My role as a librarian, or one’s role as an educator, parent, or conscious citizen, is to read and promote a diverse, well-rounded collection of reading materials for the youth in my charge. From a young age, children should see themselves and learn about others in books. It’s our duty to use these books as a beacon of welcoming, inclusion, and acceptance, in simple and intentional ways.
Why is a diverse collection so fundamental? Not only do children need to see themselves to know they are accepted, they need to learn about and join the worlds of others. This, then, teaches them to accept as they are accepted. In 1990, Rudine Sims Bishop of The Ohio State University coined the phrase, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” referring to reading material being a conduit for children to see themselves, see others, or enter a new world. She writes,
“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also called sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms 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, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”Rudine Sims Bishop, the Ohio State University. “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” from Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom. Volume 6, issue 3. Summer 1990.
One of the premiere steps to diversifying your collection, whether in your home or professional library, is to take a step back and look at your books with a critical eye. Scan covers for characters who represent a variety of lifestyles and cultures. Observe if there are any other gaps in the collection, such as a lack of culturally different authors and subject matter. There should exist a balance among diverse picture books, chapter books, as well as nonfiction books.
Another key step is to share your collections; share the books that represent mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Merchandising, or displaying items, is a great way to physically show patrons and students your commitment to an inclusive environment. Children can learn in a clear way that they belong there. In my library, I make it a priority to display an abundance of cultural selections. There are key occasions, such as Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, where I dedicate display fixtures to exclusively advertising such titles.
Finally, continue to expand your own reading scope and improve your readers’ advisory skills by staying current with new, noteworthy, and diverse titles. Some of my favorite recent reads are listed below. These are fresh, exciting tales that offer a glimpse into many different lifestyles, cultures, and viewpoints.
LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG DREAMS series
Written and illustrated by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara
This series of 67 and counting picture book biographies, shares the childhood dreams and accomplishments of various figures, from Frida Kahlo to RuPaul. These delightful reads are colorful and welcoming, and feature a wide range of people, covering pop culture icons, artists, political figures, and more.
TILMUND’S TRAVEL TALES
Written by Samai Haider
Illustrated by Reesham Shahab Tirtho
A wonderful picture book about Tilmund, who follows in his grandfather’s footsteps on a travel adventure. Tilmund explores the lands, cultures, and landmarks of 15 different countries. This is a great look at a variety of cultures for children to discover.
Written by Kelly Yang
This middle grade series centers around captivating fictional tales based on real historical events. 10 year old Mia Tang, a Chinese immigrant, helps her parents manage a motel in Southern California in the nineties. Mia’s stories about fitting in as a tween, coupled with the social justice issues she faces as a minority, make these books a must-read for today’s youth.