Students review culturally relevant books
For a class project, Workshop School teachers Kathleen Melville and Swetha Narasimhan asked their 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 own 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 1st graders at Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia. Then they wrote and illustrated children’s books that are culturally relevant to their 1st-grade partners. Here are two student book reviews from that project. Two more reviews will be published next week.
In Search of the Thunder Dragon, by Sophie Shrestha
Review by Ethan Nguyen
When I read In Search of the Thunder Dragon, I thought about the time I took a plane to Vietnam to see some family members. When I went to the library, I didn’t see many Asian books. When I noticed that there weren’t that many Asian books, it made me feel left out – like where are the people like me in most of the books? This book is culturally relevant for me because the characters look like me and my family and the experiences are ones that I would like to have.
The book has two characters, Amber and Tashi. In the story, they visit the country of Bhutan to visit their grandpa. While they were there, they wanted to go see the thunder dragons. Their grandpa is the eldest monk at the monastery. They went to the monastery to ask their grandpa where to look for the thunder dragons. He told them that he did not know where the thunder dragons were, but he told them to go high up in the mountains to the tiger’s nest and ask the tiger to take them to the dragons. They went to the tiger’s nest, and the tiger took them to see the dragons. After they saw the dragons, they went home.
This book is relevant to me. The people in the book are Asian just like me. The kids in the book were from Bhutan, and my family is from Cambodia and Vietnam. It’s also relevant to me because they took a plane to visit some family. When I was 3, I took a plane to Vietnam to visit some family, but I don’t remember much about the trip. The kids in the book get to see their family members and learn about Bhutan. When I get older, I would like to go to Vietnam and Cambodia to see my family and explore where I’m from.
In Search of the Thunder Dragon was something I could relate to because the kids are from an Asian country. Walter Dean Myers writes books about people of color because there aren’t a lot of books about Black people. I think there also needs to be more books about people from Asian countries. When I read In Search of the Thunder Dragon to 1st graders at Lea, it helped to start a conversation about being Asian. I even learned that one of the 1st graders was part Cambodian. Reading books like this can help Asian kids get a better understanding of their life and can help other kids learn about people like me.
A Chair for My Mother, by Vera B. Williams
Review by Aniyah Jones
Most children’s books are about kids in the suburbs who want ice cream or who go out on a picnic, but A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams (1982) is something I can relate to. This book is about a little girl of color whose mother works as a waiter at a diner. This story could be important to little kids because they can relate to it. This book is culturally relevant to me because I am a child of color who has a hard-working mother.
This book was about a little girl that really cares about her mom. Her mom worked at a diner as a waitress. Sometimes the little girl would get out of school and go to her mother’s job. Her boss would give the little a girl a job to do until her mom got off work. She would fill the ketchups and wash the salt and peppers. The boss would pay her just a little bit of money. When she got the money, she would go home and put the money in this big glass jar. When her mom would come home late, she would be very tired and sometimes she might be happy. When her mom was tired, she would just sit in the chair that they had in the living room and fall asleep. The little girl wanted to fill up the jar so she could buy her mom a new chair that was nice and soft that she could rest in when she got home from work. When the little girl finally filled up the jar, her grandma and mother went and bought a nice soft chair for her mother.
This book is very relevant to me. This book is relevant to me because I can understand where the little girl is coming from. I know how it is. When I was younger, I remember my grandmother watching me until my mom came home from work. When she did get home, she would go to sleep on the couch watching TV, and I’m pretty sure a lot of other kids can relate to this book. When I read A Chair for My Mother, I thought about my mom. I think this book could be important to children because it’s about a child of color whose mother works hard and late and comes home tired after work. The little girl wants to save up her money to buy her mom a “fat, soft, beautiful armchair.” I always saved up my money to get my mom something nice. For example, on her birthday, me, my little sister, and older brother all went half to buy my mom some shoes for her birthday.
This book was easy for me to relate to because it’s about a life similar to my life. In the essay “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” it says, “I found who I was in the books that I read.” If kids can read a book that’s related to them, more kids of color would want to read a book. If you are a child of color that has a hard-working mother, I recommend this book.