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Using Literature as a Catalyst
February brings the celebration of Black History Month as well as the African American Read-In. While this time of year is often a reminder to read and discuss literature by African American writers, it is also a great time to use literature for a bigger purpose. The themed issue of School Talk "Multicultural Literature and Social Change" provides many suggestions: the history and the challenges of using multicultural texts in education, using a variety of literature to develop critical readers, and how to choose the best multicultural books. The article "Multicultural Literature: Story and Social Action" poses the question, "In what ways, then, can African American children's literature in the classroom be seen as a catalyst for social action and social change?" See more in the following resources from NCTE and

Nikki GrimesNikki Grimes stresses the power of poetry in "An Interview with Poet Nikki Grimes" from Language Arts. Listen to a podcast interview with Nikki Grimes where her writing process and what inspires the characters in her books are shared.  Also shared is her philosophy about writing for children and how her life has influenced her writing.

Walter Dean MyersWalter Dean Myers has published well over 100 works. Much of Myers's work revolves around young people struggling to figure out who they are and how they will survive against a backdrop of violence and turmoil, as described in this article from the Council Chronicle. Myers also wants to help young adults learn the basic tools to cope with their lives. In the lesson "I Have a Dream: Exploring Nonviolence in Young Adult Texts" students will identify how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of nonviolent conflict-resolution is reinterpreted in modern texts, including a text by Walter Dean Myers and rapper Common.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is very well known to students of all ages for his work towards social change. In the lesson Entering History: Nikki Giovanni and Martin Luther King Jr., Nikki Giovanni's poem "The Funeral of Martin Luther King Jr." is paired with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, taking students on a quest through time to the civil rights movement. To learn more about authors with cultural backgrounds that parallel many of the lives of our students, check out Living Voices: Multicultural Poetry in the Middle School Classroom, the NCTE book that inspired this lesson plan.

Nikki GiovanniAlice Walker, bell hooks, and Nikki Giovanni are all explored in "Becoming a Writerly Self: College Writers Engaging Black Feminist Essays," from College Composition and Communication, which asserts that personal essays by Black feminist writers can be used to teach writers how to connect their personal and social identities. Learn more in NCTE's Alice Walker in the Classroom: "Living by the Word."

How will you be celebrating the African American Read-In? Learn more about what happens at a Read-In by reading the English Journal article "The African American Read-In: Celebrating Black Writers and Supporting Youth" as well as the Council Chronicle article about Meadowbrook High School in Richmond, Virginia.

For more ideas, see the Calendar entry for the African American Read-In, which includes more lesson plans, classroom activities, and online resources. The Text Messages podcast "Celebrating the African American Read-In" provides recommendations of both old and new titles by distinguished African American authors who write for teens. Featured books range from historical novels to contemporary explorations of African American life in both urban and suburban settings. 


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