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Muggles and Mudbloods: Perspectives on Diversity in Children’s Literature

I love, love, love the children’s trade books used in Center for Collaborative Classroom’s programs and libraries; not only do they tell interesting stories that all ages enjoy, but they often do so much to teach important life lessons—particularly around empathy, compassion and diversity. From the mentor texts in Being a Writer to the books included in the Individualized Daily Reading (IDR) libraries, the selections are incredibly touching.

Our fantastic, collaborative team of librarians and teachers carefully chose these texts. For example, our IDR libraries are the result of a long-standing collaboration between classroom teachers and librarians. From our website:

The teachers brought their familiarity with comprehension strategies and a classroom perspective to the book-selection process, while the librarians contributed their vast knowledge of children’s literature and keen sense of students’ tastes. This unique team reviewed about 3,000 titles from more than 180 publishers for inclusion in the IDR libraries. Each of the 2,160 titles chosen was placed at its optimum level by taking into account its Guided Reading level, Lexile level, journal reviews, and student response. When creating the collections, the team deliberately balanced gender, culture, genre, and subject so that even individual sets of 15 books will appeal to a variety of readers.

I am even more in awe the hard work that went into creating our libraries after reading about a recent study in Italy. The researchers looked at the tolerance of students for folks who were different from them using a pre- and post-test. One group of children spent the three weeks in between the assessments reading Harry Potter; the other group did not. Those students who read Harry Potter were much more tolerant of diversity than those who did not. The researcher believed that because students were exploring the concept of diversity through made up categories (like “Muggles” and “Mudbloods”) rather than through real life groups that there wasn’t any resistance or defensiveness and the students were more open.

Some of my favorite books that we use in our work that teach empathy, compassion, and diversity are:

Miss Tizzy by Libba Moore Gray

Online reviewers write about Miss Tizzy:

 Miss Tizzy is an elderly, eccentric woman who the neighborhood kids love. They love her colorful house, vibrant garden, and quirky clothes—but most of all they love the special attention she gives to them. This book chronicles several activities that Miss Tizzy orchestrates for the children, which they always perform together. One day Miss Tizzy falls ill and spends some time in bed, and her child-friends make kind gestures to cheer her up and demonstrate their love for her.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

Online reviewers write about The Paper Bag Princess:

The Paper Bag Princess tells the story of an unconventional princess named Elizabeth. She begins happily in her castle preparing to marry Prince Ronald. Unfortunately, in the second page of the book, a dragon swoops down, burns down the castle and everything with it, and kidnaps Prince Ronald. Elizabeth thus dons the glorious paper bag and sets off to save Ronald. When she encounters the dragon, Elizabeth outwits him by asking him to perform feats of strength until he passes out. Elizabeth goes to save Ronald. However, when Ronald sees Elizabeth in a paper bag, rather than beautiful princess clothes, he is aghast. Ronald yells at Elizabeth to come back when she looks like a “real princess”. Our heroic Paper Bag Princess swiftly replies by saying, “You look like a real Prince, but you are a bum.” She takes off her crown, and gleefully dances into the sunset.


The Summer My Father Was Ten by Pat Brisson

Online reviewers write about The Summer My Father Was Ten:
A young girl recalls a story she has heard from her father over and over again. Many years ago when her father was ten, he lived in an apartment building below an older man named Mr. Bellavista. Each spring and summer, Mr. Bellavista worked quietly to plant a garden in the usually cluttered space next to their building: tomatoes, peppers, onions, and zinnias in neat straight rows. When the girl’s ten-year old father and his friends play a game of baseball near the apartment building one summer day, a ball gets accidentally hit into the garden. The boy makes a quick decision without thinking about the consequences. He throws back a tomato instead of the baseball. As he had hoped, the friends find the splattering of the tomato very funny and proceed to throw all of the vegetables they can find and destroy the garden. The boy immediately regrets his decision and eventually chooses to be accountable for his actions and the wonderful relationship he creates and continues to have even after Mr. Bellavista is no longer his neighbor.

If you aren’t familiar with our libraries, you should check them out! Not only do they help kids love to read and feel joy around books; but they also teach some important life lessons!

Isabel Sawyer, PhD, is a Regional Director at Center for the Collaborative Classroom. She presents keynotes, workshops, presentations, and professional development for teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators across the country. Previously Isabel worked as a lead instructional coach for Albemarle County Public Schools and as an instructional coordinator for an inner-city school in Charlottesville, Virginia. Isabel holds her PhD from the University of Virginia and serves as an adjunct instructor in UVA's Curry School of Education. She has presented at local, state, and national conferences and worked with schools across the country as an independent consultant. 

 

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