This blog post is part of Build Your Stack,® a new initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. It was written by member Jessica Torres.
There has been a lot of focus recently on ensuring the diversification of books available to students in the classroom. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote a piece in the early 90s that referred to “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” as a reference for why we diversify book choice for children.
“Mirror” books allow students to know that they are not alone . . . that there is someone, somewhere who understands their life in some aspect and has written a book about it.
When we look through the “windows” we see the world. It doesn’t always look like us, live like us, love like us, but we don’t need to hate it; we can learn from it, show kindness, and ultimately show tolerance and empathy.
This thinking is great; however, if we don’t actually understand the meaning of diversification we can find ourselves going down the wrong rabbit hole.
The definition of diversity from weneeddiversebooks.org is as follows:
We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.
*We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization.
The diversity of the literature varies depending on the reader . . . what is diverse (varied) for one is not necessarily the same as for another student. The important thing is to have an extremely wide selection of books that represents all of the differences that could affect one’s life and all of the different ways that an individual could find themselves feeling isolated or alone.
I’d like to share a stack of books and the mirror that it represents or the window that it could provide to others.
Emily’s Blue Period by Cathleen Daly, illustrated by Lisa Brown
[Parent’s Divorce, Identity]
This book focuses on the impact that divorce has on one student’s life and the difficulty completing a basic art assignment becomes because of the two homes that she now shares. My favorite aha moment of this book occurred when reading with students and they began to ask each other how many homes they each had. Several students shared that they were in fact just like the character in the book, shuttled between several different homes. This created powerful conversations between students from a nuclear family who had no understanding of the hardships multiple homes created.
Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
There’s nothing more disconcerting to a child than being bored and stuck in a place that you don’t understand. This is exactly the situation that a young boy finds himself in when he is dropped off at his grandfather’s house that he has absolutely nothing in common with…or so he thinks. This book encourages both youth and adults to take a moment and think about the commonalities that could be there between both individuals. Not all commonalities are immediately visible or obvious, but if you search for them those similarities could bring you a wealth of love.
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
[Identity, Belonging, Courage to Be Yourself]
This book will make anyone smile and think about a time when they were afraid to show others who they truly were. The young boy in the book becomes enamored with the beautifully dressed “mermaids” and fashions himself an outfit to parallel theirs. His grandmother discovers his new look and her response is priceless. In a world where belonging and acceptance are far too often denied, this book reminds us that we all deserve to be loved for who we are.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
[Poverty, Immigration, Personal Strength and Growth]
As a child, we were very poor. Our poverty and lack of necessities often caused me to feel misunderstood and out of place. The school was my safe haven because I knew it provided me skills and opportunities that would help me get out of poverty’s grasp. I personally connected with this book because it shows students that poverty is not permanent. It also shows that getting out of poverty takes hard work, a community of supports, and a dream that is bigger than your current situation. Kelly Yang developed a great book that allows students to understand the difficulties poverty brings, but the opportunities that lie around the corner.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
[Identity, Belonging, Courage to Be Yourself]
This graphic novel knocked me off of my feet. We all have secrets that we hide, secrets that we are afraid will be too difficult for those we love to accept us. As parents, we all have dreams for our children but in the end, it is their life and not ours. Our job is to ensure that they are safe, loved, and accepted for who they are. Although this is not the type of book that can be easily read aloud due to its organization, this is a book that I would want to converse about personally with students who read it. I think it is important to support students as they read about topics that they may or may not be familiar with, so that we can answer any questions for them and provide emotional support.
Jessica Torres serves as a Digital Innovation & Social Studies specialist with ESC Region 12 in Texas. A staunch supporter of literacy to support and develop social/emotional skills in students, Torres is always seeking out the next great book that will connect with someone.