Honor your students’ voices with the poetry collection No Voice Too Small.
No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History
Edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, & Jeanette Bradley
Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley
Published in 2020 by Charlesbridge, ISBN 978-1-62354-131-6
Grades K – 6
“No voice is too small / to solve a problem that’s big. / Change ripples forward.” During turbulent times, many of us may find ourselves asking, “What can I do?” The young people featured in this powerful anthology asked this question of themselves, found answers, and took action. Editors Metcalf, Dawson & Bradley have curated a collection of poems, written by accomplished poets, that represent the commitments, the activism and the accomplishments of fourteen tweens and teens. The opening pages note that each poet selected a child activist with whom they shared an identity. The diversity of the subjects ensures that a wide range of readers will find mirrors and windows in their experiences. The poems vary in form and style and each is accompanied by expository text which provides additional information about the child activist featured in the poem. Bradley’s digitally rendered illustrations offer compelling portraits of each subject and surrounding details provide further context. The voices of the activists themselves are featured in large font quotations on the end papers. Poems that invite readers to consider how they might raise their own voices to advocate for change bookend the anthology. Back matter includes a glossary of poetic forms and information about each poet. Elevate your students’ voices by sharing this powerful title; our need for their energy, enthusiasm, and perspectives is urgent.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom
A Note to our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you!
Pre-Reading: Quotes as Provocation. The end papers of No Voice is Too Small include quotations from each of the fourteen young activists featured in the poems. Before reading the anthology aloud, offer these quotes as provocations. If you are able to meet physically with your students, consider a carousel response activity – write each quote on top of a piece of chart paper and post these charts around the classroom. Invite students to respond to the quotes by writing beneath them. If you are meeting virtually, you could use an app like Padlet, creating an opportunity for students to respond to the quotes and to view the responses of their classmates. In primary grades, you might select a few of the quotes and use them as prompts for oral discussion. Students’ responses to and reflections on these quotes will scaffold their understanding of the poems in No Voice is Too Small and will center the voices of the young activists.
More About the Activists. Invite your students to learn more about these young activists using the wonderful videos of each speaking on No Voice Too Small: Young Activists Speak YouTube Channel and additional resources on the author’s and illustrator’s websites (see links below). One way to approach this would be to ask students to select a child activist with whom they share something in common or whose life intrigues them. Ideally students would work in pairs or in trios. Students should reread the poem that features their activist, explore online videos and resources, and then prepare a short presentation of their learning. Their learning could be represented in a slide presentation, in a video, in an artistic collage, or through the composition of an original poem and/or expository text.
Ask Yourself… At the conclusion of No Voice is Too Small, the editors of the volume pose a series of questions to prompt young people to consider how they would like to make their voice heard and what changes they would like to work to achieve. Provide time and space for students to respond to these prompts, first individually and then sharing their responses in small groups. Note the recurring image of the microphone in the book and pose the question: “What is your microphone?,” prompting your students to consider this question figuratively. Next ask your students: If you had the world’s attention for 30 seconds, what would you say? How would you say it? What would you do next?
Peaceful Protest: A Solar System Text Set. As we mourn the defilement of our Capitol building while simultaneously reflecting on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, we can use No Voice Too Small in a picture book text set on children’s involvement in peaceful protest movements. Picture books to explore include Heather Dean Brewer and LeUyen Pham’s Love is Powerful, Marilyn Nelson and Philemona Williamson’s Lubaya’s Quiet Roar, Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade’s We Are Water Protectors, Monica Clark-Robinson and Frank Morrison’s Let the Children March, Cynthia Levinson and Vanessa Newton-Bradley’s The Youngest Marcher, Shane Evan’s We March, and Angela Johnson and Eric Valesquez’s A Sweet Smell of Roses,
Can Poetry Change the World? A Duet Model Reading: Pair a reading of No Voice is Too Small with Irene Latham and Charles Waters’ Dictionary for a Better World (available on Epic). Ask students to compare the structures and content of the anthology, noting similarities and differences. Ask students to pair up poems across the two texts, selecting ones from each title that relate in some way – students can share their pairings along with a rationale for their selections. If you have more time, ask students to interview family members about poems or songs that have influenced their worldviews, exploring how poetry can transform our thinking and our perspectives. Depending on the age and poetry exposure for your students, they may also be able to identify poetry that has been profound to them. Engage with the essential question: Can Poetry Change the World?
Found Poetry in No Voice Too Small. As students reread this anthology, ask them to select one to two lines from each poem that resonate most deeply with them. Students can copy these lines into digital or physical notebooks. Next, invite students to play with the arrangement of these lines to create a Found Poem.
More About the Poets. After composing found poems across the anthology (above), invite students to learn more about each of the poets in the anthology. Students can select the poem that most speaks to them and then watch the poet’s video on their inspirations and writing processes on the No Voice Too Small: Writing Workshop YouTube Channel. Students can also visit the websites of these poets and seek out collections of their poetry. This poetry author study may inspire students to emulate the style of the poet they have chosen to learn more about.
Dreaming Our Future Together. Reading across the poems in No Voice Too Small, ask your students to consider the many different ways that these young people made their voices heard – through words, through art, through actions. Consider sharing Peter Reynolds’ picture book Say Something!, which conveys the idea that there are many ways to raise your voice. Discuss the many different modalities that students have available to express their ideas, wishes and dreams. Plan a day, week, or month-long celebrations of students’ dreams for our future. Collaborate with arts educators in your community and invite students to use visual arts, drama, music, spoken word to amplify your students’ visions for our future. Launch this activity by sharing Kwame Alexander’s Poetry Challenge inspired by Langston Hughes’ poem “I Dream A World” (the poem that inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech).
Power and Voice. Engage your students in an explicit discussion of power structures, using the experiences of the young activists featured in the book. Unpack the context of their activism. What were they working to change? Who had the power to change the situation? How did these activists work to be heard by those in power? How did they claim the power to make change? What did they do? What did they say? Who was involved? Invite students to discuss the broader question of what power they have in their own lives as young people. Connect with the ideas embedded in the Youth-led Participatory Action Research movement, which positions young people as researchers of their community with the goals of creating change toward equity and social justice.
The creators of this book have gone above and beyond to produce digital resources in order to support teachers who may be teaching remotely. Both the editor’s and illustrators’ sites below include links to an educator’s guide, links to additional information about the young activists, and even a Flip Grid Book Club. We strongly encourage you to check out these publisher provided resources.
Websites Related to the Child Activists:
Jasilyn Charger Jasilyn Charger — Our Climate Voices
Noah Barnes FaceBook: Noah’s March Foundation
Zach Wahls Meet Zach
Mari Copeny Mari Copeny: Home
Viridiana Sandes Santos Statesman News Article
Adora Svitak Adora Svitak: Speak Up!
Nza-Ari Khepra MTV News Gun Safety Activist Nza-Ari Khepra
Levi Draheim Levi Draheim: Our Children’s Trust
Cierra Fields STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Cierra Fields
Judy Adams Make Your Mark on the World: Dimes for Downs
Dj Annie Red HOME | djanniered
Marley Dias About/Marley Dias
Jazz Jennings Jazz Jennings: The Washington Post
Brewer, H.D. (2020). Love is powerful. Ill. by L. Pham. Candlewick Press.
Clark-Robinson, M. (2018). Let the children march. Ill. by F. Morrison. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Evans, S. (2012). We march. Roaring Brook Press.
Johnson, A. (2005). A sweet smell of roses. Ill. by E. Valasquez. Simon & Schuster.
Levinson, C. (2017). The youngest marcher: The story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a young civil rights activist. Ill. by V. Newton-Bradley. Atheneum.
Nelson, M. (2020). Lubaya’s quiet roar. Ill. by P. Williamson. Dial Books.
Reynolds, P. (2019). Say Something! Orchard / Scholastic.
About Erika Thulin Dawes
Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.
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