Everyone’s Story Matters

group of school kids writing test in classroomAs a parent and veteran teacher, Katie Egan Cunningham presents a heartfelt case for returning stories to a place of primacy in today’s classroom. As a literacy consultant ,she backs her argument with logic and a deep reservoir of knowledge and experience. And while her tone is collegial and inviting, her approach is research driven and takes into account today’s modern classroom and especially the needs of the contemporary student. In an environment seemingly dominated by standardization and high-stakes testing, Cunningham seeks not only to revive the emphasis on human stories as a central part of the classroom experience but to make sure that every student, from every background, can find the stories that speak to them and in turn find the voice necessary to tell their own unique stories.
Cunningham explains that the power inherent in stories provides young readers with mirrors and windows through which to see themselves and their world. But she also points out that it is more often the case that only the children from dominant social groups can consistently find themselves reflected in their reading choices. America’s classrooms have become increasingly diverse, but the availability of multicultural literature for young students has not kept pace. Cunningham knows that becoming engaged as a reader, taking that first step toward a life enriched by a love of reading, often depends on finding that one special text, the one story that resonates on a deeply personal level. But she also knows that readers cannot fall in love with stories from which they feel excluded.
Not content with merely pointing to the problem and talking about it, Cunningham assumes the role of private consultant and provides a wealth of practical suggestions and solutions. She includes lists of publishers and award-winning authors that represent a diverse range of cultures and topics, as well as brief but engaging descriptions for each. She couples these lists with online resources that will further aid teachers of any level in their pursuit of classroom excellence. Each chapter contains samples of suggested classroom activities that are clearly marked for grade level and for pacing. Cunningham also links these activities to specific texts or other media samples to demonstrate exactly how the lesson will work. She closes each chapter with a tool kit of final thoughts and questions that are designed to solidify and enable the chapter’s content.
Katie Egan Cunningham has produced a work that is as enjoyable as it is informative. The chapter layout, with lessons and discussions, is easy to navigate and flows naturally from each section to the next. The bibliography of children’s and young adult literature alone is a fantastic resource and is augmented by an extensive listing of professional literacy research. Any teacher who works with young readers will find Cunningham’s book to be a refreshing and invaluable resource worthy of space in any classroom.
Brian Snorgrass holds a master of arts degree in English from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona with a primary option in rhetoric and composition as well as a TESOL certificate. He has taught in China and also teaches annual language and music camps for students visiting from China. His research interests include studying the effects of social inertia on issues of literacy, educational equity, and social justice.

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