I know, I know. If you’re reading this blog you’re probably already invested in diverse books. But even though you’re no doubt the most outspoken advocate for diversity in children’s books, I bet you might know someone in your school or community who needs a little convincing of the benefits of choosing a book that represents a diverse experience for their next community-wide or all-school read.
From my own experience, I know that publishers are becoming more mindful of diversity and representation in the books they publish. I’ve seen firsthand the landscape of children’s books change, how representation is weighed with importance rather than as a hindrance, and I’ve been encouraged and inspired by how many people with diverse backgrounds have joined publishing and continue fighting for changes. I also know we don’t always get it right and we have a long way to go.
But the question of whose stories get told and by whom is not something we can ignore any longer as a society. It takes whole communities, just like yours, to make changes within children’s books. And one of those ways is by choosing a diverse title for your next community-wide or all-school read.
Here are my top five reasons why you should choose a diverse read.
Mirrors: Allow You to See Yourself Represented in a Story and Explore Your Identity
It’s been nearly three decades since “Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors” was published by Rudine Sims Bishop, the OG of representation in children’s literature. In her essay, Bishop posits, “Literature transforms the human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation.”
This is perhaps the most cited reasons for the inclusion of diverse books in schools and libraries—and for good reason! Our sense of identity, value, and agency are influenced by a wide array of things including home life, school, environment, and society, which includes the books we read. Choosing a book that represents the wider world around us can validate a reader’s belief in their own importance and value as a member of society.
Windows: Bring Visibility to Cultures Different from Our Own
Another nod to Ms. Bishop is the concept of books as windows. For a community-wide read, this is a big one that we shouldn’t ignore. Books that represent a variety of cultures and people help us understand those who are different than us by opening a window into that experience. If we only see characters and experiences that reflect our own, we’re more likely to believe that our own experience is more important or valid than those that are unfamiliar.
It’s important that marginalized children aren’t the only ones reading and being exposed to diverse books, nor are their lives the only ones that will be enriched by reading them. Reading books that represent different abilities, cultures, beliefs, and skin colors help us change our attitude toward those differences. Offering a diverse title for a community read allows the reader to both step into the shoes of the protagonist and have a buffer from their reality. Seeing bullying or injustice happen in the world of a book can give a child a new perspective on what’s happening in their own school or community.
Reading Builds Community Unity and Inclusivity
One of the reasons to have a community-wide or all-school read is to come together and learn from the book and each other; to become a community of engaged, educated, and empathetic members of society.
Ignoring part of the population through reading books about one type of people and culture undermines the program itself. By reading a diverse book for your community or all-school read, it reaffirms the value of everyone in the community and fosters an environment of inclusivity. It gives members of the community the opportunity to learn something new together and unite despite any differences in age, race or ethnicity, ability, or socioeconomic status.
Creates Openings for Discussions About What’s Happening in Current Events
Curiosity is one of the most inspiring characteristics of children—they’re little sponges for information! Choosing the right community read provides an opportunity for discussing current events that kids may have heard about on the news, in the classroom, or at home.
Reading about an experience in a book readies a child for a larger discussion in a safe space. For instance, reading a book about Malala Yousafzai can spark discussions about the education of girls and women in Pakistan. The empathy and understanding from reading a book can flow over into having a difficult discussion later at home or in the classroom.
Emphasizes Similarities: Kids are Kids No Matter How Different Their Backgrounds
Not every book featuring a diverse character spotlights that diversity as a different experience. Sometimes these books are simply a slice of normal life that demonstrates that when it comes down to it, we’re all much more similar than we are different. Books of diversity shouldn’t cause discourse among readers, rather, a well-written book reveals that simple truth of the human experience: we’re not so different after all.
If you’re planning your next community or all-school read, advocate for a book of diverse representation. If you need help deciding on just the right one, take into consideration these questions: Is there a connection to our community (historical, current, geographic)? Is there a need in our community for a specific topic? Is there a topic that is of particular interest to the community or that encourages involvement (such as volunteering, trying new recipes, solving mysteries, etc.)? And if you’re still not sure where to start, take a look at some of my favorite books to use for community-wide and all-school reads.