The Apartheid of Children’s Literature – an article by author Christopher Myers.

The Apartheid of Children’s Literature – an article by author Christopher Myers.

The gentrification and apartheid of children’s literature are concepts I mull over often. My third graders are currently working on Compare and Contrast Essays, using Christopher Myer’s Wings, and Lesa Cline-Ransome’s Before There Was Mozart. So this article is close to my heart as well as my profession. The link above takes you to his article, featured in today’s New York Times.

Wings. Written and Illustrated by Christopher Myers

Wings. Written and Illustrated by Christopher Myers

Before There was Mozart. By Lesa and James Ransome. 2011

Before There was Mozart. By Lesa and James Ransome. 2011

BHM Children’s Read Alouds: Day 4: Joseph Boulogne

February 4 – Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George by Lesa Cline – Ransome. Illustrated by James E. Ransome.

Genre: Non-Fiction. Biography

Biography: Joseph Boulogne – knight (chevalier), fencer, composer, violinist, royal music instructor, Colonel in French Revolution, abolitionist. 1739 – 1799.

Historical Time Period: Mid-late 1700’s.

Geographical Relevance: 1. Guadeloupe Islands in the West Indies. 2. Paris, France. 3. Senegal.

Authenticity: The author, Lesa Cline-Ransome, and the illustrator, James E. Ransome, are wife and husband. Lesa was an avid writer while attending the Pratt Institute in New York, a professional marketing-writer, and developed a love of picture books during her graduate program in Education. Her husband first encouraged her to put her skills and knowledge into picture book form, and from there she would research the history of her subjects while her young children napped. James’ illustrations, also researched, make for a complete story. What is rare and wonderful to see, in major publishing houses, is the author and illustrator creating the book together. Ideas are in agreement – facilitating the book’s authenticity.

Before There was Mozart. By Lesa and James Ransome. 2011

Before There was Mozart. By Lesa and James Ransome. 2011

Right: Author Lesa Cline-Ransome. Left: Illustrator James E. Ransome. (photo courtesy of Chronogram Magazine)

Right: Author Lesa Cline-Ransome. Left: Illustrator James E. Ransome.
(photo courtesy of Chronogram Magazine)

I hadn’t heard of this book, or the author, before I saw it in the window of The Book Rack in Arlington, MA., a little over a month ago. This book is rare in quality. The story is unique and has many layers: A boy, who’s mother was a first-generation slave captured from Senegal, yet was never a slave himself, because his father, the plantation Master, honored his son as his son. The father also acknowledged the mother. Joseph continually experienced both oppression and privilege throughout his life, making for a very dynamic position and perspective in the world. I recommend this book for all ages, although grade K2 and grade 1 will need some mindful scaffolding beforehand.

Thanks for reading The Picture Book Pusher.

K2 Read Alouds: Week 8: Lesser-Known Halloween Reads

Week of October 28 – November 1, 2013.

So this is what I plan on reading this week:


Behind the Mask by Yangsook Choi

“Halloween is coming. “What are you going to be?” the children ask one another. Kimin says he will be his grandfather. “Going as an old man is not very scary,” they tease.  What the children don’t know is that Kimin’s grandfather was a Korean mask dancer.” – Choi



Jenny Reen and the Jack Muh Lantern by Irene Smalls. Illustrated by Keinyo White

Once upon a time,…there was a time of great tears…In this hardest of hard times there was still joy because there were children, children with round cheeks and round curls. Such a child was Jenny Reen. – Smalls

Jenny Reen and the Jack Muh Lantern 1996 Published for Atheneum Books for Young Readers New York

Jenny Reen and the Jack Muh Lantern
Published for Atheneum Books for Young Readers
New York


Picnic at Mudsock Meadow by Patricia Polacco

This was a Halloween that would go down in the annals of Mudsock Meadow. Not only had William shown uncommon bravery, but he had stopped, once and for all, the talk about Quicksand Bottoms. – Polacco




The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg.

Out of a moonlit sky a dark cloaked figure came spinning to the ground. The witch, along with her tired broom, landed beside a small white farmhouse, the home of a lonely widow named Minna Shaw. – Van Allsburg

What I like about this story is, EVERYTHING, but more specifically, I like that the “dark cloaked figure”d witch is a good, and beautiful character. A symbol of admiration rather than fear.images-9



The Loud Book by Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by Renata Liwska.

I will read The Loud Book out of respect to the students’ anticipated sugar highs.


Thanks for reading The Picture Book Pusher

K2 Read Alouds: Week 4: Community

Skipped week 3. I was doing things.

My district has a new K2 curriculum. I’m cool with it. It’s not all encompassing, and pretty much all of it is practices that I’ve been doing in my classroom already. So I’m responding to implementing much of it a lot better than I’ve responded to any previous curriculums that I’ve been told to use.  The first 6-week unit is, ‘Community’, beginning with the sub-theme, “friendship”. They recommend quite a few picture books, on friendship. I use different books on “friendship” other than the recommended list, but a few of them I will use. I will note if the read aloud choice was a suggestion from my district’s new K2 curriculum. If you see a lot of titles with the word ‘Friends’ in my weekly read aloud posts, you now know why.

Here’s what we read last week:


Everett Anderson’s Friend by Lucille Clifton. Illustrated by Ann Grifalconi.

Everett Anderson's Friend By Lucille Clifton Illustrated by Ann Grifalconi Published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1976

Everett Anderson’s Friend
By Lucille Clifton
Illustrated by Ann Grifalconi
Published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1976


True Friends by John Kilaka

True Friends By John Kilaka Published by Groundwood Books. 2006

True Friends
By John Kilaka
Published by Groundwood Books. 2006


Fresh Fish by John Kilaka

Fresh Fish By John Kilaka Published by Groundwood Books. 2005

Fresh Fish
By John Kilaka
Published by Groundwood Books. 2005


The Book of Mean People By Toni Morrison & Slade Morrison. Illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre

The Book of Mean People By Toni Morrison & Slade Morrison Illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre. Published by Disney-Hyperion. 2002

The Book of Mean People
By Toni Morrison & Slade Morrison
Illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre.
Published by Disney-Hyperion. 2002


Da Goodie Monsta by Robert Peters

Da Goodie Monsta By Robert Peters Published by Wiggles Press. 2009

Da Goodie Monsta
By Robert Peters
Published by Wiggles Press. 2009

What The Teacher (me) is Reading, This Week:

Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope By bell hooks Published by Routledge. 2003

Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope
By bell hooks
Published by Routledge. 2003


Thank you for reading The Picture Book Pusher

K2 Read Alouds: Week 2


The students so enjoyed having our principal come in and read Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino. Illustrated by Steven Kellogg


Tuesday and Wednesday

So many teaching moments in John Kilaka’s The Amazing Tree. The children were highly engaged in this story, and had so much to say about it that we read it the following day too. I will be definitely using this book again with the students.



The art teacher chose Thursday’s read aloud, Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crocket Johnson, to introduce the day’s art lesson. I wish I had some of their drawings to show you here, because the students did incredibly well with following the art teacher’s lead, and incorporating the ‘coloring-in’ technique that I had taught them the previous Tuesday.



One by Kathryn Otoshi. This treasure of a book will also be used throughout the year. Mindful anti-bullying allegory at its finest. We are already saying to each other, “What would One do?” and “Let’s be number One. Okay?”


In the Listening Center

Dr. Seuss’ books from last week stayed in the center, and I added some other great reads that included an audio CD of the story with the book. Other authors, take note, of how beneficial and appreciated an included book-on-cd is for teachers buying a picture book. Shout out to the following authors, who’s stories were able to join the ranks in the Listening Center:

I Have A Dream by Martin Luther King. Illustrations by Kadir Nelson.  Schwartz & Wade 2012

I Have A Dream by Martin Luther King. Illustrations by Kadir Nelson.
Schwartz & Wade 2012

Queen of the Scene by Queen Latifah Illustrated by Frank Morrison

Queen of the Scene by Queen Latifah
Illustrated by Frank Morrison

Where in the World is Away? by Michael Franti. Illustrated by Ben Hodson. 2012

Where in the World is Away? by Michael Franti. Illustrated by Ben Hodson. 2012

Thanks for reading The Picture Book Pusher

A Picture Book A Day: Day 13 Savitri: A Tale of Ancient India

Savitri: A Tale of Ancient India retold by Aaron Shepard, Illustrated by Vera Rosenberry

Published by: Albert Whitman & Company. Morton Grove, Illinois. 1992

Purchased: Free from the give-away shelf, at the South End branch of the Boston Public Library. The book is in practically new condition. I asked the librarian how they decide which books to give away, as there were several other wonderful books that I got for free that day including Chicken Sunday, The Chocolate Touch, and The Stories Julian Tells. The librarian said it is based on their check-out rate, or they were donated by patrons. If the books that a patron donates are not in excellent condition, or the library already has a sufficient number of copies of a title, then the books go onto the give-away shelf.

Back to Savitri

I enjoyed reading this story. The pictures are beautiful and captivating. However, as I am a progressive teacher, I am still contemplating how I can use this book in my classroom. Two aspects of the story contradict my pedagogy: 1. – the reference to character Yama, god of death, as “his skin was darker than the darkest night.”  I don’t use the word dark to represent anything negative, in my classroom. Dark is beautiful, and a coveted quality. Period. Any other use of the word, I hesitate to embrace.  A god of death, is not something positive in the minds of 6 year olds. So associating a god of death with dark skin is contradicting to how I teach.


Yes, I could still use this book, and transform the words the way I want, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort, when there are other stories I can read. But there is something so beautiful about this book.

2. – I don’t view this story as a tale about independent women, even though it is a tale “of women far more independent than later Indian culture allowed.”  In the story, the men have many wives, etc. There is reference to his “favorite wife” as being chosen to bare children.  All these things are a part of history, and I don’t like to shelter my students from historical facts and historical perspectives, as long as they are introduced to them in a way that is empowering. At this time, I don’t know if I can invest the time to retell this story with the necessary insights and perspectives to empower my young students living in the 21st century.

Still, I give it an all around 5 out of 5 stars. I will not be keeping it on the shelves for my students to grab at their leisure. I will keep it in the classroom, however, in case there is a need for it, at a later time.


Thank you for reading The Picture Book Pusher.

Moving from Ethnocentric to Ethnosensitive Methods of Instruction in Early Education Classrooms: Disapproving of DuBose Heyward’s Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes”

Although it may be unintentional, most mainstream U.S. educators have been made to believe that the cultural and linguistic norm of their background is to be maintained… (Farr, 1991). Such ethnocentrism needs to be replaced by an        ethnosensitivity…”                                                                                                                                  – (Yokota & Teale. The Administration and Supervision of Reading Programs. 2000).

As a first-grade teacher, in an urban school district, I pay critical attention to the literature my students are, or may be, exposed to. I agree with the above quote. As a collective, we educators need to replace our ethnocentric methods of instruction, with methods that are ethnosensitive. If we do not evolve in the ways that we need to, in order to truly be highly qualified teachers, then we will continue to propagate our classrooms with cultural mantras that obstruct the majority of our students from achieving their full potential. No other storybook, that I know of, embodies this ethnocentric propaganda quite like the picture book, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, by DuBose Heyward. A book that is still read to children in Early Childhood classrooms, in the public and private sector alike. I do not read it in my classrooms.

I was first introduced to this story almost exactly one year ago. While working, for the day, in a K1 classroom.  K1 is what we, in the education field, term students who are roughly four years of age; a year before entering Kindergarten. That day, in the K1 classroom, I was left a note by the head teacher, asking me to read this book to the students. Since this time, I have come across the book in two other classrooms, on display, ready to read to students in grades K2-Grade 1. Public schools.

Its allegory is oppressive. Its relevancy to today’s classroom is null.  I’ll summarize the story for you, below.

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes

By DuBose Heyward. Illustrated by Marjorie Flack


Houghton Mifflin (1974)

The story begins, introducing us to the main character, Country Bunny. She hopes to be chosen as one of five Easter bunnies. The five Easter Bunnies are  chosen by the wise old Grandfather Bunny.

“There are really five Easter Bunnies, and they must be the five kindest, and swiftest, and wisest bunnies in the whole wide world.” – ( Heyward, DuBose. Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes.Pg. 1 1939. Houghton & Mifflin.)

“One day a little country girl bunny with a brown skin and a little cotton ball of a tail said, “Some day I shall grow up to be an Easter Bunny – you wait and see!”                           ( Heyward. Pg. 2)

“Then all of the big white bunnies who lived in fine houses, and the Jack Rabbits with long legs who can run so fast, laughed at the little Cottontail and told her to go back to the country and eat a carrot.” (Heyward. Pg.3-4)
The story continues with Country Bunny growing up to have twenty-one little bunnies to care for.
Followed by,
“Then all the big white rabbits and the Jacks with long legs laughed and laughed, and they said, “What did we tell you! Only a country rabbit would go and have all those babies. Now take care of them and leave Easter eggs to great big men bunnies like us.” (Heyward. 1939.)
The story continues with Country Bunny living in the country, raising her twenty-one children to be hard workers, that keep a very tidy house.  Then one day, she decides to again try out to be one of the five Easter Bunnies. Country Bunny doubts her ability to compete against the other bunnies who are also trying out their skills for Grandfather Bunny.
“The ones that hoped to be the Easter Bunny stood together, and all the others looked at them and clapped….they jumped and ran and showed him their pretty white fur, and they were all very fast and very clever.” (Heyward. 1939.)
The following pages go on to tell us how Grandfather compliments the other bunnies’ beauty again, and then sees Country Bunny and compliments her on raising so many well behaved bunnies in a small country cottage, and how happy they must all be. The word ‘kind‘ is consistently used to describe Grandfather Bunny. The words, “well-trained” are used to describe Country Bunny’s many children. Alas, Country Bunny is chosen as the fifth Easter Bunny. Thus, she leaves her children to dutifully tend to their cottage house while she goes off to work for a short time, during the Easter Season.
“They showed her all over the Palace, from room to room…with eggs of gold and silver, …chocolate eggs, marshmallow eggs, eggs for rich children and eggs for poor children, for children who were sick and children who were well..” (Heyward. 1939)
So Country Bunny, and the other Easter Bunnies, all disperse from the Palace with Easter eggs to deliver to children all over the world. Up until this point in the story, all images are of bunnies, in their bunny world. This theme continues throughout the illustrations. We are shown images like those below. Four pages of these images in fact. Images coupled with words that tell us how difficult the conditions were for Country Bunny, as she tried so dutifully to deliver the humungous special egg that is for one particular child. Grandfather chose Country Bunny specifically for this mission.
Then the journey becomes too difficult for Country Bunny. She loses hope. She collapses under a tree, where Grandfather Bunny suddenly, and magically appears. He tells her to have faith, and that he will give her a pair of magic golden shoes, that will aid her in her journey to deliver the egg to the child on the top of the mountain.
At this point in the story, there is so much build up to the climax. So much anticipation, in what is in store for Country Bunny. She perseveres. And alas, she arrives to the Easter egg recipient’s house up high on a hill. In the image above you see Country Bunny being propelled up the mountain by the magic golden shoes.
Alas, as the reader turns the page, we see…….
“in the hand of the beautiful sleeping boy, she placed the egg.” (Heyward. 1939.)
 Only time the word beautiful is used in this book, it is referring to the large, random, single image of a human child. Pale skinned, and blonde haired.  Country Bunny’s important mission is complete.
We are never told what the boy did to deserve such an egg. We are only informed of his beauty. Thus, being well-deserving of Country Bunny’s volunteer service.
Okay, here’s where the shift in conversation comes. Many can debate that even if the story is provoking stereotypical perceptions of American beauty, it does not mean that the story does not also speak of heroism, and determination, and the ethical stand-point that if you work hard and believe in yourself, your dreams can come true. After all, that is what every other blog or review of this book is saying about this book. Here are two quotes that I came across online.
“It is difficult to believe that this very modern feminist tale was originally written in 1939. A gem of a fantasy in which kindness and cleverness win out over size and brawn.”–Learning Magazine
“This is a very strange story about a determined little country bunny who manages.. raise her 21 children to be well-behaved and accomplished, all while enjoying a great career as an Easter Bunny, delivering eggs to the boys and girls of the world…
The illustrations are adorable. Old-fashioned idea of forward-thinking feminism that will tickle you in all the right places…it could become a favorite in our home.” – Amanda
I critiqued this story from a different perspective than the two reviews above.
This is how the rest of the story plays out….
Country Bunny completes her mission, and at dawn she returns home to her tiny cottage in the country where her many children await, carrying with her her just rewards:  “she jumped quickly back to the Palace, where she found her little basket for her own little bunnies.” (Heyward.1939)
So what we are learning here, is that the hard working country bunnies only deserve a little basket of eggs, that the generous wise, kind, Grandfather bunny was gracious enough to share with Country Bunny for her service to the well deserving beautiful white child.
*scratches head*
Disproportion at it’s most blatant.
Oh but wait. It gets “better”.  The story ends not like that of Cinderella, with a grand life ahead of her. No.
Unlike Cinderella, Country Bunny’s humble, and dutiful portrayal does not contain an element of beauty. Not once does the story refer to Country Bunny’s aesthetics in a positive way. Nor does the book refer to Country Bunny’s traits as that of a bunny – the author describes Country Bunny as having “Brown skin” and the white bunnies had, “pretty white fur”.  No encouraging adjectives included.  Sure one can argue that the book influences young minds to be dutiful, humble, and strong, but at what price are we teaching them this? One that presumes females with brown skin will be content in subservient roles.
“Public schools in the United States are serving a more heterogeneous student population now than ever before….it requires administrators to bring their full subjectivities to bear on their practice, and it implicates language as a key mechanism for both oppression and transformation” –  (Riehl, Carolyn J., University o f North Carolina, 2000.)
That day, in the K1 classroom that I was working in, there were about 19 students present. About 1/5 of the class was caucasian. 1/4 students from the Congo, Somalia, or Kenya, living here now as Americans, but also as refugees. A few of the students were beautiful brown girls who wore Khimars, and others African-American, as well some from Latin American countries. I was expected to prescribe them, collectively, with that piece of literature? Good gracious, I couldn’t dare.
When I brought these facts to the head teacher’s attention, she was defensive and said that she had been reading it for years. Another teacher in the same school had the book out. I pointed out the oppressive aspects of the book. She said that she hadn’t noticed that and thought of the story more as a feminine heroic tale. However, she also thanked me for pointing out the racism of the story and said that she most likely will not read it in her classroom anymore.
Yet, the fans of this story say this:
“Lyrical writing, glowing illustrations, fuel for the imagination, a sense of humor, and, of course, a message: plucky little girl bunnies who defy prejudice and believe in themselves can grow up to become fully actualized lady bunnies who raise smart, happy, kind children and do fulfilling work outside the warren.” – The NewYorker 2010.
*smacks head, and cancels subscription*
If a tale of feminism, portrayed by talking rabbits, is the claim of value, fans of the book use as their reason to continue to read this in the classroom setting, then why not try some more effective and purposeful titles?
Try Nina Bonita by Ana Maria Machado. Illustrated by Rosana Faria.
Kane/Miller Book Publishers.
In this delightful tale, first published in Brazil,  the young white rabbit hopes to grow up to be as “pretty and as black as she”. The rabbit tries all sorts of ways to turn black, to no permanent avail. Thus, the story ends happily because the young girl Nina, introduces her little bunny friend to a beautiful black bunny, and they end up having bunnies in every shade.
Also try, Fresh Fish: A Tale from Tanzania by John Kilaka
If you look closely at the cover of this storybook, you see a white jack rabbit lifting up a car. The rabbit is female, and is not the main character, but is the one in the bunch who repairs everything and remains calm, throughout the story, including when they get multiple flat tires. The characteristics of the rabbit are not illustrated to be anything out of the norm. It just happens to be a female rabbit.
I have yet to come across, online, any other review of Country Bunny and the Little Golden Shoes , that illustrates it’s cultural biases and limitations in an accurate way. Most people praise the book as a gem, a childhood favorite. Many people it seems, are viewing this book from the viewpoint of the “fine white rabbits”. I could go into much greater length of the implications of this story, (that’s almost a century old), being read in an urban public school classroom of today, or any school for that matter; but I will go into it at greater length via another outlet, at another time.
This book very well may be being read in a school near you. I see it with my own eyes. Some teachers understand my imperative perspective on this book, and some do not.  I am thankful, that most of the book stores I have asked, have not heard of it and do not carry it in their data base. However other book stores, like Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MA. sell it, and shelve it in large quantities.They have a sticker on the inside of the book, recommending it to children four years old and up. When I asked them why they carry it, I was told that what is offensive to some is not offensive to others. Hmm. Barnes & Noble carries it as well. As well as New England Mobile Book Fair, in Newton, MA.  I am happy to say that Waltham Back Pages Books in Waltham, MA., Stellabella Books in Dedham, MA., and Community Bookstore, in Parkslope, Brooklyn, all do not carry this book. Do you know if this book is being read in your child’s classroom?
Thank you for your time and thank you for reading
The Picture Book Pusher