For teachers and students, the beginning of a new school year brings hope, excitement, anticipation, curiosity, and a healthy dose of trepidation. Students and staff alike have a multitude of questions regarding the individuals that are coming together to make a whole class. Faced with this new collective, the teacher must take all the children and build a community that can function as a whole for ten months, yet one that allows and encourages the individuality of each student to shine through.
In my classroom it is essential to highlight and reinforce for students the concept that individual parts make up the whole, and that each of us is an important part of our classroom community. I value being able to provide my students with varied opportunities to identify, explore, take pride in, and share the many facets of who they are and who they believe themselves to be. In turn, children come to recognize the individual qualities of their peers. It is my hope that this will give rise to a greater appreciation of oneself and others, and a feeling of interconnectedness between us all.
The prospect of a redesigned curriculum in British Columbia has solidified for me, the value of focusing on identity as part of my core classroom practice. I have long since held the belief that by focusing on identity, I am helping to cultivate each child’s sense of self and foster connections amongst students and teacher alike. Now the concept of identity is acknowledged as a fundamental part of student development, learning, and achievement in the form of the “Positive Personal and Cultural Identity” and “Personal Awareness and Responsibility” core competencies in the curriculum. Beyond the traditional ‘All About Me’ unit, supporting a child to develop a strong sense of identity is integral to the curricular skills, learning goals, and their overall success.
With the intent to build upon my pre-existing focus on self and to incorporate the revised curriculum into my practice, I created a collection of 15 books to support the theme of ‘Identity’ to use with students in grades two and three. As I considered a multitude of books that would best fit the general spirit of my canon, four sub-themes began to emerge: Personal Identity, Self-Acceptance, Self-Determination, and Individuality. Looking Like Me, We Are All Related, and The Name Jar allow students to describe the general characteristics that are more readily apparent to a young child. A child’s first understanding of identity is usually connected to one’s name, family members, cultural heritage, and personal interests, for example. A Bad Case of Stripes, Spoon, Zero, and The Story of Ferdinand illustrate for children the idea of realizing and appreciating one’s personal traits regardless of pre-conceived notions from ourselves or those around us. They also reinforce the understanding that each person has value. Self-determination is evident in Interstellar Cinderella, Amazing Grace, Enormous Smallness, and The Little Engine That Could. The main characters in these books persevere despite various obstacles in order to achieve their dreams of who they want to be. Again, pre-conceived ideas or stereotypes present challenges for the main characters. Finally, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match, You Be You, The Skin You Live In, and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress support the concept of individuality, allowing students to identify special and unique qualities within themselves, and encouraging them to value and respect those in others.
This collection is not a comprehensive list on the topic of identity and at times books appear to overlap in their themes and messages, but my canon is one that I believe to be meaningful and engaging for both my students and myself. I believed it to be important to have breadth in my collection in terms of the types and formats of children’s literature in an effort to provide my students with a range of literary experiences. Thus I have selections from classics to a biography to a fractured fairytale to the poetry-like form of Looking Like Me. Additionally, when reading these books to create my canon I could envision a multitude of lessons and activities in response to the texts which include various cross-curricular connections. This is indicative of the power and limitless possibilities that these books hold in their themes, messages, characters, language, artwork, and presentation.
By sharing these books with my students, I endeavour to inspire them to consider the personal and unique qualities that make them who they are, to realize their value and all they have to offer, to know and embrace what makes them special, and to believe in their dreams of who they can be.