The following is a guest blog post by JoEllen McCarthy, educator and author of the new book, Layers of Learning: Using Read-Alouds to Connect Literacy to Caring Conversations, available now.
Debbie Miller says, “Real communities flourish when we bring together the voices, hearts, and souls of the people who inhabit them.” But what happens when, for many of us, we may not have the opportunity to be together in the traditional sense? I don’t have the answers, but I wholeheartedly believe we can still (and must) support our community of learners through read-alouds. You see, building community isn’t just about the physical spaces we create. Community is built on mutual respect, where all learners are valued, seen, and heard. That’s why we need to use our time and space—regardless of what that might look like this school year—to engage in read-alouds and student-led conversations. This will continue to connect us to one another, help strengthen our relationships, acknowledge our differences, and encourage us to be caring members of our learning communities.
When we plan conversations around intentional, purposeful read-alouds we can connect with one another and explore discussion possibilities that balance academic and social-emotional growth in order to reach the whole child and the whole community. Our read-alouds can help learners share their connections, cares, and concerns, and turn those moments into memories that unite us all, heartbeat to heartbeat AND transcend our physical spaces and places. And we need to feel connected now more than ever.
Books That Encourage Community Building Connections and Conversations
No tool is more powerful than the picture book. Through stories, students can learn not just to walk in the shoes of others but to allow those hearts to beat in rhythm with their own. Through the influence of stories, we can affirm and inspire students to use their voices to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others. Whether through reading, writing, or art, we want all learners to use their voices to create change. Empathy and activism are all bound together like the spine of a book.
As I said, I don’t have answers, but I do have books! And—especially in times like these—I find these books to be effective coteachers that make a difference in amplifying the voice of the students I am privileged to learn from and work with, and for that, I am very grateful. Here are ten impactful titles that encourage these types of community building connections and conversations.
My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood
Written by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Shane E. Evans
Name and notice all the feels. Begin with daily check ins. Help students (heck, we have to work hard to help ourselves) recognize and manage all the feels.
In this old favorite, Jamie explores a variety “feeling and being kind of moods.” This book offers a great way to check in on community concerns, to take the emotional temperature of a group, and to discuss mindsets.
Your Name is a Song
Written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Luisa Uribe
Celebrate individuality. Learn the stories of students’ names. It is one of the first steps on our journey to grow together as a community of learners.
Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow addresses the history and heart associated with names. Learning the stories of our names is one of the first steps on our journey to grow together as a community of learners. As individuals and as a community, we come to appreciate and value the stories we have to share all year long. Share this link to see and hear the author’s pronunciations of the names featured in her story.
Written and illustrated by Christian Robinson
Recognize the beauty and brilliance of all identities.
Readers will enjoy seeing the artful text and images that demonstrate the many ways we are connected and the many ways we all matter. Share with your readers to explore multiple perspectives, interpret changing points of view, and to help students celebrate their unique and wonderful qualities.
Written by Dan Saks, illustrated Brooke Smart
Celebrate universal love and diversity of family structures.
Through rhyming text and simple artwork, readers will see the beauty of families that come in all shapes and sizes.
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald no combina
Written by Monica Brown, illustrated by Sara Palacios.
Read with a critical lens and think carefully about how the voices or identities are represented in—or missing from—books.
Students who recognize the beauty in our differences learn how to embrace and celebrate diversity in our community and in our world. Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald no combina can encourage students to embrace the unique qualities that make each of us who we are as individuals and as members of a learning community.
Written and illustrated by Christopher Meyers
Encourage all students to find their voices and share their stories.
Through poetic verse, illustrations, words, and images, My Pen celebrates all that is possible through writing, drawing, and using one’s voice. Read this book to spark conversations about the marks of men and women whose words have impacted our world and empower all students to discover, create, and share their words.
I Am Every Good Thing
Written by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
Share stories that celebrate voices from marginalized groups while demonstrating their beauty and joy in everyday life.
In this powerful, empowering picture book, we see the latest collaboration between Derrick Barnes and James Gordon (The Crown). Filled with beautiful words and art it too has affirmations centering joyful black boys on every page.
Written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Ebony Glenn
Encourage all students to find their voices and use their voices to make a difference.
Miranda Paul, with illustrations by Ebony Glenn, invites us to consider the many ways we can use our voice to speak out and make a difference.
All Because You Matter
Written by Tami Charles, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Deliberately choose to address privilege, power, and racism.
Through lyrical text that is part love letter to black and brown children, this book celebrates the beauty of black lives and as author, Tami Charles states, it is an important book to support “conversations around racial climate in our country.”
I Am the Storm
Written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple with illustrations by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell
Inspire students to write and draw from memories and moments in their own lives.
Through poetic, predictable text and images, I Am the Storm, explores the impact of extreme weather conditions in various communities and families. In addition, it invites conversations around small moments and resilience.
Continuing to Connect Literacy and Caring Conversations
Regardless of how we go back, one thing remains certain, read-alouds can lift the level of our conversations around reading, writing, and as humans. This is what I’ve written about extensively in my book, Layers of Learning: Using Read-Alouds to Connect Literacy and Caring Conversations. I hope you’ll check it out to learn about new and connected texts, and see authentic classroom examples that showcase the vision and visible voice of students who are using their art, their words, and their actions to make a difference in our world. And although we may not get to be huddled together over the pages of a book, we can still stay connected through the power of read-alouds.
About the Author
JoEllen McCarthy is a lifelong learner and staff developer who spends her days facilitating collaborative coaching conversations that support a curriculum of children and emphasize literacy as a vehicle to care. As the Educator Collaborative’s Book Ambassador, JoEllen spreads her enthusiasm for the role literature plays in all aspects of education.