What’s in a Name? 5 Children’s Books Inspired by Authors’ Own Experiences by Ashley Marron
Our name is the first word we might hear, the first word we might say, and often the first word we write. Names allow us to build empathy, self-esteem, and a sense of belonging. Learning students’ names – whether the educator or the student is essential in making our classroom communities. Kohli (2018) expressed that teachers themselves must develop their racial literacy to uncover and pinpoint the structural and systemic nature of racism to confront and transform racial inequities in their schools. We are showing that we care for our students’ successes and diversities when we use the correct pronunciations of our students’ names. When students learn their classmate’s names, the door to peer interaction and engagement opens. It also opens and merges spaces for students to listen, speak, and learn from others experiences. Literature can serve to show students the beauty and diversity within a name.
Students step into the classroom, already having a wealth of knowledge from their communities, experiences, and cultures. When we value students’ names, pronounce them correctly, and learn their origins, we are co-creating a community for our students to feel valued, accepted, and seen. “If today’s children grow up with literature that is multicultural, diverse, and decolonized, we can begin the world of healing our nation and world through humanizing stories,” (Thomas,2016). As we prepare for the coming school year, we must begin to expand our classroom libraries through diverse literature written by diverse authors. Using diverse literature is just the start of building classroom communities that allow spaces for youth voices, perspectives, and experiences. The following are a complied list of diverse children’s literature that can be used across elementary classrooms:
Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Luisa Uribe, teaches readers the significance of correctly pronouncing students’ names. The story tells the tale of a young Muslim girl uncovering the beauty in the prosody of names with guidance from her mother after a frustrating first day. Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is and author and educator who composes stories about Black and Muslim Children. Thompkins-Bigelow’s passion was to craft stories of children she did not see in books herself as a child, emphasizing the need for diverse libraries.
René Has Two Last Names by René Colato Laínez teaches readers the diversity of names and their composition. This bilingual story, written in English and Spanish, describes Renés experiences as an immigrant student from El Salvador. He comes to embraces his Italian and Latino, Latinx, Hispanic heritage in a family tree school assignment in the United States.
Author René Colato Laínez is a Hispanic educator and author who writes stories of Latin American children in the United States.
The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan is an insightful read-aloud for everyone embracing cultures, families, and identities. Kanzi is a new student from Egypt and finds herself lost in school when teased about her name by students who think it is funny. She is encouraged by her teacher to embrace her bilingualism and love of poetry. So, she creates a “quilt” of her classmate’s names, writing them in Arabic. This quilt is signifying her connection with home life and school life. Aya is an author and journalist who writes about her own experiences as a student who immigrated from Egypt to the United States.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López, reminds readers that there will be times when we feel misunderstood or feel like outsiders. Yet, when we reach out and share our stories, we can learn from one another in a humanizing way. Jacqueline Woodson’s poetic story emphasizes the need to support students’ identities and allow them to be their authentic selves. Woodson is an award-winning author who writes children and adolescent stories while being an advocate for diverse literature.
Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal, is the story of Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela and her journey to learning the origins and beauty of her long name. Alma inspires readers to embrace their identities and diversities by understanding the origin of their names. Almas’s curiosity into the length of her name embarks her journey of self and family discovery. The beloved picture book is the winner of the Caldecott Medal Award for Martínez-Neal’s unique illustrations. Juana Martínez-Neal’s work is inspired by her experiences growing up in Peru and immigration to the United States.
Ashley Marron is receiving her M.A as a Literacy Specialist at Teachers College, Columbia University, with the class of 2020. In 2016 she earned her B.S.E. in Early Childhood and Childhood Education from the State University of New York at Fredonia. She has worked in several different public-school districts across New York City as an instructor and currently is working at an independent school in Manhattan. As an educator Ashley became interested in developing best practices for centering youth voices through their critical literacy development. Ashley has a deep passion for literacy equity, the arts, and social justice. Ashley grew up in Mattituck, New York, on the East Coast of Long Island, where her family currently resides with their dachshund Harry. She lives in Hamilton Heights in New York City.
Bigelow, J. T. (2020). Your Name is a Song. The Innovative Press.
Khalil, A. (2020). The Arabic Quilt. Tilbury House, U.S.
Kohli, R., Nevárez, A., & Arteaga, N. (2018). Public pedagogy for racial justice teaching: Supporting the racial literacy development of teachers of color. The Assembly: A Journal for Public Scholarship on Education, 1(1), 17-27.
Laínez, R. C. (2009). René Has Two Last Names. Piñata Books.
Martinez-Neal, J. (2018). Alma and how she got her name. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Thomas, E. E. (2016). Stories still matter: Rethinking the role of diverse children’s literature today. Language Arts, 94(2), 112-119.
Woodson, J. (2018). The day you begin. New York, NY: Penguin.