A Short List of Favorite Books by POC (And how we can use them in classrooms)

Reading is so fun. It is like warm butter croissants on a winter day. It is that gaiety children  experience when told they can play for 5 more minutes. It is an escape and an entrance to an alternate world where pretend traverses reality. If it’s not clear by now that I like reading, I should probably state that I like reading… a lot.*

Without further adieu, here’s a tiny, though important list of my favorite books (so far) by Authors of Color:

1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I savored each page of this witty and eye-opening novel. Adichie is a queen, and words cannot justly describe how powerful her words are. Because I am not a fan of ruining plots/spoilers, I just want to write about my favorite takeaway from this novel: we cannot ignore race’s persisting presence in this nation, especially for black lives. Picture this: Your hair is longer than you’d like and you want a nice trim, where do you go? The Haircutters down the street, or Fantastic Sam’s around the corner? Now picture this: You are black – you have kinky hair that requires hair extensions, specific products, and a longer process – where do you go? * So many communities, including my own, are unknowingly discriminating against and obstructing daily life for black lives to truly matter; it should not be this difficult to get a haircut within your ZIP code.

Now imagine this: You are a black woman living in my community, but you have limited resources to transportation, where do you go?

2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Díaz portrays what it is like to be a Dominican American – he interweaves Spanish with English and hilariously narrates the life of romantic, fat Oscar through the eyes of Yunior. (I love Yunior because he’s the perfect mix of sweet and crude.) This book made my list because of the humor that made me actually “LOL” and because of how relevant this book can be. Also, I’m a dorky fan of Junot. I love Junot.

3. Any Toni Morrison novel (God Help the Child, Beloved, Sula)

I don’t really need to say any more. Her name said enough. Beautiful.

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Cool Classroom Course (of actions) with Miss C! 

[I tried so desperately hard to have some sort of alliteration above, but I think I have failed. Darn. ]

Anyways, all 3 of these authors and the listed books can do so much for students, whether they identify as a person of color (POC) or not. These novels can be works of relevancy or an introduction to new narratives previously unknown.

In my high school AP Literature course, one of my favorite teachers introduced the idea of open discussions to really engage students with the text and with each other. This method of teaching is fantastic and creates an open forum for opinions, debates, ideas, curiosity, and discovery. We need these conversations, especially in our classrooms. As an educator, one can monitor the language and depth of such discussions. Is race an issue, and how so? Did you understand the Spanish written in Diaz’s work, or did it resemble family life at home for you in anyway? Why does Morrison write about slavery? Why are we reading about slavery when it is 2016? Explain the Black Lives Matter campaign. What does All Lives Matter mean, and why does it invalidate the former campaign? Why and how does this all matter to us, as learners, as educators, as citizens of the United States?

Pro tip: The Spanglish in Díaz’s work can be especially guiding and relevant for immigrant students, who have home lives/values very similar to those of Oscar’s. Plus, how AWESOME is it when a student who is struggling to learn English can recognize several words from a Pulitzer Prize winning book?? (Hint: pretty awesome) A simple “puta” will GUARANTEED put a smile and offer a glimmer of hope to students like Junior* and Precious*.

Cheers to reading and cheers to más novelas sobre love, humor, and relevancy.

 

* Shoutout to the dark, insecure, and introverted days during my past year at college! Thank you for persisting so much that sometimes I felt that my closest friends were my books – yay!
*I called my local Fantastic Sam’s and The Haircutters, asking if they did haircuts for kinky black hair, and both locations said no.
*These names have been changed due to respect of privacy. Junior and Precious are two students who I have worked with, through tutoring and through the Boys & Girls Club, who appreciated my conversational Spanglish.
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