Depending on your musical interests, this album cover may or may not be one that you recognize. It is the latest album from musician Drake. So what does this have to do with literacy? Teachers are constantly looking for a “hook”… something to engage and catch their students’ attention. Drake’s latest album cover “Nothing was the Same” could be this hook. It is not about Drake or his music, but rather the artist behind the cover. This is who I want you to get to know. His name is Kadir Nelson.
If I mentioned picture books, you suddenly may recognize his work. Nelson has illustrated numerous beautiful books written about African Americans and important historical contexts. Titles such as Henry’s Freedom Box and Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln contain his breathtaking illustrations.
Nelson’s talents to do not end there. He has also written and illustrated numerous books, including three books worth mentioning: We are the Ship: The Storyof Negro League Baseball, Nelson Mandela and Heart and Soul: The Story ofAmerica and African Americans. These three of these books offer opportunities for teachers to implement as either a mentor text in earlier grades, or for close reading in middle and even earlier high school classrooms. The books are arranged in short “chapters” which focus on specific moments and movements in time. What is additionally beneficial is the ability to pair these texts with other picture books or informational passages focused on the same topic. One particular example, would be reading the section of Heart and Soul to learn about boxing legend Joe Louis. Then teachers could pair this section of the text with Matt de la Peña book, A Nation’s Hope, potentially even utilizing multimedia resources such as his epic fight against German Max Schmeling.
If in your classroom, African American history is a topic of instruction and conversation, I encourage you to think about Kadir Nelson. His books open the door for discussion, whether it is his pictures that catch your attention or these information captured inside his books. Either way, you can utilize his pop culture ties to really “catch” the attention of your students.