MDE and Library of Michigan Promote Equity in Literacy with Selections of African American Authors and Their Books

Contact: Martin Ackley, Director of Public and Governmental Affairs 517-241-4395
Agency: Education

January 29, 2021

LANSING – In celebration of African American History Month, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and the Library of Michigan are excited to release the first week of outstanding African American authors and their literary works that have been selected through nominations from Michigan educators.

This month-long series is coordinated with MDE’s release of its Equity in Literacy resource guide to help local schools and teachers improve literacy skills of all students, with a particular emphasis on children of color and working class and poor children.

“Our nation has a long history of outstanding African American authors whose works need to be shared,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice. “To improve literacy in our state and country, we need not only to improve our students’ technical literacy skills but also to increase their interest in and engagement with the works that they read. Diversity in children’s literature is critical to engagement. All children need to see themselves in their literature. All children need to see a broad range of people and cultures in their literature. Diversity in literature engages children, and the engagement leads to more reading, greater fluency, greater vocabulary development, and a broader knowledge of the world. Most importantly, it leads to children who become life-long readers because they value what they read, not because they are told to read.”

Seven African American authors and their literary works will be featured each week during the month of February along with information about the nominator and a brief description of the nominator’s use of the work with students. The weekly calendar will be posted on MDE’s Equity in Literacy website.

Among the authors and selections for the week of February 1-7 are: Selected Poems by Langston Hughes, The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, and Isaiah Dunn is My Hero by Kelly Baptist.

The Equity in Literacy resource provides guidance to schools throughout the state about evidence-based literacy strategies, initiatives, and programs to improve literacy achievement and access to literacy, with special attention to reducing class, racial, and ethnic disparities.

In releasing this guidance, Dr. Rice said that in 2021 in the United States, all children should learn to read, and learn to read well enough that they can fully pursue their dreams in adulthood.

“Yet in no state, let alone in the country as a whole, have we managed to come close to this level of substantial literacy for 100 percent of our children. This should be cause enough for concern in and of itself,” Dr. Rice said.

“Of additional and profound concern is that, on average, our children of color and our working class and poor children in Michigan and across the country underperform their peers. This is not a reflection of their capability. As educators and policymakers, both in Michigan and across the country, we have a collective responsibility to do better.”

Earlier this month, MDE launched the initiative to recognize and celebrate outstanding African American authors and their literary works. Educators throughout the state were invited to nominate authors and their literary works that educators have used in their classrooms with students.

The request generated 143 nominations submitted from 71 different traditional school districts, public school academies, nonpublic schools, and others.

“We greatly appreciate the educators who accepted the challenge and submitted a nomination,” Dr. Rice said. “Their interests and submissions were instrumental to the success of this new initiative.”

To recognize African American authors is to celebrate and to raise up their literary work, expand the use of diverse literature in classrooms, and offer students an opportunity to engage in literature in which they see themselves (mirrors) and others (windows) in their reading, as presented in the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop.

In addition to celebrating outstanding African American authors through this initiative, MDE is hosting a free virtual conference for educators and administrators, Building Mirrors and Windows: Children Seeing Themselves and Others in the Literature that We Teach, on February 25, 2021. The conference will provide participants with ideas to increase the amount of diverse literature available to students and how to use the materials for instruction and student engagement.

For more information on the conference or the African American authors project, please contact mde-earlyliteracy@michigan.gov.

The Equity in Literacy guidance document describes research-based literacy instruction and addresses practices that support access to high-quality literacy learning for all Michigan students. The document is divided into five sections:

  1. Practices for creating engaging literacy learning environments
  2. The daily involvement of students in literacy
  3. The scientific or technical aspects of literacy
  4. The role of family engagement
  5. Resources to support equity in literacy

The Equity in Literacy guidance will be a living document. The guidance and resources, including the book recommendations, will be periodically updated. The document and additional resources are also available on MDE’s Equity in Literacy website.