I’ve taught writing with fantastic students in the Crimson Summer Academy at Harvard for over a decade. It’s one of the most important jobs I’ve ever had, and it’s the job I’ve loved the most in my career.
So, imagine my face when the process was completed and I could finally announce that this happened…
Luster, Raven Leilani A working class Black girl’s struggle to find herself while navigating a complicated relationship with her white male lover.
Finna, Nate Marshall #blackboylit A moving book of poetry about Blackness, love of Black people, and Chicago.
The Girl with the Louding Voice, Abi Dare A young Nigerian girl overcomes a tremendous number of hardships, holding true to her desire to be educated and to find her voice.
Concrete Rose, Angie Thomas #blackboylit Maverick Carter’s story is powerful: teenage father learning to find his voice and his own power. It will make you immediately go reread The Hate U Give
Memorial, Bryan Washington Queer love story about a Black man and his Asian lover, a dying father, family dynamics, and what happens when a relationship can (and should?) end. It’s not easy, by any stretch of the imagination.
Black Kids, Christina Hammonds Reed I appreciate this book for breaking me out of my reading rut. Fabulous, thoughtful, complex look at a young Black girl who is wealthy, goes to school in a predominantly white environment, and is trying to figure out all the identities she has and wants to be. I’d also use this book as a craft study b/c Hammonds Reed can write a brilliant sentence, and this book has so many. One of my faves of the year at this point.
I continue to turn to YA as a way to get my reading life restarted. Liz Lighty is an overachieving Black girl who wants to go to the local PWI more than anything. She’s queer, which is hard in a small Indianapolis town, made even more complicated because she runs for prom queen. I felt for Liz, who has be to exceptional in every way, struggles with anxiety, and the loss of her mother, and, well, being working class in a white midwestern town.
Another entry to the #blackboylit canon that gives us a nonbinary young person living their best life. This was a great example of all the ways young people can grow up whole, free, and supported by a loving community. A memoir in vignettes, too!
I read this one with the Johnson book above in preparation for moderating a panel for SLJ’s Day of Action. Another #blackboylit title. I so appreciated the main character, a bisexual Black boy who experiences depression, a missing parent, and falling in love. I loved Gio so much, and also appreciated his comments about school, lol, especially being dragged through a reading of To Kill A Mockingbird.
This book got me OUT of my reading rut. Just an excellent collection of short stories about Black women that is beautifully written, funny, sad, healing…just everything. I wished it was longer, have recommended it as my favorite book this year, and gift it, too.
I stan for Dr. Givens and his scholarship because it helps me locate myself in the tradition of the art of Black teaching. Lots about the life of Carter G. Woodson, Black teachers, and why what we do matters even more today. It’s also an important reminder that as teachers we need to be “scholars of the practice” and make time to read scholarship.
This queer love story set during enslavement was moving and reminiscent of Morrison in so many ways. I loved the love and resistance of characters and felt such deep sorrow to read about the ancestors, real and imagined. Once I started, I read right through the days to finish, and the two men at the center of the story, and their insistence on loving each other, was so very powerful and beautiful.
This book came up at the library and I’ve been wanting to read it. The story of Kossola, the last survivor of the Clotida, is devastating. It’s important for understanding the impact of enslavement, how Africans were treated by African Americans, and the lasting legacy that so many of us carry with us. Required reading. Plus, it’s a powerful account of the anthropological work of Zora Neale Hurston.
I’m a Danielle Evans fan. Her first short story collection is one of my all-time favorites. This second collection is even more brilliant. She can write a beautiful sentence and tell a brilliant story while breaking your heart and affirming your Blackness and brilliance all at once. These short stories are definitely teachable in high school classrooms, too, and ones I wish I had access to when I was looking for something different for my own short story units…
Seems like the universe is trying to help me find my way back to my reading life. These short/micro stories are delightful. Lots take place in Kentucky, so that’s even more special to me, and Cross-Smith is SO good at writing about women in the everyday. I felt so seen while I read this collection in all parts of my life: high school, college, post-college, now.
I finished the final book of Hibbert’s trilogy and found it quite satisfying. Hibbert’s characters are funny, thoughtful, smart, and real. A great easy breezy read that also features characters with autism, depicted multidimensionally, where the characters are so much more.
I’m excited to announce the start of my column editorship for the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy.
“Students and Teachers: Inquiring Together” is aimed at early career educators, and I’m thrilled that such excellent educators have agreed to share their work with all of us.
(The abstract) Young people in literacy classes sometimes think their teachers are not listening to them. The practitioners featured in this column listen to questions posed by their students and respond to them, with the goal of enhancing English language arts instruction for a range of young people and educators.
I realize that I keep most active on Twitter, and if you’ve found me there recently, or even stopped by here, I want to first welcome you and thank you.
Over the last bit of time, I’ve chatted with authoress Erin Entrada Kelly at the Boston Book Festival about her new middle grade novel (a must read), Lalani of the Distant Sea. Erin’s selfie game is strong as you can see below. I love this picture so much! (BTW: if you are looking for some fabulous short stories, I also can’t say enough about Erin’s; that’s how she got her start writing MG novels–her short stories!).
I completed my time as judge for the Boston Globe-Horn Book awards. The winners are incredible. Please, read, buy, and share these amazing books. I was definitely fangirling HARD the entire night.
I presented about equity and literacy a few times, including the Scholastic Reading Summit in Greenwich, CT (Black Boy Lit); at ILA with my favorite #squad: Aeriale Johnson and I about Black and Brown boy lit (I love working with Ms. J; I’m going to see if we can make this a permanent thing!), with Julia Torres about how literacy affiliates and chapters can really, truly think about diversifying their affiliates, and with all of my favorite people–Anna Osborn, Tiana Silvas, Aeriale, and Tricia Ebarvia about teachers and action research. Anytime I can spend with them is self-care. We laugh. We cry. We plot revolution. We go to Sonic. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I should also note that none of my ability to get up and chat with folks would have been possible had not Lizabeth Moore been my ELA and Speech Team coach for all those years in high school. I have eternal love and gratitude for her for seeing and nurturing something in me when I was just a teenage mess, and for also building and supporting a community of young people, some of whom are my dear friends to this day.
In the last two months of 2019, I’ll hope to reflect on the year, be grateful for the abundance that grows in my life, from friendships, to family, to mothering my boy (and am still getting powerful feedback from folks who have been moved by that post), and remember that I’m happier when I’m disconnected (Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism has been good for this), but I have a Twitter habit I just can’t quit. Shrug.
Three quick things that are saving my life right now:
-committing to cooking a few nights a week. I’ve decided to cook from two cookbooks, Julia Turshen’s Small Victories and Lucinda Scala Quinn’s Mad Hungry. Both have easy, delicious recipes that I can pull together with minimal planning and shopping, and my kid tends to like it. Oh, and Smitten Kitchen. Always, always.
–Occupational Therapists for children. I’m convinced all young children need them. ALL. I’m learning so much from the one who works with us and how much the body’s core regulates, well, everything.
–returning to a reading habit. I have been able to read only what I want, and I realize how much of a privilege that is after judging the award. I’m making up for lost time and reading nearly 100% exclusively BIPOC authors. ONLY. And I’m making sure to read BIPOC authors that I don’t have a lot of experience reading so I can build my own windows and sliding glass doors (Bishop, 1992).
I have a number of 2020 PD dates already on my calendar. If I’ll be spending time with you in the new year, I’m looking forward to learning together. If you’d like to bring me to your school or workplace, please send me a message. I have some limited availability and love working with departments, districts, and community organizations.
I’m aiming to update the rest of the site with articles, podcast links, and sundry information that helps to know what’s new around here, with an eye to returning to a regular writing flow soon. I promise!
I ordered Martellus Bennett’s forthcoming Dear Black Boy. His essay in the Washington Post is simply beautiful and is a powerful reminder for why we need a range of texts and representation for Black boys.
“We can begin to change that — not just by integrating those mostly white realms but also by allowing black boys the space to dream differently. Accept them for who they show you that they really are. When you look at black boys, see them as the future writers, composers, chefs, tech moguls, presidents, film directors, architects, illustrators or fashion designers that they are. The world is more beautiful when we let black boys dream big.”
I’ve been loving some new titles (or new to me) that I’ll either be book talking in upcoming presentations or suggesting when folks ask. Here are a few. All make worthy additions to the on-going list of resources distributed at workshops and available here.
The Season of Styx Malone, Kekla Magoon (MG): funny, buddy novel that includes a realistic Black family living in rural Indiana
Where’s Rodney? Carmen Bogan (PB): fantastic way of thinking about why Black boys (and ALL kids) need to be able to experience nature and what happens when they are outside and able to LIVE
Finding Langston, Lisa Cline-Ransome (MG): a gentle, slim, beautifully written novel about a boy who moves to Chicago with his father during the Great Migration and struggles to find his way. Literacy saves him, and so, too, does love. Oh how I love this book.
The Parker Inheritance, Varian Johnson (MG): another on my TBR list. It’s picked up a bunch of awards and I’m thinking this is a good model for boy-girl friendships and could spark some healthy discussion about being a good friend, especially for tweens.
Dream Country, Shannon Gibney (YA): I do think this is the first example of a YA novel that covers the relationship between African immigrants and African Americans. Reminded me a lot of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, in that it’s intergenerational and takes place in Liberia and in Minnesota. Be sure to read Gibney’s acknowledgements, particularly about why she wrote her book and about Black boys. Image credit
Reading student reflections is always my favorite part of anything I plan. There, if we’ve done it at all well, they will reveal what they really think, what they learned (or didn’t), and offer any suggestions for future instruction. This process of asking for feedback and reflection is amazingly useful and quite humbling. It’s also thrilling. Thus, when I sat down to read through the student reflections of what they’d learned through the messy process of growth mindset (part one is described here and part two is described here) and design thinking, here are some snippets of what they said:
Question: Why do you think this assignment asked you to think of a problem and design a solution?
They said: “Maybe because people want to know what kind of ideas we might have.” “To tell people nothing is impossible, there’s a solution for every problem.” “…there are always problems in this world and to design a solution can help us learn to think of a problem then solve it.” “…because Dr. Parker wanted to know/see what we’re capable of.” “Because we as students might want a change in the high school.”
Question: What risks did you take to move your project forward? What did you try that you weren’t certain about at first? What were the results?
They said:”We repealed our skit in order to move forward”…”We took a risk when we started designing our prototype. We weren’t certain about the drawing of the brain. The result of the drawing turned out to be good.” “The biggest risk was changing of topics because if we did that we’d have to start back at square one again with the very little time we had left. But it turned out all right in the end.” “I wasn’t sure that this idea will work because it seems a bit too far fetched. Like not many teachers and staff in the school may agree with the idea of naptime.” “We tried to use a soft poster, like a thin one and it got destroyed and it resulted to us having a really good poster board.” [Note: ALL students remarked that their results were satisfactory because they made changes. That’s a big deal!]
Question: What did you learn about yourself through this activity?
They said: “I learned that I need to have a positive growth mindset at all time and not everything that’s impossible unless you actually try.” “I can be creative if I want to be and I want to be able to use my creativity through everything I do.” “I like solving problems.” “I can have a lot of potential if I focus more.” “I learned how to manage my time.”
As I look at these responses a few months after the project, I’m gently reminded that, while I felt this project was disorganized and I was one step ahead of my students, they learned a tremendous amount. Specifically, they learned how to collaborate, how to think of something that mattered to them and try to change it, how to take pride in their work, how to present their ideas to an authentic audience.
Since that project, we’ve moved on to other pursuits, but we keep the throughlines of the growth mindset work with us. [Note: it’s important, too, to consider what Carol Dweck has said about how the growth mindset understandings can be used incorrectly with young people. She’s right. We are all combinations of growth and fixed mindsets. It’s situation-dependent. We are all works in progress, and that is not a bad thing.] Students will occasionally challenge each other to “GROW!” which I find hilarious, especially as those words come when we are doing something hard. Kids want more of this type of work, work that matters, work that is real, work that encourages them to push against their own boundaries and, indeed, to grow.
It’s an all-hands on deck type of situation with my classroom now. All my kids are reading, but they won’t go to the library, I can’t get a library cart for them, and the books they want to read aren’t readily available.