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March 2nd marks the annual Read Across America Day celebration. On this day, which marks the birth of renowned children’s book author Dr. Seuss, libraries, schools, and community centers throughout the U.S. organize activities that encourage learning, reading, and writing.
The National Education Association, which founded and oversees Read Across America Day, offers a 2018-2019 school year calendar stacked with book recommendations, all of which are available on the First Book Marketplace. The goal of this calendar, according to the Read Across America Day website, is to encourage reading, writing, and learning after this one-day celebration.
This year’s Read Across America Day theme is Celebrating a Nation of Diverse Readers, and the NEA isn’t just touting values without taking action. Looking at the book selections on the calendar, a clear pattern of centering marginalized voices and authors emerges.
February 2019, for example, is dedicated to the nonfiction book Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School, written by Janet Halfmann. This book is about the education of pre-Civil War Virginia slave Lilly Ann Granderson; through the children of the slavemaster who owned her, she secretly learned not just how to read, but also how to write.
Similarly, March 2019 on the NEA Read Across America Day calendar is devoted to Malala’s Magic Pencil, the picture book that globally renowned women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai authored. Yousafzai, who was shot in 2015 for speaking up for women’s rights in her native Pakistan, released the book in 2017.
Additionally, on the NEA website, filters can be found for books geared towards teenagers, middle schoolers, and elementary schoolers. Yousafzai and Granderson’s books are included in the elementary school selections; in the middle school section, a clear focus on young adult novels either by or representing marginalized voices is likewise apparent.
Included there is Can I Touch Your Hair?, a book by Irene Latham and Charles Waters with illustrations from Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. In this book, the two main characters learn about race and society through their collaborations on a poetry-writing contest. Also designated for middle schoolers is Us, in Progress: Short Stories About Young Latinos, in which Lulu Delacre recounts short stories that reflect the progress made, and hurdles jumped through, by young Latino people living in the United States.
For teenagers, books representing marginalized voices include the New York Times bestseller I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. The former book, which is a National Book Award finalist, details how its main character Julia handles her family’s grieving over her sister Olga’s death. The latter book, which Pénélope Bagieu both wrote and illustrated, collects comic biographies of nearly 30 women, famous or otherwise, who have radically altered the world.
If you’re involved in any Read Across America Day activities, are you prioritizing marginalized voices in the activities you’re overseeing? What books would you recommend to young readers on this day? What are some of your favorite books? Let us know in the comments!