When teacher Claire Hollocou finished reading “Ron’s Big Mission” to her fifth-grade students, they gathered around in a circle and engaged in meaningful discussions about racism and how they can generate positive change.
“They’re really open to having the conversations,” Hollocou said. “They are empathetic and caring, and related to all of the characters in the book. They saw multiple points of view on what the intentions were behind each of the characters’ actions.”
“Ron’s Big Mission,” a book by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden, tells the story of nine-year-old Ron McNair who insists on checking out books from the local library on a summer day in 1959, despite the rule that only white people could have library cards. The book also includes facts about McNair, who grew up to become an astronaut. As part of the discussions, the students described the characters, defined institutional and social racism, and discussed what they can do to cultivate change.
The students read the book as part of the schoolwide Diversity Book Club. It was created by the Diversity Think Tank, which is a group of teachers and administrators who work to foster an inclusive and empathetic environment for all students. Students in each grade level will read a total of four picture books throughout the school year. The books are also brought home for families to read and discuss together.
“We want our students to be empathetic and inclusive to all people,” Hollocou said. “The books provide the students with an opportunity to see a different part of the world than what they see every day, and to have more experiences relating to other people. We want to open their eyes to various cultures and start conversations.”
In Valerie Palacio’s first-grade class, the students read “The Big Red Lollipop” by Rukhsana Khan and “Same, Same but Different” by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw.
“The Big Red Lollipop” tells the story of a family who had just immigrated from Pakistan, and the girls in the story had never been to a birthday party. Palacio said her students discussed how different cultures celebrate holidays and traditions and had a conversation about the hijab that the mom character wore in the book. “Same, Same but Different” tells the story of two young boys, one living in America and the other one in India, who become pen pals. Despite living in two different places, they are actually similar.
“After reading the book, we discussed ways in which their lives were similar,” Palacio said. “Using picture books to embark on these conversations provide the students with a safe and comfortable outlet to ask questions and talk about diversity.”
Special thanks to the Bronxville School Foundation for funding the Diversity Think Tank’s initiative for the Diversity Book Club.