Institutional Power Playing With Fire

Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have -James Baldwin

Before beginning this thought piece with the wise words from one of my literary heroes, Jaqueline Woodson, I am going to name a truth I profoundly believe and if you don’t also believe this truth, well then, herein lies an opportunity for you to live in a bit of aspirational discomfort until you shift your thinking in big ways. It’s okay, I’ll wait for you and welcome you with an open heart when you’re ready to walk alongside my deep belief. So, ready to hear it and see where your positionality places you along this spectrum of alignment with me?

Let me bounce my belief off of a quote from one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury: “There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.” Well, friends, I, unfortunately, encountered an institution choosing to play with fire recently. I steadfastly believe the act of censorship of books coupled with the overt act of denying children and teachers access to read books in the elementary school classroom is an act against children’s ability to grow their minds, hearts, and actions in empathetic ways. It denies children the opportunity to have access to information and create their own thinking from this knowledge. It’s essentially what James Baldwin spoke about in his famous quote referring to the unchecked ignorance of power named as the most ferocious enemy of justice. I’ll explore this notion more later, but for now, do a self-check for me: you with me? Beautiful. If not, keep reading, I hope you’ll walk alongside me soon.

In her Author’s Note of the brilliant picture book The Other Side, prolific author Jaqueline Woodson states her intent in writing the book and why it was so meaningful for her. Among many things she stated, these words stuck with me in a profound way: “I knew two things: One—that I wanted this to be a story about the way in which young people change the world each day through their seemingly simple acts of resistance. And two—that I wanted it to be a lyrical story that brought with the telling hope… Always, I would say—‘What about right here in this classroom?’ And slowly, the young people would begin to look around and notice, perhaps for the first time, that there is still work to do.” Her poignant question, “What about right here in the classroom,” struck me so profoundly, that I decided to explore her wondering charge with a yearlong study in just such a place, well actually, two. Two classrooms, starkly different in many ways, except one critical thread that wove them together: the empathy and compassion in the hearts and minds of the children and teachers that inhabited them. This is their story, their journey. I’m just a mirror to reflect the beauty and struggle to you. My hope is that by the end of this thought piece, you find your pathway to action that will join with my actions and those actions of thousands of others across this nation, as we become a movement of change together.

For a mama of a young visible transgender child, living his life bravely and boldly for this past year, our world came crashing down in a big way after our nation’s election seven months ago. So many outrageous things have transpired since that dark day, which this reflection will not be about. Instead, this reflection will center what light was shone in the spaces we have a small bit of influence within. Namely, the spaces occupied by glorious children. As a mama who is an educator by trade, who has many dear educator friends that found themselves just as shaken by the results of the election as I was, we decided to shift a bit of the focus of how we use literature in the elementary classroom to begin creating spaces for an exploration of compassion and empathy through the deep study of identity. Alfred Tatum’s profound words echo my belief system about the power of literacy instruction in creating the conditions within which children can gain tools for their own self-liberation: “Literacy instruction should never get in the way or postpone our deeper humanity. Every time we fail to teach a student to read, we put a bullet in a chamber.” Pause on that statement he recently made at a literacy event hosted by Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project this spring. It’s big, it’s visceral, it’s truth.  I’d add: every time we fail to equip a student with the tools to think critically, push back on what they are learning, and voice their ideas through the spoken and written word, the same metaphor is true.

We chose to center our study on the Balanced Literacy component of the interactive read aloud, because as one of my literacy heroes, Lucy Calkins asserts, in her Guide to the Reading Workshop, “We read because this is the best way we know to come together in a community of care…how powerful it is to read aloud, right smack in the midst of the hope and heartaches of a classroom, amid friendships that form and dissolve…children work out their life and death issues” (2010, 79-80).  As a foundational belief that literacy instruction is one pathway toward our larger humanity, where we can explore the important work of life in the context of a safe supportive learning space, this spirit guided the two teachers and I as we explored multiple identities through a series of beautifully inclusive texts read across the school year. Our intent was to create safe spaces for children to explore what it means to show our hearts to one another in this new national climate illustrated by so much hate, aggression, and divisiveness. As this journey unfolded, none of us quite expected what happened: both from the hearts and minds of children and from the painfully short-sided privilege of institutions in positions of power to deny children access to opportunities to build empathy toward one another.

How does one push back on the narrative of privilege, power, and systemic oppression that pervades the nation within which we live today? Confession? I’m not sure. Sorry, that’s the transparency of my stance as a learner and realizing I know less the more I learn. Want to hear my growing theory, though? Well, I believe many pathways might emerge for one that wants to do this deep work of pedagogical shifts, depending on your positionality within the system, your identity, your profession, your ability, and so on. If you’re an educator, though, who has the honor of inspiring and being inspired by young minds and hearts on the daily, beautifully inclusive texts read to groups of incredible children is one way, one very big way. And, this is exactly what I explored with the two teachers this school year as they took their elementary-aged students on a journey of thought, studying identity through literature. Let me paint a picture of the context for each learning space, explore some of the literature and student thinking along the way, and then process a devastating obstacle to this narrative, one that this literacy-loving educator and mama of a visible transgender child cannot yet reconcile: powerful institutional ignorance that flies in the face of the growth of children’s minds, hearts, and actions.

Let me paint the scene.

To get an image of why this work was so profound for us this year, let me set the context of each learning space in a general way: One learning space, an upper-grade classroom in a Title 1 school in a large urban city, was comprised of children of color. The other space, a primary grade classroom in an award-winning school in a suburban neighborhood, was comprised of children of relative societal privilege. Different in more ways than not. What tied these two starkly different classes together, though? As it turned out, two things: first, the compassion and empathy within the hearts and minds of the children who inhabited both spaces, and second, their teachers: they were bold, experienced, activist teachers who both took on the task of responding to what the world offered them as opportunities to tackle in the classroom.

I invite you to journey with these two teachers, a group of young minds, and me, their consummate collaborator and fellow activist educator.

Our study began with a favorite from Jacqueline Woodson’s work for young readers, The Other Side. In a few sentences, her book explores the ways children push against societal norms to discover the ties that bind: friendship and a common goal to find humanity within one another. As this book was read to these young minds, children instantly connected with the two main characters, a young Black girl named Clover and a young White girl named Annie. Children from both classrooms instantly expressed an understanding of the underlying theme of the book: the girls pushing back against the societal norms at the time around segregation and racism. They even clearly understood the symbolism behind the fence, that literally and figuratively, divided them. Of course, they would, right? But here’s the thing: as adults, we may recognize that children have a sense of these topics in the world, but do we co-create spaces in the places we have influence over (homes, classrooms, community spaces) for these conversations and exchange of ideas to occur on a regular basis? I linger on the answer to this question…

When we do, here’s what happens: we form a shared understanding of what it means to be humane, compassionate, and respectful of one another. In essence, our empathy grows. In opening spaces for these conversations around race, racism, segregation, and societal responses to these notions, children’s ideas began to grow in big ways. As the teachers and I explored this book and the symbolic nature of the fence in the story with both classes, the children made incredibly profound connections between the acts of racism in history and the acts of racism that pervade our communities today. Here are some ideas from both the spoken and written words of insightful youth.

  • “People of Color and White people were not allowed to be together but Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted to knock down that old fence” -primary student
  • “If you knock that fence, all kids could be friends with one another” -primary student
  • “All the children are good and really want to put that fence down so all can play. They could knock that fence down all together and then more friends will come” -primary student (Please, children, I’m counting on you to do just that: knock down that fence, together alongside your fellow peers…)

Some primary students’ written words:

The upper graders had parallel reactions and discussions like the primary grade children, relating what the book spoke of in a historical sense to what was emerging in today’s reality.

  • “We had an inauguration recently and it makes me think of this. In the book, this segregation happened because it had been the way it had always been about skin color. We can’t change the past, we can only change the future, because that’s the way things were. Dr. King changed things between black and white people” -upper grader
  • “Just one fence can do so much—they are being separated and the girls don’t even know why” -upper grader (Children can recognize the big implications of a societal structure with the unwritten rules of power and privilege that render particular subsets of people powerless. “Just one fence” and the reflection that kids don’t even know… That’s the big work of creating the conditions within which children begin to learn and reflect, in our homes, our classrooms, our community spaces.)
  • “Just because their skin tone is different from them, they shouldn’t be separated. It’s like separation like our border between the US and Mexico” -upper grader (notice just how similar this thought was to the primary grader’s writing above…children understand the world in big ways, they listen to everything, and make these deep connections that we should provide space for them to process further with their peers).

This reflection made one classmate ask this question: When did this story take place and could this happen today? Wow, right? I’d consider this book under the historical fiction umbrella, so after many conversations, the class settled on the book taking place decades ago. To clarify what this student’s thinking was edging toward when he made the connection between the fence and the US border, we decided to follow up his thinking and the second part of his question: Could this happen today?  What followed in the whole class conversation was poignant and left the teacher and I with this one thought: kids get it. They get it in big ways.

  • “I think the president today is going to make segregation today by different types because he plans to build a wall between the US and Mexico. This makes it all much worse” -upper grader
  • “Wait, we’ve been together for decades and it would be heartbreaking to happen. What about mixed race families? It doesn’t make sense. You need to consider what others want and think about others’ feelings and make them happy. Some families that are White and Black would be separated and that would be sad” -upper grader (notice how similar this statement was to the writing of the primary grader upon reflecting on her sister and herself).
  • “Some of this segregation is happening today. It’s still segregated in the south. People don’t care about the law and they break it” -upper grader
  • “Our new president might split us apart. He already is doing that with Muslims and other Muslims are standing up for them at the airport” -upper grader (to which point the class gasped at her statement that it’s already happening today, the teacher and I looked at one another with awestruck faces to the poignancy of her comment, and I layered in with this: It’s not only Muslims standing tall at the airport, my family and I just marched in our local airport this past weekend to show our solidarity and support for the Muslim community. When something is important to us, we stand tall. I wanted the students to know it takes action on all our parts to stand tall for our beliefs).

The upper grader’s writing below echoes this perspective. The last line is incredibly poignant: “But if you resiste you can change history because of your action.” Yes, kiddo, that’s exactly right, YOU all can change the future of how our history is shaped by your ACTIONS.

Below, you’ll notice one primary grader’s and one upper grader’s list of items they can try out as small acts of resistance. Who’s with them, with us?

  • Doing a march
  • Running for president
  • Being together as one
  • Preventing separation
  • Protest
  • Destroying barriers
  • Find way around
  • Taking a stand


Primary Grade Student Upper-Grade Student

It was clear to the teachers and me just how profoundly impactful the “stuff happening in life” was on the minds of their students as they grappled with the notions of what to do to push back against it and the implications of what it meant for their lives. I hope this is some of the types of work you are a part of with the youth around you, either as a parent, teacher, or community mentor. And you know something? I know this deep work has been going on for so long and the poignancy of children’s ideas is nothing new, except they are attaching the concepts of beautifully inclusive books like this to some very pointed things occurring in the landscape of our nation today.  We need to steadfastly continue to do this deep work of having conversations around race, racism, and our history of segregation, always and to continue t0 take actions against hateful views and actions. We positioned this beautiful book as one pathway into the study to open a space for this exploration of identity work with elementary-aged kids. And full disclosure here, my reader, as to why. I was looking for a way to thoughtfully layer in books that explored identity in a variety of ways as a foundation that eventually edged us closer to exploring the uncharted territory of the one identity that pervades my every waking thought: that of a trans identity, specifically, a trans youth identity. Just so I’m transparent and all with you…

With this evolution of thought emerging, we decided a next move was to continue the study of identity through a book that tackled another aspect of identity through a reading of Michael Hall’s Red: A Crayon’s Story. In this book, the author explores the notion of who we really are on the inside, despite the way we present on the outside. It’s a beautiful way for our young readers to explore the notions around gender expansiveness and the responsibility we have to love, see and support those around us. To be frank, this is a book that I lovingly name as the “gateway text” that gets the conversation going with young children that layers in the idea that just because one is born with a particular “crayon color wrapper” doesn’t necessarily mean that person actually identities with that wrapper. Plainly, when the red crayon tries to color, his color always turns out blue, not red. When he is finally supported in his identity of coloring blue, he empowers himself and those around him beautifully see him for his authentic self: a blue crayon.

In both the primary and upper-grade classrooms, we began with a quick conversation about hidden messages from authors. We made the assertion that authors sometimes reveal hidden messages through the characters they choose to write about and that we needed to pay close attention to what authors are trying to teach us in stories through the character’s experiences and the notion that perhaps the crayon represents the human identity in a deeper way. Both the classes were up for the exploration of hidden messages.

Before reading the book aloud, in the upper-grade classroom, we moved into a conversation about the notion of change (we’d do this with the primary grade students next time, too). We posed this question: What in life might change about someone’s identity? After thinking through possibilities with a thinking partner, the upper graders generated a quick list of possible ways a person might change over time. A few that stood out to me in a big way were: one’s heart, one’s thinking, and one’s respect for themselves. All really big ideas. Before beginning the read aloud, we posed one additional question to the class: Can one’s gender change, too? After defining what gender was to clarify this term, students processed this question again with a thinking partner. Some weren’t quite sure while others said sure. One partnership even named the idea of a transgender person. As we shared out highlights from our conversations, this pair shared out their idea that transgender people exist, they’d even heard of them, too. The class agreed that we could add the idea of gender to our chart, so we did.

In true form, both the primary and upper graders understood the notions underlying this inclusive text, in big ways I might add. Let’s explore some of their ideas, both through transcripts of class discussions during the read aloud in the primary classroom and the written word in the notebooks of the upper graders.

Exploration of Thought During the Read Aloud

In one turn and talk moment, we asked students to process how Red felt when he couldn’t color red. Here are some of the primary grader’s ideas:

  • “Red feels upset, like he can’t do what he’s supposed to.”
  • “Red is sad, he wasn’t really red, his wrapper, he’s really blue. He should have a blue wrapper.”
  • “He’s supposed to be blue, by accident they have him the color red.”
  • “What’s so bad about this part is when he was born his parents thought he was red and named him red, but he was actually blue.”

In another turn and talk moment, when children were responding to how Red felt as the other crayons around him were being incredibly unkind to him, here are some of the primary grader’s ideas:

  • “Red feels left out of the crayon group, they are being mean to him, not nice and saying bad things to him.”
  • “Just because of what color he uses, it doesn’t match his name. You can’t judge others by the color they are.”
  • “It’s like the book The Other Side, the dark skin and the light skin and the wrapper.”
  • “I think the hidden message is that Red is actually a blue crayon and he was switched. You should not boss people around for their skin color.”

As we neared the end of the book, when Red realized he was really a blue crayon all along and as his peers and family began to see this, too, and support him, the primary graders reflected on the hidden messages in the text:

  • “It matters who you are, not matters what you look like.”
  • “Doesn’t matter what you are, don’t give up on who you are, try your hardest.”

Exploration of Thought Through Written Reflections

To explore the realizations the upper graders made after hearing the book Red, I’m going to center their own written words to express their deepest empathetic reflections.

Recognizing the depth of knowledge these sets of students had brought to the conversations in class and their reflective writings, we decided to read another beautifully inclusive text: Jessica Walton’s Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender and Friendship. This is a book about a teddy bear revealing her truth to the child that loves her and how friendship preservers over time. Both The Other Side and Red: A Crayon’s Story were read alouds that I read as a guest in these incredible teacher’s classrooms. I am both their friend and colleague. We had a sense of trust and they knew my rapport with children. But, here’s the thing. As we got closer to a book that edged into conversations on topics that seem to be trickier in our world today, we recognized this. I’d assert there are no controversial topics, just controversial viewpoints upon these topics, especially with conversations centering around LGBTQIA identities. Knowing this and reflecting upon the world within which we find ourselves today, we agreed that the teachers would take on the read aloud of this book this time.

To frame the reading of Introducing Teddy, the upper-grade teacher began by posing this question for students to consider: What are some things you enjoy doing with your friends? She continued: Things change in stories based on events and other things that move a story. Pay attention to what things change and what things don’t change.

Read Aloud

In a first opportunity to reflect upon the story with a partner, the teacher posed this question to the students: How do you think Tilly the Teddy felt when she shared with Errol (the boy) “I’m a girl teddy not a boy teddy”?

  • “Tilly felt nervous and didn’t know what the boy would say. Would he be a friend or not keep a secret? She was tired of the boy calling her Thomas. She was disappointed by the name Thomas.”
  • “Tilly felt disappointed and given the wrong name. She always knew she was a girl Teddy—she always knew.”
  • “She’s expecting a negative effect on the relationship. She’s feeling uncomfortable and nervous.”
  • “Tilly feels sad because she knew she was always a girl and given a boy name. The boy didn’t know. Would the friendship break apart because of her gender?”
  • “Tilly felt guilty because friends tell secrets but Tilly kept this secret from him, so not to feel bad, she told him.”
  • “If Tilly was always a girl, why didn’t she tell Errol in the beginning? If she knew the whole time, why did she feel bad now and not back then?”
  • “Why did she wait so long to say something?”

We decided to build off this last student’s thinking with this next question: What might be some reasons, then, why Tilly did not tell Errol a long time ago that she was a girl teddy? After the students processed this line of thinking, here are some of their developing theories:

  • “She didn’t want to tell because she still wanted to be friends and was scared he wouldn’t be friends.”
  • “She didn’t want to break up the friendship and hurt him.”
  • “Because Errol was a boy and he wanted a boy Teddy, not a girl. She wants to do girl stuff and they always do boy stuff.”
  • “Little kids might not understand how they act and Tilly waits for Errol to be an age he can understand. She didn’t want to ruin all the fun stuff.”

As the book continued, Tilly revealed her truth to Errol the boy, upon which he declared his stance that they will remain friends no matter what. The students were relieved that Errol continued his friendship with Tilly and Tilly felt empowered to express herself in whatever way made her feel comfortable, moving the ribbon she’s worn as a bowtie to her hair as a bow. Really, this book is such a beautiful illustration of the enduring depth of friendship and compassion.

Whole-Class Conversation

To create a space where the students could process the book in a deeper way and build upon classmate’s thinking, the students next engaged in a whole-class conversation. The teacher set up the context: “We have the ability to stretch the conversation outside of the text—this is making me think of the language we use. Let’s consider this idea from the beginning: What doesn’t change and why? Our goal is to build off other’s thinking to grow our ideas of off others, too. Let’s wait five seconds before we jump in so we can build onto others’ thinking and process.” The teacher handed over the conversation to the students. Here is the brilliance that transpired:

  • “The one thing that didn’t change is their relationship, their friendship.”
  • “It didn’t affect their friendship: they’re still friends.”
  • “I agree, Errol doesn’t care about her gender, he cares she’s a friend.”
  • “I agree, it hasn’t affected their friendship. She named the change and he didn’t care. Life just went on.”
  • “The relationship stayed the same—they still did the same things they loved.”
  • “When Errol found out, well it’s just a change in gender, I don’t care who they are before, I only care about they are my friend.”
  • “Outside the bow changed, but inside they’re still the same. They have the same relationship and do boy stuff and hang out more often.”
  • “All makes me think Errol and Ava [another friend in the story] are very accepting people because they both thought Tilly was Teddy but Errol didn’t care, Ava didn’t care. All they thought wasn’t true in the beginning—they are very accepting people.”

As we realized just how much the upper graders understood the message in the story, the teacher posed this question: What we can learn from this is…

  • “If you have a friend that wants to be a girl or boy, don’t give up your friendship.”
  • “Look at the front cover—that’s who she is, who she imagines herself to be.”
  • “It makes me think: that she was a girl on the inside instead of a boy.”
  • “Not to give up on a friendship when someone changes their appearance or what they feel on the inside.”
  • “She knew she was a girl inside, a boy on the outside. Now I can see you as a girl.”

Kids get it, right friends? To link this with the other stories we’d been exploring this identity work through this year, the teacher asked the students to consider Red: A Crayon’s Story, The Other Side, and Oliver Button Is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola (the teachers had been studying additional books, as they do so well, many of which I was unable to join them for!). In true fashion, here are some of the upper grader’s poignant assertions as they connected with other inclusive texts:

  • “It doesn’t matter black or white, boy or girl, they can be friends.”
  • “Black or white, you can be friends no matter what. Introducing Teddy, he thought he was a boy, but he was really a girl, so don’t give up on friendship.”
  • “In videogames, there are some characters of boys that can’t do it, so I don’t think of gender and I use the character I want.”
  • “There’s nothing wrong with a boy being friends with a girl.”
  • “The opposite gender, accept people for who they are, they are still human.”
  • “We shouldn’t treat anyone unfairly because of gender.”

Again, I’m going to name this: kids get it. Clearly, the upper graders followed the thread of the book and really focused mostly on the message of being friends no matter what and that boys and girls can be friends with one another. They really didn’t explore the notion of the transgender youth identity. So, the teacher and I decided not to, either, as we always try our best to build the curriculum off where children take it. To conclude our work with this book, for the time being, the teacher created an opportunity for students to do a quick reflective write, both living in the text and lifting thoughts off the page into “life” and the “world.” A few sentence stems to get students started are below, as well as some of the upper grader’s thoughts. I’ll give you some time to read through them…

No matter what, I love friends the way they are. I’m sitting with this child’s reflection for a while, as it reflects the way I wish for humanity to position themselves with friends and others around them, always. Don’t you? And I want you to know, this upper-grade teacher went on to read other inclusive texts such as R. J. Palacio’s Wonder and Alex Gino’s George, and the upper grader’s awareness, compassion, and empathetic hearts grew by leaps and bounds.

The primary grade teacher, knowing the beautiful book Introducing Teddy was a discussion around gender, mentioned it to their local site administrator, who also agreed the book was wonderful. Just to check-in, the site administrator went up the ladder to confirm support for reading this book. This is where the chapter ends for your glimpse into this beautiful primary classroom. Why you might ask? Because I have nothing to write. I have nothing to show you as to student thinking or work. I have nothing to reflect to you as to what transpired in the classroom as children’s empathetic hearts and minds grew by leaps and bounds like the upper grader student’s hearts and minds did.

Why? Because…

Because the primary grade teacher was told they were not supported in reading this book this year to their students. They could not proceed. So, I will leave a big blank space below where I wish with everything in my being the words of the primary students could live, their ideas could flourish, their realizations could amaze you.

You might be wondering why the book Introducing Teddy was not allowed to be read, right? That’s human nature to have a curious stance on the world around us, especially when we hear injustice against children. Why was this teacher told they were not allowed to read the book Introducing Teddy this school year? Honestly, does it matter? When an institution delivers the message that a book is not to be read to students, any reason given for this censorship of inclusive texts doesn’t matter because there is no justification for this stance, this message, this action.


Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have -James Baldwin

To revisit the words of James Baldwin, that have rattled around in my brain and heart for a while now as I’ve tried to process the gravity of this situation, I have a growing rage in my heart toward institutional power that would seek to deny information to children to keep them unaware of the world around them. I can’t help it. I lead with a stance of love and hope that the compassion in our hearts will prevail and create conditions where we can come together to know one another in deep ways. This has been my stance for a long time now. But here, with this, I feel rage. That’s just my truth right now. When I reflect on what was just perpetuated upon the minds and hearts of the children who inhabit the spaces where this institution has power, it angers me deeply, it cuts my heart. I bleed and that’s just the truth of it. I don’t just bleed for my child, I bleed for the children that have been denied the chance to grow their already empathetic hearts even more, so perhaps one day when they meet my kid and his peers, they think, “Wow, just like Tilly. I understand it. I respect it. Let’s go play, friend.”

If school is a rehearsal for life, where children have the right “to come together in a community of care…to work out their life and death issues” through the books we read together and books that center LGBTQIA characters are keep out of classrooms and out of the hands of compassionate, wise educators, how are children ever to understand what it feels like to have an identity like my child and his peers? If we negate our responsibility, as caretakers of children, whether as parents, guardians, mentors, teachers, or whatever capacity we position ourselves with youth around us, to share the reality of the world we live in and use literacy as a pathway to access our deeper humanity, then where does that leave us? Are we playing with fire when we deny children the opportunity to form their own ideas based on access to information around them? Are we censoring access to information based on our own adult insecurities and hesitations? Tell me the justice of institutional censorship in moving our collective pursuit of justice for all forward?

These are questions I have no answer to right now. Well, that’s not exactly true. I do have one answer to give you. Actually, it’s not an answer, it’s an ask. While I understand to shift pedagogy, it centers on larger entities than a book, it centers on system shifts toward more inclusive practices. I get that. And while I get this isn’t just about a book, it is. Well, it is, and, it isn’t. It isn’t about a book, but more so, about what this book represents. It’s about access to information, knowledge, and opportunities to grow as human beings. It’s about the denial of access to these opportunities by the few affecting the many. So, it’s about what the book represents. If, after reading this, you are so deeply affected by the opportunity denied to these young children, I have a move for you to make. In her book, The Other Side, Jacqueline Woodson advocates for small acts of resistance. I do as well. Here’s my ask of you: read the book Introducing Teddy, and other inclusive texts, to the children in your life. If you are a teacher, read this book and other inclusive texts like it, to your students. If you’re an administrator, support your teachers in their pursuit of inclusive curriculum and texts in their classrooms. If you’re a director or superintendent, seek to understand why teachers believe this work is vital and books like these are essential in this work, and then visibly let them know they have your support in this critical work. If you’re a parent or guardian or grandparent, read these books to the kids in your life and have these honest conversations. If you have any stance with children in your life, I’d argue it’s your responsibility as an adult to provide the conditions within which children have access to the reality of the world so they can continue the work of building understanding, empathy, and respect toward one another. If you believe children are to inherit the world after we are gone, let them inherit it with knowledge, eyes wide open, hearts large, minds broad, and hands ready to do the work of building a more just world for one another.

One last thing to keep you lingering on your next move: I’m an adult, which positions me in our society with power, power that is systemically denied to children. As the daughter of Dr. King, Bernice King, recently said, “Love is not passive. Love does not cooperate with inhumanity. Love is an active force for peace, justice, and righteousness.” Ask yourself: How will you enact your love toward children? If you don’t want to take my word as to why inclusive texts are so impactful to our children, won’t you take the word of youth for truth? Here are upper graders’ words for you, urging you to take this big work on. Please read, ponder, and then I ask you to join us in moving forward to continue the work of doing right by ALL children.

[Here are two links, here and here, to inclusive book lists we’ve compiled, for your youngest readers. Please read through these lists, consider, and then go forth reading these beautifully inclusive books, with an open heart, to the children in your life.]


Published with permission from the educator allies featured in this writing piece.