Tag Archives: Multicultural Literature

Broadening Perspectives with Multicultural & Multivoiced Stories for Adolescents

This post is written by members Kelly Byrne Bull and Jacqueline Bach, guest editors of the September issue of English Journal. 

In this issue, we explore how multicultural and multivoiced young adult literature engages classroom communities in meaningful discourse and broadens adolescents’ perspectives. Our cover artwork, Iris-Between-Worlds by Colleen Helie, embodies the poignancy of adolescence and the fluidity of conversations that encourage growth. Contributors to our themed issue bring to light stories that connect students with the personal and the global. As a result of our Call for Manuscripts, we noted that three categories emerged: bias and empathy; power and equity; and gender and sexuality.

Alluding to Rudine Sims Bishop’s concept of mirrors and windows, several contributors carefully illustrate how empathy can break down biases. We appreciate Grice, Rebellino, and Stamper’s celebration of challenging the narrative status quo. In their article, they showcase lived experiences that have historically been overlooked but are explored through recent award-winning verse novels and graphic narratives. Building on this idea of diverse representation, Gilmore’s “Saying What We Don’t Mean” argues that teachers are responsible for offering students a variety of characters and situations so that students can grow and learn to recognize implicit bias. Similarly, Van Vaerenewyck’s “Aesthetic Readings of Diverse Literary Narratives for Social Justice” asserts that cultivating empathetic global citizens relies on all of us becoming better readers of diverse stories.

We noted how this call prompted contributors to explore issues of power and equity that are developed in YA texts. Malo-Juvera’s “A Postcolonial Primer with Multicultural YA Literature” illustrates how he introduces postcolonialism so that students can hone their abilities to interrogate normalized oppression and begin to read the world critically. Ginsberg, Glenn, and Moye also examine issues of power and equity in their article, “Opportunities for Advocacy.” The YA texts they feature center on identity denial and afford rich discussions about which identities are privileged or denied, affirmed or suppressed. Such exploration of power and equity is also central to Lillge and Dominguez’s thoughtful article, “Launching Lessons.” In it, they address incorporating divergent points of view in the English classroom and offer readers ideas for projects addressing social inequity and injustice.

Our contributors also challenge readers to include global and multivoiced expressions of gender and sexuality (if they are not already doing so) with contemporary texts. Hayne, Clemmons, and Olvey’s “Using Moon at Nine to Broaden Multicultural Perspectives” analyzes their experiences reading this love story between two young women in post-Shah Iran with their university students, while in “‘I Don’t Really Know What a Fair Portrayal Is and What a Stereotype Is’” Boyd and Bereiter remind readers of the importance of listening and learning from their students and trying new pedagogical approaches based on those relationships. Finally, Kedley and Spiering look at how voices and form convey multiple experiences of gender and sexuality in ELA classrooms.

Articles such as these are conversation-starters. We invite you to continue these conversations with your colleagues and students. Send us your ideas so that we may continue to broaden and deepen the conversation: Kelly Byrne Bull (kbull@ndm.edu), Jacqueline Bach (jbach@lsu.edu).

Works Cited

Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 1(3), ix–xi.

 Kelly Byrne Bull is an associate professor at Notre Dame of Maryland University, chair of NCTE’s Commission on the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature, and Maryland state representative for the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents.


Jacqueline Bach is the Elena and Albert LeBlanc Professor of English Education at Louisiana State University, a former editor of The ALAN Review (2009–2014), and a former high school English teacher. http://www.alan-ya.org/publications/the-alan-review/

Un Nuevo Bard

This post is written by NCTE member, Michael Guevara. 

Guevara_Head_shot_website1Towards the latter part of April, my social media—populated by linguaphiles, bibliophiles, teachers, thinkers, and lots of former students—reverberated with all things Shakespeare. Even my beloved NPR rang bard-centric in the waning days of April.

And as a former high school English teacher, all this focus on Will—well, “small things make base men proud.” After all, who doesn’t enjoy a primer on Shakespearean insults? That’s rhetorical, “you blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!”

But all this Bard bravado also made me a little sad when I came across this social media post:

Hoy conmemoramos el IV Centenario de la muerte de Miguel de Cervantes, el más célebre escritor de la lengua española de todos los tiempos, con “El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha.” ¿Cuál es tu frase favorita? #400Cervantes #Díadellibro

[Today we commemorate the fourth centenary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes, the most famous writer of the Spanish language of all time, with “the ingenious gentleman Don Quixote of la Mancha.” What’s your favorite phrase? #400 Cervantes ‪#‎díadellibro]

And all the pieces, los pedazos, began to come together. For years, my English classes celebrated the life and death of William Shakespeare. Regardless of what unit we happened to be on at the time, I always managed to insert some homage to Shakespeare into my April lesson plans.

But a real aha moment happened for me as I scrolled through that post on the Facebook page of the Santillana Spanish Classroom. I came to realize that Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare lived and wrote at the same time. They were contemporaries who also died around the same time.

Why had I never considered this? Even now I feel a little idiotic and embarrassed to admit that I never recognized this. Cervantes might say that from so little sleeping and so much reading, my brain dried up and I went completely out of my mind.

Over and over again, I read posts and links to articles from friends and fellow educators commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, but none of these friends and educators—or media outlets—ever mentioned the 400th anniversary of the death of the world’s most famous Spanish writer.

This is a problem.

We have a generation of students who know nothing of the works of a man who rivals Shakespeare, a culture of citizens who know nothing more of Cervantes than one character and tilting windmills. We are remiss and unappreciative of this prolific writer who, as far as I know, never had the veracity of his authorship doubted or debated.

Perhaps teaching English language arts in the United States means we have a natural inclination to be Anglo-centric in our literary choices. It’s certainly the experience I had as a student and what I repeated as a teacher. It’s the experience my children had, and it’s the experience I witnessed everywhere I taught. Of course we explored a pittance of multicultural literature. We read our Sandra Cisneros, our Gary Soto, our Julia Alvarez—all authors I particularly love—but these writers are too often only the sprinkles on the vanilla frosting in our classrooms. They are the afterthoughts to our Austen, to our Dickens, to our Poe.

I wonder if we give students the impression that good writing only happens in English. I see books in our bilingual and ELL classes, and they are always translations of books written in English. Does this lead children to conclude that no one writes in their primary language?

And even if we do manage some Cervantes or Gabriel García Márquez, would we consider the work of contemporary Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón, whose novel La Sombra del Viento has been translated into more than 30 languages? Would students in our classes ever find themselves exposed to the works of Mexican writers Carlos Fuentes or Rosario Castellanos?

Maybe my Mexican American heritage or living in Texas gives me a bias towards authors who originally wrote in Spanish, but more than anything, I want students to recognize, appreciate, understand that people all over the world write. I want them to understand that wondrous literature happens in a multitude of languages. I want teachers to examine their lessons plans and their own biases, and challenge themselves to fire the canon they are so accustomed to teaching. This is tough to do. I know because I’ve had to do it too.

Teachers often lament they can’t go back and re-teach the very first students they ever had. I have these same regrets. I regret that I never saw the need, or had the wherewithal, to help students understand writing as a global experience. I regret that I allowed a canon and curriculum to create a myopic view of literature and authors for my students, and I regret that we never celebrated the life and work of Miguel de Cervantes. But I can’t live in regret. We must move forward.

Regretting the past is tilting at windmills. As teachers, we expand the world of our students. Through learning, we take them to places they may never visit, and, because of this, we owe it to our students to extend our literary borders to keep from limiting theirs.

Maybe I’m overly quixotic, but I think we can broaden the world of writers our students come to know, love, and celebrate.

Michael M. Guevara is a former high school English teacher and former district English language arts and reading coordinator. Most recently he served on the 2016 Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills review committee. Michael is a writer and an independent educational consultant.


Putting the Pieces Together

This post is written by member, Benjamin Boche.

COEBenjamin Boche, PhDAfter listening to Jacqueline Woodson speak at the 2014 NCTE Annual Convention about Brown Girl Dreaming and the importance of children seeing themselves on the insides and outsides of books, I’ve taken great care to put multicultural literature at the center of my undergraduate children’s literature class in my new role as an assistant professor of teacher education. As last fall breezed by, the preservice teachers and I read diverse books, had discussions, and nodded our heads in agreement about the importance of multicultural literature. The impetus behind the books, discussions, and agreements, however, came from me, the professor, rather than the preservice teachers. They were not taking ownership over the material, and I was unsure whether or not they saw themselves using multicultural literature in their future classrooms. This past semester I decided to change things up and use the process of inquiry circles (from Harvey & Daniels, 2009) to let my preservice teachers explore topics and present information on issues surrounding multicultural literature that were important to them rather than dictating topics myself.

Inquiry circles have opened up a new space for multicultural literature to come alive in my classroom and my preservice teachers’ future classrooms. I witnessed firsthand preservice teachers broadening their ideas not only of what constitutes multicultural literature, but also what they feel other preservice teachers should know about diverse student populations they may come into contact with in the future.

A major part of inquiry circles is “going public,” in which small groups must present a written and physical component about what they learned through their research on their chosen topic. Many of my preservice teachers chose to create resources for their classmates that helped to explain some diverse student characteristics that new teachers may see (such as autism, anxiety, and differing family structures) and directly link these characteristics to children’s literature. One group literally helped their classmates “put the puzzle together” on understanding autistic students and using children’s literature to promote autism awareness in their future classrooms.autism puzzle pieces

I look forward to continuing this project in the future and seeing what other pieces we can add to the ever-expanding picture of multicultural literature.

Harvey, S., & Daniels, H. (2009). Comprehension and collaboration: Inquiry circles in action. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Benjamin Boche is an assistant professor of education at Concordia University, Chicago, where he teaches children’s literature and elementary and middle level literacy methods and coordinates the middle level education program. He is looking forward to reading diverse children’s books this summer.