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"WINDOWS & MIRRORS" IN THE BOOKS WE READ

October 4, 2017

The following image of Teacher-Librarian Dorothy Vickers-Shelley (1935-2009) is posted at the door of Cedar Park Elementary library. Her former students, now adults, can still recite her credo: "Life is short. Therefore, I shall be a crusader against ignorance and fear. Beginning with myself." 

 

As School Librarian and co-facilitator of the Equity Team at Cedar Park, I take seriously the role of the library in countering stereotypes, deepening understanding, nurturing compassion, and fostering critical thinking. An early priority was to ensure, when selecting books for our collection, that they represent the lovely diversity of people in our community and our world.

"Special issues" books that address injustice are essential, of course, and the best ones celebrate triumph in the face of hardships. They profile courage and plant seeds that make our world better, braver, kinder. These books are important, but they cannot be the only view children have into a community.

 

Writer Ruman Alaam discusses the significance of sharing portraits of our citizens in their everyday lives (which he refers to as "casual diversity.")  He longs to see more books in which kids of various communities "tromp through the woods, obsess about trucks, love their parents, refuse to eat dinner. We need more books in which our kids are simply themselves, and in which that is enough." I join Alaam and the "We Need Diverse Books" movement in envisioning a world in which "all children can see themselves in a book" and in which children are offered a wide range of heroes big and small. 

 

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie describes the importance of wide representation in her powerful talk "The Danger of a Single Story." As she says, “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make the one story become the only story."

 

 

Although the children's publishing industry has made progress to amplify more voices, it still has far to go, as this 2015 infographic shows:

 

(image licensed under Creative Commons, data from Cooperative Children's Book Center)

 

Grace Lin, Taiwanese American author of several books in our library, gave another thought provoking Ted Talk about her personal childhood connection to representation, and the painful absence in literature and media of girls who looked like her. "My books are the books that I wished I’d had when I was a child."

 


At Cedar Park Elementary Library, we rely on publishers such as Lee & Low and bloggers from respective groups who are focused on ensuring accurate, positive representation in literature. We will continue to seek out a range of titles that represent the diversity (ethnicity, culture, LGBTQ family, language, religion, ability) of our community and our world. 

 

Do you have a book you would like to see in our collection? Are you interested in bringing your voice to our Equity team? Please email me or stop by the library to let me know.

 

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© 2017 by Abigail Levin