Multicultural literature is defined in a variety of ways, some defining it broadly about various cultures, and others defining it as literature that showcases disregarded and marginalized cultures, as stated by Lynch (2011). Either way, multicultural literature is an essential part of literature as a whole, and it provides reading material that students of all cultures can relate to and learn from. As a reading specialist and educator, it is important to have an awareness of various types of quality multicultural literature that is available to use and recommend to readers. I chose to select books that highlighted specific ethnic cultures, Hispanic and Native American. I chose books on cultures that I am not extremely familiar with so that as a future reading specialist I am able to broaden my repertoire of literature.
The two books that I have chosen to evaluate the multicultural nature of, are books that I have access to at my school, as well as the students have access to. One of the books is in my personal collection. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, is a book that I purchased, and the students are allowed to check it out of my personal library. Crossing The Wire, is a book that the school owns multiple copies of. It was once a school wide novel of choice, but it is not something that we currently read, nor have I previously read it myself. I was excited to take the opportunity to read a new book and understand why it was previously so well admonished by the school staff and students alike.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, is a novel for young adults that would be considered realistic fiction. This novel would best suit students of the middle school age, but due to language and content, early high school age. This book is written and narrated from a young teen boy’s perspective about living as a Native American on a Native American Reserve. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was a popular and critical success. It was a New York Times Bestseller and the winner of the 2007 National Book Award. The narrator and main character is a boy named Spirit Arnold. It has been placed on some book ban lists due to its sometimes graphic nature, and word choice. This of course, only adds to its appeal for many young readers.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, is the story of an American Indian, Arnold. Arnold grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, where he discussed the difficulties of growing up on an Indian reservation and struggling monetarily. Arnold, or his Indian name Junior Spirit, was also born with too much cerebral fluid. He has a larger than normal head, and he has dealt with being picked on and made fun of for his apparent disability. On top of being poor, his parents are also drunks. His best friend, Rowdy, also deals with poverty and many family troubles. Rowdy spends a lot of time at Arnold’s home, and he considers him more like a brother and family member, than a friend. The Indian culture is small and tight knit, and Arnold talks about how everybody knows everybody, and everyone’s business is the reservation’s business. Arnold takes out his frustrations and finds an outlet in drawing cartoons, which appear as illustrations throughout the book. It is almost as if it is a doodling diary. Through a few occurrences of fights and drama, Arnold is encouraged to never give up, and that he has talents that should be pursued. A teacher, Mr. P, tells him that he should leave the Indian reservation. He takes this advice and then transferred to the affluent white high school in the town of Reardan nearly 22 miles away. This was looked down upon in the reservation community. During the last half of the book, Arnold undergoes a series of losses: first his grandmother is hit by a drunk driver, then his dad’s best friend Eugene is shot in the face which are all alcohol-related accidents. Along with the terrible tragedy of the death of his sister Mary, who dies in a trailer fire. The only way Arnold can cope with all of the pain is by learning to embrace his joy, drawing and making lists. In the end, Rowdy accepts the fact that Arnold is a nomad and no longer just a “reservation kid.” Arnold found a way to belong to more than one tribe, and through perseverance and resilience, he is able to make a better future for himself.
My evaluation of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, from a future reading specialist perspective is, that it is a great read for young teens, and particularly young males. They can relate to the woes of pubescent times for males, and the struggles that accompany it. It also appeals to young teens due to the swear words and graphic nature that can sometimes be displayed. The occasional drawings and pictures help to keep the reader entertained and visually stimulated. For some readers, this is a key aspect and a motivational piece of reading. This book could be considered a multicultural book because it discusses a very real culture of American Native American Indians who are living on Indian Reservations. As stated by Bucher (2016), a multicultural view on literature is necessary for helping students foster self-worth, motivation, and respect for other cultures. American Indians are a minority culture, and they are more dominate in the lower states of the United States of America. It is a culture that prides themselves on tradition and belief, and although the reservations are often poor, or lacking strong education, the people remain true to their areas. A small percentage of students are culturally American Indian; however, the culture is a rich part of American history. The culture should be something that students are more affluent in and respectful of. Bucher (2016), also says that a quality multicultural book can break down prejudices and stereotypes. In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, poverty and lack of education is a highlighted conflict, and also a stereotype of American Indian reservations. The character, Junior, breaks the mold and perseveres in a school in a better educated part of Washington. Junior does not fall into the category like the rest of his Indian reservation friends and family.
The novel is very accurate, mostly due to the fact that it is modeled after the life of the author, Sherman Alexie. Alexie was born on an Indian reservation and although he began this novel as a realistic fiction piece, it started to model his actual life experiences. He claims that it is almost autobiographical. The authenticity of the writing captivates young readers, but it also ensures for historically and culturally accurate portrayals of Indian reservations, as well as life as a young American Indian. In researching the authenticity of this novel, I found that the Spokane tribe of Indians are real, and they are indeed from Wellpinit, Washington. The culture in the novel is described in alignment with what the Spokane Indian Tribe website had to say about their close knit, prideful, continuing culture. Since this book is so closely aligned with a true Native American, by standards of Lynch (2011), and the multicultural evaluation criteria is met. As stated in Lynch (2011), power relationships are a part of the evaluation criteria. The relationships that dangerously unfold between Arnold and his family are real and powerful and show the culture of the reservation. As well as the powerful relationship between Rowdy, the friend, and Arnold. The real and loving friendship creates an authentic reading experience. Also in Lynch (2011), integrating culturally authentic language is a factor of evaluating multicultural literature. In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, Arnold uses natural American Indian religious words, and names. For example, his Indian name is Junior Spirit.
Crossing The Wire, is a book by Will Hobbs. The book is realistic fiction, and is best suited for middle school grades, or possibly a freshman in high school. The book has won many awards including; Junior Library Guild Selection, Southwest Book Award, Notable Books for a Global Society (IRA) 2007, New York Public Library Books for the Teenage, Americas Award, Commended Title, and the Heartland Award. I chose this book as a multicultural literature selection for the Hispanic and immigration content. The plot reveals a lot about a small town Mexican culture, where poverty is a very real circumstance. There are many Spanish words that could open up discussion and opportunity for learning some new words in a different language. The book also discusses the topic of immigration and how in the Mexican culture, it can be a very real situation for many who are in need of money and providing for their families.
Crossing The Wire, is about Mexican illegal immigration to the United States of America from a young teen boy’s perspective. The main character’s name is Victor Flores and he is only 15 years old when he is faced with the option and opportunity to illegally cross the United States border for a chance at a better life. Victor’s family is poor and his father has passed away. The family has a corn business in a small Mexican village, but with corn prices going so low, the business is suffering. This is now leaving him the oldest male, and the provider for his struggling family. He is faced with the decision of going to “El Norte,” or the North, meaning America, when his friend Rico has been sent money by his brother who is in America. The money was sent with the intent that Rico pays a “coyote,” or a person who smuggles people across the border. Victor decides to go with his friend to America, and he receives money from a family friend, his priest. This money only got him a bus ticket, so when he decides to jump trains, then get jobs to pay the rest of their way, and finally in the end take another bus. Along that route they are faced with many dangers, and meet many people. Through this all Victor gets caught by the border patrol, and he is escorted and surprisingly set free into the United States. He is then able to reunite with his friend, Rico. With Rico’s brother nowhere to be found, they head to Washington where they become asparagus farmers. Victor is able to make some money and sent it back to his family in need, whereas Rico misses home too much and heads back to Mexico. This story chronicles the realistic life events of what one young teen might endure all while trying to cross the American border illegally. This novel touches on some real human events, such as a need to move to America to support a family, and persevering in the face of hardships. Students are able to read this and have a personal understanding through Victor, about illegal immigration.
My evaluation as a future reading specialist is, Crossing The Wire, is that it is great for middle school students sixth through eighth grade. It would appeal to all students, both male and female who are interested in a highly action packed realistic fiction novel. This book would be exceptionally beneficial to use in conjunction with a social studies lesson on immigration, or for a Mexican American student who has personal family background in immigration. The character development is rich in this book, and we are able to feel the conflicting emotions of Victor about illegally immigrating for a better life, while leaving his family. It would be a highly motivating read for a struggling reader who is curious to learn about immigration, or is into suspenseful reading. Bucher (2016) says that quality multicultural literature has facts that naturally unfold in dialogue, action, and detail throughout the novel. This is the case for this book. In Crossing The Wire, the characters naturally use Spanish dialogue, discuss details of immigration with a coyote in natural dialogue, and show what it would be like to immigrate through action in the plot. Also in Lynch (2011), a criterion for multicultural literature evaluation is integration of culturally authentic language.
Both of these books qualify as quality multicultural literature as stated by both Lynch (2011) and Bucher (2016) evaluation criteria and selection for multicultural literature. As a future reading specialist I need to be well versed in a variety of literature both genres and culturally. I need to have respect and a repertoire of culturally rich reading material to present options to my diverse students. Motivation in reading is key, so having knowledge of many types of books will benefit me as a future reading specialist teacher.