BLOGS  >  MAY 1, 2019

Not Letting Our Feet Off the Gas


One of my goals was to use #classroombookaday (CBAD) as a support for nonfiction reading and writing. We do a Civil War/slavery-focused informational unit every year, as social studies becomes integrated with our literacy workshop. Last year, I front-loaded and supported students' understanding of the causes and events in the Civil War through picture books during CBAD. My plan was the same this year.

And then, of course, I learned more. I pledged to do better because I knew more, and my picture books became geared more toward helping my students see another perspective. Because my kids had learned about our country’s expansion westward in fourth grade, I wanted to revisit, this time from the perspective of the Indigenous People and Native tribes already on the land. I decided that the best way to do this was through picture books, so I went to my favorite resource, Dr. Debbie Reese’s (@debreese on Twitter) site.

Three out of the four CBAD picture books (starred below) we read for our expansion of Westward Expansion came from her site. It is a goldmine of information and resources on Native heritage, customs, writers and so much more. Presenting these books and analyzing them helped shift my students’ understanding of westward expansion, and decentered the narrative of America’s “sea to shining sea” to include those who lost so much.

Native perspective of Westward expansion 

  • Cheyenne Again by Eve Bunting
  • *The People Shall Continue by Simon J. Ortiz (we coupled these first two with Carl Sandburg’s poem “Buffalo Dusk,” read during our weekly poetry analysis)
  • *Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes by Wab Kinew
  • *Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock by Aslan Tudor, Kelly Tudor, Jason Eaglespeaker

This shift worked so well that I thought we might try it for the Civil War. In addition to front-loading vocabulary and providing context for their research, the books I chose to read for CBAD leading up to and during our Civil War units changed. Rather than just getting my hands on every Civil War picture book I could find, I was more selective.

Galvanized by Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” I set out to help my students understand enslaved African Americans as more than just that. We dove into picture books about enslaved people who fought for their freedom in so many different ways, and my students no longer saw them as even slightly passive in their existence.

I hoped to change the narrative so the kids could see enslaved men, women, and children as brave, strong, intelligent fighters who gave more than I have words for to this country that treated them horribly. My students now see families, friendships and communities blossoming within the struggle of slavery. Some CBAD books that guided our work are listed below.

African American-focused perspective on slavery and the Civil War:

  •  Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
  •  Freedom Song by Sally Walker
  •  Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson
  •  The Bell Rang by James Ransome
  •  Moses by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
  •  Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco
  •  The Listeners by Gloria Whelan
  •  All Different Now by Angela Johnson
  •  Lincoln and Douglass by Nikki Giovanni

For both of these units, I paid attention to who wrote these books. I am learning that it’s important to lift up the voices of marginalized groups, including Native and African Americans. One way of doing that is to choose books written by and/or illustrated by authors and artists of color. While not all of my selections were written or drawn by a person of color, the vast majority of them are, and they are SO WORTH checking out!

Yes, it’s May. We have less than a month left of school. Yet, the choices and the time we put into CBAD each and every day are leaving indelible marks upon my students, helping them to know more and do better throughout their lives. And we’ll keep working on it until they walk out of the building for the last time.

Fifth Grade Teacher, Lisle IL
Lorie Barber is a fifth grade elementary educator who highlights cultural identity, empathy, and compassion in her classroom. Lorie has been an educator for nine years, the last six of which have been with her fifth grade students in Lisle, IL.  Lorie’s main goal is always to help her students cultivate a lifelong love of reading. This is her second year implementing Jillian Heise’s #classroombookaday after experiencing an overwhelmingly positive response from her students the previous year. Lorie is a voracious reader, a proud member of #bookexpedition, and has blogged for Nerdy Book Club. She tweets from @barberchicago and writes at

See #classroombookaday blogs on Follett Community listed below to see all of the articles written by our contributing classroom teachers.

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