When we walk past a glass door on a sunny day our reflection is the first thing we see; when we open that door we see so much more of the world. Throughout my graduate work instructors would reference a “mirror book,” “window book,” or a “sliding glass door book.” It wasn’t until I was into my own library work that I realized the lines between mirror and window types of books could be blurred, and the blur of the sliding glass door book was more beneficial to me than any type in isolation. By promoting titles that draw readers in through mirroring characters or situations we can challenge readers to walk away with so much more knowledge and empathy for readers unlike themselves.
According to the Oxford Dictionary a mirror is defined as “A thing regarded as accurately representing something else.” Books we read can easily fall into this type if we can see ourselves in the character, setting, or themes. A sliding glass door book was described by Rudine Sims Bishop as a book that “readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author.” These books surround us in what it is like to be a person we are not, and brings a newfound empathy to a situation for us. If we find a title that draws us in as an outsider to the culture and then changes our understanding in a meaningful way that becomes transcending.
As librarians one of the best things we can do for our students is develop collections that are for them, not us. If we don’t understand the students, then how could we ever build our collections for them? It can be easy to buy books for our libraries that we love, but what about others? Below is a list of the best YA books that I read this school year that helped me grow empathetically.
- Tosh Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormshee: I learned so much about the world of YouTube Channels and artistic expression as well as asexuality.
- Stranger Than Fanfiction by Chris Colfer: Each character in the group is going through a distinctly different challenge. Each character’s story was new learning for me, especially Sam’s story as a transgender teen.
- We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen: I saw family dynamics represented in a new way and social technology issues that teens are facing today.
- Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han: A glimpse into the life of a senior with big choices, relationship challenges, and the life of a Korean American teen.
- Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley: Agoraphobia portrayed in a way that makes you understand the anxiety disorder more in depth.
Our students are as unique as we are, and the more we can understand them the more we can connect. For all of us our goal is to be an inclusive space for all–what better way to help them feel that way then by providing literature that speaks to them? I have been able to recommend all of these titles to many diverse groups of students and staff this year. Challenging our own beliefs and learning through literature is what makes us better librarians. If we can start by looking in the mirror and then taking a step outside our door we are one step closer to understanding.
Author: Elizabeth Pelayo
Elizabeth Pelayo is the library media specialist at St. Charles East High School in St. Charles Illinois. She currently writes book reviews for School Library Journal. She is a member of the AASL AAUP Book Selection Committee. Also, she is a member of the nominations committee for the ISLMA Abraham Lincoln Book Award.