Why Black Children’s Literature for Black Males, Matters…

Tiffany A. Flowers

 “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
― Ralph EllisonInvisible Man

The above quote by Ellison illustrates the sum total of what educators, teachers, activists, literacy advocates, parents, and many students have longed and advocated for in the past thirty or more years for Black students. The very idea that discovering who you are through reading Black literature is not only a sound concept, but a liberating one. Access to Black literature for Black students, for younger students, and more specifically Black males is an important component of this process. As educators, our job is to lead students to this liberation in three ways: (a) We must understand Black literature ourselves; (b) We must provide access to Black literature by making it available in libraries and schools; and (c) We must integrate Black literature into the elementary classroom curriculum. All of these reasons are important and they matter for the literacy development of young Black men especially.

Although some advocates believe literature should be diverse, there is no clear evidence that diversification is happening in classrooms across the nation. In fact, in many cases the opposite is true. Many teachers suggest they receive little or no training in implementing diverse literatures. Further, the texts that teachers often engage with are typically reflective of their own race, culture, gender, and socioeconomic background. Therefore, the literature often selected for K-12 is reflective of the majority white, female, middle-class teachers’ backgrounds who select the texts. In order to change this dynamic, teachers must begin to aggressively change their choices in literature. We must get to a point where we understand the choices educators make regarding Black literature matters.

What gets read matters to students,

parents,

teachers,

and members in the community.

What gets consideration as valid matters.

What students get access to within the curriculum matters.

What students will think of themselves when they have no access to Black literature matters.

The choices we make as professionals matter

The end results of those choices matter

Therefore, Black males’ access to Black literature matters

I have worked for over twenty years explaining to decision-makers who select books for Black students why Black literature, particularly for Black males, matters. I make the explanations plain for all to understand. For many readers, libraries and classrooms are places where they can find adventure, mystery, understanding, and a worldview of the landscape of their experiences. However, Black students are not afforded the same luxury. They are less likely than white students to find books by Black authors or stories that mirror their own experiences. For Black males, the reality is much more relevant. I wrote a narrative poem that captures the reality of so many Black males in the K-12 system.

Read what?

You are a young Black male….

Excited about learning….

You enter school with anticipation…

Your eagerness to learn is met with screams about behavior…

NO! Bad Boy! You are called….

Yet, you are not a dog…

You want to engage with materials that look like you….

Yet, you may not have the language to express these thoughts…

Instead you move around the classroom

Bored… Agitated and restless…

You are disinterested in what is available in the classroom…

Instead of the curriculum changing for you… you are asked to change…

This is weird…

Especially since your mother’s tax dollars are funding the school…

READ! People shout….

READ WHAT!? Is what you want to shout back in elementary school…

You are met with resistance when you want to read a book that does not have a girl, fairy or dog in the book…

You go to the library, book fair, field trips, and afterschool programs and see the same…

Pretty soon restless goes to bad choices when you are no longer small and cute in the early grades….

Bad choices end up landing you in trouble when people see a scrawny Black kid they swear is the size of the Incredible Hulk…

You want to learn, but you do not have the language to ask why the posters, books, curriculum materials, and everything in the room does not look like you….

You continue like this through the upper elementary grades in school…

In third grade, you learn about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Slavery…

That is it…

READ! People shout….

READ WHAT!? Is what you want to shout back in middle school now…

You go through the intermediate grades, middle grades, and high school…

Never seeing one book or reading one with a Black male character…

You finally get to a book with a Black male character in a cool teacher’s class in high school…

Yet, you find that the book is not on your reading level, because you have never been interested in reading before now….

You feel disempowered, angry, resentful, and thankful that at least you did not end up in a Special Education classroom like many of your friends.

Thank goodness for a mom that refused to sign that paper…

It is graduation time now…

You want to go to college.

However, you may not have the reading stamina or vocabulary to succeed…

The worst part is that this entire process worked on your school esteem…

The crazy thing is that all of this could have been avoided if every teacher, reading specialist, and librarian in grades K-12 had just seen the importance of adding Black Literature to their curriculum.

This may get a laugh from a few people believing it is funny or dramatic…

Yet, what if this were the reality for your child?

What if they were the ones at-risk with no agency?

What if people laughed and came up with a million other reasons for why they failed instead of looking at the fact that they were never given equal access to reading materials K-12?

Is it funny now?

Who are teachers picking these books for anyway?

Shouldn’t books be for the students in the classroom?

Why is it when people pick Black Literature it is always the same titles, authors, and storylines?

Still funny to some?

It probably is to you….

You know what is not funny?

Do you teach literacy?

Can you name five Black male authors? What about ten Black male authors?

No?

It is not funny anymore is it?

Because you now realize that you have been just as mis-educated as most Black males…

Now that you realize this must change.

How will you make those changes?

This is why those changes matter.

This is why Black Literature for Black males matters….

As a teacher reading this narrative poem, you have a choice you can make. You can either choose to empower or disempower Black males throughout their K-12 experience. There is no middle ground when we think about the millions of Black males who will never learn to read with our current models. As we move toward more culturally relevant approaches to literacy, we must decide whether our conscience will empower our sense of urgency and justice and force us to make more informed choices. Our choices as literacy professionals will empower Black males to discover who they are through reading. This empowerment will fuel a movement to change our existing practices, curriculum, and outcomes.

Black authors matter

Black children’s books matter

Black literacy matters

Black males matter…

Below is a sample list of texts written by African American males that can be read in grade 2-5 classrooms:

 

Contemporary Realistic Fiction Sample List

Bippity Bop Barbershop by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley

Jamal’s Busy Day by Wade Hudson

Uptown by Brian Collier

Daddy Calls me a Man by Angela Johnson

The Case of the Disappearing Graffiti Artist: An Aaron Matthews Mystery by  P. Boyd

Miami Jackson Gets it Straight Series by Patricia McKissack

Clubhouse Mysteries by Sharon Draper

The Rooftop Book Club Book Series by Tiffany A. Flowers

 

Biographies/Memoirs Sample List

Little Stevie Wonder By Quincy Troupe

Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller

We Beat the Street by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt

Savion Glover: My Life in Tap by Savion Glover

Alvin Ailey by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Gordon Parks: No Excuses by Ann Parr

Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly by Walter Dean Myers

 

Concept Books Sample List

Shades of Black by Sandra and Myles Pinkney

The Amazing Things Books Can Do by Ryan Joiner

Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad? by Sandy Lynne Holman

The Rooftop Club Book Series by Tiffany A. Flowers

Little Bill Book Series by Bill Cosby

Read and Rise by Sandra Pinkney and Myles Pinkney

 

Poetry Books Sample List

In Daddy’s Arms I am Strong by Javaka Steptoe

Harlem by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers

Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo

 

Historical Fiction Sample List

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis

 

Sci-Fi/Superhero Sample List

The Guardians of History Book Series by Tiffany A. Flowers

The Supadupa Kid by Ty Allan Jackson

 

It is my hope that we move toward a more collective solution to change one of the most pressing issues within our society.