Happy Kwanzaa! To celebrate the kick-off of the holiday, I thought I'd review a new picturebook...
Tokunbo, D. (2009). The Sound of Kwanzaa. New York: Scholastic Press.
Appetizer: The Sound of Kwanzaa uses repetition and poetry to share the lighting of each Kwanzaa candle and the meaning of the seven guiding principles.
I like that this picture book does not assume that the reader will already have knowledge of Kwanzaa, but at the same time, the writing doesn't feel "teachy" so the book could still appeal to people who take the significance of the holiday for granted.
I liked the paintings done by Lisa Cohen. All of them show the African American characters in a positive light and as a united family. The paintings are very colorful. I especially liked the page that explained Nia, or purpose in Swahili. It features a black girl receiving her diploma. I like the implication of connecting purpose with education.
I also liked the author's note, in which Dimitrea Tokunbo shares some of her childhood memories. After reading the author's not aloud, a teacher could have students write about their first memories of Kwanzaa (or another holiday or landmark experience--like losing a first tooth).
On that note, if a teacher is in a class where there are only a few African American students, I think it's important for that teacher to not put those students on the spot to explain to everyone the significance of Kwanzaa. Rather, I believe a teacher should be the one on the spot, ready to provide explanations and to provide a space where students will feel comfortable to VOLUNTEER information about their personal experiences. That's my opinion for any and all topics. Does that make sense? What are your thoughts, internetz?
"Come close, gather 'round.
Listen to the sound of Kwanzaa.
Loving words and greeting family,
we stand together for UMOJA.
UMOJA means "unity."
"Working hands and ancient stories,
we learn our traditions for KUJICHANGULIA.
KUJICHAGULIA means "self-determination."
"Sharing dreams and setting goals,
we plan our future for Nia."
To Go with the Meal:
After sharing this book a teacher could discuss how all students can try to embody the seven guiding principles (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith) in their daily life. Students can brainstorm their own goals and think of ways they can help their community.
Depending on the class and how comfortable students feel, a teacher could also trigger a discussion on why Dr. Maulana Karenga would start having this celebration in 1966. The reason I think a teacher may need to be cautious with this discussion is because I could see an honest conversation easily descending into a battle of who has been treated worst historically. There's also the potential that the conversation could result in some students thinking that African Americans somehow need to follow the principles more than other groups (but at the same time, as I teacher, I personally would not want to detract from the fact that this is a holiday to celebrate blackness).
There are A LOT of things to balance there. But it is possible. And I think it's better to try and learn than to avoid a complicated discussion.
At the end of the book, an Tokunbo also includes a recipe for "no-cook Kwanzaa brownie bites" that a teacher could have small groups of students take turn preparing for a feast or school party.
When actually sharing The Sound of Kwanzaa students could help sing the narration as a song, using, "Come close, gather 'round. Listen to the sound of Kwanzaa" as a chorus. Students could also add in instruments...why, this could be a part of a school pageant.
Tasty Rating: !!!