Empowering the Voice of the Black Male in Children’s and Teen Lit – NCAAL 2013

I spoke at the 8th National Conference of African American Librarians on August 8, 2013. The topic was Empowering the Voice of the Black Male in Children’s and Teen Lit. [Click here to read the YALSA Hub post about the conference] At one point we had a discussion on the role of non-fiction. One librarian spoke of a young man who only wanted to read about cars. Not fiction about cars or anything else. There was not a lot of time to talk about this issue during the 45 minute session, but I have some additional thoughts here.

First, reading non-fiction, manuals and magazines is reading and all reading will help with vocabulary growth, reading speed and comprehension. The Common Core empahsizes non-fiction for a reason.

However, fiction gives something non-fiction cannot. The right story in the right hands at the right time gives readers the feeling that someone understands them, that they are not alone. 
Here are some ideas that might help that young man, and others, take a second look at reading in general and fiction in particular.

  1. Short stories – quick reads that can help the reader regain a feeling of enjoyment in reading and a sense of mastery by finishing something quickly and easy.
  2. Books in verse. With most, readers can open it to almost any page and find a new verse, each of which can be considered it’s own story about his relationships with parents and peers.
  3. Audio books. Listening can be a stepping stone. Hearing a story read can help kids return back to the younger days when they loved the idea of a story. Listening to stories read aloud is not just for preschoolers. I love my audio books!
  4. Better still, solicit male volunteers, teachers, staff, parents, community members, to read aloud to kids. A surprising number will say yes. With only ten you have a reader/role model each month. Help the boys see that reading is too a masculine activity, not something just for girls.  
  5. Poetry slams. I have found many boys interested in their own poetry/lyrics, and those of peers. I recently judged a poetry contest and gave a workshop on the use of  free verse to high school students. One young man in the workshop only because the teacher had the entire class come in perked up as he listened. By the end he came up to me as other students were filing out and told me he understood one of the poems. He also  said that while he hadn’t entered the poetry contest this year, he was already planning for next year.
  6. Give them a book of their own, to keep. Kids who own a book are more likely to read it.
  7. Have them write, whatever they want, their own stories, or song lyrics, or instruction manuals. 
  8. My daughter’s school not only had the kids write, they had the results bound and put int he school library for anyone to check out.
  9. Most of all, learn about the kid’s issues, interests, problems and recommend a book to him or her that matches them.

“That’s my life in that book.” I have heard teen readers say that. When they see themselves, and their friends and family, they see the world, develop empathy, and come back for more.

These are my ideas. If you have any more, please add a comment and share them with others.

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