Historical, Realistic and Multicultural Fiction

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Historical, Realistic and Multicultural Fiction


I'm uncomfortable with the way these aspects of literature are partitioned off (as if multicultural literature is not literature, but a subgrouping of it). What do you think?


 Blackish: History of Spinning History in the Classroom


The first episode of season four of Tyler Perry's Blackish directly addresses the collision of historical, realistic, and multicultural fiction in the classroom using humor (and hyperbole). 


Discussion Questions: 

  1. What reasons did the main characters give for reacting to the Columbus Day celebration at the school? 
    1. Can you imagine similar situations in which diverse groups of people could be offended by Eurocentric cleansing of history in the classroom? 
  2. What solution does the main character offer for the Eurocentric glorification of slave traders (and genocidal "explorers")? 
  3. One of the reasons I introduced Blackish into this lesson is because it's enjoyable! As globally minded citizens, we should enjoy diversity! Do you have a diverse range of artists on your iTune's playlists? If you have a faith heritage, do you listen to speakers from outside your culture? Diversity is a  habit of the mind, not a quota we fill. How can you make diversity a part of you life (in a way that you enjoy)? 
    1. Ravi Zacharias is a philosopher and Christian preacher from India who really opened my mind when I was in college. 
    2. Brent Slater is a pastor in Southfield, Michigan who came from Uganda. I listen to his sermons when I need real spiritual food.
      1. Both of these speakers (who have largely lived and work outside of Western culture) have opened my eyes to my own cultural influences. We are all bound by our cultures (including these speakers), but few people step far enough outside their comfort zones to realize it. Listening to them, I have learned to appreciate my cultural heritage and understand it's limitations. I hope you all find people you enjoy learning from - it will enrich your life.    


Diversity Question:

When I say the words "diversity" and "children's lit" what is the first thing that pops into your head? Write it down. Now, what ELSE could diversity mean?  



Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/raceindicators/indicator_rbb.asp. 10/16/2018.


When this data was taken in 2013, only FIFTY PERCENT of students identified as white, which means that HALF of the students in public schools around the US ALREADY identify as members of racial and ethnic minorities. However, FAR MORE than 50% of children's and YA literature is written by white authors (and features white characters). OUR LITERATURE IS NOT KEEPING PACE WITH THE BEAUTIFUL DIVERSITY OF OUR SCHOOLS! 


Power of Poetry



Poetry is not only a language of limerick and romance, it's also the language of war and epics. Margarita Engle's The Surrender Tree brings Cuba's struggle for freedom and independence into poetry for young adults. 


The Hispanic community is the largest ethnic group in US public schools and it is also the fastest growing ethnic community in the US (and I am a part). However, VERY LITTLE children's and YA literature reflects Hispanic culture.


Go to Margarita Engle's Web Page: http://www.margaritaengle.com


Discussion Questions:





Diversity and Visual Literacy

The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 




Visual Literacy


Alexie does an incredible job of packing images with meaning. How do you read these two images with a class? What strategies could you use to engage them in visual literacy? How could you move beyond that and connect with these images with the text around them?


How do these images give the text a feel that relates particularly to children (as opposed to simply being about children)?   





Work Time:



Text and Context


Unlike fantasy, which builds an alternative world for the reader, historical, realistic and multicultural fiction demands an understanding of this world. As adult readers, we can construct the context of the story from the text. Students (even high school students) struggle with this. They are primed to imagine different world when they encounter imaginative genres like fantasy, but they frequently try to fit realistic fiction directly into their own reality. They do not realize that they need to imagine a different reality (that this world is larger than their experience in it). 


In children's literature, context is especially important for developing CRITICAL LITERACY (buzz word you'll be hearing a lot as teachers). Critical literacy is understanding the "critical" issues (social, historical, personal...) that a text deals with and learning how to discuss and analyze those issues through the text. For example, Eloise specifically deals with issues that children face when they are raised by nannies and childcare professionals (and have little contact with their parents). Critical literacy could involve analyzing Eloise's experiences and discussing what outside (unnamed) influences inspired her behavior. For example, why does she imitate people? Is she showing that she doesn't have a strong role model or a sense of self? How could you make that into a class discussion?  


Activities such as creating time lines, going to a local ethnic fair, watching short historical (or cultural or even psychological) videos, and impersonating (bringing to life) a historical figure or event that is central to the action can all help students imagine the historical and cultural context for realistic fiction. 




Come up with an activity that would help students understand the CONTEXT for one of these stories and post it in the comment box below. Be specific about the learning goals for your students and how the activity would meet those goals (and why that particular activity would be important for the story). 


Context Through Material Culture


I think that material culture can foster a sense of wonder for students and create a tangible sense of context, especially for historical texts. 


The digital age has (ironically?) made material cultural virtual. You can bring historical artifacts from all over the world into your classroom through the computer screen using databases like these:


Library of Congress

Detroit Art Institute


Most museums have SOME online archive that is specifically designed to engage students (prepare them for field trips). 

Holocaust Museum

Smithsonian Museum: Fun Stuff for Kids Online


Combining Virtual Material Culture with Tangible Objects in the Classroom


Example Unit with Context:

A Tress of Hair.pdf  


"A Tress of Hair" by Guy de Maupassant was written in the mid-late 1800s in France. It is a very materialistic story - centered on tangible objects. Some objects would need to be recreated digitally in most classrooms, like eighteenth-century French furniture.


Students could begin the assignment by going to the MET's online exhibit of Golden Age French furniture: https://www.metmuseum.org/TOAH/hd/ffurn/hd_ffurn.htm


You could use this to spring-board into a discussion of historical context for the story (the MET's helpful essay could give you the details you need). 


Other objects could be reproduced and brought into class - such as a tress of hair. 


Discussion Questions:


Group Work:

Now it's your turn: 


Consider using one of these activities in your group presentations - this would be a GREAT thing to have in your teaching portfolio.  


Crossing Boundaries with Food


Blackish brought up the importance of different foods in Juneteenth celebrations (particularly the symbolic significance of strawberry soda). Cultural food is frequently tied to cultural celebrations, which can make it a positive way to introduce diversity into the classroom. Can you think of ways that food has cultural symbolism for you in your own life? You read these two articles about using food to introduce students to different cultures: https://www.socialstudies.org/system/files/publications/articles/yl_190216.pdf and http://hanimorgan.com/MotivatingStudentsIsEasy.pdf

Discussion Questions: 


Other Online Resources for Building Context:


Come up with THREE online resources that you could use in the classroom to bring the context (historical, cultural...) to life for one text of your choice. Link the resources in the comment boxes below. 



Now create an activity or worksheet for your specific book that students could use WITH this site to understand the CONTEXT of the story. What is this specific activity supposed to reinforce (and why)? 


Multiple Choice Options: Ethnic or Multicultural


What is the difference between Multicultural and Ethnic literature? We use the terms interchangeably, but they actually mean different things.






  1. 1.
    relating to a population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition.
    "leaders of ethnic communities"
    synonyms: racialrace-related, ethnological; More






  1. relating to or constituting several cultural or ethnic groups within a society.
    "multicultural education"



In "Multiracial Experiences in Literature for Children," Amina Chaudhri and William H. Teale analyzed 90 realistic novels written and published in the United States between the years 2000 and 2010 and featuring mixed race characters. The researchers examined specific textual features of these works of contemporary and historical fiction and employed Critical Race Theory to contextualize the books within paradigms about multiracial identity. Findings indicated three broad trends in representations of mixed race identity with an almost equal number of novels falling among three descriptive categories.

This study has implications for research and pedagogy in the fields of education and children’s literature as they expand to become more inclusive of this type of diversity. 





I've discovered that there are many ethnic tales and stories for children and fewer truly multicultural texts that explore the relationship that DIFFERENT cultures have within a single society. What have you found? 
Cynthia Kadohata's Kira-Kira is an EXCELLENT example of multiculturalism. It talks about a Japanese-American family's experiences moving from a Japanese-American community into Georgia. The cultural collisions highlight both Japanese-American AND region southern cultures with a message of hope. While ethnic texts expose children to diversity by allowing them a glimpse inside a culture outside of mainstream America, multicultural texts allow children to understand that diversity with the complexity of our multicultural society. They also open up more points for discussions of critical literacy because they relate to our multicultural present.  

Group Work:

Break into groups. Can you apply these categories to text that you've found in your browsing projects? Identify at least one MULTICULTURAL text for ES, MS and HS students. List them in the comment box below. 



Resources for Multicultural and Ethnic Children's Literature



A great place to start looking for diversity is in the awards section of your text book to find authors who are not only diverse, but thinking critically about ways to present diverse stories to a broad audience. There are also organizations devoted to celebrating specific groups.



It's good to look at national awards as well as awards produced by specific societies that have diverse or minority interests at heart, especially when you are considering narratives that offer representations of specific communities. It is important that those representations are not only produced by members of an in group but also approved by the in group. See this link for controversies with awards. For example, J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegyconsiders himself an insider in Appalachian culture, but Appalachians do not share that view and resent his description of life here. 


As we are thinking about choosing resources for children, consider the demographics of American schools. They might surprise you (America is more diverse than most people think): Student Demographics.



Retrieved from: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/raceindicators/indicator_rbb.asp. 10/16/2018. 


Diversity in Many Flavors


In Disability as Diversity in Higher Education (2017), Eunyoung Kim and Katherine C. Aquino (among others) "frame disability as part of the natural and rich continuum of diversity on college campuses" - Dr. Joseph Madaus. 


As the book points out, discrimination against the disabled (or differently abled) is a dramatically under-recognized form of abuse in academic institutions. One of the reasons for this is that students with disabilities are considered "impaired" rather than "diverse."   


Defining Disability


Educating One and All defines "disability" in the public school system: 


Once a child is identified as having a disability, then a determination is made as to whether he or she qualifies for special education and related services. Under the IDEA, eligibility for special education services is based on two criteria: first, the student must meet the criteria for at least one of the 13 disabilities recognized in the IDEA (or the counterpart categories in state law) (Reschly, 1987a) and, second, the student must require special education or related services in order to receive an appropriate education (Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 1982; Reschly, 1987a). According to the most recent data collected by the U.S. Department of Education (1996), approximately 4.7 million children between the ages of 6 and 17 qualified for special education services in school year 1994–95; this represents 10.4 percent of the total student population. (69)



10.4 % places disabilities as the fourth largest group of diverse students in our school systems. 



Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone Does My Shirts is a Newberry Honor book that deals with a different kind of diversity. The main character's sister is autistic.


Although the autistic character is secondary to the narrative, Choldenko moves beyond visibility and blending to awareness. Nathalie's disabilities shape her life and the life of her family members.   


Discussion Question:

  1. Have you ever thought of diversity in terms of differently-abled students? 
  2. How could you bring the concept of being differently-abled into the classroom in a constructive and affirming way according to your book?  


  1. According to Scholastic, this book is suited to grades 3 - 12. What do you think?  
    1. Are there different ways that you could use this in different grades? 


OWN VOICE writing is particularly important when you are TEACHING diversity. Choldenko does NOT identify this way, so her book is written from an outsider's perspective. What are the potential problems with that? 



Here is Scholastic's list of discussion questions and activities for Al Capone Does My Shirtsclubs_pdfs_new_alcaponedoesmyshirts_q.pdf


Regional Identities



Bluefield has a distinctive regional identity because of it's location in the heart of Appalachia. Having an understanding of Appalachian children's literature its important.


There is a lot of nostalgic fiction about this distinctive region of the country. However, some students have noticed that local authors are able to avoid the stereotypes that outsiders often favor.


Here are some resources for celebrated regional texts by local authors:


However, there are some outside authors who have done a good job of bringing Appalachia into conversation with the rest of the world.  


Martha's Ballet: Appalachian Spring is a surprisingly multicultural book about Appalachia and Appalachian culture.  


Group Work:


Break into groups and develop THREE questions and answers that will illustrate critical thinking about the chapters we read for this class OR other material we covered in lecture. Post them in the comment box below. 


Common Core State Standards Initiative 


This was the educational model that the US used for the past eight years in grades K - 12. 


The English and Language Arts standards specifically state: 


The Common Core asks students to read stories and literature, as well as more complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies. Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life.


The College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards form the backbone of the ELA/literacy standards by articulating core knowledge and skills, while grade-specific standards provide additional specificity. Beginning in grade 6, the literacy standards allow teachers of ELA, history/social studies, science, and technical subjects to use their content area expertise to help students meet the particular challenges of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language in their respective fields.


The skills and knowledge captured in the ELA/literacy standards are designed to prepare students for life outside the classroom. They include critical-thinking skills and the ability to closely and attentively read texts in a way that will help them understand and enjoy complex works of literature. Students will learn to use cogent reasoning and evidence collection skills that are essential for success in college, career, and life. The standards also lay out a vision of what it means to be a literate person who is prepared for success in the 21st century.


Even if these standards are replaced in the future, it's usually something like 2-5 years before changes are implemented (so chances are you'll start your careers teaching to these standards). And it's likely the new standards will be similar to these (because this is what's "in" now)! 



  1. How important is Critical Literacy in light of these standards?
    1. How can it be important to YOU?  
  2. How important is "reading/writing across the curriculum"?
    1. How can you make this something that matters to you?  
  3. What sort of activities can you design to meet these standards 


For me, the answer to these questions begins and ends with wonder. I can fit Critical Literacy and "Writing Across the Curriculum" into the idea of inspiring wonder. Because I can match it up with something that matters to me, I can embrace it actively in my classroom!  


More Resources for Teaching Diversity:

Coming Around the Bend: Close Reading and Critical Literacy Project


How can the activities we did in class help you build towards your Close Reading and Critical Literacy Project? How does diverse literature specifically demand critical literacy? 


More Diversity Material