How do we build a sense of community in our classrooms? Start by reading Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali and Rahele Jomepour Bell. This important story features a diverse classroom where cultural traditions are celebrated.
The story begins with a teacher explaining why she loves the first day of school. It’s on this day that she gets to meet new people. She explains that they will all become close friends. They’ll learn about each other by celebrating everyone’s favorite day. This is exciting news to four boys who are the main focus of the story.
Through the boys presentations, we see how they celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, Rosh Hashanah, Las Posadas and Pi Day with their families. The boys are delighted to learn about the different celebrations. They get to know more about each other and become friends.
The illustrations in this book are heartwarming. Readers can feel the excitement from the children as they learn about each other’s families and traditions. The textured illustrations add interest to the story. My favorite picture shows a mother wearing a colorful hijab, a patterned dress and striped leggings. The natural flow in the material make the clothes seem three-dimensional.
The endpapers are a real treat. A quilt made of twenty-eight squares represent different cultures and holidays. Readers will be curious about the meaning behind some of the illustrated squares. They’ll also make connections with familiar symbols.
AASL Standards Framework for Learners Include/Create II.B.3 Learners adjust their awareness of the global learning community by representing diverse perspectives during learning activities.
Ask learners if they ever heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” In Our Favorite Day of the Year, Musa judged the boys at his table just by looking at them. He doubted that they could be friends because they “didn’t look like his friends.” Ask learners how the show-and-tell presentations changed Musa’s thinking. Invite them to consider how things would be different if they didn’t share their favorite days of the year.
Explain that today they will imagine how people might judge them the first time they meet. They’ll also consider what they want people to know about them. Learners will need a paper bag, scissors, paper and colored pencils, crayons or markers for this lesson.
On the outside of the bag, learners will draw a picture of themselves. They’ll also write how people might see them the first time they meet.
The inside of the bag is for what they wish people knew about them. They will write things people would miss if they judged them solely on their looks. They can write about their hopes, dreams and accomplishments on scraps of paper and put them in the bag. Here are some sentence starters to consider:
After the writing exercise, learners will share their bags with classmates. They will ask each other questions and have discussions to learn more about one another.
This lesson idea was inspired by Liz Kleinrock, an anti-bias, antiracist educator/writer. She uses the paper bag lesson to inspire meaningful discussions on identity. Learn more about her work on these websites: Teach and Transform and Empowering Educators. Click here to see Kleinrock’s TED Talk.
Try pairing this lesson activity with the book Milo Imagines the World.