The Classroom Bookshelf
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Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning

Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning
Written by Katie Egan Cunningham
Foreword by Linda Rief
Published in 2015 by Stenhouse Publishers
ISBN: 978-1-62531-024-8
This week we celebrate the publication of Katie’s book, Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning. The book reminds us as educators that stories surround us, support us, and sustain us. We see and hear stories when walking down the street, as we scroll down our digital newsfeeds, in our interactions with one another, and in the ways our students play. In her book, Katie offers a broad definition of story urging us to notice the ways literature, poetry, music, images, multimedia, and dramatic works all reveal stories.
Below Katie describes why she wrote the book and how it can help educators to reclaim story as the heart of their literacy instruction:
I wrote Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning because across classrooms and communities, I see students of all ages at their most engaged when a powerful story is shared. I have found as a classroom teacher, literacy consultant, and teacher educator that the sharing and creating of powerful stories deepens literacy learning in a way that strategy instruction alone can never do. When captivating stories are shared, I observe students who lean in to catch a closer look at an illustration because the artist and the story compel them to do so. I hear the pleadings of whole classrooms as students beg their teachers to share one more page.  I witness students drawing on what Brenda Miller refers to as “inky courage”—bravely telling everyday stories from their lives and stories from their imaginations. And, I notice the ways stories are evolving from the printed page to the digital world impacting the ways our students have access to seemingly unlimited stories as well as endless possibilities for creating stories of their own. While some argue that we are living in an information age, I believe we are living in a narrative age—a time when we have never had more access to the streaming power of stories.
In Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning, I wanted to compel us as educators to ask crucial questions: Why do stories matter? Whose stories count? Where do stories live? How do stories come alive? How do we build stories? How do we talk about stories? And why does this work take courage? The book chapters are organized according to these questions that anchor us as educators as we plan our literacy instruction across a year, within a unit, and as we interact with students each day.
Throughout the book, I share a myriad of ways to create classrooms of caring and inquisitive readers, writers, and storytellers. I explain specific ways to build a classroom library that reflects our diverse society through rich, purposeful, and varied texts so that all students see themselves in stories and recognize humanity within stories. I argue that the spaces where stories live should always help our students continue to explore their place in a complex world system—whether they are moved by characters in a book, an image on a screen, or the experience of hearing someone’s words. Building on the groundbreaking text set work of my esteemed colleagues and Classroom Bookshelf co-authors, Mary Ann and Erika, I provide numerous examples of multigenre and multimodal text sets from children’s and young adult literature, poetry, songs, journalism, and multimedia. Each chapter ends with a practical toolkit to help teachers make stories come alive in their own settings.
In an age of accountability where testable skills have become the measure of literacy success, you may feel as I do that, in some schools, stories have come secondary to mastery of discrete skills. Yet, I know of no better way to support the students in our lives to become empathetic, caring people, and more committed learners than through the sharing of stories. Throughout the book, I position story as alive and vital to the work we do with young people for them to read and keep reading stories in print and digital spaces, to find their own inky courage, and to be wide-awake to the stories and issues around them. I highlight the value of different genres to shape our students’ understandings of story to counter the artificial separation of literary and informational texts that currently pervades the discourse within the field.  I emphasize the power of narrative to support our students to lean in, take notice, wonder, dream, and come to new ideas about who they are, where they are from, and who they want to be. My hope is that as a field, we reframe what counts in the human communities we construct with our students. After all, to know your story is heard is in many ways to know you count, you are heard, you are loved.
Katie Cunningham About Katie Cunningham

Katie is an Associate Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.


  1. This sounds like a great professional read.