MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Michael Woodward Jr. was invited to read his books as part of George Washington Carver Elementary School’s kickoff of Black History Month.
He addresses the kindergarten class, which happens to include his youngest son.
“Raise your hand if your mommy or daddy reads to you,” Woodward engaged the audience and then read his picture book Hare’s Big Heart, a story about kindness.
The Miami native is a teacher first, an author second, and always a student.
It is what he learned from his students that inspired him to write.
While teaching third and fifth graders in Las Vegas he noted that students of color lacked an interest in literature.
“I saw my children struggle – there’s only so much Frederick Douglass LeBron James that they can read. And it’s incredible because they are real stories – however children need to utilize ‘readers theater’, they need to see themselves in ways that the world will never show them. It wasn’t that they couldn’t read they just didn’t want to.”
Woodward also noted there was something amiss in the stories he read as a child, there was no character like him.
“I got tired of being the antagonist, of being a dunce portrayed within literature,” Woodward recalled.
Enter the subject of his first self-published novel King Monte – Are You My P. E. Teacher?
He read this to the fifth-grade class and had their full attention.
“I am King Monte, I am the only honors class kid that looks like me,” he read.
He took his love of reading and followed in his dad’s footsteps graduating from Florida A&M University, and becoming an educator.
He emphasized that the academic success of Black and brown students starts with literature that reflects them in order to engage them.
He knows not every Black child had the presence of an engaged and educated father in his life, but he is grateful for his parents.
“If a child does not have full advantage of the opportunity to read and does not enjoy that love for literature at that moment it’s an uphill battle,” he said.
Woodward’s subsequent novels include Forever a Scholar, which centers on the importance of hard work.
All Woodward’s themes, settings, and characters are all tied to the mission.
“Children organically take up what it is that’s presented to them —and if we continue to traverse down this path of the absence of culturally relevant literature then we’re setting them up for demise. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to be in a child’s life.”
Woodward is a father of three boys and is currently pursuing a master’s in education at Barry University.
He has books under his belt with the goal of writing 25 including one that features his favorite character yet.
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For more information visit his website here.