The poignant installation “Picture the Dream: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Picture Books at the New York Historical Society explores the events, people, and themes of the civil rights movement through the children’s picture book.
Picture books are compelling forms of visual expression not just for young children. This exhibition showcases 80 artworks from picture book artists who interweave art and storytelling, history and now. Looking at the excerpts from many pictures books around the themes of the civil rights movement provides depth, diverse voices, and powerful meanings. The stories presented inspire young people and viewers to speak up and speak out as agents of transformation and social change. The exhibit tells important stories about the movement’s icons, including Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Congressman John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scenes are presented of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Ruby Bridges integrating her New Orleans elementary school, and the Black students who catalyzed the sit-in movement at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Some of the many highlighted illustrators and authors include Faith Ringgold, Brian Pinkney, Nadir Nelson, Jacqueline Woodson, and many more.
Picture the Dream is an open invitation to start important discussions with children, friends, and family about race, equity and social justice. Take a look at a list of all the books in the show and here is the family discussion guide created by High Museum of Art in Georgia. You can also find lesson plans and a powerpoint of 19 key images from the exhibit in this teacher resource kit.
Here are some ways I use picture books with my middle school students to present key themes and scaffold complex ideas.
Read Alouds – Don’t just leave read aloud to elementary school teachers, in secondary education reading aloud picture books help to create a classroom community and build multimodal comprehension skills. Images and words work side by side to communicate a message. Read aloud can be used to hook students into a lesson or even useful as a teaching point during a mini-lesson.
Gallery Walks – Images are powerful storytelling tools. Just like in a museum exhibit, hanging up the images from the picture books can allow students to read closely, infer the dialogue, and convey meaning from the visual text.
Small Group Work – I often during station work leave a collection of picture books at one station for students to read, evaluate, and analyze to pull out key details and draw connections. Scaffolding guiding questions help students look closer at the images and text and the story presented. I might ask students what do they see, what does it say, what do I think, and continue with sentence frames or specific questions to climb the ladder of critical thinking.
Jigsaws – Each student reads a different picture book along the same theme or topic and then shared the powerful elements of the story with the small group. Students put their heads together to make connections and draw conclusions about the bigger questions presented in the texts.
More than two decades I was introduced to Faith Ringgold’s gorgeous quilts. They became catalysts for a memoir unit with my middle school students in New York City. We visited an exhibit of Ringgold’s quilts to look up close at the beautiful illustrations, vivid stories, and craftsmanship of her quilts. Not only is Ms. Ringgold an artist, she is an author and illustrator as well. I read to students her famed Tar Beach, a beautiful story quilt turned picture book, introduces readers to Cassie Louise Lightfoot. She has a dream, to go wherever she wants for the rest of her life. One night the rooftop (tar beach) of her family’s Harlem apartment building, her dreams come true when the stars lift her up, and she flies over the city, claiming the buildings and the city as her own. The pictures themselves are bright and colorful illustrating Cassie as she floats among the stars and night sky. Students wrote their own memoirs with magical realism elements like Ringgolds.
Faith Ringgold’s art is now on display at the New Museum in New York City. The museum states, “Bringing together over fifty years of work, “Faith Ringgold: American People” provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of the artist’s impactful vision. For sixty years, Ringgold has drawn from both personal autobiography and collective histories to both document her life as an artist and mother and to amplify the struggles for social justice and equity. From creating some of the most indelible artworks of the civil rights era to challenging accepted hierarchies of art versus craft through her experimental story quilts, Faith Ringgold has produced a body of work that bears witness to the complexity of the American experience.” Within the beauty of her art she brings attention to issues of race, gender, and economic inequalities. She provides an element of art history and art criticism to her work, especially her quilts, and borrows from other cultures to present her art work in new ways likeTibetan Tankas. Her work is semi-autobiographical which lends it self as a model of agency and voice in art and writing.
As a explored the exhibit and mused over Ringgold’s lifetime of work, I thought there were multiple entry points to use her artistry in the classroom.
The Sunflowers Quilting Bee at Arles: The French Collection Part I, #4, (1991). In The Sunflowers Quilting Bee at Arles, Ringgold portrays a group of famous and influential Black women from across history seated at a quilting table: Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Madam C.J. Walker, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Ella Baker. These women advocated for African American rights, freedoms, and opportunities, reshaping the course of American history. The group stitches fabric covered with sunflowers, while the mid-nineteenth-century Dutch artist, Vincent van Gogh, stands in the background holding a bouquet. Some of Van Gough’s most famous works are his paintings of sunflowers in Arles, which are referenced in the title and imagery of this work.
Ringgold said of The French Collection series:
“….I wanted to show there were Black people when Picasso, Monet, and Matisse were making art. I wanted to show that African art and Black people had a place in that history.
…For me it also had a lot to do with my mother, as you know. She was a seamstress, and she taught me how to back the quilts up and how to put the seams in and hold them together. Although she was a dressmaker, she still knew all the steps to make quilts, because she had grown up at a time when African Americans still made quilts to go on beds. Women would sit around and make quilts and talk and tell stories as they did. So yes, storytelling and quilts have been related for centuries…”
— Faith Ringgold, interview in the exhibition catalog, Faith Ringgold: American People
When students examine the quilt, ask them “What is the relationship between the man holding sunflowers and the women at the quilting table, and what are they doing? Who is in the background? Who is in the foreground or front of the painting? Who do you think the artist wants us to notice first?”
Think how Ringgold’s mixed-media story quilt inspire us to make a narrative artwork honoring people we know from our own lives and families, or important people from history or today?
Students can create a mixed-media story quilt collage using materials available (or digitally) to celebrate people we know and love in our daily lives, or people we admire from afar.
Blending Art, World Cultures, & Personal Heroes
Besides Ringgold’s story quilts, she created “tanka paintings” — tanka is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity. In the 1970s, Ringgold began making paintings on fabric inspired by Tibetan tankas that could be easily rolled, transported, and stored. Although they represented a departure for Ringgold, an important thread from previous series remained: the use of hand-painted text. The Feminist Series includes quotations from nineteenth-century feminist icons such as Maria Stewart and Clarissa Lawrence that hold special resonance for Ringgold.
Students can learn about and research Tanka paintings. Similar to Ringgold, students choose an icon they wish to represent on a Tanka they will create.
History of Quilting
Faith Ringgold took the traditional craft of quilt making (which has its roots in the slave culture of the south – pre-civil war era) and re-interpreted its function to tell stories of her life and those of others in the black community. African American quilts are significant artistic pieces of both the past and present history for black Americans. They tell stories of slavery and segregation, giving viewers valuable history lessons while also representing beacons of hope. They are symbols of culture, community, and freedom. For more information about the stories behind African American quilts check out arthelp.com. Students can research and report on the incredible history of quilting and see how it impacts present day fabric artists like Bias Butler.
One of Faith Ringgold’s most famous story quilts is Tar Beach, which depicts a family gathered on their rooftop on a hot summer night. Check out the video about Faith Ringgold talking about creating her quilts.
Memoir & Storytelling
Faith Ringgold’s artworks–startling “story quilts,” politically charged paintings, and more–hang in the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and other major museums around the world, as well as in the private collections. Through her quilts she retellings her family memories. Have students write their own memoirs and then illustrate them.
We must allow for space and time in our classrooms and around the dinner table for conversations about dismantling racism, hatred, anti-semitism, violence, and xenophobia.
Social justice and standing up for what is right is a year long theme throughout my 8th grade English Language Arts curriculum. In my own classroom, crafting hyperdocs has allowed opportunities for deep conversations to address student questions about racism, anti semitism, xenophobia, and hatred. Throughout the school year my students read choice novels based on topics of social justice, dystopia, identity, WW2 and the Holocaust that coincide with our year long investigation what it means to stand up for what is right.
Hyperdocsare digital documents—such as a Google Doc—where all components of a learning cycle have been pulled together into one central hub. Within the document, students are provided with hyperlinks to all aspects of the inquiry unit—videos, slideshows, images, and activities—for the student to complete and gain understanding. Students have multi-modal opportunities for learning; there is less lecturing at the front of the class.
Hyperdocs, which allow students to work at their own pace. offer a road map for student learning. Depending on the Hyperdoc the teacher makes, differentiated activities and technology-rich assignments can help students learn and show their understanding as they complete engaging activities. Teachers might have students complete only a certain number of activities on the Hyperdoc or require students to complete them all.
In New York State, the Holocaust and World War II are part of the eighth grade social studies curriculum. English and social studies lend themselves well for collaborating when addressing topics with enduring issues like human rights, injustice, and inequality.
Essential Question: What lessons from Japanese Internment, the Holocaust, and WW2 can we learn in order to stop the hate and violence that is dominating our current cultural climate?
There are many wonderful historical novels, poetry, and nonfiction texts written about these issues that teachers might already be using in their curriculum. In social studies classes primary documents, photographs, films, and documentaries are used to teach history today. Students can read and explore diverse types of texts for a deeper understanding of the history and impact of World War II and the Holocaust on the world. Book choices include titles include but are not limited to: Farewell to Manzanar, The Diary of Anne Frank, Refugee, The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, Irena’s Children, and Librarian of Auschwitz. Utilizing diverse texts in conjunction with hyperdocs promotes critical thinking, understanding, and empathy. If we want our students to become critical citizens who participate in civic and digital life in positive ways, learning must be driven by inquiry rather than rote memorization of facts. Allowing students to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate historical text that are primary and secondary sources in multi-genres formats allows students to see the depth of history through personal accounts.
In order to build an accurate image in students minds Anne Frank and her family’s secret annex students took a virtual tour of the annex in Amsterdam and then shared their thoughts and reactions on a Flipgrid. Each week, the hyperdoc included at least one virtual trips to a Holocaust museum or memorial like Yad Vashem in Israel and the United States Holocaut Museum in Washington, DC. With each digital field trip there are opportunities to reflect and draw connections. Students read letters from people sent away to Concentration Camps and listened to survivor’s stories. These virtual experiences built empathy and understanding that history is living and breathing. Throughout their exploration, reading, and reflection. Students act as researchers and writers using higher order thinking and comprehension skills, while at the same time meeting 21st century skills as digital citizens and creators. Students utilize technology for research, reading, and writing to present their understanding and learning of WWII and the Holocaust.
Due to the current violence against Asian and Island Pacific People with COVID, I am using Japanese Internment and the racial profiling during WWII as the starting point the unit. I want students to recognize racial profiling relies on harmful stereotypes that are rooted in racism and discrimination.
During World War II, Japanese Americans were profiled based on their ethnicity. The U.S. government suspected that they might be disloyal to America and working for the Japanese government, even though there was no real evidence of espionage or sabotage. As a result of these suspicions, Japanese Americans were rounded up and forced into incarceration camps for years.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice and The New York Times Learning Network have a collection of lessons and resources for educators to use with students. One key point with both these resources is that “informed and engaged citizens of a democratic society should know that a time of crisis requires solidarity, humanity, and hope, not hysteria or hatred.”
The hyperdoc I have created for this unit is still a work in progress but you can view the entire hyperdoc and digital notebook HERE
Writing and discussion help to deepen students’ understanding of what they read, see, and hear. There’s a synergy between two vital practices: writing about text helps students understand what they read as knowledge constructors and discussion helps them develop their ideas to be creative communicators. By middle and high school the conversations and group work should go beyond the “turn and talk” or “think pair share” to provide opportunities for students to present information in small groups and large audiences, in socratic seminars, and through student-led discussions. Screen-casts, podcasts, and video projects are all great venues that allow students to utilize speaking and listening skills. Students can utilize technology to podcast or video their presentations to practice speaking and build their communication skills.
The learning experiences we provide should show students the world, not just tell them about it. Our curriculum needs interactive learning experiences with playlists and Hyperdocs that include reading, writing, reflections, role plays, simulations, debates, formal speeches, and demonstrations. Our job is to excite students about the world, to help them see the role that they can play in making society a better place, and to express their ideas powerfully. We must show our students that our content area is about real world problems, issues, and possible solutions.