Values: Pride, Self-Belief, Love, Respect and Inclusion.
This unique story tells the tale of a little girl who does not want to go to school because nobody, including her teacher, can pronounce her name. Her mother encourages her to tell everyone that names are songs and they have rhythm and beauty in them. The mother shows her how to sing and dance to her name, to proudly show the world how to pronounce it. As the book progresses, we see a whole range of children's names from around the globe represented through both their spelt version and their pronounced version e.g. Ngozi (INN_GO-zee). The book has depth and cultural meaning as the protagonist learns that some names have fire in them; some sit on clouds; others are twinkles in the stars. They are all special and all unique. And, importantly, they all teach us about people's cultures and backgrounds and names are something we should be proud of. At the end of the book, we see the little girl teaching everyone not only how to pronounce her name, but singing all of the names in the class until everyone is joining in. The final line, "It was music to her ears." is a powerful metaphor of the importance of pronouncing and valuing names.
Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is an American teacher and writer who centres her picture books around Black and Muslim children. She wants to see all children represented in the books that are on classroom and bedroom shelves and make reading and protagonists accessible for all. To learn more about her, visit her website.
I have read this book many times since buying it, and the Values that unsurprisingly spring out at me are pride and self-belief. This is a mother who is teaching her daughter not only to be proud of her own name, but to celebrate others' names too and sing them loudly. The mother teaches her child to kindly show people how to pronounce names they may be unfamiliar with. I think it is an anxiety that fills many teachers today - have I pronounced this child's name correctly? Will they tell me if I haven't? I don't know any teacher that would not try to educate themselves on pronouncing the names of their pupils correctly to ensure every child feels valued and accepted.
There is also the Value of love shining through this book. At no point does the mother blame the teacher or other children for mispronunciation. She gently shows her daughter how to teach them through singing, and how to appreciate the meaning and cultural heritage of names. She shows her daughter that she should love her name as it was chosen for her. The Value of respect is equally given a high status as the mother shows her daughter how to respect all of her peers and their names.
This is a beautifully-illustrated book for any classroom. It should be just as crucial in multi-cultural classrooms as those classrooms where children do not come across diverse names very often. It educates children on cultural understanding and acceptance; I believe it is the first step in nurturing a diverse and inclusive classroom. Furthermore, it could promote interesting discussions about where our names come from and why they were given to us. This could be a really interesting piece of homework!
At the back of the book is a glossary explaining the origin of the names featured in the story and even a link to a video where you can see the author pronouncing all of them (useful for teachers ahead of reading it, or even afterwards to watch in class altogether). You can follow the Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow on Twitter (@jtbigelow) as well as the illustrator Luisa Uribe (@lupencita). You can buy your copy at: The Book Depository for free global delivery.
This book will have endless use on your Values bookshelf and will encourage so much conversation that will allow you to get to know your pupils better. Use the hashtags to identify my reviews of books on this blog that also contain these Values: