Build Your Stack: On Windows, Mirrors, and Telescopes - National Council of Teachers of English
Back to Blog

Build Your Stack: On Windows, Mirrors, and Telescopes

This Build Your Stack post was written by NCTE member Stephanie Toliver. The September 2021 Council Chronicle includes Toliver’s essay “On Mirrors, Windows, and Telescopes,” in which she extends the metaphor created by Rudine Sims Bishop to argue that teachers must provide youth “stories that exist at the intersection of reality, possibility, and the imaginary.”

Build Your Stack® is an NCTE initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. Build Your Stack® provides a forum for contributors to share books from their classroom experience; inclusion in a blog post does not imply endorsement or promotion of specific books by NCTE. 


In my work on Black girlhood and speculative storytelling, I realized that I needed an extended metaphor, something that focused more on imagination, futurity, and the fantastic. Over time, I’ve landed on the idea of a telescope as literary metaphor. I expand on this idea in my essay “On Mirrors, Windows, and Telescopes” (The Council Chronicle, Sept 2021.)

In that article I name authors such as Kacen Callender, Roseanne Brown, Zetta Elliott, Kwame Mbalia, L.L. McKinney, and Justin A. Reynolds as creating astronomical observatories so Black children will have a chance to magnify the celestial brightness that surrounds Black existence.

I also cite Darcie Little Badger, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Roshani Chokshi, Zoraida Córdova, Cherie Dimaline, Ellen Oh, Nafiza Azad, Rebecca Roanhorse, Malinda Lo, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Isabel Ibañez as authors who have added to the observatory network, making sure all children have the ability to gaze at the stars and see themselves within an infinite realm of possibility.

In the list below, you’ll find specific recommendations of books to make available to our students, to help them look beyond what is and imagine what could be.


Books to Help Students Look Beyond What Is and Imagine What Could Be 


Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Fire with Fire by Destiny Soria

Forest of Souls (Book 1) / Broken Webb (Book 2) by Lori M. Lee

Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor

Incendiary (Book 1) / Illusionary (Book 2) by Zoraida Cordova

Infinity Son (Book 1) / Infinity Reaper (Book 2) by Adam Silvera

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

Last Gamer Standing by Katie Zhao

Last Gate of the Emporer by Kwame Mbalia

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Lightfinder by Aaron Paquette

Lobizona (Book 1) / Cazadora (Book 2) by Romina Garner

Mirage (Book 1) / Court of Lions (Book 2) by Somaiya Daoud

Raybearer (Book 1) / Redemptor (Book 2) by Jordan Ifueko

Renegade Flight by Andrea Tang

Sisters of the Snake by Sarena and Sasha Nanua

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

The Wild Ones by Nafiza Azad

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart




Read “On Mirrors, Windows, and Telescopes” in the September 2021 Council Chronicle. 

Read a related blog post by Stephanie R. Toliver: Build Your Stack: Ensuring Black Girls Access to Science Fiction


Stephanie R. Toliver is an assistant professor of literacy and secondary humanities at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Informed by her love of science fiction and fantasy texts as well as her experience as a ninth- and tenth-grade English teacher, Toliver’s scholarship centers the freedom dreams of Black youth and honors the historical legacy that Black imaginations have had and will have on activism and social change. Her academic work has been published in several journals, including Journal of Literacy Research, Journal of Children’s Literature, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, and English Journal. Her public scholarship has been featured on LitHub, Huffpost, and the Horn Book. Toliver is the 2021 recipient of the NCTE Promising Researcher Award.


NCTE and independent bookstores will receive a small commission from purchases made using the links above.

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.