BLOGS  >  JANUARY 28, 2022

Teaching Tough Topics with Literature


In today’s teaching and learning landscape, some topics can be hard to approach, discuss, and especially teach. Educator Larry Swartz has created a presentation on this topic, during which he shares an overview of recent literature sources that support teaching about racism, poverty, gender equity, physical and mental challenges, bullying, and kindness. His recommendations can be used across a range of curriculum areas and grade levels. Swartz highlights practical strategies for talk, writing, and arts responses that consider better literacy practices for today’s classrooms. 

Watch our webinar, Teaching Tough Topics with Literature, with author and educator Larry Swartz.

Shop Tough Topics on Titlewave®

A Kid Is a Kid Is a Kid 
Written by: Sara O’Leary | Illustrated by: Qin Leng 
Interest Level: Grades K-3 

In this companion to the enormously popular A Family Is a Family Is a Family, a group of kids shares the silly questions they always hear, as well as the questions they would rather be asked about themselves. 

We Are Water Protectors  
Written by: Carole Lindstrom | Illustrated by: Michaela Goade 
Interest Level: Grades K-3 
Educator Guide available 
When a black snake threatens to destroy Earth and poison her people’s water, one young water protector takes a stand to defend Earth’s most sacred resource. 

Ground Zero 
Written by: Alan Gratz 
Interest Level: Grades 3-6 
Brandon is visiting his dad on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, when the attack comes. Reshmina is a girl in Afghanistan who has grown up in the aftermath of that attack but dreams of peace, becoming a teacher, and escaping her village and the narrow role that the Taliban believes is appropriate for women. Both are struggling to survive, both changed forever by the events of 9/11. 

Front Desk  
Written by: Kelly Yang 
Interest Level: Grades 3-6 
Educator Guide available 

Inspired in part by her own life,?Kelly Yang’s debut novel,?Front Desk, is a middle grade tale that explores poverty, immigration, and racism in the United States. 

Written by: Gordon Korman 
Interest Level: Grades 5-8 
When swastikas begin appearing all over town, Link, Michael, and Dana, the only Jewish girl in town, must face crimes both past and present to find the truth. 

Ghost Boys  
Written by: Jewell Parker Rhodes 
Interest Level: Grades 5-8 
Educator Guide available 
After seventh-grader Jerome is shot by a white police officer, he observes the aftermath of his death and meets the ghosts of other fallen Black boys including historical figure Emmett Till.

Teaching Tough Topics: How do I use children’s literature to build a deeper understanding of social justice, equity, and diversity? 
Author: Larry Swartz 
Interest Level: PF 

Teaching Tough Topics?shows teachers how to lead students to become caring citizens as they read and respond to quality children’s literature. It focuses on topics that can be challenging or sensitive yet significant for building an understanding of social justice, diversity, and equity. Racism, homophobia, bullying, religious intolerance, poverty, and physical and mental challenges are just some of the themes explored. The book is rooted in the belief that, by using picture books, novels, poetry, and nonfiction, teachers can enrich learning with compassion and empathy as students make connections to texts, to others, and to the world. 

Shop Tough Topics on Titlewave  

Larry Swartz

Larry Swartz has been an educator for over 40 years and is currently a literacy and children’s literature instructor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto. Larry is a popular keynote speaker and workshop presenter across the world. He has provided professional development sessions in the United Kingdom, Austria, New Zealand, Jordan, and Beijing. His work is centered on using children’s literature to encourage meaningful oral, written, arts, and media-based responses from students and to deepen comprehension and nurture a love of reading. He has published a number of books for educators: Dramathemes, Creating Caring Classrooms, and Take Me to Your Readers. His recent publications include Teaching Tough Topics, Better Reading Now, and Deepening In-Class and Online Learning.

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