Student reviews of culturally relevant books for kids
For a class project, Kathleen Melville, a teacher at the Workshop School, asked her 9th-grade students to study the importance of culturally relevant children’s literature by reading an essay by Walter Dean Myers and reflecting on their experiences with books. On a trip to the Free Library, each student selected a culturally relevant children’s book to review and share with a small group of 2nd graders at the Powel School in West Philadelphia. They are now working on writing and illustrating children’s books that are culturally relevant to their 2nd-grade partners.
Here are two student book reviews from her class. Two more reviews will be published next week.
Our Gracie Aunt by Jacqueline Woodson
Review by Kareem Coleman
While reading Our Gracie Aunt by Jacqueline Woodson, I immediately thought about my cousins and how they had felt when they had to live with my family because of personal issues. It’s important to have books for Black people, especially young children, to relate to. In the essay "Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?" Walter Dean Myers explained why he wrote culturally relevant books. “I realized that this was exactly what I wanted to do when I wrote about poor inner city children to make them human in the eyes of readers and, especially, in their own eyes.” Our Gracie Aunt is culturally relevant for me because the characters and experiences reminded me of my cousins and how they must have felt.
Our Gracie Aunt is about Johnson and his sister, Beebee, who are home alone and have no clue where their mom is. With their mother gone for days and days, a social worker finally comes and takes them to their Aunt Gracie, whom they never met before. They wonder who their aunt was, but they mostly worry about where their mom is and if they will ever see her again. Being there with Aunt Gracie all the time, they learn to trust her. They finally know how it feels to have a stable family.
Beebee and Johnson are both Black. They’re both shy, so I can relate to their personalities. The details that they describe are details that I can relate to in my own life with my family. For example, in the story, the kids talked about how their mama was gone. They said, “Sometimes my mama went away for a day. Sometimes for a lot of days. That’s how it was with our mama.” I can relate to that, because my dad would always be gone for days. So I relate to their feelings of neglect and sadness. Most books don’t address this issue, so I’m glad to have found this one.
I read My Gracie Aunt to two 2nd graders at the Powel School in West Philadelphia. Their reactions were similar to mine; they felt that the book was relevant to their life. Both boys explained that they had someone in their family who had been in foster care or had to stay with someone in their family. This made me more confident in writing a culturally relevant book of my own. I’m writing about struggles with personal issues in elementary and middle school, and I plan to share the book with the same 2nd-grade students.
Our Gracie Aunt is culturally relevant to me and many people like me. I don’t know whether this book is based on a true story or just realistic, but I relate to some of the details in the story. There were a lot of differences between the characters and me (age, setting, and some characteristics), but I can relate to the feeling of not having a parent around. For any student looking for a book about family problems or about an important person missing in their life, I recommend Our Gracie Aunt.
Dizzy by Jonah Winter
Review by Samiere Young
When I first read Dizzy by Jonah Winter, I thought about music playing and me vibing to the music, sitting there and listening to what the music is really saying. A lot of times when I’ve picked up books, I got bored with them because they are not interesting to me. But this book was different because I could relate to some of the things in the story.
Dizzy tells a story about the musician Dizzy Gillespie, who is the main character. Dizzy is a musician who plays the trumpet really well. He also likes to play a lot of practical jokes on his band while they are performing, so he can get noticed. When it was his soloing time, he played like no other on the trumpet, because to him jazz was like breaking the rules in the melodies. Just like Dizzy was always breaking the rules and doing practical jokes to be noticed, he also broke the rules in his music. This made him one of the best musicians, because he was unique with his performance.
I could relate to this book for a couple of reasons. Dizzy Gillespie and the other characters in the story were African American. They lived in the hood, so I could relate to him fighting all the time and getting in trouble. The things that Dizzy was going through I could relate to, like him fighting a lot, taking his anger out on people, and life just being tough. I could also relate to not following rules and using music to deal with anger. I never played an instrument like Dizzie, but I was rapping, writing rhymes in a book.
Dizzy is culturally relevant for me and other people who like to express themselves through music. This true story has a lot stuff that African Americans can relate to. The setting (South Carolina) is different from mine, but there are so many similarities. I actually think that a lot of African Americans could relate to this book. If you are a young boy and you like music, I think you should read this book, so you can learn about a famous African American musician on the trumpet.