I was at the 2014 NCTE conference when I first heard a panel talk about literature as windows and mirrors. Mirrors are the books that reflect a child’s own life. The characters look like them and have similar experiences that the child can relate to. Windows are books that allow a child to see into the world of another and shed light on those experiences. We need to make sure our libraries have plenty of both. When I look at my own personal library, I realize it is in desperate need of a make-over!
As teachers we are often the gatekeeper to our students’ reading options. What they choose to read is often limited by what we have to offer. Sure, some kids come from homes with plenty of books, but many of our students rely on our classrooms or our school libraries for their reading diets. It’s important that we make sure we are offering a balanced diet! We have to make sure we aren’t simply choosing the books WE like to read, but constantly keep in mind what our students may want to read-or would be helped by reading.
When you look around your classroom you can see the diversity of race, gender, socioeconomic status, disability, culture, etc. Some classrooms are more diverse than others! But when you look at your classroom library do you see that diversity reflected? Could every child in your classroom find him or herself mirrored in the books of your room? Many kids don’t “feel invited to the party” when they don’t see themselves reflected in the literature. We want to invite them into the world of books, but they need to feel like they belong there. We need more mirrors!
Our world is getting flatter (global playing field is being leveled a great deal by technology and connectedness). Our neighborhoods are changing and schools are becoming more diverse. We want our students to see into the lives of others through the books they read. We want them to develop empathy, understanding, and compassion that will break down bias and discrimination. Kids need books with strong characters- with a variety of color, culture, genders, and (dis)abilities. Who could read Brown Girl Dreaming without gaining insight into growing up ‘brown’ in the south? Who could read Out of My Head or Wonder without crushing any preconceived notions of disabilities? Books allow us to walk in the shoes of others. We need more windows!
In essence, we need diverse books. There are movements and websites devoted to this movement. Just search Twitter with #WeNeedDiverseBooks and you’ll find many reasons why our libraries should be more diverse. Here are 10+ reasons why I would love all classrooms to diversify their libraries. (There are probably as many reasons as there are people!)
- Build empathy.
- Expand our worldview.
- Give us new ways of thinking about issues.
- Invite everyone to “the party”.
- Help the marginalized to be seen.
- Inspire us to tell our own stories.
- Reflect the reality of the world.
- Help kids envision who they can aspire to be.
- Affirm that we are all important and valued.
- Combat ignorance.
BONUS: They add beauty to our lives!!!
So as you organize your libraries this year and consider what new books you would like to add to your collection, you can diversify by looking at the faces of your children. Which books would be MIRRORS and which would be WINDOWS that represent each of those precious souls?
To get you started you can use some of these lists:
What’s on my Book Radar?
Fitting with my theme of diversity, I found two books this summer that deal with welcoming immigrant students into our classrooms. I love them! Our district has had a large influx over the years and I think their presence has enriched our schools immensely. These stories may help foster greater empathy and understanding for just how difficult that transition may be for many of these kids.Though not new (2003) Yangsook Choi’s book is still very relevant, and beautiful. Unhei has just moved with her family to the U.S. and realizes her name is difficult for others to say (Yoon-Hey). Her classmates create a name jar filled with “American” names for her to choose from. Unhei thinks a lot about the importance of a name and decides upon the perfect name for herself.
Anne Sibley O’Brien’s compassionate story follows three immigrant students as they try to assimilate into a new country and new school. Maria is from Guatemala, Jin is from Korea, and Fatima is from Somalia. This book would be an incredible window for elementary students. Things that we take for granted each day in school, are often challenges for immigrant students. What a wonderful mirror this book would be for these new students as well!