Welcome to Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom, a blog and preview video series that features new releases from Canadian book publishers ideal for use in K-12 classrooms and school library collections. Throughout the year, we dive into new titles, highlighting relevant curriculum links and themes.
Written by secondary school teacher Spencer Miller
Partway through my first year of teaching, International Women’s Day was approaching and I wanted to prepare an activity that would highlight the women writers that we had studied that semester. Then, in a moment of embarrassment, I realized I had not covered enough women writers to fill the activity.
In an attempt to course correct, I committed to highlighting women writers for the entire rest of the month. After a few days, a student questioned, “Why are we talking so much about women all of a sudden?” My attempt to equalize my curriculum was obvious and coming off as an afterthought.
Together we went through a list of the books, stories and films we had studied that semester and noted how our studies had centred around male authors and protagonists. Then we were able to have a great discussion about gender bias and the importance of learning from a diversity of authors and perspectives.
How can we make sure we’re doing a good job of diversifying what we’re reading? Teacher-librarian Tara Truscott shares “display… the covers of the books you’re [reading] and add an image of the author and the illustrator. As you keep reading and adding, you’ll start to notice patterns.” Then you can make decisions about what to read next based on who might be missing.
This simple practice is a good place to start. It would have made a difference in my classroom as a first-year teacher.
In much of the current curriculum we teach, notably in math, science and history courses, the contributions of women, especially queer women, Indigenous women and women of colour, continue to be ignored. Until curriculum changes, teachers can help counter this erasure by including diverse voices in our daily lessons and activities.
Inclusivity cannot be achieved in one month or at the last minute. As I’m learning, building an inclusive classroom curriculum requires careful planning.
To help with your planning, here are a selection of brand-new titles that highlight the contributions of women in STEM, art, history, business, journalism and other fields.
Asha and Baz Meet Mary Sherman Morgan is an early chapter book that engages readers with a fantastical story while introducing them to new scientific concepts. As Asha and Baz travel through time to learn about how to build a rocket from scientist Mary Sherman Morgan, they also learn about the extra challenges Mary faced as a woman in science.
In Class: You can easily recreate Asha and Baz’s rocket challenge in your classroom. All you need is some paper, straws, tape and cardboard rolls. Challenge your students’ design skills and see who can launch their rocket the farthest!
Secret Schools: True Stories of the Determination to Learn shares stories of people who defied laws, hid from authorities and even faced death—all to attend school. One example is a group of women in Afghanistan who disguised academic schools as “sewing lessons” to be able to learn safely.
Severn Speaks Out is an illustrated recreation of the speech delivered by 12-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki at the UN Earth Summit 1992 calling on world leaders to protect the earth for generations to come. After delivering the speech, Severn became known as “the girl who silenced the world for five minutes.”
In Class: Learn more about environmental activism by pairing your reading with Berani by Michelle Kadarusman, a new middle-grade novel that explores the difficult choices made by young environmentalists around the world.
If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It: How 25 inspiring individuals found their dream job introduces twenty-five individuals of different backgrounds, genders and abilities who have found their dream jobs. Read about women working as farmers, designers, stunt coordinators, and marine biologists, and in many other interesting positions, sharing their diverse pathways to career fulfillment.
In Class: The book’s Teaching Guide includes a story summary, author bios, curriculum connections, and additional resources that encourage readers to explore their passions.
In Superpower? The Wearable-Tech Revolution young readers will discover how technological innovation can help people survive and thrive as they meet the inventors, designers, engineers and scientists navigating the next tech frontier. The book includes the words and experiences of many women researchers in the field of wearable tech, such as Mary Lou Jepsen, an electrical engineer and physicist who invented a wearable medical imaging device.
In Class: The Get Brainstorming guide provides a six-step process that students can follow to invent a wearable device of their own.
Searching Beyond the Stars: Seven Women in Science Take On Space’s Biggest Questions takes readers deep into space to capture the awe and intrigue of some of the biggest questions we can ask. These questions are answered through the profiles of seven remarkable women scientists including Sara Seager and Renée Hložek among others.
In Class: This lesson plan from Annick Press includes activity ideas to build context before reading, check on comprehension while reading and encourage continuous reflection after finishing the book.
Her Courage Rises: 50 Trailblazing Women of British Columbia and the Yukon is a collection of inspiring life stories of fifty extraordinary historical women from BC and Yukon. Accompanied by beautifully drawn illustrations, the collection includes stories about women like Emily Pauline Johnson, Canada’s first famous poet and performer.
In Class: These brief histories, each only a page long, serve as an excellent starting point for further research. Let your students pick a profile and search for what further information they can find online. Was it easy to find more information?
A British intelligence officer. A Parisian photographer. A German rabbi. A Polish nurse. Heroines, Rescuers, Rabbis, Spies: Unsung Women of the Holocaust shares the overlooked history of nine ordinary women who took extraordinary measures to save lives during the Holocaust. These personal stories will help readers appreciate the roles women played during World War II.
In Class: Pair your reading with Hidden on the High Wire from Kathy Kacer, a new middle-grade novel, loosely based on the life of historical figure Irene Danner, that shines a light on the experiences of Jewish circus performers during World War II.
Spencer Miller graduated from the University of Calgary with degrees in English and Education. He participated in various projects examining the potential of children’s literature in the classroom as an undergraduate researcher. He is currently a secondary school teacher in Montréal/Tiohtià:ke. You can follow more of Spencer’s passion for books on Instagram @YACanadaBooks.