This week is a freebie, and it came just in time: the other day I was talking to a close friend who is starting her teaching practicum at a local middle school about what books we were assigned to read in school that changed our views on the world, and what we now typically categorize as “diverse reads.” Between the two of us, we actually thought of 10 pretty good ones, and I’m excited for the chance to share them with y’all! As always, Top Ten Tuesday is run by the ever-vigilant blogging maestros at The Broke and the Bookish.
Diverse Books from Elementary School to College
I believe I read The Breadwinner in 5th grade, when I moved to Virginia with my dad & stepmother after my brother was born. This was one of the first books I ever read that took place somewhere outside of the United States (that wasn’t Magic Tree House) and was my introduction to the Taliban and most of what was going on in Afghanistan at the time. I think it’s still used in 5th grade classrooms in Virginia, at least where my dad teaches.
Now that I think about it, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes was probably the first book I read set out of my home country, and I think it was for a lesson in 4th grade. Carson (my teacher friend) and I both remembered learning origami after finishing the book, and being pretty pissed about it because arts & crafts didn’t make up for a story about a girl our age dying of leukemia because we bombed her country. It was a rough time.
I read A Single Shard in 6th grade, and although I can’t remember why or what for, I still think about the village in Ch’ulp’o and the beautiful artistry of pottery that was expertly detailed across this slim novel. It was likely the first Own Voices book I ever read, since Linda Sue Park is Korean-American, and definitely the first book I read that is set in Western Asia that was written by someone of West Asian descent. Not to short-sell any of the books set in Korea, China, Japan, and other countries in that region that were written by white people, but it’s refreshing to find a book that highlights this culture in an authentic and honest way.
A Long Way Gone was the book we primarily focused on while studying the African continent in 7th grade. Man, was this brutal as hell for a 7th grader in Southern Georgia – a memoir written by a young man (who was around the same age as all of us in the class) about being a child solider in the guerrila warfare of Sierra Leone, this was another book that woke me up to the global issues that had severely impacted children my own age, and encouraged me to continue to educate myself about the crises across the world in the early 2000’s.
Seedfolks was the first book we read in English class in 8th grade, and it felt very fitting and representative of my class in Southeastern Connecticut after an influx of Haitian students following the 2010 earthquake that ravaged the country. I think my English teacher felt that having a book about a community with people from various walks of life, similar to the demographic of our class, would bring us together as a group. It kind of worked, and I enjoyed the book immensely.
Night was the last book we read in that 8th grade English class, and was so goddamned depressing. Absolutely a powerful, crucial piece of literature, but my heart hurts just thinking about it. I’d never read a Holocaust novel that was this raw before, and I’m glad we talked about it so much in the class because it’s really something that felt so far in the past but is a lot closer to where we are now than we think.
In 9th grade I started picking up more books for grade-wise reading challenges that all the 9th grade units’ English teachers implemented. We got points for reading books set in different countries or that talked about important issues and/or current events. Across a Hundred Mountains was one of these books, and taught me a great deal about immigration from Mexico that I’d been unaware of until then. Thanks, grandparents who exclusively watch Fox News.
I Sweep the Sun Off Rooftops is a book I picked up around 11th grade, while I was working as a library aide for an Intro to Library Sciences course in my school’s library. This collection of short stories stretches across generations of Arab women, and felt very empowering to me as a young reader who had very little information about the everyday lives of women around the Middle East that wasn’t centered on the brutality of the Taliban or extremely Islamophobic.
I actually read The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For for a paper in my LGBT Literature class in my sophomore year of college, but I had to include it on this list because holy cow, intersectional feminism! I feel like I learned more from this giant book of comic strips than I learned from my own mother. It’s some serious political stuff, but absolutely timeless and crucial reading that I greatly appreciated having the ability to do a whole project on.
From a different class in the second semester of my sophomore year, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven was a book I had to dissect chapter by chapter for my College Writing II class. I loved it and can’t believe it was my first book by Sherman Alexie. I’ve talked to a number of Native people since then who’ve educated me more about the plight of Native Americans in my own backyard that I was completely unaware of. This book goes into more detail that is raw and truthful than I’ve seen in most modern history books. Absolutely recommend.
What are some diverse books you read in grade school? Tell me in the comments below!