What's on Your Shelf?
Over the past couple of weeks we've been looking at diversifying our libraries, be they personal, professional, or in the classroom. My most recent post shared some of the benefits a diverse collection of books brings, particularly for kids, when it comes to things like empathy, cross-cultural relationships, and identity formation. Basically, reading books that feature diverse characters, characters that represent "us" (whoever the "us" might be) boosts the way we see ourselves and our potential as well as the way we see others (or others see us).
Did you hear that? Diverse and inclusive literature is a win-win.
In order to include a more diverse selection of text in your collection, it's important to do an audit - evaluating the books you do have and taking a critical look at what is missing. Edutopia offers a great BINGO card to help you assess your collection. It's simple to use and checks a lot of the boxes of what to look for. As a first step to improving your collection, it's a useful tool.
If you don't want to bother with the card and do a little special-ops reconnaissance on your own (I salute you!), here are some key things to look for as you go through the titles on your shelf.
Who is writing the books? Authenticity and credibility have never been more important than today. Does your collection include a wide variety of authors? While there will always be a creative element to story telling, it is important that diverse voices get to tell their own stories. Cultural appropriation happens in literature. Check out an author before buying a "diverse" book and adding it to your collection.
What perspectives do your books share? I recently read an older book that told the fictional account of a black boy who escaped slavery and was trying to join his family in Canada. The story was told through the perspective of a white teenager helping the boy to freedom. It was a great story and a fine story to have in your collection...as long as it balanced out by stories told from the perspective of enslaved people as well. Too often, stories of "minority groups" are told through the lens of their "white saviors." Under-represented characters are usually the "victims" in a story, helpless and hapless until someone else comes along to rescue them. That narrative corrodes the inner strength and self-worth of many readers who do not seem themselves accurately reflected in the pages of a book. Be sure to include books from a variety of perspectives.
What topics do your books cover? When I take a look at my son's book shelf, I'm bombarded by sci-fi and fantasy titles. I can't get a historical or realistic fiction book in there to save my life. Sigh. Beware of choosing books from genres you like. Personal choice is great, but we must excise a little disciple by introducing kids to a variety of topics and subjects. On the Nerdy Book Club site author Donna Gephart wrote a blog post about books that deal with hard topics and the importance of them, personally and socially. Books that hit a wide range of topics is a necessary part of any collection.
.Who reads your books? Your book collection should accurately reflect the students you serve. If Latinx students fill the seats of your room, then Latinx characters should fill the shelves. Make sure that every student can find a book with a character who looks and sounds like them. Think about the faces your kiddos see on the covers of the books as well as the last names facing them on the spines. Representation is so important when it comes to encouraging kids of all levels to read. (I'm adding a P.S. to this one...looking for books that reflect the cultural and ethnic make-up of your classroom is especially important when you service under-presented kids. When your classroom make-up is mostly white kids, you still need to include diverse literature. Hear me before you get all up-in-arms about this. I'm not saying you can't have books featuring white kids, but that can't be all you have. It is particularly important for kids in a culturally homogeneous setting to be exposed t. o differing opinions, lifestyles, socio-economics, genders, cultures, ethnicity, etc. This is what builds empathy and understanding.)
In our next post, I'm going to be showering you with resources to tap as you being building a better, more diverse collection. (Yeah!) But right now, I'd love to hear from you. What is your biggest obstacle when it comes to diversifying your library? What keeps you from adding more inclusive content to your shelves? What authors/topics/genres do you find most under-represented?
Keeping the conversation going helps bring about change, so let's chat.
I'm so grateful for the support of you loyal readers. Thanks so much for sharing and bringing awareness! Follow Story Trekker on Facebook and Instagram. Get innovative resources for teaching diverse and inclusive novels and follow the Story Trekker store on Teachers Pay Teachers.