Earlier this year, I came across a delightful story on NPR entitled “Where's The Color In Kids' Lit? Ask The Girl With 1,000 Books (And Counting).” In it, I was introduced to Marley Diaz, a young girl on a mission to find and distribute books with black girls as main characters. At the time, Marley had collected over 3000 books, and I’m sure she has received many more since. It’s amazing how a great idea shared through social media can cause real change in the world around us - even if only to get people like me to stop and think.
This story got me wondering, how white is my classroom library? Better put, what type of diversity is reflected in the book shelves of my classroom? Do the books my students read each day in school reflect the diversity of the world in which they live? How about the world into which they will head? I knew that if I went snooping, I probably wouldn’t like what I found. Even so, I jumped in. With the help of Anne Vanderwell, a high school job shadow, we scoured the shelves and pulled out every book that had a minority as a main character or an equal distribution of white and minority characters represented throughout. In the end, what we found was both expected and disappointing.
I figure I have just over 1300 books in my library. You can see it in the background of the picture above. We found a total of 166 books that included a minority main character or had an equal distribution of white and minority characters. Looking closer, the books could be divided up this way:
14 Historical Books and Biographies (1% of my total library): These are books about famous historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Pocahontas and Squanto. All these people made significant contributions to our nation’s history, but they're also all dead.
33 Legends (2%): I have a wide variety of legends from different cultures. This includes books like “The Seven Chinese Brothers” or “The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses.” While these books do a great job of introducing students to different cultures, very few of them help students recognize and appreciate the diversity of their own country, state or community.
22 Informational Texts (1.5%): A few of the science books I have in my library have a very intentional distribution of white and minority students. These books include texts about the human body or are books like the Magic School Bus. I’m thankful for publishers like these that set multicultural representation as a priority for their books.
97 Others (7.5 %): This is what’s left. These are the books that have a minority as a main characters but are set in contexts and settings that are familiar to my students. These are the regular fictional stories my students would choose to read or that I would read aloud to them. To be honest, about half of these are from the “teacher books” section of my classroom. They are the books that are set aside for me to use and read. In reality, there are only about 50 books that students can choose to read independently.
I guess it could be worse, but I know I can do better. My students deserve a more well- rounded view of their world. If 40% of the people in our country are non-white, shouldn’t the main characters in the books of my classroom be as well? What messages am I indirectly sending by leaving these stories out of my collection?
It is easy to stop here and say that this problem is too large to solve on my own, that I don’t have the money to buy a bunch of new books, that these types of books aren’t easy to find. I don't want to make excuses. As with all of life’s seemingly insurmountable challenges, I think it’s best to start small. Below you will find some practical steps we can take in the right direction.
One Book at a Time
Let's start by preparing for the next time we will buy new books or choose our next literature unit or novel. How can we weave these stories into our curriculum? Below I've copied a variety of excellent books lists to check out. These sites have some great ideas for your next book to share:
Spend Those Scholastic Points: Teacher Friends, do you have any Scholastic points saved up? Scholastic has partnered with We Need Diverse Books to create a special book collection of multicultural books for students from PreK through middle school. Click here to check it out. You can shop from these suggestions using those points you've been saving away for an occasion such as this. Even better, share the winter "We Need Diverse Books" flyers with your students and their parents. You can find the PreK-3rd suggestions here and the 4th-8th suggestions here.
Read Alouds: Maybe it’s time to rethink our read alouds at school. When I look over the read alouds I have chosen for the year, I’m amazed at how little diversity there is. What a missed opportunity. By choosing read alouds that include minority main characters in a variety of cultural contexts, teachers can invite students into organic discussions about people and places that may be unfamiliar. Multicultural Children’s Book Day is this January 27th. What new text can you find to share with your students? Check out the book lists above for some ideas.
Rethinking Black History Month: We do our students a disservice if black history is limited to a few lessons about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks during one month of the year. When do we recognize the significant contributions of Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Indian Americans, etc to our nation. While it’s better to do 1 or 2 lessons once a year than none at all, how can we add the stories of minorities to the narrative of our history? A great place to begin this search is the Smithsonian’s “History Explorer” website. You will find dozens of lessons, artifacts and primary sources to explore.
Spice Up Social Studies: It's time to rethink how we study families, communities and states in social studies. Scholastic has collecting many great media-rich lessons to get you started. What if once a month you replaced or enhanced your social studies lesson with one of these ready-to-go discussions and activities? I'd start by checking out "Teaching Diversity: a Place to Begin" or these Multiculturalism and Diversity Activities. Pick and choose what you think would work best for your class. Click here to see even more resources about immigration, holidays, festivals and folktales.
Take a Digital Feildtrip: If you’re blessed to have a cart of ipads at your school, it may be worth using apps like Google Earth and Google Expeditions to zoom in and check out different places, different communities, and different cultures. What might your students see? How might this guide their thinking? Could this help them recognize the immense diversity of the people and places of our world?
So, How About You?
How white is your library? Do you have any other great books to recommend? Ideas of things you're doing in your classroom? Please comment at the bottom of this post.
Help Diversify My Classroom Library
1. Search ANY product in the Amazon search bar at the bottom of the ad below.
2. You'll be taken to Amazon where you can make your purchases as usual and...that's it. A percentage of all book orders placed through the ad below will help pay for more multicultural books for my classroom. There is no cost to you. Thanks for your support!
While there are hundreds of books worth reccomending, these are some that I own and love:
Dig Deeper with Further Reading
Check out the following articles for more great ideas about how you can diversify your bookshelves and deepen and clarify your student’s view of their world.
“The Uncomfortable Truth About Children's Books” Mother Jones
”Where's The Color In Kids' Lit? Ask The Girl With 1,000 Books (And Counting)” NPR
"The Diversity Gap in Children's Publishing, 2015" Lee & Low Books
"Diversity in Children's Literature Key to Understanding Today's Civil Rights Issues" NEA Today
Common Sense Media
Helping Parents & Teachers Navigate a Digital World
A Mid-Year Checkup:
Tech Goals I've Met, Missed or Abandoned Completely
Shelf Reflection: What my classroom library says about the world and what I can do about it.
Looking Ahead, Blogging Forward
Teacher Approved Gifts for Kids
The Best Apps for Your Kid's New Device
Do Good with Great Deals
Is Amazon Prime Worth It?
Navigating the Election with Your Kids
Making the Most of 1 Classroom iPad
Apptoberfest: Google Photos
Apptoberfest: The Bible for Kids by YouVersion
Apptoberfest: IXL Math
Apptoberfest: Teach You Monster to Read
I Tried...I Failed...& You Can Too!
Let Go and Let Them
Oh the Place You'll Go: Using Green Screens in the Classroom
The Kindle Fire HD 8 - The iPad's Days are Numbered
A Fresh Start: Changes for the Year Ahead
Getting Great Stuff for Less - Part 2: Getting the Lowest Price
Getting Great Stuff for Less - Part 1 : Finding the Best Stuff
Stop Everything and Kahoot!
Coding in 2nd Grade with No Prep and $0
Kindles in the Classroom: A Year In Review