September 19, 2021 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

Book nook: SJO English department starts project seeking diverse array of texts

The English department at St. Joseph-Ogden High School wants to allow students the opportunity to hear from voices that are different than their own.


To accomplish that, three teachers have started a crowd-sourcing project asking community members to purchase copies of texts that are not usually taught in the current curriculum.

“Incorporating more minority literature in our curricula is something we have been trying to do for years in the English department,” said Alisyn Franzen, the English department chair. “It takes time to acquire or build the materials and resources to do that, so Heather Lindenmeyer, Ashton Harwood and I came up with a plan to accomplish this sooner rather than later.”

Franzen said she wanted the community to know that the project had been discussed for a while.

“It’s interesting and coincidental timing considering everything that is going on in our world today, but it’s not meant to be a reaction or a one-time thing,” she said. “This will be an ongoing effort.”

Franzen said the current curriculum focuses on “classics” and because of that, there is very little diversity within the text that are taught. The department makes an effort to include supplemental material that supports diverse voices, but they want to do more.

Franzen said the teachers researched fiction and nonfiction minority literature titles that were highly recommended, either as top sellers or up-and-coming titles. The three teachers spent hours discussing their purposes and goals for the larger initiative and kept that in mind when choosing titles that they believe were of different voices and backgrounds, going beyond race and ethnicity.

Franzen said that when students can relate to classroom material, they are more likely to engage in learning and achieve educational success.
“There were so many titles we wanted to choose, but we had to narrow them down, at least to start,” Franzen said. “We would love to add more titles in the future.”


Franzen said the teachers believe diversity is important in all areas of education, not just English.

“The world we live and work in is an increasingly global society,” she said. “Technology has made it possible for us to connect to and work with people across the world with a click of a button. To give our students their best chances for success as adults, we want to give them opportunities to explore worlds besides their own since they will likely interact with people from all backgrounds after they have left SJO.”

The novels will be taught in small literature circles and reader workshop formats. Students will choose a book and then the texts will be used in a small group setting so not every student will read every book, but they will discuss greater themes that are in all the texts as a whole class.

Franzen said the teachers hope the students will take away a better understanding and appreciation for people who are different than them.

“We believe that if students are going to be successful citizens in a global society, they will need to at least have an understanding and appreciation for others,” Franzen said, “even if they do not agree with everything everyone else does.”

Franzen said the teachers decided to ask the community to fund the project because they know that budgets within school districts are always tight and will only get worse because of the pandemic. But they also thought it was a project the community would support.

“More than that, I think this particular initiative is something people would be very interested in and passionate about for a variety of reasons,” she said. “I think it’s worth knowing what we are trying to do in the English department, and crowd-sourcing something that people feel very passionate about seemed like a good option. It’s definitely gotten a lot of attention very quickly.”

In four hours, the department had more than 40 books donated as well as numerous e-gift cards.

“Our community is amazingly supportive,” Franzen said, “and we are incredibly grateful for their continuous support of our students and our schools.”


To donate visit https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/4S6O8MLW6S0P

Books include:
“Laughing at My nightmare” by Shane Burcaw, which describes the challenges he faces as a 21-year-old with spinal muscular atrophy.

“The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” by Wes Moore, which follows the stories of two kids both named Wes Moore. The book sets out to answer how one child ended up a convicted murder serving a life sentence and one ended up a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow and business leader.

“I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban” by Malala Yousafzai. When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out, refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

“Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Stamped shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas — and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.

“The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives” by Dashka Slater
This book tells the story of two teenagers who travel on the 57 bus. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky. The novel follows wallflower Charlie as he charts his course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood.

“Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng tells the story of a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.

“All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds tells the story of two teens, one black and one white, that grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act.

“Dear Martin” by Nic Stone tells the story of Justyce McAllister, an honor student, at a predominantly white school who starts writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after he has a dangerous encounter with racist police officers,

“Clap When You Land” by Elizabeth Acevedo tells the story of Camino Rios, who lives in the Dominican Republic and Yahaira Rios, who lives in New York City. The girls’ father dies in a plane crash and they learn of each other.

“Holding Up the Universe” by Jennifer Niven tells the story of Libby Stout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen” but no one has taken the time to look past her weight to know who she really is.

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