In this year of pandemic schooling, it can feel like there is bad news all around us. Covid-19, political turmoil, social unrest – I have sometimes struggled to conduct class discussions that acknowledge all that we are going through but at the same time don’t lead us to despair. I feel the need to have an answer to the question, “What can we do about this?” that I see in my students eyes.
No Voice too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History crossed my desk at the perfect time. Edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson and Jeanette Bradley, this picture book is a collection of poems that honor fourteen different kids and how they are making a difference in their world. Each child is highlighted in a beautiful illustration by Bradley, with a small synopsis of their work, and a poem about the young changemaker by a renown poet.
The first poem I shared with my second graders was about Samirah Horton, DJ Annie Red, a young activist from Brooklyn, New York who was teased for her low, raspy voice. She turned her frustration into art – writing a rap song called “No You Won’t Bully Me” to fight bullying. What’s so powerful about this book is that we were able to watch the YouTube music video of her song and hear an interview of her speaking. All of a sudden, this illustration from the poem became a real kid – and my second graders were brimming with questions about her!
The next week, we learned about Judy Adams, a young teen with down syndrome who raises money to grant wishes of other children with down’s. Learning about Judy, hearing her talk, and watching a great Make Your Mark video by Disney Jr. about her led to important conversations with my class about down syndrome and other kids they know with disabilities. Once again, the power of seeing the young activist and then reading a poem written about her impressed my students.
While my second graders are captivated by DJ Anne Red and Judy Adams, there are young people featured who would appeal to upper elementary and middle school students as well. And the No Voice Too Small YouTube channel provides videos on many of them.
Mr. Rogers is famously quoted as saying that when you are in scary times, you can “look for the helpers.” Sharing these young people who are changing their world with my students is an antidote to the serious conversations we are having in my classroom today. I plan to continue introducing a new changemaker each week. Now when we face the question, “What can we do about this?” we have role models to help inspire us.