Reading is an essential skill to achieve academic success. Therefore, it is important to foster a love for reading in all children. In order to do so, it is important to include culturally relevant and meaningful books that reflect student’s backgrounds into the classroom and home.
Readers are able to understand the meaning of a book that contains elements that are familiar to their background knowledge. Being able to connect with the book makes it easier for students to make predictions and inferences about the story. Students are able to envision the situations in the books much easier.
Culturally relevant books help students understand books more fully. Therefore, students become more engaged in reading and learning the story. When students are engaged in reading they become more motivated to read.
Culturally relevant texts help students understand who they are. They help them negotiate their identities, and affirm or deny who they are or those identities. English Language Learner (ELL) students go into school as monolingual speakers, and usually loose their language and essential cultural elements over time. Culturally relevant books help them retain their culture and language.
Culturally relevant books connect to the lives of students, not just their cultural heritage. In 2000, Freeman developed a rubric that teachers, parents, and students can utilize to determine the relevance of a particular book. The rubric contains the following questions:
1) Are the characters in the story like you and your family?
2) Have you ever had an experience like one described in this story?
3) Have you lived in or visited places like those in the story?
4) Could this story take place this year?
5) How close do you think the main characters are to you in age?
6) Are there main characters in the story who are: boys (for boys) or girls (for girls)?
7) Do the characters talk like you and your family do?
8) How often do you read stories like these?
The Latino Literacy Project offers webinars and other resources for teachers, parents, and caregivers to gain insight on how encourage and foster literacy skills ELL students of all ages. Additionally, there are a few publishers that offer culturally relevant books, as well as bilingual books. One of those publishers is Lectura Books. This publisher offers bilingual books that are also culturally relevant. Some titles to check out by this publisher include: Just Like My Sister, Maria de Flor: A Day of the Dead Story, and Carlito’s Story. Other culturally relevant books include: Bless Me Ultima, House on Mango Street, and And the Shadows Took Him.