Every month I reserve one day for teachers to sign-up to have me come to their classroom to do whatever they want. I’ve run centers, I’ve done art projects, I’ve sung and played instruments, I’ve tumbled in the gym, I’ve offered to cover the class so the teacher can collaborate with another teacher or a parent. Usually, however, the elementary teachers sign-up and have me read to their students. Since I don’t know what books the students have already heard, I ask the teacher to select the book I will read. Even though some have told me the title in advance and even offered to send me the book so I can preview it, I like not knowing what happens so I can make predictions in real-time with the students. Visiting classrooms in this way is a highlight of my month!
While visiting classes this month, February, I didn’t realize that it is National Dental Awareness Month, so I was surprised to read an informational book on teeth. The kids were really into the book and loved hearing about how they only get one set of adult teeth but shark teeth are limitless.
Another class was focusing on kindness for Valentine’s Day and I read them a story about a man who was lonely until he received a message saying “Somebody loves you,” which changed how he interacted in the world. The message was feeling valued creates happiness and that happiness leads you to create happiness in others. It was a wonderful story.
I was excited to get to the last class of the day because this room invites me to read every time I offer to come. This means I get to build a relationship with the class so they know who I am and why I’m there already. When I came to the room, the teacher handed me the book Waiting for Pumpsie written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by London Ladd. I took one look at the cover and said to the class, “Oh. It looks like this book is going to be about baseball! Has anyone ever read this before?” No one had. “Is anyone in here a baseball or softball player?” I asked since, as a softball mom, I spend a lot of time watching it. Several students raised their hands.
I got in my reading seat and the students moved to the rug. I started reading.
I’m Bernard, and I’m crazy, crazy, crazy about the Red Sox. Everybody in Boston is. It’s just something you get born into. We’re lucky I guess.
We always want the Sox to win. But Mama says we gotta root for all the colored players, no matter what team they’re on.
As I read the words “colored players,” my internal alarm system in my head sounded. Yikes! I now have to explain to a room full of elementary students that we don’t use that language anymore and now we use words like this… As I said, this was not my first time with these students, but this felt like a very sensitive conversation to have with students I didn’t know well. Nevertheless, the conversation needed to be had. The students seemed to understand my explanation and so I went on reading.
“How come the Giants got Willie Mays, and Jackie Robinson retired from the Dodgers, but we still don’t have a Negro player?” I ask Papa.
Just when I thought I was out of the woods with the explanations I’d need to do, I had to explain that, like the term “colored players,” “negro” was also a term that was used during the same time period to refer to people who were African-American/Black. As well, with this additional context, I said, “Do you remember that setting refers to both the place where the story is happening and the time? Here we already know that the place is Boston, Massachusetts. Given the words that are being used and the names of the baseball players that are mentioned, it seems to me like this story is taking place in the 1950s or so. Do you agree?”
As you might be able to tell, Waiting for Pumpsie, was selected because of Black History Month. In fact, it was a beautifully illustrated and written historical fiction story about the real-life baseball player, Pumpsie Green. Readers learn that the Boston Red Sox were the last team at the time to integrate and Pumpsie was the player who broke the color barrier for the team. All the same, The Red Sox were reluctant to offer Pumpsie a spot and some of the white Red Sox fans were not welcoming either. In fact, it was only because the Red Sox were in a slump that Pumpsie was finally added to the roster.
This book is a wonderful example of how students of color could see themselves in the text and how students who are not students of color can see what it’s like to be someone else. In truth, none of the students in the room were students of color. Rather than mirroring their lives or experiences, then, the book served as a window to allow the students to look into the lives of others.
This is the concept of:
Mirrors (books being opportunities to see people like you)
Windows (books being opportunities to see into lives that are unlike yours)
Sliding Doors (books offering the opportunity to enter a story and that becomes a part of the world of the reader)
“The phrase ‘mirrors and windows’ was initially introduced by Emily Style for the National SEED Project. Multicultural education scholar Rudine Sims Bishop furthered the concept when she coined the phrase ‘windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors’ to explain how children see themselves in books.”
To make this story a sliding door, I highlighted the portion where Wittenstein wrote about a famous photo taken of Pumpsie and Hall of Famer, Red Sox Ted Williams. This photo was printed in the newspapers and though it appears that Williams is giving Pumpsie hitting advice (which Pumpsie didn’t need since he was having a great season in the minor leagues before being pulled up to the team to help get the Sox out of a losing rut), the book makes the point that if Ted Williams is willing to play and interact with Pumpsie everyone else should support Pumpsie being on the team too.
I wanted the students to understand that because of his status, Williams could choose to use his power to make it better for someone who didn’t have power–Pumpsie. He did this in the most public way possible by having a photograph taken of him knee-to-knee with a man who others were socially and legally able to mock, ridicule, and demean just because of the color of his skin. We talked about how much better we are today that treating someone negatively based on the color of their skin is not acceptable and how we can use our influence to make it better for others.
So, in what ways are you like author Barry Wittenstein and illustrator London Ladd who collaborated to create Waiting for Pumpsie because you’re finding ways to help others learn and reflect? Or, how are you like Ted Williams because you are using your status to make it better for someone else? Or, in what ways are you like Pumpsie Green, because you’re stepping up to the plate even though it would be easier to walk away? If none of these apply to you yet, what are you waiting for?
P.S. My Catch of the Week is the video "Kids Explain Black History Month." I don’t need to say anything else because the kids say it all.
P.P.S. Please remember to...
Like and share this post
Check out other posts
Subscribe to www.lyonsletters.com
Buy and rate your copy of Engagement is Not Unicorn (It's a Narwhal) and The BIG Book of Engagement Strategies