Diversify your bookshelf

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

By Duncan Tonatiuh

Published in 2014 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

For Grades 2-5

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In 1947, seven years before Brown vs. The Board of Education, there was Mendez vs. Westminister, an early desegregation case whose ruling stated that all children in California were allowed to go to school together regardless of race, ethnicity, or language. Using illustrations influenced by ancient Aztec art, Tonatiuh tells the story of Sylvia Mendez and her family’s struggle against racist policy. Mendez being of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent in the 1940’s, only had the option of attending an inferior school designated solely for Hispanic children. Her parents did not accept this and made it their mission to change the injustice their children faced. Mendez went on to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 for her work in educating others about her family’s work towards ending school segregation.

Pair this with a short listen to an NPR story also focusing on Sylvia Mendez.

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Knock Knock

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Recipient of the 2014 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me delivers both a visual and emotional punch. It begins with a simple game played between an adoring son and his father, but just a few pages in the boy experiences a great loss. His father disappears, but not in the magical way that parents frequently go absent in children’s literature thus allowing children the narrative freedom to go on great adventures. The father of the boy in this story is simply gone.

“Papa, come home, ’cause I miss you, miss you waking me in the mornings and telling me you love me. Papa, come come ’cause there are things I don’t know, and when I get older I thought you could teach me.”

The story is a sad one, but not uncommon. Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream For Me is based on the author, who at three years old experienced his father being incarcerated. As an adult, Beaty an award-winning actor, singer, writer, and composer produced this version to “…tell the story of loss from a child’s perspective and also to offer hope that every fatherless child can still create the most beautiful life possible”.

Definitely check out the author performing the monologue that inspired the picture book.