The Influence of Race, Culture and Gender of Storybook Characters on Students’ Picture Book Choices and Interest and Eng...


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The Influence of Race, Culture and Gender of Storybook Characters on Students’ Picture Book Choices and Interest and Engagement During Read-Alouds
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Undergraduate Honors Thesis
Rogers, Kathryn
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Book Choice
Book Selection


The purpose of this inquiry is to investigate students’ pertinent connections developed with books that are obtained through critical thinking and determine the importance of these connections during independent student book selection. Focusing on book characters’ race, gender and ethnicity in relation to the readers’ traits will foster understanding of the importance of personally connecting with texts. This project was conducted in a Kindergarten classroom at Newberry Elementary School in Newberry, Florida. Twelve of eighteen students participated in this investigation. Six of the participants were female and six were male. Of the six females, one was African American, three were Hispanic and two were Caucasian. There were two African American males, one Hispanic male and three Caucasian males. Participants were given a choice of three books, each representing Caucasian, Hispanic or African American characters of the students’ similar gender on the cover. Isolated independently, students selected their book and explained why they chose the specific book over the other two choices. Although a majority of students did not select their own race or ethnicity, two students directly identified with their race/ethnicity by selecting the text that represented their lives and stated a connection that correlated with their race/ethnicity.

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Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 1 Running h ead: CHARACTERS' INFLUENCE ON BOOK CHOICE AND ENGAGEMENT The Influence of Race, Culture and Gender of Storybook Characters on Students' Picture Book Choices and Interest and Engagement During Read Alouds Kathryn Rogers University of Florida


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 2 Abstract The purpose of this inquiry is to investigate students' pertinent connections developed with books that are obtained through critical thinking and determine the importance of these connections during independent student book selection. Focusing on book characters' race, gender and ethnicity in relati on to the readers' traits will foster understanding of the importance of personally connecting with text s This project was conducted in a Kindergarten classroom at Newberry Elementary School in Newberry, Florida Twelve of eighteen students participated in this investigation Six of the participants were female and six were male. Of the six females, one was African American three were Hispanic and two were Caucasian There were two African American males, one Hi spanic male and three Caucasian males. Participants were given a choice o f three books, each representing Caucasian Hispanic or African American characters of the students' similar gender on the cover. Isolated independently, students selected their book and explained why they chose the specific book over the other two choices. Although a majority of students did not select their own race or ethnicity, two students directly identified with their race/ethnicity by selecting the text that represented their l ives and stat ed a connection that correlate d with their race/ethnicity.


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 3 The Influence of Race, Culture and Gender of Storybook Characters on Students' Picture Book Choices and Interest and Engagement During Read Alouds Introduction Interactions with multi tudes of picture books prior to and during students' early literature exposure are defining precursor s to students' ultimate reading success. Environments where print is readily available increase students' desires to read (Mohr, 2003). S tudents' experienc es with multicultural children's literature are pertinent to their growth of multiple perspectives and in overcoming classroom differences. Exposure to multicultural literature decreases stereotypical beliefs in young elementary students (Trepanier Street & Romatowski, 1999). Students exposed to multicultural literature developed more positive attitudes towards various cultural groups than students who were not exposed (Wham, Barnhart & Cook, 1996). This multicultural exposure increases students' sense of p ride for their own gender culture and race. In addition, multicultural exposure can increase motivation, and students' ability to self select also increases excitement for reading (Pressley, 2006). A dditional factors such as genre, familiarity, topic and illustrations, also influence the students' decision making process when self selecting. In addition to picture book exposure, multicultural literature and self selection increasing students' reading motivation, various reading situations increase students' desires to read. Although some students' experiences begin outside the classroom, introducing children to a wide range of children's literature, inc luding read alouds expands students' literacy skills, oral language and motivation to r ead (Goldenberg, 2002). "The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children (National Academy of Education, 1985, p. 23). Increasing students' engagement during read alouds i ncreases their abilities to make connections and generate understanding (Sipe 2002).


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 4 Through active participation, increased connections and oral discussion during read alouds, and in addition to multicultural literature, book availability and self select ion, students reading experiences continuously flourish as their overall motivation towards reading increases. Importance of Picture Books in Emergent/Early Literacy Picture Book Availability Although students' early exposure and interaction with childre n's literature proves beneficial, various obstacles often impede their ability to access books. Socioeconomic status sometimes limits the availability of books in students' home s (Bachman, Connor & Morrison, 2006). Stemming from minimal income, students st ruggle to obtain books, lack engagement in parent child reading and often times are significantly behind their peers academically (Neuman, 2006). Over time, students living in poverty persistently fall behind their peers, forming a steadily increasing "know ledge gap." Without books in students' homes, access to literary resources or literary exposure, the knowledge gap will continue to widen. According to Krashen (1993), allowing students exposure to books results in increased reading. Print rich environments with readily available books for students to self select and read enhance young children's motivation and willingness to read (Mohr, 2003). Although some students may lack reading materials at home, educators have grown to understa nd this issue and attempt to integrate reading into the curriculum as much as possible. Books are available before, during and after school. Primary grades with classroom libraries use books' visibility, accessibility and attractiveness to entice students into actively participating in reading and increase their interest (Neuman & Roskos, 2002). By allowing reasonable student privacy within the classroom library conversation between students expands to foster understanding and comprehension. Books are plac ed in both open faced bookshelves and organized bins to balance


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 5 attractiveness and functionality. A comfortable setting and engaging literature activities make classroom libraries effective and exciting. Increased contact with books foster s students' respe ct and when exposed to books during self selection and after school students cared for the books; w hen books were used or taken home, there was minimal loss or damage (Haupt, Larsen Mohlman & Robinson, 1997). Most s chools allow students to check out books from the school library to take home. A study by Krashen and Ramos (1998) reported students' increase in motivation towards reading when books were made available and students were exposed to books borrowed from the public library. More students chose to take books home than students who did not want to take books home. Students reported enjoying their library visit, reading more following their experience and an increased desire to go back again (Haupt, Larsen Mohlman & Robinson, 1997). Multiple exposures with literature, by increasing students' opportunities to interact with books, foster students' motivation to read and in turn enhance their overall experiences and attitudes towards books. Interactive Picture Book Read Alouds Exposure and simple interactions with literature drastically shape students' future reading ability; however, read alouds which can be referred to as interactive read aloud, is the most important activity to foster students' emergent literacy skills, whet her it be parents, teachers, or parents and teachers who are reading (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). During read alouds adults and children establish a reading normality based on their interes ts, personalities and skills. Read alouds can be interac tive, passive, elaborated, one sided or non existent. Different cultures value and interact with books and book reading in various ways, specifically concerning interaction during book read alouds (Bus, 2001). Many African


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 6 American families pass down stor ies through oral language or storytelling and may be unfamiliar with the traditional classroom read aloud experience (Craig & Washington, 2006). In addition to variations in cultural differences limiting read alouds parents' literacy abilities can also li mit children's exposure and engagement with literature. A m ajority of students from Caucasian middle class households have more exposure to reading at home than African American students. African American students typically have more exposure to reading at home than Hispanic students (Vernon Feagans, Hammer, Miccio, & Manlove, 2002). Parents learning English as their second language, with low to pre production English prof iciency, could struggle to read aloud with young children based on the reading difficu lty of the literature Literacy development is fostered by children's linguistic experiences from copious book exposures; however, if caregivers struggle with reading challenging literature exposure may be limited (Bus, 2001). Even i f low reading parents do participate in read aloud experiences with their children, they may not actively make connections between themselves, their listening children and the book s due to their inexperience and uninformed understanding of reading. While read alouds vary based on participant s' characteristics, they can also differ due to the many different approaches of reading aloud Interactive read alouds are based on the Sociocultural Theory of using conversation to create meaning by making personal connections to stu dents' own lives (Goldenberg, 2002). A standard approach to read alouds focus on text selection, teacher preparation and preparedness, establishing clear purpose and modeling fluent reading while using expression. Following the read aloud, text discussion independent reading and independent writing help students create meaning while fostering their development of the reading components (Fisher Flood, Lap & Frey, 2004).


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 7 A varied approach, Text Talk uses pictures, vocabulary and scaffolding to foster st udents' comprehension during read alouds Teachers scaffold students' conversat ions in order to keep students on topic, foster connections and correlate individuals' background knowledge with the text. Teachers scaffold students through a series of questio ns beginning with initial open ended questions to prompt students' ideas. Follow up questions are scaffolding questions to guide students to elaborate on their original idea. Teachers then repeat, rephrase or add additional information to students' questio ns to clarify, expand and reiterate the students' thinking. Once students have an initial understanding, they are encouraged to use pictures to further their ideas. Text Talk also focuses on explicitly teaching vocabulary in addition to fostering conversat ion. Text Talk vocabulary can be used with additional activities for word acquisition, as pertinent information for story comprehension and vocabulary expansion (Beck & McKeown, 2001). Dissimilar to Text Talk Dialogic Reading switches adult and student ro les to make students responsible for their own success; however, Dialogic Reading still includes communication as an effective learning tool (Whitehurst, Epstein, Angell, Payne, Crone & Fishel, 1994) Through repetition, expansion and modeling of listeners answers, the reader facilitates act ive listening and participation by asking questions focused on the story or pictures (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). Traditional read alouds and its varied approaches focus on conversation as a key tool to acti ve participation and understanding. Read aloud involvement increases students' oral language by encouraging students to participate through communication and print knowledge (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). Text Talk during read alouds promote oral l anguage and comprehensio n (Beck & McKeown, 2001). Oral language and c ompreh ension go hand in hand because comprehension is used for both oral c omprehension and reading c omprehension. In


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 8 order to promote students' oral l anguage development during read aloud s, it is important to encourage children to attempt to answer questions, both open ended and "what" questions. Teachers should provide feedback, support, expansion and repetition in regard to students' answers. Also, to keep a positive reading and learning environment for both teachers and students, teachers must praise students' responses and understand that language is a gradual process (Whitehurst, et al., 1988). D evelopment of oral language skills correlat e s with comprehension and early reading by creating a connection between alphabetic and orthog raphic representation of words. This connection is made during read alouds through print concepts and ph onological processing (Storch & Whitehurst, 2002). Print a wareness fosters the understanding of the relationship between oral language and written language (Justice & Ezell, 2002). A study focusing on read alouds' effects on print awareness concluded that r ead alouds containing explicit verbal and non verbal prin t references increase students' print awareness, specifically words in print, print recognition and alphabet knowledge (Justice & Ezell, 2002). Although read alouds helped those areas, there was no correlation between increasing read alouds and increasing skills in letter orientation and discrimination, pr int concepts and literacy terms. Similar to explicit vocabulary instruction during Text Talk word elaboration during storytelling and read alouds fosters word learning and is supported by two of the thr ee theoretical perspectives on vocabulary acquisition (Justice, Meier & Walpole, 2005). Vocabulary knowledge is a gradual process and is influenced by adult input; however, unknown vocabulary is not learned through mere incidental exposure. Using vocabular y words in context and defining them, asking open ended questions, and encouraging student conversation using vocabulary words are suggestions to promote word learning (Wasik & Bond, 2001). To further increase


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 9 students' vocabulary learning during read alou ds, teachers must increase word exposure through definition s supportive context s and repetition; include questions, comments and active student participation; provide multiple forms of word representation; and encourage students to use vocabulary in vari ous contexts (Justice, Meier & Walpole, 2005). In this study by Brabham and Lynch Brown (2002), researchers compared the effects different reading styles with various levels of engagement on vocabulary acquisition and comprehension. To appropriately test students' vocabulary acquisition based on different read aloud strategies read aloud features are adequately used during this study; however, each strategy differs by levels of student involvement Students can be involved using interactional structures focusing on facts, inferences, story concepts, story structure and word meaning while the read aloud is occurring Performance is similar to interactional, but during performance, conversation is completed immediately follow ing the read aloud. Strictly reading is the least interactive strategy. All reading styles ha ve effects on vocabulary development, but each varie s The styles are listed in order from least to greatest depending on their effects on vocabulary acquisition: Just R eading, Performance and Interactional Interactional and P erformance are supported by Vygotsky's Theory of Sociolinguistics because the se two styles' use of scaffolding and social interaction to promote learning and growth (Brabham & Lynch Brown, 200 2). Interactive read aloud as supported by the Sociocultural Theory, focuses on conversation and communication to foster comprehension. According to Vygotsky (1978) social interaction and discussion are pertinent to creating and understanding meaning. C onstructing ones own meaning is defined as comprehension. The goal of read alouds aims to foster interactive discussion and create meaning by assuring students have time to create their own understandings, share with peers and generate a deeper relationsh ip with the story (Hoffman, 2011). This goal


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 10 fosters critical thinking through making connections from understanding and engaging with the text (Sipe, 2002). Discussions allow higher order critical thinking that is guided by peer communication, listening a nd perspectives, in addition to teacher scaffolding (Wiseman, 2012). Open ended conversations develop students' connections, thinking and ideas through teacher scaffolding. With conversation, students share meaning, opinions and feelings and their own pers onal understanding, which results in gaining insight on multiple perspectives (Chamberlain, Peterson, Sharp, Shih & Worthy, 2012). Comprehension and comprehension strategies are strengthened when students have experiences with multiple perspectives (Wisema n, 2012). For struggling readers, one of the most important benefits of read alouds result in students' increase in reading motivation. Motivation to read increases because listening to a read aloud doesn't require students to openly demonstrate their re ading abilities or oral language. This is specifically related to English Language Learners (ELLs) and increases the enjoyment of the activity and reading as a whole (Meier, 2003). Since listeners do not feel pressure to focus solely on reading the words, read alouds increase students' self perceptions as readers. Increasing students' views of themselves as readers can in turn decrease the reading achievement gap in later grades (Wiseman, 2012). To further increase effectiveness of read alouds, teachers s hould differentiate between constructing meaning and retelling, realize the difficulty of comprehending for young readers, focus questions on building meaning, foster connections with background knowledge, engage students with pictures only after identifyi ng students' initial understanding and expose children to quality vocabulary words incorporated in texts (Beck & McKeown, 2001). Incorporating children's literature into all aspects of students' lives increases their educational success and decreases the achievement gap. By integrating books into elementary


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 11 environments, students' oral language, literacy skills, reading comprehension and reading motivation can be positively affected. Students' exposure to a wide variety of literature is pertinent to their individual emergent and early literacy success, which can be a precursor for their future reading abilities. Students should gain experience with various genres, topics and styles of books to further increase a widened view of literature and independent reading skills. Importance of Multicultural Diverse Children's Literature Culturally Responsive Classroom Teachers must see students as individuals of cultural, racial, ethnic and class differences. Doing so will foster teachers' abilities to meet students' needs within the classroom (Weinstein, Curran & Tomlinson Clarke, 2003). "Culturally Responsive Teaching refers to teachers valuing students' cultures, emphasizing collaboration, raising standards and recognizing students' home and school life as an intertwined connection (Conrad, Gong, Sipp & Wright, 2004). Ladson Billings (1994) describes "Culturally Rele vant" literacy teaching as : Students whose educational, economic, social, political, and cultural futures are most tenuous are helped to become intellectual leaders in the classroom. Students are apprenticed in a learning community rather than taught in a n isolated and unrelated way. Students' real life experiences are legitimized as they become part of the "official" curriculum. Teachers and students participate in a broad conception of literacy that incorporates both literature and oratory. Teachers and students engage in a collective struggle against the status quo. Teachers are cognizant of themselves as political beings (p 117 118). Being culturally accepting occurs with both academics and social actions. Culturally Responsive Classroom Management gre atly affects students' learning and achievement in the classroom.


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 12 Teachers should be culturally open and follow culturally relevant guidelines (Weinstein, Tomlinson Clarke & Curran, 2004). Pictures and illustrations are important to students' understandin g and respect for other cultures. Using them strategically teachers can promote critical thinking and cultural openness at the same time. Students can think critically and share their personal connections and perspectives of various cultures while making new connections and broadening their cultural diversity exposure and discussion. During read alouds, teachers can use the technique Text Talk Culturally Responsive Teaching is simply using students' prior experiences and background knowledge to help foste r stude nts' connections and learning (Conrad, Gong, Sipp & Wright, 2004) Ladson Billings discusses teachers' conscious efforts to be "color blind" within the classroom as a way of treating students with equity and not based on the color of their skin. A lthough all students should be respected equally, students are not all the same and therefore, cannot be treated the same. Ignoring students' backgrounds also affects teachers' abilities to individualize curriculum and lessons to benefit all students. Stu dents' needs may be overlooked in attempts to be "color blind." Teachers should see color and every other aspect of their students in order to integrate and individualize ways that will connect to students' needs and lives (Ladson Billings, 1994). Race Re presentation in Multicultural Children's Literature When exposed to multicultural literature, students of different cultures gain pride and self esteem. Students also show enjoyment in their culture (Tomlinson & Lynch Brown, 2001). When exposed to multicu ltural literature through a "Multicultural Cinderella Project," students'


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 13 interest toward learning about their own culture and other cultures increased. Students felt more appreciated after discussing cultural similarities and differences (Alexander & Mort on, 2007). Through exposure to multicultural literature, children learn and become informed about cultures other than their own (Tomlinson & Lynch Brown, 2001) Multicultural literature shows students that cultures other than the majority are welcomed and worthy of being in the classroom. All cultures should be included in our funds of knowledge. When presenting bilingual books in the classroom, the message that both English and the native languages are important is portrayed These books can be shared to demonstrate that the languages are equal when they are written and read aloud (Meier, 2003). Listening and reading about various experiences through different c ultures help foster students' multiple perspectives, which reduces prejudices and stereotypes. Reading multicultural literature to students helps increase connections between students, books and the world around them. Reading about problems of children in other cultures may help students make connections and help them overcome difficult situations (Tomlinson & Lynch Brown, 2001). Students who connect to their own culture through reading are motivated and are able to make cultural background connections w ith the text. This background connection helps students participate in discussion, which in turn increases students' overall engagement and participation. Also, by incorporating bilingual books and discussion, students bridge the gap between their native l anguage and their second language acquisition (Lohfink & Loya 2010) Gender Representation in Multicultural Children's Literature In the United States, cultural norms are passed through generations by the use of language, specifically in children's lite rature (Crisp & Hiller, 2011) The use of children's literature in the classroom can positively influence students' stereotypical gender beliefs and attitudes (Trepanier Street & Romatowski, 1999). Once children are in k indergarten, they have


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 14 the preconcei ved understanding of what actions interests, characteristics and roles are ster eotypical of males and females; however, gender stereotypes differ across cultures (Crisp & Hiller, 2011) Children's interpretation of gender depends on cultural influences. F ox (1993) states, E verything we read constructs us, makes us who we are, by presenting our image of ourselves as girls and women, as boys and men. We who write children's books, and we who teach through literature, need to be sure we are opening d oors to full human potential (p 84) ." Visual sexism and occupational sexism are two kinds of gender stereotypes seen throughout children's literature. Visual sexism includes character location, pictures, posture, height, eye aversion and so on In a study examin ing children's books, female gender stereotypes were unveiled (Hamilton, Anderson, Broaddus & Young, 2006) There were more male main characters and pictures of male characters. Female characters were represented more often as nurturing and caring than mal es. Males were found outdoors more often and females were indoors. Neither was more active or passive. Occupational sexism focuses on traditional and non traditional career paths for both men and women. In the same study as visual sexism, gender stereotype s were discovered in the children's books. More male and female occupations were traditional than non traditional. Males had a broader range of occupations. Females were more often depicted as not having an occupation outside the home. Gender stereotypes a nd underrepresentation of females are proven to influence children's development, limit career dreams, influence personalities and set pre distinguished parental duties. In a study integrating multicultural literature, both boys and girls changed their gen der occupational role ideas after being exposed to non stereotypical children's literature and viewed more occupations as being for either sex (Trepanier Street & Romatowski, 1999).


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 15 Approximately 14% of Caldecott Medal picture books from 1938 2011 includ e characters with unidentified genders (Crisp & Hiller, 2011) Leaving characters with no set gender allows readers from various cultural backgrounds to identify the characters' genders based on their own unders tandings. Although some authors and illustrat ors include cultural cues, physical attributes, and/or atypical actions within the story to insinuate the characters' sex, readers interpret these cues differently according to their background. Readers can identify characters based on their own personal b eliefs by either acknowledging or disregarding the hidden gender cues. The ultimate goal of un gendered characters is to allow readers to use interpretation and connect to characters based on commonalities. In addition to givi ng hidden gender clues, author s and illustrators often depict both male and female gender clues. This allows readers to use their own discretion and ultimately critical thinking skills when identifying the characters' genders. Readers could only recognize male clues or female clues a nd overlook the opposing gender clues, or readers could interpret the character as being both genders. Although various authors and illustrators leave characters' gender identification in the hands of readers, society sometimes labels unidentified charac ters as male or female and sets the cultural norm for that particular individual's attributes. Movies, author interviews, book series, research studies, book reviews and additional activities identify characters' genders and mold readers' previous conclusi ons. When incorporating literature into the classroom, it is pertinent that students make gender identifications based from both the text and illustrations within a story discounting gender stereotypes. Gender is represented in a plethora of ways and inc orporating a wide variety of gendered and un gendered literature in the classroom will ex pand students' views on gender complexity.


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 16 Incorporating or excluding diverse children's literature in elementary classrooms can relay underlying messages to students. Although not explicitly stated, character portrayals within children's books can be stereotypical towards races, cultures and genders. Due to overrepresentati on of Caucasian and male characters, students' exposure to a diverse selection of literature greatly determines their behaviors and actions towards others. Students exposed to multicultural literature focusing on both gender and race exhibit positive attit udes and beliefs about their own race and gender, in addition to improved tolerance of race and gender of their peers. Students' Book Selection Based on Main Characters' Race/Gender/Ethnicity Student choice increases motivation, particularly with book sel ection and reading. Also, since all students are diverse both personally and educationally, students' selections will vary. This allows students to choose books that will best benefit them and their learning abilities (Hendricks & Swartz, 2000) When sel ecting books, students are more likely to select familiar books than new books (Haupt, Larsen Mohlman & Robinson, 1997). In a st udy by Martinez and Teale (198 8 ) students showed they were more likely to choose books that have already been read aloud to th em. A study in 1997 concluded that when primary grade teachers read aloud to their students, they raise the likelihood that their students will read th ose books on their own ( Martinez, Gough, Roser, Strecker & Worthy, 1997 ). Other than familiarity, book ch aracteristics influence students' self selections. Books' locations in the classroom libraries and their mode of display are factors that have been questioned and regarded as possible influences in students' book choice decision making process. Students viewed more books with covers showing than books with spines showing; however, placement of the book on the shelf did not matter, which shows students do not select


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 17 out of convenience (Haupt, Larsen Mohlman & Robinson, 1997). Due to students' increase in interest of books with outward facing covers, libraries are encouraged to have both forward cover book displays and organized bookshelves or book bins. With outward facing bookshelves, students are able to use their book cover focused mode of self select ion. Students look at book covers, read titles and inspect characters. Out of thirty one students, seventeen chose books where they identified with a character or had experiences similar to a character (Hendricks & Swartz, 2000). African American students' third book choice aspect was based off realistic book covers (Gray, 2009). Students connect with book characters through race and gender. With a selection of similar book covers, reading levels and topics, third grade students chose books with covers por traying characters of a different race than themselves. Both Caucasian and African American third grade students did not pay attention to race on the covers. Although students were not influenced by race, students were influenced when their peers recommend ed books to select (Holmes Holmes, Powell & Witt, 2007). Additionally, t hird grade African American boys were more likely to choose books with male characters than female characters. Boys also chose more books with both male and female characters than just female characters. They were also more likely to choose books with both Caucasian and African American chara cters on the cover, but they chose more Caucasian characters than African American characters. Third grade African American girls were more likely to choose male characters than female characters, but girls chose more female characters than boys. Girls cho se more books with neither male nor female characters than books with both male and female, but they chose more female only books than neither. They were also more likely to choose African American characters than Caucasian characters and more Caucasian ch aracters than books with both Caucasian and African American characters.


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 18 In addition to familiarity and book covers, students based their decisions off of books' genres and topics. African American students' second book choice aspect was based on realist ic book covers (Gray, 2009). Their first book choice aspect was based off non fiction topics (Gray, 2009). More first grade students selected nonfiction books than multicultural literature (Mohr, 2006). Hispanic/Non Hispanic first grade students chose nonf iction texts over narratives, but boys chose nonfiction more (Mohr, 2003). First grade students' selection processes relied more on books' topics th an the front cover. First grade boys focused o n topics more than girls. First grade students focused on text to world connections and preferred books about animals (Mohr, 2006) No Hispanic first grade boys chose bilingual texts and only 12 % of Hispanic girls chose them. Non Hispanic first grade students chose twice as many Hispa nic texts as Hispanic students (M ohr, 2003). Although mere exposure to literature increases students' motivation to read, individual book selection also boosts students' desire to read. While choosing literature, students consider various aspects of the literature itself. Finding books that personally interest students is extremely important. Students base their decisions on prior knowledge, experiences and perso nal connections or interests. Ensuring students have appealing literature to select is pertinent to increasing their motivation. In addition to understanding books students select, teachers should also be aware of the reasons for their selections and how t heir choices can benefit or hinder students' reading success. Teachers' Book Selection s for Read Alouds Teachers' book selections for read alouds, similar to students' book self selections vary depending on individual interests, characteristics, focuses and practicing beliefs. African American teachers are not any more likely to have African American literature in the classroom


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 19 than Caucasian teachers (Gray, 2009). In Hart and Rowley (1996), pre service teachers in a multicultural literature class were s urveyed to uncover on what they based their read aloud book selection. Over half of the pre service teachers revealed their choices were based on instructional reasons, which consisted of appropriateness, reading level, student engagement, promoting studen t learning, multicultural understanding and curricular integration. Students' second highest reasons were due to personal motives such as prior experiences and pleasant memories. Production quality reasons, including quality of illustration (characters, cl arity and distinctiveness) and quality of print (font, size and readability), were the third highest motivation behind specific book selections. Similar to teachers' u se of various actions within different types of read alouds teachers also select a mul titude of books with specific characteristics. During storybook read alouds, students are encouraged to make connections; therefore, teachers choose books to foster students' ability to relate to the book. Also, storybook read alouds require narrative genr e texts. Colorful illustrations to support meaning and unfamiliar vocabulary are two aspects of books teachers look for to generate opportunities for students to gain comprehension skills. Appropriate length and developmentally engaging features are also i mportant to keep students interested and engaged with the storybook read aloud (Justice, Meier & Walpole, 2005). Teachers select texts using similar traits to foster both engagement and critical thinking. This connection, however, is solely focused on stud ents' abilities to make connections. Teachers must know their students' cultures, interests and background knowledge to accurately choose literature to which they can relate Teachers should also realize which texts are currently popular because these text s greatly influence what students will and will not enjoy. In addition teachers should try to foresee students' connections between known content and new content to effectively choose resources


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 20 and texts to bridge the gap (Wiseman, 2012). While selecting texts for read alouds involving Text Talk teachers choose books that foster engaging and intellectual student conversation. Books should be somewhat challenging and foster reader exploration to encourage critical thinking and discovering individual ideas. Storylines should be complex and allow room for introduction of unknown content. Challenging students to think beyond what they know will lead to richer and instructional conversation. Comprehension will be derived from text instead of pictures. Ideas, sp ecific details and expression should all be gained through reading and shared through language. Since students are focusing and searching text for understanding, the language should be appropriate and decodable (Beck & McKeown, 2001). When deciding on lit erature for read alouds, teachers' individual personalities, beliefs and interests determine which books they select. Similar to students, teachers' selections depend on various aspects of their lives. Teachers' choices are greatly affected by their desire s, goals and focuses at the time. Students, life outside of school and curriculum can all be deciding factors that can repel or attract teachers to certain books. Teachers' literature selections are a reflection of their overall professional and personal identity. Students' Interest and Engagement During Read Aloud s Level of Engagement Factors Quality of reading and students' level of engagement during read alouds can positively or negatively affect learning outcom es. Students' levels of engagement can vary based on their reading ability. Describer,' Comprehender,' and Performance Oriented' are the three levels of engagement Reese and Cox (1999) attribute to varying learning success. Students as describers are th e least demanding level of engagement where students are required to label and describe pictures. Describing is often used with low readers. Comprehenders, which are often average


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 21 ability readers, participate through predictions and inferences about storyl ine and characters' emotions. The most demanding type of participation is used with high readers and is called performance oriented. Students introduce stories with five components that give a brief overview of the story and follow the finished story by in cluding five inferences and evaluations that correspond with the original pre reading components. All three of these levels of engagement focused on vocabulary, print and story comprehension. Students who acted as comprehenders asked questions throughout t he story to increase critical thinking skills. This resulted in increased vocabulary and print skills over both describers and performance oriented readers; however, performance oriented students increased vocabulary for already advanced students (Reese & Cox, 1999). In addition to reading ability, other factors contribute to students' abilities to participate and become actively engaged in read alouds. Students from various cultures view education differently. Some students may see children conversing as a sign of disrespect towards the teacher. Also, some cultures believe that active participation only undermines learning because teachers should be the only ones talking. Teachers have been viewed as pools of knowledge and students are receptacles waiting to be filled by the teachers. American society now views education as a collaborative effort and as a "give and take" experience between teachers and students, but other countries view education differently. Students' individual reader characteristics als o affect their active participation during read alouds. Students' home experiences with reading can pre determine how they should act at school. Students who have never been exposed to read alouds prior to schooling may not know how to act during read alou ds. Students can also see their first exposure to books as their original exposure, which should not be tainted or altered by their input. Although students' characteristics play integral


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 22 roles in students' involvement, text characteristics are important a s well. Some books are simply more engaging than others. Teachers should carefully select books that foster students' active participation. In addition, teacher and classroom characteristics can hinder or help students' interactions with books. If teachers are willing to allow exciting engagement, students will be more apt to participate. Also, classrooms should have an open and welcoming environment to foster engagement without isolating students to listen without sharing (Sipe 2002). Students' particip ation and critical thinking throughout read alouds is dependent on their ability to make connections. Readers and listeners should be able to make connections with texts using their background knowledge and information they already know or have had experie nces with (Sipe 2002). Using prior knowledge increases students' engagement and interaction because they have background knowledge to connect with (Pearson, Hansen & Gordon, 1979). Students can make connections between the text and the author, the text an d themselves, the text and another text or the text and the world around them. Increasing connections increases engagement; the more connections a student can make, the more involved they will be with the text and during discussion (Sipe 2002). Students' engagement can be measured through their contributions in literature discussions, by using surveys and teacher observations (Hoffman, 2011). Also, students' abilities to retell stories with or without books measures their involvement and active listening d uring read alouds (Lindauer, Lowrance, Isbell & Sobol, 2004). Teachers' Involvement with Students' Engagement Teachers can foster students' involvement in read alouds and directly affect their learning outcomes. Engaging students in read aloud discussion through fostering open ended dialogue, providing a comfortable speaking community, accepting controversial dilemmas and giving encouragement foster and spark active participation. Once students feel comfortable op enly


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 23 talking about stories, inte raction and engagement increase (Chamberlain, Peterson, Sharp, Shih & Worthy, 2012) Text Talk increases student participation by encouraging students to answer teacher questions throughout the reading and making connections based on the continuous discussions (Beck & McKeown, 2001). Students are encouraged to share their own ideas and beliefs without feeling a sense of jud gment by their teacher or peers (Chamberlain, Peterson, Sharp, Shih & Worthy, 2012). Vygotsky's use of s caffolding aimed to take students through the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) from their actual abilities to their potential abilities. Students' comfort within the classroom is a pertinent factor to take them beyond their current knowledge. Scaffolding needs vary with students' current and ever changing abilities, which can be from low to high levels of scaffolding support. Teachers need to differentiate scaffolding strategies depending o n the needs of their students. Teachers use significantly more low support strategies than high support strategies (Justice & Pentimonti, 2010) They use generalizing the most and reasoning more than predicting. For high support strategies, they use co participating the most and reducing choices more than eliciting Duri ng Text Talk teachers are involved in clarifying content and vocabulary and involving children in ongoing reading through questioning. This form of scaffolding helps students gain new vocabulary and ensure their understanding of the content presented thro ugh careful questioning (Beck & McKeown, 2001). Teachers' reading traits and characteristics affect the attractiveness of read alouds and can influence students' interests during read alouds. Readers' reactions, attitudes and presentation of texts can pos itively or negatively influence students' feelings towards individual book s and reading as an entirety because children at you ng ages follow mimicry (Moschovaki, Meadows & Pellegrini, 2007). Lindauer, Lowrance, Isbell and Sobol (2004) compare and contrast the ideas of storytelling versus story reading and their effectiveness with active student


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 24 involvement. During storytelling, readers do not read word for word nor do they memorize. Instead, readers add onto the original text, paraphrase, or recall from sub tle memory; therefore, storytelling is sometimes a variation of the original story. Storytelling is often described as effective retelling with constant characters, morals and settings. Storytelling often has better formal endings and more descriptive and imaginative images due to exaggeration by the reader. Allowing readers to deviate from the original story fosters their ability to include student listeners and encourage active participation. Unlike storytelling, story reading only allows listeners to loo k without engaging in the reading. Story reading relies on illustrations for descriptions and details. After implementing a study on storytelling and story reading, both fostered oral development and story comprehension; however, storytelling promotes furt her story comprehension, retelling and remembering elements of a story (Lindauer, Lowrance, Isbell & Sobol, 2004). Ways to Improve Student Engagement Using strategies to improve students' engagement during read alouds may foster student learning and book comprehension. Students' motivation depends on the context of reading situations, selection of texts and interest in materials (Pressley, 2006). Through these three factors, teachers can work to increase students' motivation and in turn, foster s tudent involvement. Whitehurst et. al. (1994) introduced a read aloud strategy called Dialogic Reading that changed read alouds by providing teachers with tools to increase students' willingness to participate. The goal of Dialogic Reading is to have active part icipants. This is accomplished through an adult and child interactive picture book read alouds Using the CROWD strategy, specific types of questio ns incorporated in read alouds, students are constantly being called on. CROWD stands for completion prompts (fill in the blank), recall prompts, open ended prompts,


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 25 wh prompts (what, where, why) and distancing prompts, which help foster students' abilities to make connections. Once the CROWD strategy is implemented, readers can use PEER to foster appropriate use of students' question res ponses. PEER stands for prompt, evaluate, expand and repeat Teachers prompt students to respond to the book, evaluate students' responses, expand on students' response by repeating and adding information and finally, repeat the expanded version of the students' original response. A study was conducted which focused on Dialogic Reading in small groups at school and one on one Dialogic Reading at home. Students' language skills only increased when school based Dialogic Reading was combined with home based one on one Dialogic Reading Students benefit most from the smallest groups possible one on one is most effective (Whitehurst et. al., 1994). Although read alouds are imperative to students' reading success, varying levels of engagement, interest and connections made can affect its overall effectiveness for students. Strategies such as PEER and CROWD can be used to further students' involvement during read alouds. Scaffolding students' critical thinking processes throughout rea d aloud s can foster students' connection making skills and ultimately increase reading motivation. Through the use integration, active participation and scaffolding, teachers can accommodate all students and incorporate individual personal actions to help all students positively gain from the literature. Application Purpose This inquiry focused on the importance of students' connections with main characters and how they influence students' self selection of books to read. Focusing on racial and cultural i nfluences, books were chosen to represent African American Hispanic and Caucasian characters. These characters were depicted on each book cover and all consisted of characters


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 26 with the same gender as the reader. Since multicultural literature and self sel ection increase motivation, implementing self selection based on different races provided multiple forms of motivation. Students' focus on making self connections with texts, authors and the world, drove this investigation to determine characters' connecti ons and the power of their influence over students' self selection. My hypothesis was that if students independently made individual connections between main characters' race or culture and their own lives, then students would be motivated to read the book with characters that most resemble themselves. Instruments and Procedures Selecting an array of multicultural children's literature representing African American Hispanic and Caucasian race/culture containing either male or female characters set the framework for this inquiry In past studies, researchers suggest to stay away from sports and animals in attempts to avoid skewed data based on students' interests. The texts chosen were unf amiliar texts to which the children had never been exposed. Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad (Levine, Peete & Millner, 2002) represented African American males, Gracias, Thanks (Mora, 2009) represented Hispanic males and Alex ander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Viorst, 1972) represented Caucasian males. The Sandwich Swap (Al Abdullah & DiPucchio, 2010) represented Caucasian and Arabic females, Jamaica's Find (Havill, 1986) represented African American femal es and A Box Full of Kittens (Manzano, 2007) represented Hispanic females. This application project was conducted in a Kindergarten classroom at Newberry Elementary School in Newberry, Florida. Twelve of eighteen students participated in this inquiry St udents were selected based on their race and ethnicity provided in their school profile. Six of the participants were female and six were male. Of the six females, one was African


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 27 American three were Hispanic and two were Caucasian There were two African American males, one Hispanic male and three Caucasian males. One by one, students were called to the back of the classroom during free time at the beginning of the school day. Other students were instructed to avoid the back table to ensure students' bo ok selection s were not influenced by peers' book selections comments or recommendations Upon arriving to the selection table, each student saw three books laid on the table in random order. When asked which book they would want to read, the students answ ered. Students were not read the titles of each book. Following the student's choice, the student was asked to explain why they chose one particular book over the other two. Students' book choices and question responses were recorded. Data Analysis Immediately following the application project, students' book choices and response questions were strategically organized. Students' book choices were placed into tables according to gender. Each book was identified by title and the race of the main charac ter. Separating students' selections based on gender made my comparing and contrasting each category's choices extremely straightforward. Boys' and girls' book selections could easily be compared based on race. Once gender groups were organized and analyze d, individual students' responses played a substantial role in determining students' thinking behind their selection. By analyzing each response, students could be compared to their peers of similar gender. Details of the student's race and gender, book selection, the main character's race and gender, and the student's response question were all included in data collection ( see Appendix A). From analyzing students' selections and responses, various patterns seemed apparent and guided preceding data organi zation strategies. For each gender, books were ordered from most


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 28 popular to least popular ( see Appendix B). This ordering of books consisted of the book's rank, title, author and year, main character's gender and the main character's race. From this data, books' selection frequency is attainable. Results When exposed to unfamiliar multicultural children's literature containing main characters of same gender but different race/ethnicity, more children chose books depicting characters of other race/culture t han themselves. Boys chose Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Viorst, 1972) more than Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad (Levine, Peete & Millner, 2002), but less than Gracias, Thanks (Mora, 2009). Gir ls chose A Box Full of Kittens (Manzano, 2007) more than The Sandwich Swap (Al Abdullah & DiPucchio, 2010) but less than Jamaica's Find (Havill, 1986). One Hispanic male student chose Gracias, Thanks (Mora, 2009) and pointed to Gracias' on the cover when asked why he chose the book. One Caucasian male chose Gracias, Thanks (Mora, 2009) and when asked why he chose that book over the others, he stared blankly at the character on another book. When asked why he did not choose the book he was staring at, the student replied, "I don't know." Then, when asked if it was because of the boy, the student said, "Yes, he's black." Then, he was asked if he wanted to read that book and he responded, "No." O ne African American female chose Jamaica's Find (Havill, 1986) a nd responded to the question by saying, "It's a girl. I like her braids. She has big braids." One Hispanic female chose A Box Full of Kittens (Manzano, 2007) and said that she liked that book. One Caucasian female chose Jamaica's Find (Havill, 1986) and justified her choice by saying, "She looks like my friend Nyla and Natasha ."


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 29 Discussion Boys chose books with Caucasian characters more than books with African American characters but less than books with Hispanic characters. Girls c hose books with Hispanic characters more than Caucasian characters but less than African American characters. Two girls chose books depicting races/cultures of their own, while only one boy chose the bo ok similar to his race/culture. Girls are more attenti ve to recognizing race/culture differences than boys. Girls are more inclined than boys to independently select books they can racially/culturally connect with. Both African American boys chose the same book, which did not reflect their race; however, one of the students did connect with the messy room illustrated on the cover. His connections with the messy room reflect the findings of Gray (2009) that African American students choose realistic books more than any other book. More students chose books wit h main characters depicting races/cultures different than their own races/cultures, which correlates with research that suggests students are not influenced by race (Holmes, Holmes, Powell & Witt, 2007); however, some students voiced their acknowledgement of race through their responses. One female chose a book based on the main character's similarities to her friends. One student chose a book based on the race/culture of the main character of an undesired opposing book. Similar to Mohr (2003), more non His panic students chose Hispanic books than Hispanic students did. More students neglected race/culture of main characters than students who acknowledged the race/culture of the books' main characters. Implications for Practice Allowing students to self sel ect from a collection of multicultural children's literature within the classroom not only benefits minority students, but also widens all students' exposure


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 30 to different groups of individuals. Meier (2003) suggests expanding students' exposure to varying multicultural children's literature to increase students' respect for other races and cultures. By including multicultural literature in the classroom, minority students and students who contribute to the majority population are more likely to make connect ions with the literature. Incorporating a wide variety of literature into both read alouds and availability for student self selection amplifies the chances of generating at least one self to text connection for each individual student (Sipe, 2002). Increa sing students' opportunities to connect with books projects a positive likelihood of students actually making multiple connections. Through connections, increased respect, student self selection and numerous exposures, students' motivation to read can be p ositively enhanced (Pressley, 2006). Recommendations for Future Research Since student self selection increases students' motivation to read and increases students' abilities to make connections, self selection should be further explored. Examining studen ts' self selection factors based on the main character's gender may unveil a correlation between the reader's gender and the main character's gender. Research showing the relationship between race and gender may also uncover factors affecting students' boo k choice. Researching student connections with main characters during read alouds and the effects of those connections on varying levels of engagement could further teachers' understanding of students' reading motivation. Characters' race, gender and cultu re can be explored. Conclusion Although multicultural literature has been underrepresented in my past and present experiences in elementary classrooms, minor exposures to literature containing variations in gender, race and ethnicity can have positive ef fects on both students and teachers. Prior to


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 31 implementing the application portion of my inquiry, the mentor teacher in my student teaching classroom had not incorporated any multicultural children's literature into the curriculum. Only literature containi ng Caucasian characters was shared in the culturally diverse kindergarten classroom. Highly interested in students' responses to the diverse literature of my inquiry, my mentor teacher requested a copy of the results. The following week, the first multicul tural book was read aloud to the class. During the read aloud, I observed an African American female student who is typically off task and extremely talkative while the teacher is reading; however, during the multicultural literature reading portraying A frican American characters, the young kindergartener stared straight at the book and remained engaged and focused during the entirety of the read aloud. Looking back on my inquiry results, the same student made direct connections with the girl's braids on the cover of Jamaica's Find Although other African American students were not overwhelmingly affected by the multicultural literature containing characters similar to their own race, one student, who is generally unengaged, was able to make connections an d flourished from this exposure. This project not only brought light to the benefits of students' connections with literature, but also examined the importance of students' self selection and ability to personally choose books based on those connections. Incorporating books into the curriculum based on students' prior selections can increase student engagement and motivation. Although students' interests and similarities with characters may be extremely diverse, including at least one piece of literature reflecting an aspect of each student's life can be a pertinent tool in making vital connections with literature and increase reading motivation for future reading success.


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 32 Appendix A Kindergarten Students' Book Choices Male Kindergarten Students' Book Choices : Terrell (African American Male) Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Why'd you choose that book instead of the others? "I wanted that one!" Jordan (African American Male) Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Why'd you choose that book instead of the others? "His room isn't clean he's being lazy! He wants to sleep but in this one he's just sitting down (pointing to Henry's Freedom Box .) Carlos (Hispanic Male) Gracias, Thanks! Why'd you choose that book instead of the others? "Because I like that book." (He pointed to Gracias on the cover.) Joseph (Caucasian Male) Gracias, Thanks! Why'd you choose that book instead of the others? "Because its his birthday. There's music." Alex (Caucasian Male) Gracias, Thanks! Why'd you choose that book instead of the others? "Cause I don't know." Michael (Caucasian Male) Gracias, Thanks! Why'd you choose that book instead of the others? "I don't know." Is it because of the boy? "Yes, he's black." So you don't want to read this one? (Pointing at Henry's Freedom Box ) "No." *Students' names changed to ensure confidentiality.


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 33 Female Kindergarten Students' Book Choices : Natasha (African American Female) Jamaica's Find Why'd you choose that book instead of the others? "It's a girl. I like her braids. She has big braids." Claire (Hispanic Female) A Box Full of Kittens Why'd you choose that book instead of the others? "Because I like that book." Pamela (Hispanic Female) The Sandwich Swap Why'd you choose that book instead of the others? "There's two. They're friends." Which girl do you like better? (Pointed to the Caucasian character). Emma (Hispanic Female) Jamai ca's Girl Why'd you choose that book instead of the others? "Girl!" Nicole (Caucasian Female) Jamaica's Find Why'd you choose that book instead of the others? "I read it before at my old school. She looks like my friend Nyla and Natasha ( Nicole 's Classroom Buddy). Lauren (Caucasian Female) A Box Full of Kittens Why'd you choose that book instead of the others? "Because I like kittens." *Students' names changed to ensure confidentiality.


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 34 Appendix B Independent Student Book Selection Titles Kindergarten Boys' Book Selections Rank Title (Author, Year) Main Character's Gender Main Character's Race/Ethnicity 1 Gracias, Thanks (Mora, 2009) Male Hispanic 2 Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Viorst, 1972) Male Caucasian 3 Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad (Levine, Peete & Millner, 2002) Male African American Kindergarten Girls' Book Selections Rank Title (Author, Year) Main Character's Gender Main Character's Race/Ethnicity 1 Jamaica's Find (Havill, 1986) Female African American 2 A Box Full of Kittens (Manzano, 2007) Female Hispanic 3 The Sandwich Swap (Al Abdullah & DiPucchio, 2010) Female Caucasian and Arabic


Culture, Book Choice and Engagement 35 Children's Literature References Abdullah, Q.R. & DiPucchio, K. (2010). The sandwich swap. New York. NY: Hyperion Books for Children. Havill, J. (1986). Jamaica's find. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company. Levine, E., Peete, E. & Milner, D. (2002). Henry's freedom box: A true story from the Underground Railroad. New York, NY: Scholastic Press. Manzano, S. (2007). A box full of kittens. New York, NY: Anthenum Books for Young Readers. Mora, P. (2009). Gracias, thanks. New York, NY: Lee a nd Low. Viorst, J. (1972). Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. New York, NY: Antheneum Publishers, Macmillan Publishing Company.


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