This post is written by NCTE student member, Tytianna N. M. Wells Smith.
Books must mirror the lives of readers. This month I participated in two African American Read-Ins at elementary schools serving racially and ethnically diverse student populations: Audubon Traditional Elementary School and Jacob Elementary School, both located in Louisville, Kentucky. I was honored to receive a request to participate in each school’s Read-In that celebrated Black history, culture, and identity.
As a young African American author and illustrator of the children’s book series Sweet Pea and Sugar Tea’s Country Family Adventures: A Collection of African-American Poems, Volumes 1–4, I read and performed spoken word to students in grades 1 through 5. This inspirational and educational series teaches students to celebrate and respect their culture and language, as well as the people around them. Students listened to poems that included “Niece Candy’s Secret Journal,” “Uncle Chuckle’s Barbershop,” “The Case of the Honey Butter Biscuits,” “Big Momma’s Famous Peach Cobbler,” “Jelly Bean Tells a Story,” “Biscuit and the Bully,” and “Honey Teaches a Lesson!”
After each reading and performance, many students shared personal stories about the encouraging people in their families and communities, their roles and responsibilities as leaders in their homes and schools, their experiences as courageous standers-up to bullies and other manifestations of violence, and their aspirations and goals to use their passion to make their school, neighborhood, and world a better place. This book series helped students to discuss tough concepts such as race, identity, homelessness, adoption, and bullying. Based on the students’ responses, it was evident that many students related to the stories as they reflected on their lived experiences that connect their home and school identities.
Tytianna N. M. Wells Smith is the author and illustrator of the four-volume children’s book series Sweet Pea and Sugar Tea’s Country Family Adventures: A Collection of African-American Poems. She is also a full-time doctoral student and graduate assistant at the University of Louisville. To learn more about her books and programs, please visit www.honeytreepublishingus.com.