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Mything Mandela

Nelson Mandela is portrayed as a solitary leader who rose above his people, instead of being part of a liberation movement.
Images: (l) Nelson Mandela and friends sing ‘Nikosi Sikelel I Afrika’ at the end of their trial for treason in South Africa, 3/29/61. (r) Image from the picture book Mandela.

Mandela, the beautifully illustrated children’s book by Kadir Nelson, has been selected as one of the top books on Nelson Mandela by many groups including Colorlines and Kirkus Reviews. Given Kadir Nelson’s talents and strong reputation as a children’s book author and illustrator, Mandela is likely to become a staple in libraries and classrooms.

One look at the cover and it is easy to see why the book is so popular. Kadir Nelson’s illustrations are stunning and the world is tuned into Mandela with his recent passing and the release of the film, Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom.

Unfortunately, Kadir Nelson’s picture book presents the same mythological image of Mandela that has been the norm on the mainstream news. As journalist Bob Herbert lamented, the news media have reduced Mandela to a “to a lovable, platitudinous cardboard character” and the vital role of the anti-apartheid struggle is effectively obscured in the process.

Our Favorite Books of 2013

Here are a few of our favorite books from 2013 for children, young adults, and adults. All of these titles would make great gifts for friends, family, and/or yourself.

Visit our Teaching for Change bookstore in D.C. at Busboys and Poets (14th and V) to find many more wonderful 2013 titles.

Remember, wherever you choose to purchase these books, support an independent bookstore.

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop

by Derrick Weston Brown

In most children’s books about the history of Hip-Hop, there’s often one figure who has continuously been relegated to the background, even though he’s the architect of the sound from which Hip-Hop was born.  Clive Campbell, also known as DJ Kool Herc, finally gets his time in the spotlight in Laban Carrick Hill’s children’s book, When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop.

Going back to Kool Herc’s childhood on Somerset Lane in Kingston, Jamaica and then tracing his eventual immigration to the South Bronx in his teens, Hill pays homage to the Caribbean origins and style that influenced Herc’s showmanship and hungry ear as a rising DJ; likewise, illustrator Theodore Taylor III’s colorful but not cartoonish pictures, give us a story that’s part history lesson and part warm earth tone landscape, capturing the wildness and the warmth of a culture that flourished in project parks and community recreation centers. 

Stories of White Americans in the Modern Civil Rights Movement: Four Book Reviews

by Jenice L. View

A full accounting of the modern Civil Rights Movement would necessarily include the stories of all the people and perspectives that shaped that moment in history. Not enough of the African American veterans of the 1960s and 1970s civil rights, voting rights, and Black Power struggles have told their own stories, either in writing or on film. In addition, at some point we will learn more about conservative resistors, such as Clennon King Jr. of Alcorn State University (as well as the FBI informants and other traitors) to that social change—including African American and other people of color who opposed the strategies and purposes of the direct action and nonviolent resistance of organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In the meantime, a recent quartet of books concerning the modern Civil Rights Movement focuses on the experiences of whites who were personally active in the struggles to end racial apartheid in the United States. Their stories are important in and of themselves, but especially because they balance academic analysis with personal recollections. This review focuses on the Mississippi connections of the four authors.

Ask Me About 1963

by Jenice L. View

Textbook mentions of the modern Civil Rights Movement highlight the year 1963 as the time when the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom showcased Dr. King’s speech known as “I Have a Dream.” Occasionally, they will also reference the Children’s Crusade and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., or the murder of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Miss., as isolated acts of resistance and racism.

Yet, it was a pivotal year as direct action, voter registration, and important strategic shifts occurred nationwide after several years of active and public struggle. Writer James Baldwin referred to the events, 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, as the “latest slave rebellion.” A deeper understanding of these events, their interconnectedness (domestically and internationally), and the antecedent and subsequent events helps students “read” history and their contemporary world with a keener eye toward coordinated action. (For a list of some of these events, see Teaching About 1963 in 2013: Civil Rights Movement History Resources).


To support teaching the modern Civil Rights Movement beyond “I Have a Dream,” Teaching for Change is raising awareness about the 1963 anniversaries that shed light on the everyday people who organized in their communities to struggle for freedom and justice.

An Updated Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children's Books

by Louise Derman-Sparks


  In 1980, the Council on Interracial Books for Children published the book Guidelines for Selecting Bias-Free Textbooks and Storybooks. “Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children’s Books for Racism and Sexism,” a shorter version of the book in pamphlet form followed. One of the first guides written for teachers and families, it became an invaluable tool for hundreds of thousands of people. Both the book and pamphlet have been out of print for several years. Rethinking Schools published their adaptation of the original Guidelines in 1994. Here is another adapted version of the original pamphlet.  

Children’s books continue to be an invaluable source of information and values. They reflect the attitudes in our society about diversity, power relationships among different groups of people, and various social identities (e.g., racial, ethnic, gender, economic class, sexual orientation, and disability). The visual and verbal messages young children absorb from books (and other media) heavily influence their ideas about themselves and others. Depending on the quality of the book, they can reinforce (or undermine) children’s affirmative self-concept, teach accurate (or misleading) information about people of various identities, and foster positive (or negative) attitudes about diversity. Children’s books teach children about who is important, who matters, who is even visible. Consequently, carefully choosing quality children’s books is an indispensable educational and child-rearing task.

It is important to offer young children a range of books about people like them and their family—as well as about people who are different from them and their family. All of the books should be accurate and appealing to young children. Fortunately, there are some good anti-bias children’s books, which are available as a result of the ongoing activism of many individuals and groups over many years. However, while choices have improved over past decades, the lack of quality multicultural kid’s books currently being published has frustrated many communities. The number of children of color in the United States continues to rise, but the number of books published by or about people of color stays the same or even decreases.

Book Review: New Comic Anthology Full of Shortcomings, Thin on Diversity

District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, DC

Edited by Matt Dembicki

On November 1, 1950, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, two Puerto Rican nationalists, attempted to assassinate President Truman. Their goal was to draw attention to the U.S. colonization of Puerto Rico and the repeated legal and military measures to deny Puerto Ricans self-determination. At the time, Truman was staying at Blair House while the White House underwent repairs. The two men converged on Blair House and, after a shootout that left Torresola and one policeman dead, Collazo was arrested and imprisoned.

District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, DC tells a slice of this story in “Truman,” by Art Haupt, Rafer Roberts, and Wendi Strang-Frost. In their version, three journalists on their way to Blair House happen upon the gunfight. In its aftermath, the young photographer is pressed into service to record the crime scene while his coworkers interview the police lieutenant. Truman leaves for his next engagement, saying “[a] president has to expect these sorts of things,” and all assembled marvel at his sang-froid.

“Truman” reveals some of District Comics’ major shortcomings. Like many other stories in the book, the line between fact and “creative liberties,” as editor Matt Dembicki puts it, is unclear. Were there actually journalists at the scene or were they inserted into the story as a framing device, along with their extensive dialogue? And if an effective framing device was needed, couldn’t the story have been better told from the perspective of Oscar Collazo, rather than the wooden, possibly fictional journalists and policemen who talk like soft parodies of 40’s gangsters? Whose DC history is being told, and why?

Putting Visions of Social Justice Education into Practice

Challenges and Contested Ground in Early Childhood Education

by Louise Derman-Sparks

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it’s the presence of justice.” Consistent with that perspective, the impetus for anti-bias education work is rooted in a desire to build just early childhood programs for all children. Early childhood education plays a part in the creation of socially just, culturally inclusive societies where all families are able to raise their children in the context of who they are and where all families have the resources to raise children who can truly thrive.

Early childhood education is a powerful bridge between the family and the larger society; however, this connection is not automatically a positive one. Why and how the bridge is constructed matters. Our societies are complex—exhibiting and promoting strong, contradictory themes regarding how we treat human beings. Early childhood programs can be grounded in the aspirations and rights articulated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Children. Or they can be created to ready children to conform to society as it is, with all of its existing racial, class, and gender power dynamics.

Children's Rights poster is available from Syracuse Cultural Workers.

In order to unleash the power of early childhood education to help reduce racial and ethnic divisions and build peaceable communities, we must overcome major challenges. While children are at the heart of our work, they are not the only key element. Teachers and parents, infrastructures of early childhood education, and larger economic and social-political dynamics in our societies are all “contested ground” for the anti-bias education community. 

Contested grounds are those places where we can and must work to create change. By identifying and analyzing obstacles, we can better prepare ourselves to build impactful, anti-bias early childhood education programs. In this piece, I explore a few key contested-ground issues. In the second piece, “Change Strategies,” I suggest ways for us to engage in these contested grounds—and in so doing, put anti-bias, culturally inclusive visions into practice in early childhood education.

Banned Books and Publishing Industry Censorship


Excellent children's titles no longer available

By Amy Rothschild, early childhood educator and Teaching for Change volunteer 

Banned Book week provides us the chance to reflect on what is and what isn’t available for us to read at different moments in history and different places.  We think of Orwell, and we think of more recent events, like the banning of the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, AZ.

Government censorship, of course, is just one element that determines what we can and cannot read. People often overlook another cultural phenomenon that can have a similar effect: publishing industry censorship. Each year there is a scarcity of excellent children’s picture books published. Missing are titles that reflect the realities of students’ lives and communities while encouraging children to think beyond the headlines.

It’s Constitution Day! Time to Teach Obedience or History?

It took almost 100 years for an amendment to the Constitution that forbade the sale of people and enslavement with the enactment of the 13th Amendment in 1865. (Photo: Emancipation Day Parade, Richmond, Virginia, Monday, April 3, 1905. Library of Congress.)

September 17 marks Constitution Day—a federal observance that recognizes the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. Often glanced over in textbooks are the controversies that surround the writing of the Constitution and issues that persist today.

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