Books and Resources for Black History Month

By readingintheborderlands

Black History Month begins in a couple of days and soon teachers will pull out picture books with Black characters and or will teach a unit on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harriet Tubman. Which is…kind of depressing, actually, because in way too many of these classrooms February is the only time kids regularly see books with Black characters or learn about important Black historical figures. While a few lessons during the month of February is arguably better than nothing, children should be reading books with Black characters and exploring historical events involving Black people all year long.

Teaching Tolerance has a good list of things to think about as you plan Black History Month activities and lessons.

Other resources teachers might explore include:

Lessons and Teaching Ideas that Use Primary Resources

Lessons and Resources from the NEA

And, finally, a booklist. Children need to read books about the Civil Rights movement and about the historical struggles for justice and equality that Black people have engaged in, but children also need to read about regular families and normal kid experiences:

28 Black Picture Books That Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball


McAllen Book Festival

By readingintheborderlands

The McAllen Book Festival returns this Saturday, November 7 from 10:00-5:00! Last year’s event was fantastic and I’m really excited about this year. The official announcement:

The McAllen Book Festival will be held this Saturday, November 7, from 10 AM to 5 PM at McAllen Public Library. (It is the main branch at Nolana and 23rd Streets.) This free festival features acclaimed authors for children and young adults, speaking at the top of each hour, as well as live music, youth activities, vendors, and food trucks all day. 

The full schedule is available online.

I’ll be there! Come join me!

This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Gracie Mata

As a third grade bilingual teacher, I have found that it can be extremely difficult for bilingual students to grasp several mathematical concepts without the use of visual aids. Recently I stumbled across a series of books named MATH START written by Stuart J. Murphy which provide students with realistic life stories and good visual support for math concepts. His goal throughout these books is to provide visual learning strategies that can be used to show how something works, demonstrate academic ideas, and teach new concepts.

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These stories combine math concepts along with the visualization needed to help students understand and become more fluent in mathematics.   The combination of math and text allow them to form a connection to the real world and make their learning relevant. These books produce a balance between the math and the story, providing visual and text.

As an introduction to a new math concept I have incorporated many of these books into my math lessons. To begin a math lesson I scan the book and create a flipchart, incorporating questions in between slides to help create discussion. This also allows it to become more interactive for the students. Some of the most favorable books I’ve used in my class are Probably Pistachio, Racing Around, and Betcha!

A difficult concept for students to grasp is estimation, so the book BETCHA is a great way for students to understand how the concept is used in real life situations that require estimation. The book is about a boy who wants to win tickets to an event but has to guess how many jellybeans are in a bottle, so he estimates approximately how many rows of jellybeans there are by how many in each row and estimates correctly.

Another favorite is Probably Pistachio which shows probability; this book can also be used to teach predicting outcomes. This book really targets the vocabulary in the lesson and uses it repeatedly in content; this is a great method when teaching ELL’s a new concept.

The books are well written in the way that the math content does not interfere or overpowers the story, and that the story doesn’t control the topic to where the math gets lost.

Visual Learning is a method that allows students to fully engage in math through stories that use illustrations, diagrams, graphs, symbols and other visual models.   It can also be used to make sense of difficult information quickly.   It is said that visual learning is an essential part of our communication process and through communication many things can be better explained and understood.

This series can be a possible tool for all students struggling to make a connection with math concepts. The visual aids used in these books and in the story lines are inspired to cater to the needs and likes of children.

Romeo and Juliet versus Edward and Bella: Where is adolescent literature heading?

This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Maritza A. Ramos

In the past few years, I have noticed a steady decline in a past time that I enjoyed greatly as a young adult – reading. Additionally, I have observed the growing trend of a particular type of reading material that has made its way to bookstores and libraries across the nation (and the world). These new books are fairly similar, containing a powerful female character that is singularly different and being sought after by a brooding captivating male presence. The pair is usually surrounded by mutual acquaintances or family in hopes of either uniting or separating the star-crossed lovers.

As an educator, I am pleased that young readers are choosing to read a chapter book over a magazine or picture book provided that the literature selection provides some room for discussion. Is there a preceding storyline that breathed life to this tale? Are the characters in this story line comparable to characters of classical literature past? Ultimately, some form of a connection is made from text to reader and vice versa be it negative or positive, but most recent modern story lines have been influenced by cinematic interpretation.

twilight-booksThe term ‘star-crossed’ has been applied to describe couples in recent literature which always seems to provoke the sudden urge to smirk or laugh outright in certain company.   Most recently there has been the uproar sensation Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers, which tells the tale of the outsider Bella Swan who captures the attention of the mysterious Edward Cullen. By modern standards and as a female, I can see how this story plays out as enticing and romantic, but I prefer to remember classical romances, written in times when wording was important and not rants narrated by an emotional teenager. What is the underlying draw to this book series? To be quite honest, I had not heard about the book series or the author until I was made aware of a movie to be starring a popular young man and woman. The cinematic counterparts increased the interest in this series now that Edward and Bella had faces that were appealing by Hollywood conventional standards.

2936William Shakespeare’s, Romeo and Juliet is what I associate with the term star-crossed lovers. While the masses prefer Twilight, I have to admit I prefer the effort that is made to read this work and see a different face put to the characters. Romeo and Juliet was a tragic love story and told the tale of two young lovers who were forbidden to mingle due to a deep family feud resulting in a secret marriage and tragic deaths. The youth of today might prefer happy endings to tragic ones, but Shakespeare’s words have withstood the test of time and continue to be studied, dissected, and analyzed. Where will the Twilight series be in a few centuries?

Learning to Read with Authentic Books…I Wish!

This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Ana Rodriguez

My mother taught me how to read in Spanish before I went into kindergarten. I felt so accomplished that I was one of a few students that already knew how to read. But my bubble was quickly busted when I was bombarded with learning the English language with nursery rhymes and the traditional folktales in the classroom. When I would hear the nursery rhymes, all I would hear were words; they had no meaning to me. I remember thinking, “Quién es la ‘little red hen?” “Quién es ‘Goldilocks?” The fact that I could already read in Spanish helped me understand and transfer my knowledge quickly to the learning of English. My mother would tell me all those folktales in Spanish, so the transferring process was easy for me.

El libro magicoI learned to read in Spanish with the book, ‘El libro mágico’ that is still in circulation today. I was privileged to be read to as a child. My mother was always pushing me to learn to read because she wanted me to be prepared before I went in to school. I felt great until I started school. There I was read to in a language I did not understand with books I could not relate to. I remember being lost until I started making the connections between my language (Spanish) and the language of school (English). Even then, they were still just words to me. When I would listen to my teacher reading nursery rhymes or the folktales in English, it was as if I would go into a fantasy world; not the real world I lived in. I remember going through kindergarten and not practicing my Spanish at all.


garza book 1In first grade I was given a Spanish book to take home to read and do homework from. I was really excited because I was doing something I was good at and it was relevant to me. That excitement was short-lived because a few weeks into school my teacher took me out of the bilingual group and put me with the all-English group. I was devastated because they had taken something that was dear to my heart; they had taken away my language! I was now in silent mode. I understood what the teacher was saying when she read to us or when she gave instructions, but I could not read or speak in English at all. I remember being in a small group where a teacher aide focused on teaching us sight words and decoding with short phonic stories. I caught on pretty quickly because I remember learning to read in English before I went into second grade. But again, I could only read the words in English, but I made no connection to the stories in my reading book. By second grade I was a fluent reader, but I still did not speak to my friends or teacher in English, I spoke to everyone only in Spanish. When I was asked to read by my teacher I would, but if I was asked to speak in front of class or answer a question I would stay silent. I was not confident enough to speak in English in front of others. I was afraid of saying things wrong. Needless to say I eventually got over my fear and spoke and read in English fluently before leaving the second grade.


anzaldua book 2As an educator I was introduced to culturally relevant literature that would have made a great difference in my experience learning the English language. Authors like Xavier Garza and Gloria Anzaldúa have written great bilingual books that would have made reading real for me as a child. I am trying to make reading real to my students by integrating authentic literature like this in during our reading time.

I urge and recommend to parents that want their children learning only in English when their child’s first language is Spanish, to think about it twice. Please do not take away a part of your child’s identity. You want to give your child another resource (the English language) to succeed, not take one away. Needless to say, I thank my mother for teaching me to read in my native language and setting a very good foundation that eventually helped me learn a second language. ¡Gracias Mamá, Te Amo!


This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Jennifer Farias

Reading to young children provides the foundation to create a love for reading.   I strongly agree that children that are read to by their parents have a higher reading performance as opposed to those parents who don’t read to them. Children need to be exposed to a rich filled literacy environment in order to be successful readers. It is crucial that we emerge our students into literacy at a young age if we want them to be successful and productive. Literacy helps children expand their vocabulary and acquire new terminology. Children that are exposed to reading at a young age should obtain a desire to read later in life.

I believe reading books to children during read alouds is a wonderful experience that nourishes literacy development. Parents and educators can help facilitate the child and relate the events in the story to real life situations in their lives. This makes the child to make a connection to the text and it is easier for the child to comprehend the material.

Creating a full, rich literacy environment stimulates children’s imagination. Read alouds promote children to learn to visualize the stories. I also believe that allotting from twenty to thirty minutes daily will result in gains in both reading comprehension and oral language. Exposure to storybooks has proven that it develops children’s knowledge and ability to comprehend.

As a classroom teacher I encourage and promote literacy in my classroom daily. As a thinking map trainer, I make every effort to motivate and simplify the use of graphic organizers daily. This past week my students read the story Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis, which allowed them to use the opportunity to utilize graphic organizers in conjunction with thinking maps. Thinking maps provide that   visual tool which students can use to simplify and organize the ideas to enhance learning.

???????????????????????????????I have some examples of student work that I would like to share. The first example is the Flow Map which students are able to organize the story in sequence: beginning, middle, and end. They are required to write and illustrate their thoughts at this time.



???????????????????????????????Another example that was created by my students was the Multi-Flow Map. The Multi-Flow Map helps the students identify thecauses and effects in a particular story.




???????????????????????????????My final example is the Bubble Map in which students describe a main character using adjectives.At this pointstudents will require to add textual evidence and justification as to why they used those particular adjectives.



I have seen firsthand that graphic organizers can help students better comprehend their reading assessments. The goal is to have students attain a love for reading and read for pleasure.

I am a firm believer that students who are exposed to literature are likely to supersede than those with a limited exposure to reading material.