FAIR organizers receive access to detailed toolkits with lesson plans for three different syllabus options, each of which may be easily modified. If you are interested in learning more about the FAIR syllabi and accompanying toolkits, please contact Melissa Wheaton (413-584-8440 x100).
Multicultural Picture Books and Humanities Themes
FAIR picture books are scholar-chosen for literary and artistic qualities, as well as for their engagement with humanities themes that are meaningful and sometimes difficult for children. The first syllabus, a collection of books that focus on character, asks readers of all ages to consider questions that arise as we grow and change, as we work to define ourselves, and as we understand ourselves in relation to others; the second syllabus, a collection dedicated to relationships, poses questions about the important, primary relationships present in children’s lives, as well as about the ways we navigate and position ourselves among others; the third syllabus, centered around community, brings individual readers into societal and global discussions of how groups of people interact with each other and the world. Each FAIR syllabus stands alone as a coherent series that involves a number of related themes, and the differences in scope allow the three syllabi to follow each other (in any order) without repeating themes or discussion topics.
All of the themes broached in FAIR—from the larger, overarching topics of character, relationships, and community, to the more specific themes inspired by each book—allow for discussions that engage even very young readers with substantive ideas that are firmly rooted in the humanities: what it means to be an individual in relation to others, what we owe to others and to ourselves, what we learn from others and from ourselves, how we grow and change, how we understand and encounter those who are different from us, how we define our goals and responsibilities, what we expect from society, how history has shaped the world in which we live, how history has shaped us as individuals, and what we want and expect from the future.
In addition to thematic considerations, the books chosen for FAIR draw on a variety of cultural traditions found in contemporary American—and global—communities. Quite intentionally, the books work together in the creation of multicultural, diverse, and inclusive syllabi in which as many children as possible may see parts of themselves and their lives reflected. Readers also encounter representations of those who are different from them, and the picture books serve as frameworks for understanding, questioning, and reflecting upon the ways individuals encounter and react to difference. Through discussions about these multicultural books, as well as about their own lives, FAIR participants work together to develop and foster empathy, interest, curiosity, and respect. While some books on the FAIR syllabi tackle true stories of struggles, both personal and societal, they also feature stories, both fiction and nonfiction, of children who laugh and cry and live through everyday experiences.
FAIR sessions model engaged, active reading; while entertaining, they encourage readers and thinkers at all levels work to understand books’ words and illustrations. Critical thinking emerges through literary conversations about the books—from recognizing lessons and appreciating stories to considering motivations and questioning assumptions—and further reflection and meaning are realized through conversations of how those overt lessons and underlying themes appear in our lives. Additionally, FAIR storytellers are encouraged and trained to address questions and observations about portrayals of race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, and disability as needed and as appropriate for audiences of children and their families.
FAIR Syllabus One: Character
The first syllabus, a collection of books that focus on character, asks readers of all ages to consider questions that arise as we grow and change, as we work to define ourselves, and as we understand ourselves in relation to others. Beginning the series with a reading of My Pen by Christopher Myers, FAIR storytellers introduce participants to character, both as an individual in a story and as an individual’s personality or nature. In Myers’s book, the speaker exists alone, as a child who sometimes feels small—until he remembers he has his pen. With a pen, the speaker produces wild imaginary worlds, spreads love, and works to create an identity for himself; the book ends with a message about the power of creativity, and thus, allows participants to discover the importance of telling and learning stories (through both words and pictures), along with the importance of becoming a self with strong character. This FAIR series, consequently, asks participants to discover and analyze how characters in stories find their places in the world and find themselves through experiences, dreams, and goals. The series’ more specific themes—dreams, courage, change, determination, and love—together function as parts of an individual’s character, or nature; the themes are complex and can be considered in a number of ways. For example, the picture book used to explore courage, The Upside Down Boy / El niño de cabeza by Juan Felipe Herrera and illustrated by Elizabeth Gómez, is as much about change and determination as it is about courage and love; careful reading and guided discussion allow participants to react to and think about the book, as well as about the role of courage in their own lives.
FAIR Syllabus Two: Relationships
The second syllabus, a collection dedicated to relationships, poses questions about the important, primary relationships present in children’s lives, as well as about the ways we navigate and position ourselves among others. David Wiesner’s Flotsam requires FAIR storytellers and their participants to jump into the series with bravery; the picture book contains no words and asks readers to experience the tale of connection between curious children through analysis of carefully rendered illustrations. Indeed, curiosity, along with an almost magical connection forged among strangers, provide the thrust of the book and beg for discussions about how individuals interact with others. The series’ other books offer stories about family, friendship, cooperation, leadership, and home—all themes that respond to the larger topic of relationships. The books refuse simple understandings of these themes and ask readers both to look for unexpected bonds between individuals and to make connections from session to session. The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin, a story rooted in ideas of home, also carries themes and understandings of family, friendship, and cooperation. Individuals in these books work with others in building their worlds and relationships.
FAIR Syllabus Three: Community
The third syllabus, centered around community, brings individual readers into societal and global discussions of how groups of people interact with each other and the world. A rather complex picture book, David Macaulay’s Black and White begins the series with a focus both on community and on modes of telling stories; with inventive images and playful words, the book illustrates that seemingly simple actions and occurrences provoke surprising results. In the book, groups of people—and cows—are interconnected. The thread of connectedness continues throughout the series, through books about freedom, equality, responsibility, difference, and beauty, themes that bring participants into discussions of larger historical movements and questions of an individual’s role in a larger world. While reading A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson and illustrated by Eric Velasquez, participants follow two young girls who march for equality and freedom in the March on Washington in 1963. The characters’ day is shaped by their joining a group of people, among whom they stand only waist-high, that continues to grow among a sweet smell of roses and talk of equality, freedom, peace, love, and change. Readers are asked to learn about and remember the importance of action created by groups of people who join together, to learn about the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and to learn about movements for equality—and/or equity—that continue today. Discussions in this FAIR series allow participants to consider important moments of history as relevant today and to consider why and how people choose to work together to affect a larger community.
Suggested Reading: Multicultural Children’s Literature
Derman-Sparks, Louise. “Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books.” Teaching for Change Bookstore, 27 Jan. 2016.
Dudek, Debra. “Multicultural.” Keywords for Children’s Literature. Eds. Philip Nel and Lissa Paul. New York: New York UP, 2011. 155–160.
Myers, Christopher. “Young Dreamers.” The Horn Book, 6 Aug. 2013.
Perkins, Mitali. “Straight Talk on Race: Challenging the Stereotypes in Kids’ Books.” School Library Journal, 1 Apr. 2009.
Primary Source. “Global Literature: Recommendations for K-12 classrooms.”
Westlake, Courtney. “To the Parent Whose Child is Pointing at Mine.” The Huffington Post, 13 Apr. 2016.