultures and explore the uniqueness of others” (Colby & Lyon, 2004).
A collection of multicultural literature that does just that, as well as teaches children how to overcome obstacles, will be highlighted and discussed further.
9 Multicultural Books about Overcoming Adversity
Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson
This is and will continue to be one of those read-alouds that I am always eager to take off my bookshelf and share with my students. Each year I read it, I am amazed by the rich discussions that we are able to have about culture, disabilities, and perseverance.
In Emmanuel’s Dream, the title character learns to adapt to and conquer everyday tasks, not allowing a physical disability to hinder him in any way. This book allows students to explore how positivity and creativity, as well as not giving up, can go a long way.
Extension Activity: Students can create a “My Dream” poster detailing something that they would like to learn how to do, despite any challenges that they foresee.
Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez
This beautifully written book addresses questions of self-identity and belonging, topics that can be at the forefront of children’s minds earlier than we may think.
Where Are You From? highlights a conversation between a grandfather and granddaughter about their cultural background. The question in the title is answered throughout the book with various examples from nature and their family experiences.
This book teaches children that self-identity and cultural diversity can be celebrated in many ways.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
In this read-aloud, William is experiencing struggles that some children can relate to: hunger and food insecurity. Malawi is enduring a drought and crops can not be grown.
William decides to take matters into his own hands and uses resources from the library to learn about windmills and electricity production. With the help of a few friends and some scrap materials, William successfully builds his first windmill.
This book teaches children to tune out feelings of doubt, either in our own minds or from others around us, and to try new things.
Extension Activity: Create a model depicting an activity or project that you successfully completed, even when doubt was present.
The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker
The Very Last Castle tells the story of a little girl named Ibb who wonders about the castle in town. As the title suggests, it is the only one of its kind and everyone has their own idea about what lies behind the walls. Ibb is the only character, however, who allows her bravery and curiosity to guide her inside to discover the truth.
This book teaches children that sometimes taking a chance, no matter how small, can lead to great experiences.
My Name Is Sangoel by Karen Williams and Khadra Mohammed
This is a powerful read-aloud that explores the pride and importance behind a name. The main character, Sangoel, has experienced trauma and personal tragedy in his home country of Sudan and is adjusting to his new life in America. He ensures that his Dinka culture is still celebrated and valued as proudly as it was before.
This book teaches children about having pride in one’s own culture and shows how much we can learn from different cultures.
Extension Activity: Create a class name mural in which each student depicts what their name means to them.
I'm Gonna Push Through! by Jasmyn Wright
In I'm Gonna Push Through, various examples of obstacles for children are discussed. The author uses a powerful and repetitive message to encourage children to overcome obstacles that they face. Through this book, children can learn about positive self talk and perseverance.
La Frontera: El Viaje Con Papa / My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills
This book tells the story of the arduous journey that a boy and his father make from Mexico to Texas. La Frontera,meaning “the border,” explores several relevant issues that many children have faced or have knowledge of personally. Much like My Name is Sangoel, children can learn about the physical and emotional obstacles that people have faced in order to start their life somewhere new.
The Extraordinary Life of Malala Yousafzai by Hiba Noor Khan
I felt that this collection of books would be incomplete without including this read-aloud. After reading and reflecting on I Am Malala, I saw a perfect opportunity to extend the learning experience to students.
This book includes biographical information, quotes, and other inspiring examples from Malala’s life. Overcoming obstacles is evident throughout, but most importantly her courage, bravery, and passion for education shine through.
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter
Much like Malala, Alia devotes her life to preserving education. In The Librarian of Basra Alia overcomes several obstacles in order to save the thirty thousand books from the town library that war would soon destroy. This book teaches children to stand up for what they believe in and to find solutions for what matters most to us.
References: Colby, S. A., & Lyon, A. F. (2004). Heightening Awareness about the Importance of Using sing Multicultural Literature. Multicultural Education, (Spring), 24–28. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ783082.pdf
Author’s Note: My name is Amanda Bletsh and I am a third grade teacher in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. One of my passions since completing my thesis work in graduate school has been exploring and incorporating multicultural literature in the classroom.
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