Challenging the Poverty Narrative Through Children's Literature

Challenging the Poverty Narrative Through Children's Literature

Kimberly M. Peters
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8730-0.ch010
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Poverty and homelessness are often portrayed in children's literature as an individual problem rather than a larger systemic issue involving societal inequities. Children's literature can be used as a means of self-affirmation and as an opportunity for dialogue around social justice issues in the classroom. Through thoughtful planning, identity work, and the use of critical frameworks, educators can evaluate the quality of children's literature, monitor their students' textual experiences, and plan for dialogue to promote change. This intentional planning will help students build a strong sense of self-agency and a broader understanding of how to think critically around improving the overall human condition.
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When considering how classrooms are currently engaging with books, the priority is overwhelmingly dominated by academic rigor. In the United States educational culture which emphasizes test scores above the individual, it is not surprising that books are often overlooked as a means for social change. There is a need for educators to explore literature that supports moving read alouds into a critical dialogic space with efforts to form deeper connections and social understandings around marginalized populations (Adam, 2021; Christ & Cho, 2021; Kibler & Chapman, 2019).

A classroom read aloud involves the teacher reading a book aloud to a group of students and highlighting opportunities for learning. The most effective read aloud lessons are planned and interactive with additional textual-talk (Wright, 2018) and engage in higher-order discussions to build comprehension (Acosta-Tello, 2019; Baker et al., 2013; Duke, Ward, & Pearson, 2021). Research has demonstrated that reading a book aloud has many academic benefits (e.g., Acosta-Tello, 2019; Baker et al., 2013; Christ & Cho, 2021; Kuhn, 2020; Silverman, 2007; Swanson et al., 2011; Wright, 2021). For example, while reading aloud a difficult text, teachers can model appropriate fluency, focusing on accuracy, automaticity, and prosody in reading. Additionally, teachers can model strategies for word recognition, reading comprehension, and ascertain the meaning of unfamiliar words (Christ & Cho, 2021; Swanson et al., 2011; Wright, 2021). Children that read for at least 20 minutes per day are exposed to over 1.8 million words per year and this increased vocabulary knowledge strongly correlates with higher test scores and increased reading comprehension (Nagy & Herman, 1987; Quigley, 2018; Silverman, 2007). While teachers are aware that there are numerous academic benefits to incorporating read alouds into classrooms, moving the read aloud from a static place to a critical dialogue is where students will begin to explore different perspectives and opportunities for social justice reform (Adam, 2021; Jones et al., 2010; Kibler & Chapman, 2019).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Systemic Inequity: A system in which follows unjust practices based on known or unknown prejudice.

Intersectional Identity: Recognizing the multiple identities which make up an individual.

Social Justice: Justice defined by distribution of wealth and privileges within society.

Agency: The capacity for an individual to act independently and without influence.

Poverty: State of not having enough material resources to meet basic needs.

Culturally Responsive Literature: Awareness of cultural views used to promote social justice within text.

Critical Literacy: Analyzing concepts within text for power relationships that might otherwise go unnoticed, to create a self-awareness.

Sociopolitical Issues: Issues that are defined by both social and political realities.

Counter-Narrative: Stories that challenge the dominant discourse and give a voice to marginalized populations.

Societal Inequity: Unjust positionality within society, due to marginalization.

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