“I am so happy and proud to represent MSEA today! We are thrilled to donate a wonderful collection of books to libraries like yours to help build the kind of diverse collections we know will make great readers of every student,” said MSEA President Cheryl Bost to staff and guests at MSEA’s Read Across America event at Laurel Woods Elementary School in Howard County.
In celebration of Read Across America, Bost and MSEA Vice President Theresa Mitchell Dudley donated 20 books chosen for their quality and diversity to 21 schools across the state throughout March. Special guest readers included Governor Wes Moore, First Lady Dawn Flythe Moore, Lt. Governor Aruna Miller, and Maryland children’s book author Jerdine Nolen, whose book On Her Wings is among the books MSEA donated. In Annapolis, MSEA’s annual book drive at the State House scored more than 300 children’s books from legislators which were donated to the Annapolis-based organization We Care and Friends.
With censorship a reality and communities fighting for social, racial, and economic justice, literacy, and the education it makes accessible, is our most potent weapon. Public education and educators, supported by their communities, have and will always be the biggest asset in the fight. “Every educator knows literacy is the key to learning. Thanks to skilled media and reading specialists—many of whom play important roles in reviewing and recommending new additions to their districts’ school libraries—students can see more children who look like them and their families and have similar experiences and communities,” Bost said.
For Howard County’s Laurel Woods Elementary media specialist Sarai Gray, achieving fully inclusive representation in her school’s library is always the goal. “The availability of these types of books is increasing, but it’s still not as prolific as we would like. It’s been my personal mission to include more diverse books and our county now has more sources that include reviews of diverse and multicultural books for us to choose from.”
In the November 2022 election, educators and believers in a fair and honest education campaigned hard against school board and extremist candidates who advocated turning back the clocks and banning books. “The idea of boards of education censoring books is extremely frustrating. Some of the books that have come under fire are written by, or about, our students’ people. By banning those books, we are saying that those people don’t matter. It is dishonest and hurtful to our kids who are not getting to see themselves and unfair to those who can’t learn from seeing others,” Gray said.
A complete school library also offers literature that can show students how to make friends and how to work through problems, said Gray. “Our fourth and fifth graders were very young at the beginning of Covid and had limited real-life peer interactions. We have many books that school counselors and classroom educators use with characters talking about and facing relatable problems. We can have deeper discussions because the books offer new ways to talk about empathy which then opens the door to restorative conversations.”
“Our reading curriculum really incorporates student choice in the books they read. Our focus is ‘windows, mirrors, and doors’ into other cultures and perspectives,” said Harford County educator Lauren Hunter, a literacy coach and reading specialist at Old Post Elementary School. “Our students are more interested in the books they can select themselves. They love to see new books, new faces, and representation—and when they’re engaged in reading, it’s hard to get them to stop.”
This approach to literacy, said Hunter, has taken the place of the articles, mass-produced texts, or short excerpts that were designed to teach to state assessments and contained little representation. “Now children have the time and opportunity to identify with and really get to know characters. And with so many authors writing series, students are getting to experience them through many stories and adventures.”
“Education activist Malala Yousafzi said, ‘Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.’ As educators, it is our professional duty to instill a love of the written word in all its forms,” said President Bost. “I’m grateful we could connect with so many students, schools, and educators to celebrate Read Across America.”