RM Winter 2016 FLIP

The pedagogical challenge of going beyond a read-aloud—that is, digging deeper and doing more—is important for two main reasons. First, it is critical that both early childhood and university students gain a more nuanced understanding of poverty and homelessness as a relevant and significant local and global issue. As noted by Kelley and Darragh (2011), poverty and homelessness are often misrepresented in realistic fiction children’s picture books: …These often inaccurate and unrealistic portrayals may give children false perceptions of the world…Children reading these books may gain the misunderstanding that middle- and upper-class families are the norm, and that all people who are poor do not know how to manage their money…Moreover, many picture books that have such characters who are poor fail to identify the various causes of poverty, such as job loss and low minimum wage. (p. 266) Second, it is crucial that we, as teachers and teacher educators, do not “reinforce the notion that people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and that poverty is an individual problem that can be solved with some effort by individuals, rather than poverty is a national, structural, and systemic problem” (Kelley & Darragh, 2011, p. 277). For these two reasons, it is important to extend realistic fiction picture books about poverty and homelessness in a critical and strategic manner that is not diluted or oblivious to deeper nuances around the topic. So then, what else, besides a read-aloud and a class discussion, can a teacher and a teacher educator do with social justice-themed picture books? Pedagogical Challenge: Going Beyond a Pedestrian Approach to Picture Books A longstanding and growing body of critical literacy scholarship provides insights for how to create authentic learning experiences where children are able to walk in the shoes of the characters from the book. In order to do more and allow students to walk in the shoes of the characters that they encounter in picture books, critical literacy scholars remind us that it is important to model and promote the interrogation about why these social justice issues occur in both early childhood and teacher education classrooms. Such interrogation examines how characters and issues are depicted in realistic fiction picture books. That is, students can ask questions to challenge stereotypical depictions, and move toward critical civic engagement. In the following passage, Short (2011) discusses how to approach issues such as poverty, via children’s literature in our classrooms: Instead of a “give the helpless a handout” approach, civic engagement involves challenging stereotypes of those who live in poverty, developing an understanding of those who live in poverty, developing an understanding of the complex causes of poverty, introducing activists who work at these causes, and removing the stigma of poverty. (p. 57)

offer suggestions for both early childhood educators and their teacher educators. Addressing this issue from both perspectives, and providing the reader with recommendations for practice, allows us to contend with theory and practice in dynamic ways.

The Pedagogical Challenge: Going Beyond the Read-Aloud

Reading Matters You Matter

As participants of the Barbara A. Sizemore Urban Education Conference, we collaborated on a poster presentation that highlighted children’s literature where the main characters negotiated issues of poverty or homelessness. Our presentation focused on three realistic fiction picture books: Gettin’ through Thursday by Melrose Cooper, Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, and The Lunch Thief by Anne Bromley. Gettin’ through Thursday by Melrose Cooper is about a young boy named André whose family finds creative ways to make ends meet until payday (Friday). Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts features a little boy named Jeremy who desperately wants a pair of sneakers that almost all of his classmates have; he saves his money and buys a pair at the second-hand store but they are too small. Jeremy decides to anonymously give the too small shoes to a classmate who needs them more. The Lunch Thief by Anne Bromley is the story of a boy named Rafael who has his lunch stolen repeatedly. He discovers that the new boy, Kevin, has been stealing his lunch. Kevin recently lost his home in a wildfire and is living out of a hotel. By the end of the story, Rafael decides to share his plentiful lunch with Kevin. Additionally, our presentation included a handout aimed at early childhood classroom practitioners. The handout offered teaching strategies and ideas for using multicultural children’s literature in urban schools. We supported the strategies and ideas highlighted in the handout with scholarship addressing the use of social justice-themed children’s literature to meet standards-based goals in early childhood classrooms (i.e. Common Core, see Enriquez & Shulman-Kumin, 2014). A Pedagogical Challenge for Both ClassroomTeachers and University Professors The discussion following our poster presentation at the conference led us to further reflect and interrogate our own practices. We agree that “teachers [and teacher educators] can use read-alouds to develop children’s background knowledge, stimulate their interest in high-quality literature, increase their comprehension skills, and foster critical thinking” (Meller, Richardson, & Amos Hatch, 2015, p. 102). For instance, a classroom teacher can facilitate discussion with young learners about a character who couldn’t afford to buy “those shoes,” a character whose family had a hard time “gettin’ through Thursdays,” or a character who stole someone else’s lunch because he was hungry and homeless. However, we argue that doing so—as merely an academic exercise in the classroom—does little to critically engage students (at both levels) with the issues at hand. Thus, there is a need to go beyond the read- aloud; a need to “do more” as part of socially-just practices in education (Wade, 2000; Dever, Sorenson, & Broderick, 2005).

In both elementary and university classrooms, it is important

| 82 | Reading Matters | Volume 16 • Winter 2016 | scira.org


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