Friday, February 20, 2009

African American Read-In

Thursday morning I had the opportunity to read to a class of fourth grade students at one of our schools. The 8th Annual African American History Month Read-In appeared to be a great success. Readers from the community met in the library where the library tech, Mrs. Jackson, had placed some of her best titles by and about African Americans. Sorting them by interest level was helpful to the folks who came to read. A welcome was given by the principal, Ms. Dean, and everyone was invited to have some refreshments before walking to the classrooms.

The organizers (Mrs. Jackson and Ms. Leach) of the annual read-in had arranged for students in grades 4 and 5 to escort us to our assigned classes. What a polite group they were! They walked up to perfect strangers, extended their hands and introduced themselves. The former principal, Ms. Madden, along with their community partner, the US Navy, were among the many adults who would be reading to the students. Mrs. Jackson’s own husband and older sons and one of their friends were among the many men who were readers. I overheard an officer encourage his people to visit the school more often. I hope they will.

When it was time to go to our classes, our escorts led the way. My class was a fourth grade class whose teacher is Ms. Snow. Students quickly gathered at my feet for a story. Today I chose (and choosing is always the hardest thing) to read about the Negro Baseball League. I read Floyd Cooper’s new book, Willie and the All-Stars. I talked to them about Cooper's form of art-subtraction process. He has a very distinct look to his award winning works.

We talked about how times were different. They had so many questions about the time, the players and Wrigley Field. This was obviously a class of good readers and writers. They were thinking as I was reading. Of course, one student told me that maybe the book was too difficult for me when I stumbled on the words. I told him, No. That’s just age and vanity. I ought to have on my classes when I am reading.”

Another book I shared with them is the Sibert winning We are the Ship by Kadir Nelson, one of San Diego’s own. This is a sure fire hit and must-read for all ages. The students actually said “Wow” when I opened the book to the first painting. I have listed the other books I shared at the end of this entry. Be sure to check them out.

Ms. Snow has apparently been working hard, as students knew about hyperboles and third person narratives. The students talked about the author’s purpose. We talked about the details of the story and what they liked. One young lady talked about how she liked how Willie could visualize himself playing ball, even while walking in the street. Students had lots of prior knowledge about Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges. They wanted to know if the story was in the time of Martin Luther King. So many questions!

I talked about my job- both at the school district and “on the road.” We talked about writing and where writers get ideas. I keep a notebook and pen with me all the time. Age and a full plate do not add up to a good memory. When I have an idea for a story, I jot it down. For example, just this week I got an idea for a story. As I was gardening in my window box, I found more than dead plants- something with reptilian skin. It turned out to be a big lizard, hibernating in the dirt. So, quick as I could breathe again, I jotted it into my notebook. I suggested that they do the same with things that they think about or things that happen to them. Stories come from things we see. Things we hear. Things we think about.

In the end, this visit was one of the brightest spots in my over-full week. The program was organized. It was well supported by the community. So many men came to read to the students. We were welcomed and guided to our classes. Students were interested and full of knowledge. It did my heart a world of good. Now when can I go back??

Here’s what I read and/or shared:
The blacker the berry : poems -- Thomas, Joyce Carol. {IL K-3, 811} -- Joanna Cotler Books, 2008., RL 2.9, 32p
A collection of poems, including "Golden Goodness," "Cranberry Red," and "Biscuit Brown," celebrating individuality and African American identity. Winner of the CSK Illustrator Award 2009

Satchel Paige : don't look back -- Adler, David A. {IL K-3, 796.357} -- Harcourt, 2007., RL 4.5, 32p

Colorful illustrations and simple text tell the story of the life and baseball career of legendary pitcher Satchel Paige from his time with the Negro Leagues to his years with the American League.

Satchel Paige : striking out Jim Crow -- Sturm, James. {IL 5-8, 741.5} -- Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, 2007., RL 5.6, 89p

A graphic novel account of the career of Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige, discussing the show he put on as a popular player, as well as the respect he demanded as an African-American.

Stealing home : Jackie Robinson, against the odds -- Burleigh, Robert. {IL K-3, 796.357} -- Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2007., RL 5.9, 32p

Presents a brief biography of legendary baseball player for the old Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson, who, in 1947, became the first African-American to play in major league baseball.

We are the ship : the story of Negro League baseball -- Nelson, Kadir. {IL 3-6, 796.357} -- Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, 2008., RL 6, 88p

Explores the history of Negro League baseball teams, discussing owners, players, hardships, wins, and losses. Winner of the Sibert Award, CSK Author and Illustrator Honor 2009

Willie and the All-Stars -- Cooper, Floyd. {IL K-3, -E-} -- Philomel Books, 2008., RL 3.3, 32p

Willie, a boy growing up on the north side of Chicago in 1942, is disheartened when a neighbor tells him his skin color prohibits him from ever realizing his dream of playing professional baseball, but his hopes are revived when he sees an exhibition game at Wrigley Field between an all-star Negro League team and players from the Major Leagues.

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