Feb 1, 2016

THEME MONTHS: Black History and Others

I've long considered Theme Months to be double-edged swords, including BLACK HISTORY MONTH, right through to POETRY MONTH and beyond. I addressed the question, here, in one of my earliest posts on this blog. 
Some tools and strategies can do as much harm as good.

The double-edged sword, to me, springs from the fact that a spotlight is long overdue for many topics. Certainly theme months are a step to correct that situation. That's better than nothing, one might argue.
 True, a month of attention is more than those topics might otherwise receive, but then the calendar page flips and the spotlight moves on to the next topic. 
Why would I view that as a curse? Doesn't fairness count for anything?

My concern comes from years of experience in classrooms, at many grade levels. When a month is designated it is all too easy (and often happens) that a limited collection of books, poster images, and activities is "brought out" to be displayed and shared, then packed away again when the next topic rolls around. The very fact that topical themes, especially in history, gain such designations reflects the absence (or disproportionately small amount) of attention devoted to those subjects throughout the rest of the year. 

A fairly recent development has begun making inroads to changing that pattern. Just last week Multicultural Children's Book Day celebrated a vast array of books that feature our world-- our REAL world. By that I mean a world of diverse and unique people. When you click the link you'll connect to multiple posts with outstanding recommendations by teachers, librarians, parents, and kids. These books span genre, topics, and target audiences. What they have in common is that they are appealing, engaging, and thought-provoking books in which readers can find themselves and the people who surround them without waiting for an event or occasion to do so.

That is, indeed, a blessing. It's also sending the message we want readers to receive- that people (and books) offer world-views that defy categorization or limitation to a single day, week, or month of our attention. The deepest cuts of that double-edged sword come when a theme-month offers unstated but implied messages of "otherness". It arbitrarily declares  that certain topics or books offer nothing of merit apart from those designated periods, nothing that would engage our attention when offered freely throughout the year.

As you read in my opening lines, this isn't the first time I've raised the issue on this blog. As I was about to add "nor will it be the last", I stopped to reflect. Could the day actually dawn when the need for THEME MONTHS disappears? Yes, I believe it could. When multicultural, diverse children's literature is so ubiquitous, when books fully represent ALL people, a "history month" would suffice. 
We're a long way from that day, but we're closer than we've ever been before.
This is no time to rest. I've linked to just a few previous posts in which I celebrate books without an eye on the calendar. If you're new to this  blog, I hope you'll check them out.
Folk Tales and Facts: Marvelous Cornelius

Heather Lang and Floyd Cooper Launch a Winner: Queen of the Track 

Drum Dream Girl: A Trio of Titles
NON-Fiction Notes: Kid Athletes and Other  Biographies

If you have other titles to recommend, or other posts to suggest, please add your comments!

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