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Tami Al-Hazza and Bob Lucking from Old Dominion University's Darden College of Education have been selected as winners of the 2008 Virginia Hamilton Essay Award. The award recognizes an article published in a given year that makes a significant contribution to the professional literature concerning multicultural literary experiences for youth.

Al-Hazza and Lucking, faculty members in the educational curriculum and instruction department, were selected for their superior scholarship in "Celebrating Diversity Through Explorations of Arab Children's Literature," an article published in the spring 2007 issue of Childhood Education. The award will be announced April 11 at Kent State University, site of the 24th Annual Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural Literature for Youth.

"The Hamilton Award is an important national award," said William Graves, dean of the Darden College of Education. "It recognizes the pioneering work that Dr. Al-Hazza and Dr. Lucking have conducted in Middle Eastern children's literature. I am delighted that their scholarly contribution is receiving critical acknowledgment."

"The article's publication is particularly timely, given the suspicion of Americans and American media toward people from the Middle East at this point in our history," Lucking noted. "Stories, myths, fiction and narratives of all kinds light the imagination, and among children they kindle an early interest in reading and all of the other language arts. Most often kids learn to write and to read broadly because they have discovered stories that capture their interest. Like all humans, children enjoy reading about their own cultures or about people with whom they identify, but Arab American children often find little in their school experiences that allow them that opportunity.

"Most American teachers have little understanding of Arab cultures and are familiar with few examples of children's literature that highlight Arab cultures or people," Lucking added. "Accordingly, we wrote our article pointing out this lack of attention in schools, addressing what scant knowledge teachers have of these regions. We also provided lots of examples of literature that teachers can use in their classrooms and guidelines for selecting bias-free works of children's literature."

Kaavonia Hinton-Johnson, who serves on the NCTE's (National Council of Teachers of English) Racism and Bias Committee, and whose research focuses on multicultural literature for children and young adults, commented that the Lucking/Al-Hazza article is an important contribution to the field of multicultural children's literature: "They focus on an area that has been overlooked in the field of children's literature, and their expertise in texts and guidelines for selecting Arab children's literature is noteworthy, to say the least."

Citing the current stereotyping of Arabs in popular American culture that is akin to the days of the "cowboys and Indians," the article breaks new ground and offers guidance for teachers. The following excerpt underscores the urgency of the issues:

"Incidents of terrorism and other forms of heinous violence around the world are so dramatic and painfully wrenching that they often dictate change: in politics, in social convention, in battle, and in the classroom. The five years since the 9/11 attacks, in particular, have brought about huge shifts in the collective global view of Arabs, and it is certainly timely to examine how educators treat the literature of the people in that part of the world.

"While language arts teachers may feel like throwing up their arms in frustration at being asked to learn about yet another body of children's literature, it has never been more important to represent a clear-headed and balanced view of a people, their culture, and their literature. In the United States, Arabs and Arab Americans have become a minority of suspicion, and enormous misconceptions and biases exist about these people and their culture.

"Mindful of all teachers' efforts to establish cultural pluralism in their classrooms, the authors offer some guidance in defining these issues relative to children's literature that accurately reflects some of the cultural norms of the Arab world."

This article was posted on: February 19, 2008

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