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Crown Reigns!

Updated: Jun 19, 2021

One of the things I miss most about being an educator is the monthly focus on Read-Aloud literature. A Read-Aloud is just as it sounds. Educators select books to read out loud to their students. While you might believe that this practice only has a place in elementary schools, the truth is that a well-read book captivates students from pre-school to high school. Educators read to students for many reasons. Some use the technique to help students navigate sophisticated text, thus bolstering students' comprehension. Sometimes educators use the text to model how punctuation marks change voice inflection and guide the reader to fluency and meaning. Perhaps my favorite reason is to promote a love of literature by drawing connections to our lives. I miss the pre-pandemic trips to the bookstore, where I'd scout out the latest picture book to share with my school community. When I first began my project, I sought out books that could help transform our school's culture. If there was an influx in bullying, I featured The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill and Laura Huliska-Beith, where the character Mean Jean terrorized kids at playtime. When I wanted to encourage change by altering the perspective on school culture possibilities, I introduced the book Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth.

Once the culture improved, I selected books based on seasons, upcoming events, or simply their uniqueness. The book, A Sweet Smell of Roses, by Angela Johnson and illustrated by Eric Vasquez, tells the story of children eager to join the civil rights march in the '60s. This book, along with Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier, and Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges, and Remember by Toni Morrison, I shared to celebrate Black History. I introduced Testing Ms. Malarkey by Judy Finchler and Kevin O'Malley when high-stakes testing time kicked in, and Faith Ringgold's Tar Beach to lead us into summer. In each instance, I chose books that spoke to me. Since I am a visual person, the first thing that attracted me was usually the illustrations.

Crown is the collaborative work of author Derrick Barnes and the illustrator Gordon C. James. They introduce us to an African American young man who is enthusiastic prose tells of the impact and importance of a visit to the barbershop. Rarely have I found a book that speaks to the hopes, dreams, and experiences of young boys of color like this book. The vivid images created by Barnes' lyrical prose are equaled only by the illustrations James designed to leap off the page. Crown gives a respectful nod to the cultural significance of the barbershop, acknowledging it as a hub cultivating wisdom, culture, and manhood in the boys who come there by the men who already completed that rite of passage sometime before. There is no minimizing the import of having this engaging experience shared in a way that only a man of color could.

Barnes and James have fashioned a visual and tactile celebration of manhood that every boy of color should read. If you aren't a man or boy of color and don't have one in your life, it is still a spectacular read. I challenge you to refrain from leaping across the pages as you read dreams and aspirations, each uplifting and grand. Crown is a masterpiece of self-love. Have a read and share your thoughts. I'm eager to see what you think.

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