Yesterday, one of my favorite contemporary authors, Angie Thomas, sent out a tweet that’s stuck with me all night and into this morning. It was a response to the Florida DOE Commissioner, Edward Corcoran, who launched a recommended reading list of “favorite reads for students and teachers” K-12.

One glance and you’ll know why Thomas responded as she did.

 

Related: The online Diverse Book Finder: A must-bookmark resource for families.

So about that reading list…

I clicked over to the list and…just wow. With very few exceptions, this looked identical to my reading list from the 80s! Commenters on Thomas’s Twitter thread said the same.

(And half of those books bored the crap out of me then, if I’m to be honest.)

Here’s the entire 3rd through 5th grade list of recommended books for some context.

Black Beauty ……………………………………………….. Anna Sewell

Heidi ……………………………………………………………… Johanna Spyri

The Secret Garden ……………………………………. Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Velveteen Rabbit ……………………………….. Margery Williams Bianco

The Black Stallion ……………………………………… Walter Farley

The Wind in the Willows ………………………. Kenneth Grahame

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow ………………… Washington Irving

Anne of Green Gables …………………………….. Lucy Maud Montgomery

Treasure Island ………………………………………….. Robert Louis Stevenson

Pippi Longstocking ……………………………………. Astrid Lindgren

Ralph S. Mouse …………………………………………. Beverly Cleary

Mary Poppins …………………………………………….. P.L. Travers

The Little Prince ………………………………………… Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory …….. Roald Dahl

The Wondeiful [sic] Wizard of Oz ……………… L. Frank Baum

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ……… Lewis Carroll

The Phantom Tollbooth ………………………….. Norton Juster

The Hobbit ………………………………………………….. JR.R. Tolkien

The Yearling ……………………………………………….. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The High King ……………………………………………. Lloyd Alexander

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH ……. Robert C. O”Brien

Winnie-the-Pooh ……………………………………….. A. A. Milne

Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution …… Jean Fritz

The Last Egret …………………………………………….. Harvey E. Oyer III

The Haunted Mask ……………………………… R.L. Stine

Notice any patterns here?

Of course recommended reading lists are subjective. But objectively, this is a not a well-considered selection.

Let’s start with the fact that there are two entire books on this list about horses — three if you include Anne of Green Gables — but none about people of color. None about kids born after, say, Vietnam? None written by Black authors? And with a full 26% of Florida comprise of Hispanic and Latino people, where are the books dedicated to the Latinx experience?

Oh wait — on the high school list, I did discover Finding Manana, Mirta Ojito’s 2006 memoir about immigrating from Cuba. It’s a great selection. It’s also 16th on the list, somewhere after Howard’s End and The Old Man and the Sea.

In fact, there are so few titles on the list by authors of color, that names like Booker T. Washington, Langston Hughes, and notably, Malala, stick out like…well, use your own uncomfortable analogy about someone of color in a field of old white folks. And arguably, if you’re going to include a single book about Native American history, you can do better than Last of the Mohicans, which was written in 1826. (May I suggest Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, perhaps?)

I am happy that Florida teacher of the year, Dr. Dakeyan Graham, who contributed to the list, added Lorraine Hansbery’s A Raisin in the Sun to the high school list (it was required reading for my own NYC public school 8th grader last year); Lesa Cline-Ransome’s Finding Langston for middle schoolers; and Sharee Miller’s Don’t Touch My Hair! for K-2.

I mean I love me some Phantom Tollbooth. But I have a feeling that more of Dr. Graham’s selections would get more Florida kids eager to read.

Related: 14 magnificent children’s and YA books for Hispanic Heritage Month

Mirrors, windows and sliding doors

All the award-winning children's books of 2018 all in one place: From picture books to YA novels | coolmompicks.com

Check out our post on all the best children’s books of 2018 to read in 2019 from picture books to YA

I’m so grateful that Thomas introduced me to Rudine Sims Bishop’s description of books as “mirrors, windows, or sliding glass doors” that enable kids — particularly marginalized kids — to see themselves in books and learn about the lives of others.

It’s not about “political correctness” (a term often used to shoot down discussions inclusivity and progress) — it’s about opening minds. It’s about learning through storytelling. And above all, it’s about creating a love of reading, right?

There’s no better way to get kids excited about reading than to include new modern classics that reflect today’s kids and the issues and subjects they relate to: The Hate U Give. Love, Simon. Wonder. Brown Girl Dreaming. The Last Stop on Market Street.

How about graphic novels like Flora and Ulysses, The March Trilogy, or the book that legitimized the genre, Maus?

Wow. There are so many incredible books by diverse authors about topics that today’s can relate to, it almost feels like a deliberate omission not to include them on a reading list.

As parents, we need to help guide our kids’ reading choices. We need to advocate for more diverse books in the classroom. There’s always time for Steinbeck and Hemingway and Arthur Conan Doyle, and I’m not suggesting they don’t have a place in our kids’ libraries. But the way I see it, if we want to raise readers, we need to expose them to lots of styles, subjects, and voices until they learn what clicks for them.

The truth is, it may not be the book you expect that finally ignites a passion.

For my youngest daughter, it wasn’t J.K. Rowling as I thought it would be; she couldn’t even get through the first Harry Potter. Instead, it was Suzanne Collins (yes, I let her read Hunger Games in elementary school). John Green. Rita Williams-Garcia. Raina Telgemeir. RJ Palacio.

And yes, Angie Thomas. Definitely Angie Thomas.

I’m grateful it was on our school’s own recommended reading list that summer.

 The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


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Top photo: Jessica Ruscello via Unsplash

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