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130: Great Books for the Classroom by Black Authors

In this Unabridged Podcast discussion, we recommend some books by Black authors that we think would be a great fit in the classroom. We talk about recommendations for Kid Lit, Middle Grade, and YA Lit, and we touch on books by several of our favorite authors, including Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, and Ibi Zoboi.

Bookish Check-in

Ashley - Anna Solomon’s The Book of V

Sara - Sandhya Menon's When Dimple Met Rishi

Our Recommendations

Kid Lit

Middle Grade

YA Lit

Give Me One - Movie to Watch with Your Kids

Ashley - Shrek series

Jen - Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Sara - Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

Other Mentions

Nic Stone's works, including Dear Martin, Odd One Out, Jackpot, Clean Getaway, Shuri

Kwame Alexander's works, including the Crossover series (including The Crossover, Booked, Rebound), Solo, and Swing

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth Acevedo's The Poet X

Angie Thomas's On the Come Up

Angie Thomas's Concrete Rose (January 2021)

Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying

Jacqueline Woodson's The Day You Begin

Jason Reynolds's Miles Morales: Spider-Man

(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)

Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.

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Ashley 00:02

Hi and welcome to Unabridged. This is Episode 130, "Great Classroom Books by Black Authors." Before we get started with our discussion for today's episode, we are going to do our bookish check in. So Jen, what are you reading?

Bookish Check-in

book cover of Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning

Jen 00:48

So I am reading Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. That is obviously a very timely book right now. I listened to to Jason Reynolds and his remix of this book a few months back, and that was really powerful. And we'll also be doing that book Stamped later as one of our book club choices. But I felt as if I really wanted to, you know, read the original, and just see how it differed. I will say I started listening to it. And I've talked before on the podcast about how listening is not my strength. And it is a dense book. And so while I was enjoying the listening experience, and it's a good audiobook, the reader is really good, I was not processing all of it. So I am switching over to the e-book, just because I think I'm going to be able to retain a lot of the information. But wow, it is just this total reconceptualization of our history and this examination of it from a different angle that I'm really appreciating. Kennedy is brilliant and so knowledgeable. And also, even though it is dense, it's set in a way that he's telling it as a story, as I think the best historians do. And so it is very readable as well. So, yeah, that is a really great book. I'm learning a lot. I'm going to take this one slowly. I don't want to rush rush through it.

book cover of Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped

Ashley 02:15

Yeah, Jen, that sounds great. I cannot wait to read the Young Readers, the remix of Stamped. I look forward to discussing that for our book club. And I am so glad -- I know you've already read it, and I've heard such great reviews-- and I'm so glad that that remix has turned out, that they did actually remix it and that it turned out so well. I think a lot of times when we try to share really powerful texts that are written very much for adults, when we try to share them with younger readers, sometimes I think it loses the power and so I'm really glad that with this one, you know, that that's gonna invite kids to read, you know, teens to read it and that as well done but yeah, I can see the desire to compare also. Sara, what about you? What are you reading?

book cover of Sandhya Menon's When Dimple Met Rishi

Sara 03:01

So I the the ongoing struggle with reading for me is still real. I had a moment where I was able to read something I'm back to really struggling to read. So what I'm reading is actually something for our buddy read. It is Sandhya Menon's When Dimple Met Rishi. It is a YA romance book, and I'm not very far in it but I'm really liking it. It moves really fast. It switches perspectives between Dimple and Rishi, two young adults who are getting ready to kind of embark on the college experience and what happens after you leave home, and it's just really sweet so far. Again, I'm not very far but it does move fast and I really do like it, so that's what I'm reading.

Ashley 03:48

That sounds great. I cannot wait. I haven't started it yet. I will be reading it in the 11th hour, which is par for the course for me to read for the buddy read, but I am so excited to read it. I've heard such great things about her work.

Sara 04:01

Yeah, it's been on my shelf forever. So I was so excited when our buddy regroup, selected that one for the reading this month. Ashley, what are you reading?

book cover of Anna Solomon's The Book of V

Ashley 04:14

So one of the things I'm reading right now is Anna Solomon's The Book of V. And I just kind of stumbled across this one. I think it was on some summer reading lists, and the arc was available, and I didn't really know much about it. And it is phenomenal. I mean, it's a phenomenal book. So I've just really been enjoying it. It has three plot lines. I think it's interesting because it has three plot lines, where you're really getting into three different very different narrator's minds and really seeing them, and so I'm always here for that. But what's really fascinating about it is that the plot lines are Esther's story from the Old Testament, Vee from the 1970s, and then Lily from contemporary times,. There are connections between them that come out -- I'm very close to the end now, so like there are some connections between those plotlines, but for a long time, they are standing alone, these parallel experiences that are happening in these vastly different time periods. But they just speak to the experience of women, the way that that the struggles of women have continued over time, and how there are so many limitations and obstacles to overcome. And it's just that even though it's these vastly different time periods, there are some things that remain the same. And there's also just a lot of commentary about how far people expect women to go to just put up with things basically, and just this idea that they should always go along with something even though they know that it is the wrong thing to do, that people still expect them to do it anyway. And I think that is really powerful. And so, yeah, I mean, I think it's a fascinating book. It's been really enjoyable to read.

Jen 06:06

Yeah, I loved that one, that one. That is one that would definitely stand up to a reread, because I think once you start seeing the connections develop, it's like, oh, I want to go back to the beginning and see how she laid the groundwork for all of this. But yes, she is a brilliant writer.

Ashley 06:21

Yeah, I shared with them off the mic that I felt like I got some ways into it before I realized I should have been paying a bit more attention. Definitely there's just a lot of attention to detail that I think is really rich. And like Jen said, I think as you're seeing the connections between them, I'm thinking, "Oh, I wish I paid more attention to like this thing happening earlier on," but that's part of what makes it such a great book.

Sara 06:45

When Jen reviewed that for our Unabridged website. I read the review and I was like, that sounds amazing, but also something that I won't be able to read for a while. I messaged Jen and said, that sounds so good, but I just don't know that I'll have the... I can't focus, so it's hard when you guys are saying that you have to really pay attention to detail. I'm like, "I'm out."

Ashley 07:09

I just didn't know... I didn't realize it was literary fiction. And so yeah, it was a little ways in where I was like, "Oh, I should have, you know, really been a little more focused." Yeah. So anyway, it's been great. It's a great book to read.

Main Discussion

Ashley 07:23

So this is our first opportunity to record an episode after the protests that have been around the country and around the world, against George Floyd's murder and the murder of so many other black lives. And we wanted to think about everything that's happening and the listening and learning that we're doing in relationship to the classroom. We are all at our core classroom teachers, and we all taught English for a long time, and we just really wanted to speak to what classroom teachers can be doing right now as a way of educating themselves and also as a way of preparing for when we have students again in August. We want to make sure that we are thinking about how we can, with authenticity and with compassion, incorporate some things into our classrooms. A lot of you, we know, are already doing this, and a lot of you are listening to Black authors, Black activists, people whose voices are important. That's who we are turning to and listening to, and we definitely think that is so important. We are white women who have experience in the classroom.

book cover of Nic Stone's Dear Martin

Ashley 08:31

One of the people that we have been listening to a lot is Nic Stone. So she wrote Dear Martin that we have talked about on the podcast before and done buddy reads for and you know, we have materials for that. We've done a lot with that book. And she has other books as well that do not directly address police brutality, and she's a brilliant and very versatile writer, so I don't want to minimize her other work. But I think that in light of what's going on right now, that book is just so powerful to speak to exactly what happens when police make snap judgments based on race and how quickly things can go wrong, and then the impact on a community. So anyway, if you have not checked out her Instagram page, she has had these phenomenal IG Live conversations with a lot of people talking about hard things, and just being very honest. And I mean, so she's just been a great resource for us.

Jen 09:31

Yeah, so I've been seeking out Nic Stone on all the platforms, and the other day, she shared an article that she wrote for Cosmopolitan. And I think what is so striking... I could quote the whole thing right now, but what makes it relevant to this episode is that she talks a lot about her own experience in school. And the fact... I'm just going to quote this one paragraph, and then I promise I will stop. So she says when she was in school, she read three books with black characters. And she says, "As far as I knew then, Black girls like me didn't exist in books. And as physics would have it, people who don't exist can't go on adventures or solve mysteries or fall in love or save the universe, which meant that I, as a nonexistent entity, wasn't capable of any of those things. And I wasn't the only person getting this message. Anyone reading books without me in them was getting it, too. Black kids don't go on adventures, solve mysteries, save the universe, fall in love. Black people's stories aren't important and shouldn't be read if they don't have to do with slavery, racism, oppression or hardship. Black Lives didn't matter in books unless they were fighting their way out of abusive relationships or killing their children to keep them out of the bonds of slavery. Black people were sidekicks, lesson bearers, plot devices to teach the white son and daughter of the failed white lawyer that racism is real."

Jen 10:02

And that just resonated with me so much. It made me really consider what I taught in the classroom. It made me think about what I... I was going to say what I did well, and what I did poorly, but honestly, it made me think I did more poorly than did well. So I just think that is the kind of reflection that we really need right now. And I think it really resonates that it's so important to just show Black lives. I mean, I think that's one of our goals today in this episode is to highlight books... like we do a lot of highlighting. We just rereleased the hate you give episode. We've done the Dear Martin buddy read, and I think those works are so important. But I think there are also a lot of works that are important that just show Black lives. And that sounds like a cliche, maybe, but it's not, and I think we need to be intentional in doing it. And so, yeah, the whole article is definitely worth checking out. We will link it in the show notes because there is a lot more to it, but I think that is the part we want to hone in on today.

Ashley 11:57

Yeah, and I just think she spoke to, when she listed the books that they read in her classes, I think that we as educators need to be making sure that we are looking at what she mentioned, and just in general what is taught in classes whole class. So we had trouble shortening our list for today to make some suggestions, but we didn't want to omit some suggestions of books that we think are great. And so we are going to list some. On our website,, we have a lot of bookish faves, which are always a good place to look. We do those every week, and those are a good place to look to get a wide variety of books within a topic. If you're looking for more suggestions, we have a lot; we just tried to narrow it down a bit for today. And we also tried to choose ones that we think are great not only to have on your shelf for silent reading or for independent reading, but also that could be taught whole class or in lit circles.

Ashley 12:53

So we are going to go through all three levels. We're going to talk about kid lit and then middle grade and then YA lit, and we're just going to kind of touch on the books that we wanted to recommend, and again, we're happy to go more in depth. We are happy to answer questions through email or on social media if you wanted to know more about a particular book, but we did want to just touch on a few.

book cover of Quvenzhané Wallis's A Night Out with Mama

Ashley 13:13

So one of the books I wanted to talk about is Quvenzhané Wallis's A Night Out with Mama. And this is just a really sweet story of Wallis's experience of going to the Oscars with her mom. I love this story because she is amazing and doing this amazing thing, but she's also... in the book, she is just such a kid. I think it's great for our kids to see because she is this phenomenal actress who has had this huge accomplishment at an early time in her life, and yet, in the book, the character is just such a kid who is thinking about getting her hair done and wearing her sparkly dress and kind of being teased by her siblings and teasing them back. And I just think it's great for kids to see how somebody who is wildly successful and has accomplished so much is also a kid just like them. And so I just love that story. It really focuses on her relationship with her mom and the fun night that they have. And also, there's a part where when she gets out of the limo, she trips on the red carpet. And again, I just love that because I think that for kids, it's this moment of seeing her feel embarrassed, pick herself up again, smile, take a breath, move on. You know, she thinks about happy things. She gets right back to it, and I love all the modeling there. I just think that Wallis does such a great job of sharing this amazing and relatively unique experience that she had, but also showing it to kids in a way that invites them to imagine that they have a life like hers. And so I just love that story so much. I just think it's really sweet, and I also like the connection to real life and to Wallis's accomplishments and. I mean, I know that my kids always love nonfiction and always love to see a real person who has done a real thing. And so I love that because again, it reads as a story, it's very much like a character in a story, but at the same time, in real life, she's had this amazing accomplishment and was able to go to the Oscars and have that experience. So that's one that I really enjoy.

Sara 15:22

That one sounds so good.

Sara 15:23

I know. My daughter loves nonfiction and her birthday is coming up, so I think I'm going to put that her birthday list because it just sounds like something that she would love.

Ashley 15:32

Yeah, it's a great one.

book cover of Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson's The Undefeated

Ashley 15:34

The other one for kid lit that I wanted to recommend... Again, I think it's hard. We always have trouble narrowing it down. There are just tons of books that are phenomenal for kids, but one that I wanted to share is Kwame Alexander's The Undefeated. This one I just think is a total masterpiece. And I think why I love it so much... Kadir Nelson is the illustrator, and the illustrations are gorgeous. They're stunning. But what I really think is so powerful about it is that it moves through, with very few words and in a not very long book, Kwame Alexander manages to show both the struggles for all of the establishment of America, the struggles of Black people in America, and also to celebrate how amazing Black people are. And I think that, being able to with very few words, but such powerful images... there's repetition that's really effective and powerful, there is this movement through time that I think is really powerful of going back to the historical times... But you know, he speaks to all of that and then also to celebrate how amazing and remarkable Black people are. And so I just think to be able to do both of those things in a kid's book is really hard, to show that life is complex and that it's okay to see the sadness and to acknowledge that there's oppression and that things are sad, but also to show this celebration is really amazing.

Jen 17:02

Yeah, so two libraries from our division shared a video on Facebook of Alexander reading this book to a group of kids. And first of all, he is just one of those authors who is great on the page but also to see him speak is wonderful. And I always love seeing authors read their own work or hearing authors read their own work. And he has his big screen behind him. So he has the illustrations up there so you can see it as he's reading, and you can see him relating to the audience members. But that book is just phenomenal.

book cover of Kwame Alexander's The Crossover

Jen 17:35

And I do want to shout out that Alexander also writes for middle-grade students and for young adults, and he writes novels in verse. I think he's just really wide ranging, and so I think he's a good one just in general to check out his work because I think he does a great job of presenting Black kids' lives. So I think he'll talk about kids playing sports. He does that a lot. He talks about kids who love music, and I think it's nice because sometimes that's a way to get a student to be interested in a book is to connect based on interest. Because he writes about kids with so many different interests, that's a real strength of being able to recommend his books to individual students or also to teach them whole class. We have great... Oh, go ahead, Sara.

Sara 18:20

I was just going to say that he often writes in verse so it is an easy sell for kids who are reluctant readers and I my students when I taught eighth grade... Another thing about his like middle grade/ YA work is that it appeals to a wide variety of age groups, and I think that's a big strength because... we're going to talk about Jacqueline Woodson shortly, but I think that when you're trying to teach whole class, especially in middle grade, it is difficult to find a text that you can get through, you know, that is not going to take six weeks to read. And I think that his work and Jacqueline Woodson's work is just so powerful because they are able to say so much with very concise speech. I think that they both work so well in the classroom.

book cover of Kwame Alexander's Solo

Ashley 19:09

Yeah. And I love that about the novels in verse because one thing for reluctant readers is that there are some books that are more inviting to read, but that they don't want to read in front of their peers. And that is the reality also, is that I totally understand a kid may not want to hold a book that looks significantly easier than somebody else's book, and so I love that about novels in verse. I mean, his are long (at least the ones I've read), but they move very quickly, and so it's nice because they have the heft of a significant book and the kid is going to be proud of having read this long book, but it is it they can feel the traction of moving through it which is great and such a rewarding experience for a reader.

Ashley 19:51

So what about middle grade? Like I said, I could talk about kid lit all day because that is my wheelhouse with my own kids, but I think that is a couple that are different different from each other. Both of them are great, and like we said about Alexander, it's nice because if they like him as an author, they can move with him as they become older readers, which is really cool. So what about middle grade?

book cover of Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming

Sara 20:10

Well, I will just continue with Jacqueline Woodson. I'm going to talk specifically about Brown Girl Dreaming. We also have Harbor Me on the list, but with Brown Girl Dreaming, what I love about this book is it's in verse. It is an autobiographical memoir for her childhood, and it is gorgeous. And what I love oftentimes I would use clips from audiobooks in my classroom, and she reads the audiobook, and it is just so powerful. And I just think hearing the author speak about her life from in her own words, and I mean, Jacqueline Woodson is just... her words are just so poetic. And the way that she can turn a phrase is just gorgeous, and her writing is just something that can be used as an example in the classroom, about how to craft these amazing sentences using just not that many words, but it's just so powerful and it just like speaks to your heart. I just think that this is just such a great piece of work to use in the classroom. It is fairly short, but it just says so much. And I think that students would really be able to connect with it, so I think that that one is great. Both Ashley and Jen have read Harbor Me. It is sitting here on my TBR because I want to read it with my son, so I haven't read it, but I trust Jacqueline Woodson, and I trust her work, and I think she is just such an amazing writer, so I can't wait to read it. But maybe you guys can speak to the book.

book cover of Jacqueline Woodson's Harbor Me

Jen 21:45

Yeah, the thing I love about Harbor Me is that I did read it with my son who is just a year older than Sarah's son. I read it first and just loved it. It was one of my favorite books of the year a couple years ago when we did our best of the year because oh my gosh...yeah, it has beautiful writing wise; it is a beautiful story of children who just love each other, and they go to school together, and they support each other. They learn about each other, and they make mistakes, and then they forgive each other. I mean, it is just this beautiful real story of kids that confronts a lot of issues along the way. And so I read it on my own and loved it and asked my son to read it with me, so I read it aloud. He still likes read alouds, thank goodness. And I wasn't sure how much it was getting through, but he has since brought it up to me several times. And there are things about that book that just really made him think and really resonated with him and that made him think about the world and about who he is. Yeah, I can't say enough about it. I will say Ashley has read it since I have so she might have some more specific things to highlight, but it is...again, it's not terribly long, so I think you could easily do it as a read aloud. I think it would reach a lot of kids. There are male and female characters, which I think for some -- it shouldn't make a difference we all know, but sometimes it just does. And so I think that's a powerful aspect if you want to teach the whole class, too.

Ashley 23:13

Yeah, I like you said, Jen. I mean, for sure... I would say it's been my favorite read that I've read so far this year, and will be one that I hold on to for a long time. And for me that actually says multitudes because I very rarely... I love to read middle grade for kids like to reach kids, but a lot of times YA I feel more like it resonates more for me as an adult often whereas middle grade, a lot of times it doesn't resonate as much for me as a person as an adult. But anyway... I think it's just such a powerful read; it really stays with you, But also, like Jen said, I think what's great is it explores six kids' life experiences, and because of that, it does have great representation and touches on a lot of different issues that kids are working through. And so in addition to having some really frank conversations about race and how that affects kids, which I think are great and invite conversation with your students, there's a lot about wealth and lack of wealth and what that means and people judging each other because of the money that they have or don't have, and then them working through that. I think what's really amazing is that they come -- through being vulnerable, through learning to tell their stories to each other -- they find these connections with people who on the surface might seem quite different from them. And then through that, they learn to take care of each other and to have empathy and to understand each other. It touches on bullying in a really powerful way. And so I just think, I mean, I just think it is phenomenal. I wish everyone would read it because it's very fast moving, it's great for the classroom, and I can't imagine somebody who would not get something out of reading that book.

book cover of Jacqueline Woodson's The Day You Begin

Ashley 24:53

I mean, it's just gorgeous and, and I think what Jacqueline Woodson does so well in a lot of her books-- I mean, she her children's book, The Day You Begin, also does this -- is it invites people to be more open and gracious with understanding other people. I think that is what I think she, in all of the books that I've read of hers, is this desire to understand other people better and through that to make yourself a better person. And it never feels like self improvement, but I think that that idea of... I mean, like the title Harbor Me... the idea that we need to harbor each other and take care of each other during tumultuous times is just such a powerful message. And I think she actively promotes that in her books, just to be kind, to be understanding... and I mean, I just love that. So in addition, I mean, like you said, Sara, she's such an amazing writer and her craft is so amazing, but then also I just in every book I've read of hers, that message is always there.

book cover of Jerry Craft's New Kid

Sara 25:50

Another one that my son read is Jerry Craft's New Kid, and it's a graphic novel. If you have listened to this podcast a long time, you know my son, it's really hard to get him away from a graphic novel, so I was so grateful when this came out, and we got it for him. And he just really, he loved it. And what I love about it is that he goes to a school that is predominantly white, there is very little diversity with any person of color. There's just very little diversity. What I loved about it was that he was able to see this perspective that he didn't get to see in other places. So he loves graphic novels, but a lot of times graphic novels are not realistic fiction. And so it's telling a story that is like fantasy or superheroes. And what I like with this book is that it is realistic fiction. It shows him a different perspective. And he was still able to read in the graphic novel genre that he loves so much, and he just really enjoyed it. He thought it was so good, and he talked about it. So I'm grateful for authors here putting things out for a wide range of readers. And my son being one who will only read graphic novels, And I mean, he just really loved it. So I was grateful to that. And I have Jen's son read it as well.

Jen 27:05

Yeah, actually both of my boys read it. So Jordan Banks, the main character in the book, is 12. And my sons read it when my oldest was 12 and my youngest was nine, and they both loved it. My nine year old actually claimed it for his bookshelf. That's always a battle when they've both read a book. But yeah, I was flipping through it this morning, because it had been a while since I read it. I had forgotten how much there is packed in there, in this great story. The art is really appealing. So Jordan is an artist, and so it'll have his sketches interspersed throughout. There are conversations where his parents are explicitly having this debate. Jordan really wanted to go to art school; his mom feels strongly that he needs to go to this school to give him a leg up in entering high school and the world after, and she really wants him to have the tools to succeed in a school where he is a minority, and his dad isn't always sure that he agrees. And so you see them trying to do what's right for their kid. Jordan is very aware of this debate, and all he wants to do is go to art school. You see teachers who mix up the names of the few Black students that there are, and the kids trying to work through that. And you know, there's a kid who's a bully and yeah, it's just... yet none of that. Like that was not what I remembered about the book. What I remembered was this kid trying to get through middle school, and so I love when an author can address issues, just like Harbor Me, an author can address so many issues, but it doesn't feel like an issues book. It feels like this is a book about a kid in middle school. And so yeah, I already pre ordered the next book, Class Act, about one of Jordan's friends is coming out later this year. I've already pre ordered it because I just know my boys will love it. And like you said, Sara, anytime you can expand sort of their reading, that's a good thing... into a different type of graphic novel or a different type of book. I really like that it's realistic fiction as well. Yeah.

Ashley 29:04

Yeah, I think we have talked before about like when we think about inclusion objects in the classroom shelves, for sure, making sure... the graphic novels are tough because they are expensive, and so if you are buying out of your pocket for your classroom library, that can be hard, but looking for deals on those and just making sure that you have those on your shelves. So like, I love this one. And like you all said, realistic fiction graphic novels are even harder to come by, but just having this available for students is just one more way to reach more kids and invite them to read. And I think part of what we're talking about today is just, we want kids to be... we want to expose kids to things they might not read on their own, but we also want to help them find things that they might love that they would never have seen if we didn't invite them to see them. So yeah, I really like that. I haven't read that one yet.

Sara 29:50

And I do have to say with the graphic novels, I have found that both students and my son will reread and reread and reread a graphic novel. Even though sometimes that I'm like, Can we read something else? But I mean that is one thing that with other books I haven't noticed that as much, but students like fall in love with graphic novels and the the illustrations. It's just kind of like a picture book when you're really young. They will continue to read and reread, at least my son and a lot of my students... I've noticed that

Sara 30:21

Yeah, I think it's their comfort reading. I see that with my boys a lot. And I've mentioned this before, but they are often reading under grade level, but then I'm like I do the same thing. In times of anxiety, I want some sort of comfort reading and so I'm grateful that they found that for themselves.

Ashley 30:37

Yeah. So we wanted to also touch on YA lit. This is actually where we have spent I would say the most of our time outside of reading adult fiction or, you know, adult works. I think they all of us have read YA lit the most, so it was tough for us to narrow this down. We just want to give a couple of recommendations. We already have shared The Hate U Give. Angie Thomas also has On the Come Up, which is an amazing story, and her new one is coming out soon. Jen, I don't remember exactly when. It's coming out soon, which is Maverick's story, the father from The Hate U Give. And so she is somebody we already touched on. We also shared the bonus episode of Jason Reynolds; we touched on three of his works, but any of his books are phenomenal. And we've mentioned Nic Stone, so I just... It was really hard for us to narrow it down, but these are a couple of people's books that we think are great and again could be taught whole class; that was part of what we were trying to select. But we do have a lot of recommendations in this department for sure.

book cover of Angie Thomas's Concrete Rose

Jen 31:37

I just want to say Concrete Rose is coming out in January 2021, so pre order that.

Ashley 31:42

Yes, that's an aside, but it is something I've learned from Jen and through doing the podcast. It is actually really important for authors that you pre order books, so that is a way if you're looking to support authors, that is definitely something you can be doing right now is pre ordering books that are coming out in the future because that shows interest in them, and that does a lot for really helping authors. Also marking it... if you do Good Reads, marking it on Good Reads as "Want to Read." That is stuff that I did not realize how much it is a way to really support an author, so those are great things you can be doing right now. Okay, so YA Lit... We're going to touch on a couple of authors that we love.

book cover of Ibi Zoboi's Pride

Jen 32:20

We actually talked about Ibi Zoboi on the podcast, and we have read two of her books, American Street and Pride, that we discussed. And I think either of those would work. I think they would work for different reasons. And I will say each of us had a different favorite. We did not all agree on which one we preferred. So I'll shout out Pride first because that was my favorite because it is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. And so I think it has . . . it is really interesting to consider those two books in conversation with each other. And I love a retelling, and so yeah, I think this one is great in that it is recasting the economic disparity that we see in Pride and Prejudice in that central love story, in modern times. So this one is about Zuri Benitez who lives in Brooklyn, and she is from a family who is okay, but they are not wealthy, right? They are struggling. Their neighborhood is being gentrified, and the Darcy family moves in. And they are a very wealthy family. And so you just see this whole economic conflict playing out in this really engaging way. I just like Zuri so much. I mean, I like Elizabeth Bennet in the original book so much. I think they are just great characters. I think they say a lot about feminism and about considering a woman's place. I love the consideration of class. And I think to see all of that still resonate is depressing, but also quite real and also just speaks to the way that classics have something, something at their core that is timeless. I know Sara does not love Austen, so I do think you'd have to consider your audience, right? So I had some classes where I would have taught both books. But I had a lot of classes where I would have just taught Pride. Like you don't have to know Pride and Prejudice to make that a powerful novel. I just think sometimes teachers are looking for ways to maybe do both, depending on the expectations of your division, if you have to teach classics? Great, teach the classic and then also teach this book and talk about the way they interact. So sorry, that was a bit of a rant.

Sara 34:27

Well, and I Jen was talking directly to me, regarding Pride and American Street.

Jen 34:31

I was not calling you out.

book cover of Ibi Zoboi's American Street

Sara 34:34

But American Street was my favorite of these two. I really liked both but . . . but American Street really spoke to me. For one thing, the main character, Fabiola is a Haitian immigrant, which is a perspective and story that I have not read before, and her mom when they . . . when they're immigrating to the US to to go to her mom's sister and her cousin's home, her mom is detained, and I mean, and that adds this whole different layer of narrative to the story as a whole. And just reading about how Fabiola has to try to navigate this, this place, she has never been without her mom and trying to figure out her cousins who are quite different than she is. I mean, I just . . . I thought the story was amazing. It has magical realism in it that I thought was really interesting, and some things about Haitian culture that I did not know. And I just, I just think that Zoboi does a fabulous job of weaving a narrative that is so compelling, but says so much, and her writing is just amazing. So I loved American Street, I guess Ashley will have to be our tiebreaker.

Jen 35:39

I didn't mean that I didn't love it. I did love it too. I just have a soft spot for Pride. So . . .

Ashley 35:45

Yeah, I was hoping to not weigh in because I loved them both so much. And I think part--so I want to not vote--because I think part of what I loved about why I think Zoboi is a great--we're always talking about how to get kids to read an author--why she is a great author for kids to read is that all of her books are so different from each other. And that is amazing. Like they're not you know, I think often a writer does a particular thing well, but Pride is very much a romance story in a lot of ways, and just like the tone, and everything about it is so different from American Street, which is much more, it's much more of a drama. There's a lot more unfolding in that regard. And so I think that while they're both well crafted, they are so different from each other. And I loved both of them. I'm somewhat . . . I did not think it's possible to be . . . you may not believe that it's possible to be indifferent on Austen. I'm kind of indifferent. I like her stuff fine. I don't particularly love it. I don't hate it. So I think in that sense, I didn't have a strong feeling about Pride as far as the retelling. But I do think, like Jen said, it stands alone, and I think with retellings sometimes it's hard for the book to stand alone. And so I really like that Pride stands alone. It does not need a strong understanding of the original in order for it to be a richly told story, so I really like that. And I was thinking, I read her My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich also, which is solidly middle grade, probably even like maybe fifth and up. I mean, it's pretty, it skews younger. But I love . . . that one is a very different story from either of those. I mean, the kid's experience in that like she is with her mom in the south. And then she's sent to live with her dad who she doesn't know very well in the north. And then she's trying to navigate the social dynamics of the group. And then [inaudible] is like really fascinating, but very different from both of those. And so I just love that, when an author can tell stories that are so different, not just in characters but also in style from each other.

Ashley 37:42

Oh, yeah. So I wanted to not weigh in. I do think probably American Street resonated more for me at the end of the day is what I would say because of the things you said, Sara, you know, that it spoke to the immigration experience, her being separated from her mom, that detention of her mom, like all of that stuff, and then also just all of the dynamics with the cousins, how different they are from each other, how they are navigating street life, and learning how to hold their own and find their way, maintain respect, and have some command over their world. I think all of that is really rich.

book cover of Elizabeth Acevedo's The Poet X

Ashley 38:16

So one more thought here before we move off of Zoboi is that I really loved, in Pride, a lot of it is about Zuri finding her voice, and what . . . so if you're looking for a pairing, which maybe you're not, and I shouldn't keep giving suggestions, but I think The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo's The Poet X and Ibi Zoboi's Pride, both speak to girls who are learning to speak for themselves through, and using their words to find themselves and, like, both of those books do that really well. And so I just wanted to mention that I think those go together really nicely. On the Come Up does that also, but as far as, but it is a much longer book, but I think all three of those books are girls who through their poetry, through their spoken voice, are learning to tell their story, and I think that is really rich. So I just wanted to throw that tidbit in there that I hope . . .

Jen 39:08

I always love a good pairing.

Ashley 39:10

I loved it. I just like thinking about those together.

book cover of Renee Watson's Piecing Me Together

Sara 39:12

Well and thanks for that transition, Ashley, because, actually, Renee Watson's Piecing Me Together is one of the other books that we want to talk about. And specifically today, and that is also another story about Jade, who is also . . . she's 16 years old, and she is trying to find her voice. She speaks through her art. She is an artist who, a lot like Starr in The Hate U Give, she is sent to a rich private school where she does not feel like she fits in, and she is trying to find her voice. And the premise of the book is that she her guidance counselor calls her in and tells her that she is nominating her for this Women to Women group that is for--and I'm putting this an air quotes--"at-risk kids." Jade comes to determine that she is only being placed in this at-risk group because she . . . of where she's from, where she's coming from and where she is commuting from for her school every day because she is not really at risk. She is a . . . she's a good student. She's smart, she has all of this great artistic ability, and I mean it's kind of about being tired of the sympathy, wanting to be recognized for what she can bring to the table and for YA, I love this because there is no . . . there is not a love component in here. She is working through finding her voice, being an advocate for herself, and finding ways to to make a difference in her own world and, like, through her own agency. So I think it's a really powerful book for girls to read because Jade is just so strong, and she is able to navigate things where adults are really trying to stamp her down in terms of her spirit, and she finds a really, she finds her path, and I think it's just, it's a very powerful book. And it is also pretty slim. So it . . . you can get through it pretty quickly in the classroom. And I just, I think it is a great book. It would be a great read for the classroom.

Ashley 41:18

Yeah, and I love the friend dynamic. So she develops a friendship with a white girl who also rides the bus to be bused in for school. And they have some some tumultuous times together because the white girl does not understand her experience as a black girl and is, ultimately, there's like a thing . . . I mean, I don't want to give spoilers, but it just shows that because people don't fully understand Jade's experience, they dismiss some of what she knows is true about what is happening. And I just think that part is really powerful also, so like I loved the dynamics between those relationships and navigating them and learning to work through them. And knowing that we make mistakes, and we have missteps, I mean, similar to Harbor Me in that way that you . . . people are going to make mistakes, and with friends, we have to learn to find our way forward. But we also have to learn to hear each other and understand each other and respect each other's voices and so . . . respect each other's understanding of the world and realize that my understanding might be different than someone else's understanding, and that does not discount what they understand and know to be true.

Ashley 41:28

And Jen touched a little bit earlier on classics. I know some of us, especially in the high school classroom, are still teaching classics, at least for some of our courses. And just being mindful, there are lots of ways to integrate people of color. There are lots of ways to deal with the fact that the canon has often valued white voices and men's voices over other people's voices, and still make sure that you are not doing that in your classroom. And so we just want to, you know, encourage as people are reflecting and thinking about what you are teaching and what you could teach, like Jen said before, pairing is really . . . is a really great way to address, you know, so you could do Pride and Prejudice with Pride. You could do The Hate U Give with To Kill a Mockingbird, you could do . . . so there's a lot of pairings of taking a contemporary work that is going to move faster and be more inviting for kids anyway, and pairing it with one of the classics, but also making sure that if you have an opportunity to teach the classics, but just thinking about how can we make sure that we're balancing that?

Jen 43:35

Yeah, I used to do memoir units, and so that was a great way to work in, like, Maya Angelou. And again, just be mindful of it. Teaching Toni Morrison is great, but again, Toni Morrison is really hard. So . . .

Ashley 43:47

The ones that I that resonated the most for me of hers, I think I would have had trouble reading in high school. I tried to teach Beloved once, and just realized my students had absolutely no sense of what was happening. It's, and I mean, I think some of that was that I could have done more to scaffold it better. But yeah, I mean, though some of those texts are just really hard. But I mean, that's true of some of the texts that we teach as classics, I think, you know, just thinking about how can you incorporate more things that still are considered classics. I mean, I think there are a lot of ways that we can encourage diversity within even the classic choices without getting into some of the ones that are prohibitively difficult for high school.

book cover of Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying

Jen 44:27

I was gonna say one that is really approachable, and you know, we can get into the whole definition of classics. We've had this conversation before, but Ernest Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying is amazing and powerful. I consider it to be a classic, and yet it is really approachable and is not as structurally challenging as some of those other books that we've mentioned. And it's a great story. So yeah, I think if you look, if there is that pressure to teach classics, if you look, you can find ones that will be, obviously your best readers can tackle them, but even readers who maybe aren't as strong could read them as well.

Ashley 45:03

Okay, today, we wanted to end with our Give Me One. And this is just a movie recommendation for something that you could watch with your kids. Jen, you wanna start us off?

Give Me One: Movie to Watch with Your Kids

image of "Give Me One" text repeated

Jen 45:14

Sure. So I will say, we have been doing a lot of managing who gets to pick what since we have been home a lot, and my boys are very adamant that they should each have an evening to choose what we're going to watch together. And they can never agree, and they want veto power also. So it's been a whole thing to navigate. I won't go into all of the ugly details, but I will say this movie that, and this series that I'm going to recommend, brought peace to an otherwise contentious evening. We were looking around and found The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series of movies. And I had seen The Long Haul, but I hadn't seen the first three, and both boys were like, "Yeah, let's watch that." And those . . . I want to call back to our early conversation about comfort reading: those are books that both of my boys have read over and over and over again. And so the story of Greg and his family and his obnoxious older brother and his goofy baby brother and his parents who are trying to do the right thing, but, just like all of us, are sometimes not doing the right thing . . . it just really hit home. There's a lot of secondhand embarrassment in the movie, so there are scenes where the boys would run into the kitchen and be like, tell me when it's over, because of course, they knew what was coming because they've read the books, but they're they're just really fun. They're really funny. And it's rare, I think to have movies that have humor that appeals to both adults and kids. I think there are four. So I think any of the four would be a great choice.

Sara 46:34

My kids love those. I mean, they are so funny.

Jen 46:37

They really are.

Sara 46:38

It's interesting in my home because I have a nine year old, well, an almost nine year old girl and a 12 year old boy, and then also have a husband, you know, like that we are, for family movie night, it's sometimes difficult to find something that meets all the expectations. So that's . . . that always proves to be a challenge.

Ashley 46:59

What about you, Sara, what's one you would recommend?

Sara 47:02

So, I we watch . . . we do, like, that's something that we like to do as a family. So I was like weighing over which ones to talk about or trying to think of one, especially my husband because he is often not impressed by movies. He just, I mean even when we go to the movies, he just . . . it's not his favorite thing to do, but he will he will watch, and so when we do family movie night, it's always interesting to see his takes, but I'm going to talk about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which we bought it. I mean, even though, it's on Netflix now, I think, but we bought it the minute it came out. We saw it in the theater. We bought it when it came out because it was just such a great . . . I mean, I remember my husband when he came out of the theater, he was like, that was incredible. So it's just like an incredible movie, and it just happens to be animated, and it's based on the Miles Morales rendition of Spider-Man, and it's just great. The graphics are great. The story is great. Music's great. I mean it is just a fun nominal film. We are really keeping our fingers crossed for a second, so that so that's it: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Jen 48:08

Oh, I hope they do a sequel.

Sara 48:10

We're big superhero movie buffs in our family. We love to watch a superhero movies. We just finished The X-Men series, and my kids are surprisingly not, like, they they don't get scared very easily, so because some of the jumps and like things like that, or like there's, you know, superhero violence in The X-Men movies, and they don't, they don't get scared by that, and so we are big superhero buffs, and we all loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

book cover of Jason Reynolds's Miles Morales: Spider-Man

Jen 48:37

I'll also shout out Jason Reynolds's Miles Morales book, which is great. So . . .

Sara 48:42

Ashley, what is something you all watch as a family?

Ashley 48:45

Yeah, so Jen and Sara know, and I've talked about this on the podcast before, that this is like a real struggle in my family. We . . . my girls are very sensitive to things on the screen, particularly, and so for a very long time, Doc McStuffins was the show that they watched. And there was literally no other show that I could get them to watch. And I love Doc McStuffins. It's like I . . . if there had to be a kids' show that they were going to watch, I'm thankful that that's the one they held, that they chose, because it is, like, I just think they do a great job of addressing a lot of things in a really inviting way for young kids. So I really like that. But I've been trying to get them to expand for a long time. They are three and five now, and I realized this was an issue before my oldest daughter was two. We started, you know, I showed like a Mickey Mouse thing or something. And I mean, she lost it. And then for a month wouldn't go in the room with the TV. I mean, so anyway, it's something to work through and something we have been working through. And so finally they expanded to Dora and Diego episodes, and that really helped a lot because the reason Doc was so comforting is there's never any like bad guy of any kind. That's what my oldest daughter always called them regardless of what the thing is, it's a bad guy, and so there was never any of that. Whereas like in Dora and Diego sometimes there is someone who's doing something that's not particularly kind, but they have learned to work through that. And it's just something, it's been nice, it's a nice thing about being home right now, is it has given us a chance to work through finding some things that they are enjoying watching and put some time into the movies. Anyway, all that to say that the first series that we really have watched as movies is the Shrek series. And I haven't seen those in a long time. I hadn't seen them before, but I hadn't seen them in a long time. And I'm just really glad that that is the one that we wound up watching. Because it is enjoyable from an adult perspective to watch it and also just because I think that while it is not perfect, it does challenge a lot of the suggestions about things like princesses that come up in movies, and honestly like in the beginning, before I realized that it was a hard thing for my oldest daughter, I wasn't super interested in her watching a lot of the things a lot of kids love because they invite the . . . I mean, especially for girls, it just encourages this these like, you know, these attitudes toward the pretty dresses and the frills and the damsel in distress mentality. And so I really like that Shrek challenges those ideas while also including the princesses, because my kids, you know, the influence of that stuff is strong. And so then in the . . . I think it's the third one where the princesses wind up being really, I mean, they just are like tough, they take care of themselves, they fight back, they stand up and do the thing, and they are brave, and then with Fiona, where she chooses to be her true self as an ogre, and whereas before she struggled with feeling ugly, and that that wasn't really her and like all that stuff, like it was all that was great. So yeah, those have been fun to watch. We did all three. We did the first three. Anyway, the Shrek movies have been a good choice for my family. And for anybody else with young kids, they were a good kind of first step because nothing super terrible happens in them, and they don't have the premise of a lot of movies that there's a tragic event right before the story gets going, and so that's helpful, too.

Ashley 52:08

Thank you for listening today. We love sharing recommendations of some of the books that we enjoy in the classroom and think would be a great read for adults as well as for kids. So, thanks for listening.


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