By Molly Tansey
Teacher: *reads Akata Witch prologue*
Student: Wait, what’s her magic power?
Teacher: I can’t tell you.
Student: No, why would you do that to me? Now I have to read.
Teacher: *laughs maniacally*
Every teacher knows that sometimes it is the simplest ideas that have the biggest impact. We can spend hours crafting what feels like the most creative lesson of our careers only to have it flop. Meanwhile, the last-minute idea we came up with the night before class completely captivates our students.
I learned that lesson as a student teacher. February was fast approaching, and I knew I wanted to do something to celebrate Black History Month with my students. Equipped with a robust knowledge of children’s literature, I was eager to share recommendations with students, and as a graduate student with a full teaching load, it needed to come together quickly. The night of January 31, I created Black Writer a Day, a set of slides featuring Black middle grade and young adult authors.
I once attended a talk by Tomi Adeyemi where she recounted how, as a child with very few stories available with characters who looked like her, she would whitewash herself out of her own imagination. The purpose of the Black Writer a Day series was twofold. I wanted to help my students find books they could see themselves in because I needed to make sure they never erased themselves out of their own stories, and I also needed every one of my students to be able to see themselves as a writer.
Every day of February, I featured a different Black writer. I brushed dry erase marker dust off the whiteboard and propped up a selection of books by that day’s author. At the start of each period, I pulled up a slide with the author’s photo, images of their books, a short biography, and a quote. I used the slides as a jumping off point for a discussion of the author and their work before talking up one of their books. Soon enough, those books began appearing in my students’ stacks of materials. Students would remind me to do Black Writer a Day at the beginning of class, and when, on occasion, I had to move it to the end of the period, they never let me forget.
Since then, I have created and shared Asian Writer a Day, Queer Writer a Day, and Latinx Writer a Day. After receiving positive feedback from teachers and librarians using these resources in other schools, and knowing that many could benefit from a year-round resource to support daily book talks, I embarked on creating Writer a Day. The concept is the same; it’s just more comprehensive. As of now, the series includes over two hundred young adult and middle grade authors and expands on the existing series by including Indigenous/Native and disabled authors. Each author slide is also now accompanied by an additional slide including the description of one of their books.
Writer a Day is designed to be used as a daily classroom resource to help introduce students to new authors and their books. It can be a great opening or closing activity in which the teacher discusses a new author each day and talks about their books to pique student interest. Students could keep a running list of titles they’re interested in to refer to when selecting books for independent reading. If daily book talks aren’t feasible, it could be used as a database of diverse young adult and middle grade’s literature for student reference. For those working toward a more student-led classroom, students could be asked to select an author to present, or they could research an author not already included and create their own slide. The simplicity of the resource lends itself to being used however is most useful in your context.
At a time when stories are being quietly pulled from shelves in schools around the country, people trying to ban books when they cannot ban identities, I know the fear of pushback is real. When I began Black Writer a Day, I was student-teaching in a predominantly white school in rural Georgia. I didn’t receive an ounce of pushback.
It wasn’t until my fourth year using the series as a teacher in the suburbs of Atlanta that my co-teacher raised an objection. I explained my rationale for the series and pointed to its benefits. First and foremost, it gets students reading, and there are few parents and teachers out there who are not actively trying to get kids reading more. Students often wander around the library aimlessly or grab the first book they see, but with a little book knowledge, their trips grow more focused. They know what to look for. This series also teaches students that authors are real people, people who may be just like them, with similar backgrounds and interests. That simple fact holds immense power. It teaches students that being a writer isn’t a daydream but an attainable goal.
As always, though, it is the students themselves who can best speak to the benefits and speak back to the opposition. A firm believer in collecting student feedback, at the end of February that first year, I asked for their thoughts. Below is what they had to say.
“I like [Black Writer a Day] because it lets us ease into the day and I see books I might be interested in reading.”
“Yes, because I can learn about new writers. I got The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and I love it.”
“I do like it because you get to learn so much more about who writes their books and about their life.”
When I started these series over five years ago, it was important to me that no matter the demographics where I taught, there would be a diversity of voices represented in my classroom. But diversity of voices doesn’t mean there aren’t narratives any student could find themselves in. Within the books featured in Writer a Day are stories of joy and friendship, first love and heartbreak. Of adventure, overcoming obstacles, and the age-old experience of having to save the world before turning eighteen. They are stories of growing up and growing into oneself. They are the stories our students need.
Molly Tansey is an educator, writer, and lifelong bookworm. She has an MAT in Secondary English Education from the University of Georgia and an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia. Born and raised in the DC area, she moved to the Carolina coast as a tween, and now calls Atlanta, GA, home. In her spare time, you can find her reading (probably YA), cooking or baking, doodling in Procreate, or *attempting* to roller skate. You can view more of Molly’s work on her website and connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.