Linda Estrada grew up in Donna, Texas, the border town where she now works as a campus secretary at Runn Elementary School. Fifteen miles from the Mexican border, she worked alongside her parents and three siblings as a migrant farm worker until she started kindergarten.
“My parents didn’t want us to fall behind in our studies like they did growing up as migrant workers, spending more time in the fields than in the classroom,” says Estrada.
By the time she was 10 years old, her mother was the only one working and the family subsisted on $60.00 a week she earned cleaning a local hotel.
“Not much with four children to support and in those times, no government assistance either,” says Estrada.
“But my mom was a miracle worker. Aside from paying bills, buying groceries, and clothing us, she made sure we were surrounded by books.”
Estrada says she never realized that they were poor.
In a home filled with love and books, her world was enriched beyond material things. She became an avid reader and recalls devouring the Little House on the Prairie books and Nancy Drew mysteries, even World Book Encyclopedias. But in school, there were few books about her own heritage and culture. It wasn’t until she was an adult working at Runn, a dual language campus, that she encountered books about Cinco de Mayo, 16 de septiembre, and Dia de los Muertos.
“Becoming an [education support professional] ESP at Runn Elementary was the best thing that could have happened to me,” says Estrada. “I was able to reconnect with my culture.”
Now, as chair of NEA’s 17-member Read Across America Advisory Committee, she connects students with their cultures and exposes them to the cultures of their classmates.
“Through books, they get a better understanding of the all the different diverse cultures in America today,” she says. “My hope is that they will learn that although they may be different, they also share many similarities.”
New Logo, New Website
Our student populations are ever-changing and evolving and every year there are new children’s books that reflect that diversity. That’s why NEA’s Read Across America is rebranding with a new logo to appeal to students of all ages and backgrounds and a continued mission of “Celebrating a Nation of Diverse Readers.”
Of course, children still love Dr. Seuss, and his birthday on March 2, also Read Across America Day is still an ideal time for a school-wide reading event when you can serve green eggs and ham, but with the broadened scope of NEA’s Read Across America, there are activities, resources, and ideas to keep students reading all year long.
A colorful printed calendar and an interactive resource calendar (find it at readacrossamerica.org) offers book suggestions for different age groups and provides ideas for applying lessons from the books to the classroom.
Kicking off this school year, the book for August 2019 was All Are Welcome Here. No matter how you start your day, what you wear, when you play. Or if you come from far away. All are welcome here.
The lively picture book sends a clear message that our public schools are places where every child is welcome. The calendar suggests hosting a community-building back-to-school event that opens opportunities for talking about individual differences, diversity, and how we can learn from each other.
Use Books Featured in the Calendar Any Time of the Year
Lubna and Pebble, the June 2020 book, explores the wrenching world of refugees where a little girl’s only friend is a treasured pebble she found on the beach she landed on with her father after fleeing war at home.
Pebble listens to her stories; its smoothness comforts her when she’s scared. But one day, Lubna realizes that a new boy in the “world of tents” might need Pebble more than she does.
“Lubna and Pebble is one of the books that I am looking forward to sharing,” says Carol Bauer, a fourth-grade teacher at Bethel Elementary School in York, Va.
Bauer, who is the past chair of NEA’s Read Across America particular month, it can be shared any time during the year.
“Students in fourth grade hear the word ‘refugee’ but don’t have a good understanding of what that might mean.
This book will help with their understanding,” she says. “I also have my students collect money using the ‘Trick or Treat for UNICEF’ program. This book will be another way to allow my students to understand where the UNICEF money goes and who it helps.”
Middle Grade and Young Adult Books Feature Diverse Themes and Characters
The Hero Next Door, featured in the Read Across America calendar in the middle-grade section, reminds students that not all heroes wear capes. They can look just like them. They can even be them.
“The New Kid could have been my superhero name,” writes middle-grade novelist Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, editor of The Hero Next Door, a collection of middle-grade short stories from some of the best known diverse books authors. “School after school, classroom after classroom, playground after playground … I’d swoop in, hoping to dazzle and impress, save the day somehow.
Each time I hoped to get it exactly right; each time I got it so, so wrong.”
When she was the new kid again in sixth grade, Rhuday-Perkovich’s mother asked the principal to make sure she’d have classes with other black children. For too long, she’d gone to schools where she was the only student of color. Her mom saved the day, and the school year, which isn’t surprising. All moms are superheroes with special powers, she says.
Rhuday-Perkovich writes, “These are the stories of everyday heroes in our midst, the ones in plain sight and those yet to be discovered. In ways big and small, these stories motivate, inspire, make us laugh, and, yes, cry. Do you know all the heroes in your life? How are you a hero to someone else? To your community? To the world? It’s my hope that these stories remind you of the power you have to speak up, sit down, and stand with, to do and be a hero in
your own unique way.”
All students, no matter what their background or personal story, should be celebrated and that’s exactly what NEA’s Read Across America hopes to achieve with its calendar and selection of diverse books.
“NEA believes diverse literature enables students to see themselves as the heroes of the story, while also showing them that all kinds of people can be the heroes too,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “It is important that we emphasize books that are telling children of color or of different gender identities that they belong in the world and the world belongs to them.”
The Calendar is a Jumping Off Point For Deeper Lessons
With an entire year of book suggestions for kindergartners up to high school seniors, educators can deepen lessons across the curriculum, using the books to broaden students’ understanding of history, the arts and music, science and environment, social studies, and current events.
Cliff Fukuda, Read Across America Advisory Committee member and history teacher at Aiea High School in Aiea, Hawaii, says the books in the calendar provide educators with “a jumping off point to explore all sorts of themes and cultures, from simply learning about an unfamiliar experience or culture to comparing and contrasting personal experiences with those featured in the books.”
“The books featured in the calendar are only the tip of the iceberg of diverse literature and diverse authors,” Fukuda says. “Teachers who may be unsure how to branch out into other types of cultures and literature can use the books in the calendar to start with, then explore further as they research and find other great readings with similar ideas, cultures, and themes. The calendar can point you in a direction, and teachers, resourceful and curious as they are, can fly from there.”