Literacy Matters Vol 24 Winter 2024

have killed so much living things that had a home.”One comment demonstrated both developing rhetorical skill and a desire to advocate socially: “Reading the book was the first step - going on walks was the first step - journaling was the first step - in every instance - realizing - is the first step in change” (italics in original student response). Some might sense an element of despair in other comments about the environment, such as, “I don’t like thinking about the stuff that’s going on in the world. I wish I didn’t understand any of it (because you know ‘ignorance is bliss’).” At least two students offered critical evaluations of the author herself, questioning her position as an advocate for nature. The comment, “I guess I’m more disappointed at the fact that she did not think about what taking an animal out of its home would do,” may reveal a questioning of the author’s sincerity since it refers to a chapter in which the author laments watching a baby octopus die out of water while her son was there, too. A similar doubt can be seen in this student’s comment: “...I would ask her if her sons are really that into nature. I guess the feeling of disbelief when I read about what her sons act like, it is hard to imagine since I’ve been raised to believe that boys will always act a certain way.”This comment shows a possible awareness of cultural differences and a willingness to question the evidence presented in the text. Discussion I interpret the findings from the study first through Bishop’s (1990) description of texts serving as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Then, I look at the findings through the lens of CSP, as defined by Paris and Alim (2014), which includes and extends the tenets of CRP, as defined by Ladson-Billings (1995). I focus on evidence that students engaged in self reflection as a conduit for close reading and critical thinking, beginning with research question 1: to what extent do students express personal connection with the author and the text? Students who share similar cultural backgrounds with Nezhukumatathil because they are of the same ethnicity or because they share experiences as a child of first-generation immigrants often named those commonalities specifically, which supports Bishop’s theory that seeing one’s culture represented positively in class literature indicates that their unique identities are acknowledged and valued. This representation did not keep students of different heritages from connecting in other ways, such as keeping pets, playing with siblings, or finding true love. Other students of color who could not relate to the specifics of Nezhukumatathil’s story as an Asian American child of immigrants seemed curious about common attributes of discrimination across cultures, which may indicate growing empathy. These examples suggest that students were able to either see themselves in the story or look through a window into another world with greater understanding. Their promises to attend to the natural world through research and conservation efforts suggest that some students had stepped through the sliding glass door into greater awareness of the climate crisis. Students did not seem reserved in talking about their unique cultural heritages while making these connections, which seems to indicate they express themselves academically while

together: “I would tell her the ways she inspired me to take care of nature and to write my own poetry about the Earth.”

Overall, student comments in these two journal entries reveal that students were able to connect and empathize with the author regardless of what their personal backgrounds may be. However, those who shared cultural ties with Nezhukumatathil wrote about those cultural ties often. For example, one student wrote, “I am also Filipino. What is your favorite Filipino dish/food to eat? Mine would have to be adobo or tocino with white rice. Rice cake would be a great dessert.” Another student who shares the author’s Filipino heritage said he would “ask her silly questions such as ‘do you know any Tagalog?’” Another student sought cross-cultural connection: “Maybe I’d ask her more about what it was like growing up as a brown girl and see if there are/were any similarities between me or her even if we are of different races.” Finally, this student’s comment shows both empathy and a cross-cultural connection: “I would ask her how did she overcome racism. How did she gain the confidence to keep going even after feeling left out?”. Those who did not share cultural backgrounds with the author often commented on personal connections they made while reading, but almost all those comments centered on shared activities. For example, one student wrote, “It also made me think about my childhood, how I used to love going outside and riding my bike full speed down hills, run around in the woods with friends, and going fishing for my first time.” Another student acknowledged their different upbringings but said, “Everything the author wrote about took me back to things that I had experienced too… back to when me and my little brothers would lay on my driveway, trying to count the stars.” These childhood memory stories seem to originate in nostalgia, but students responded with a different tone when they asked Nezhukumatathil about her relationship with her sons or her parents. A student wrote, “I related when she talked about how she wish she could keep memories of road trips with her mom in a jar forever. Memories that are sacred and precious to me. Memories that I will cherish forever.” Another student expressed curiosity about their mother/son relationship: “...I couldn’t help but wonder how old they were and if your bond was still close? My mom and I don’t have much of a close bond anymore, so hearing that you care for your sons, even as they grow older, means a lot to me personally.” Students demonstrated several examples of thinking critically about social inequities and the author’s position. The most salient cultural commentaries concerned global climate change, and several students indicated a willingness to take a role in alleviating environmental damage. Some were forceful, confident assertions: “I genuinely believe that until these major corporations start ‘going green,’ then the problem will never be resolved. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”Others showed evidence of learning about the issue on their own: “A species of plant or animal or bug go extinct every seven to nine minutes. Last year it was fifteen minutes. I have no idea what we can do to fix it - but Aimee has the right idea - start small.”The following comment suggests a willingness to take personal responsibility: “I’ve polluted so much, I

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Literacy Matters | Volume 24 • Winter 2024 | 11 |


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