We are our children’s first teachers, and what we teach them makes a difference.
According to research by Betty Hart of the University of Kansas and Todd Risley of the University of Alaska, by age three, poor children have an accumulated experience with 30 million fewer words than their wealthier counterparts; a greater percentage of the words that poor children accumulate were discouraging compared to their wealthier peers.
We have to read more to our children and encourage them to read more for themselves. Books not only promote literacy, they also encourage our children to see themselves as an integral and valued part of the society in which they live. Walter Dean Myers, author of the critically acclaimed Monster, asserts that exposure to culturally relevant books can lead to self-validation and higher self-esteem for young people.
This year let’s help reduce the 30-million-word gap by adding more books to our shopping list.
A Guide to Purchasing Culturally Relevant Books
Birth to age seven: Children in this age group enjoy books with vibrant colors, a predictable pattern, and interactive pages.
- Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee describes the behind-the-scenes look at the chills, spills, and unequivocal thrills of bringing up baby.
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Mill Martin Jr. uses an alphabet rhyme to race to the top of a coconut tree.
- Chicka Chicka 1,2,3 also by Bill Martin Jr. is the counting-themed complement to the popular Chicka Chika Boom Boom.
- Brothers of the Knight by Debbie Allen is a modern retelling of the classic tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Reverend Knight can’t understand why his 12 sons’ sneakers are torn to shreds each and every morning, and the boys aren’t talking. They know their all-night dancing wouldn’t fit with their father’s image in the community. Maybe Sunday, a pretty new nanny with a knack for getting to the bottom of household mysteries, can crack the case.
Ages eight-12: Children in this age group are familiar with story line. They understand setting, plot, and characters.
- The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street by Sharon Flake explores the meaning of being a good friend and “happily ever after.”
- Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington by Jabari Asim tells the story of a young Booker T. Washington, the cherished American educator and advisor to presidents, journey five-hundred-mile journey to Hampton Institute immediately after emancipation. He arrived with only fifty cents in his pocket.
- Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money by Christopher Paul Curtis takes readers on an exciting adventure with best friends Steven, Russell, and Zoopy. Steven was given a mysterious dollar bill from Mr. Chickee, an elderly blind man in the neighborhood. When Agent Fondoo from the U.S. Treasury Department finds out about it, he wants the currency back; but the team of secret government agents may have met their match in the three best friends.
Ages 13-18: By this age, teens have established what they like to read, and some have decided that they don’t like to read at all, but with the right books, that can change.
- Firebird by Misty Copeland tells the story of a young girl with fragile confidence who questions her ability to reach the heights that Misty has.
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the coming of age the story of a Nigerian American girl discovering the meaning of “Blackness” in the United States of America. Her companion Obinze, was not able to join her in the states due to post 9/11 immigration policies and they eventually stop contact. He chose to try his chances as an undocumented person in London; as an alternative to the American dream. However, they reunite years later in a newly democratic Nigeria.
- Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper uses the grief of a young Andy to refute the belief that strong boys don’t cry. After allowing the death of one of his close friends consume him, a series of letters, articles, homework assignments, and dialogue makes clear that indeed tigers do cry.
Dr. Elizabeth Primas is an educator and program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign. Follow Dr. Primas on Twitter @ElizabethPrima3. Learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act at nnpa.org/essa.
Book summaries from Amazon.com. All the books listed can be purchased on Amazon.
Thanks to Elizabeth Primas and NNPA and for sharing this story with us.