Two new elementary-level workbooks by Milwaukee’s Ajamou Butler place Black kids front and center in math and language lessons.
“I’ve been in high schools where the learning curve was (at) a middle school level,” said Butler, the founder of Heal the Hood, an organization that works in schools to support cognitive and social development of adolescents. “I know that we have to work to capture the young ones. We have to work to capture the babies.”
To that end, Butler will release two new workbooks — Malcolm Loves Math and Eisha Loves English — to provide supplemental practice for students in third through fifth grades.
The books will be out in June but can be pre-ordered at ajamoubutler.com for $20.20. Butler said supplemental teaching materials will also be available for families and teachers alike.
“We also have a lesson plan that can be purchased for parents or schools that wants them to figure out how to take those lessons to another level, different hands-on activities, different fun things that stimulate the cognitive as well as the creative side of the brain,” he said.
Beyond the curriculum itself, Butler noted that a 2018 UW-Madison study found that less than 10 percent of children’s books featured Black children; more books depict animals as central characters than Black children.
“I said, ‘We have to put black faces in books. Not just for black children, but for all children,’” he said. “Because when a child can see a person of color in a workbook and they’re learning, they’re reading, they’re growing, it begins to shape and change the perception of people of color.”
That was the same motivation for his two previous books, “Destined to be Me” and “Destined to be Me: For Girls,” released last year.
Butler said he also wanted the central characters’ identities to be about more than their race; for example, the Malcolm who loves math is also vegan, which figures into the math problems in the book.
“If Malcolm has three friends coming over and you’ve used this much ingredients, how many smoothies can young Malcolm make?” Butler said. “We try to incorporate different lifestyle and faces and shapes and colors.”
Butler is working again with illustrator Jazz West, who also illustrated the Destined to be Me books.
“The illustrations this time around are just so rich, so full of life, so full of energy,” he said. “I’m extremely excited for this project. I can’t wait. I cannot wait.”