As I reflect on the presidential campaign and the hateful comments that have filled my Facebook and Twitter feeds recently, I find myself thinking more and more about my children and my students. They are listening to their parents and teachers. They may not always follow directions, but when we make judgments, they take in every word. The time to act is now. We need to show them love, teach them empathy and tolerance. There is no better way to accomplish this than through books.
Giving children access to books that depict diverse characters can shine a light on the unfamiliar. They can show children that physical traits don’t define who a person is on the inside. They have the power to demonstrate that despite our many differences, all people share common feelings, similar hopes and dreams. These books can help children understand the world in which they live. They can act as both a mirror to their own culture and a window to others. Children feel valued and comforted when they see themselves in the pages of a book.
As school librarians, you can start by taking a hard look at your collection. Do you have books that represent diverse experiences, including people of color, people with disabilities, LGBT+, gender diversity, and religious and cultural minorities? Do you have books that represent all the students that you serve? Where are these books located? Pulling them off the shelves and displaying them prominently can help get them into the hands of more students. Talk about diverse books that you’ve read and enjoyed. Your recommendations hold more weight than you realize. If/when you are given money to purchase new books, choose ones that represent minorities that aren’t already represented in your current collection.
There are many amazing resources out there that are dedicated to bringing diverse books to all children. The We Need Diverse Books organization has a plethora of information you can use to bring more diverse books into your library. I especially like their list of websites you can visit to find diverse books of high quality. You can learn more about WNDB at http://weneeddiversebooks.org.
Consider having your students take the Reading Without Walls Challenge. Gene Luen Yang, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, issued this challenge to encourage students to read books outside their comfort zones. One focus of this challenge is to motivate children to read books about people that don’t look or live like them. You can learn more about this important challenge by visiting the Children’s Book Council.
Whether you have a diverse student population or a homogeneous one, I implore you to change your practices to include diverse literature. I applaud you if you’ve already put these books in the hands of your students. We have the power to help our students become kind, loving, and tolerant individuals. And right now, our country needs this more than ever.
Author: Jenna Grodzicki
I have been in education for the past 15 years. Currently, I am the K-5 Library Media Specialist at Thalberg Elementary School in Southington, Connecticut. Prior to that, I taught kindergarten, first grade, and third grade. I am also a picture book author. My first book, PIXIE’S ADVENTURE, is coming out in early 2017 from eTreasures Publishing. More than anything, I LOVE to read! I also love skiing and cheering for the best team in baseball, the Boston Red Sox!