Books can be the mirrors and windows into the world around us. As Rudine Sims Bishop states in her essay Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors:
"Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also 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. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books."
This past summer, mid-pandemic and in the midst of an ongoing rediscovery of racial unrest, I was determined to make a difference in my own little world -- my three kids. So where does a former early childhood educator turn? BOOKS! I scoured our house in search of every diverse book we owned that would help us have these important conversations. I only came across a stack of about 5 books, mostly biographies of the prominent Black history icons. I kept telling myself I had to have more somewhere, but with bookshelf after bookshelf and box after box I became even more disappointed. And so to the internet I went, searching for the best antiracist books for children... and for me.
In my search for knowledge and growth, I also found Moms Against Racism and began making connections with like-minded moms on a mission to raise antiracist kids by "doing the work, starting at home." And in turn, MAR launched our Diverse Book Basket program!
The research shows children and young adult books are desperately lacking representation. Take a look at the statistics on representation from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center Diversity Statistics.
How appalling that "the number of books featuring BIPOC protagonists lags far behind the number of books with white main characters—or even those with animal or other characters. Taken together, books about white children, talking bears, trucks, monsters, potatoes, etc. represent nearly three quarters (71%) of children's and young adult books published in 2019."
A child of color is more likely to find a book about a talking toaster than a book with a character that represents themselves.
While there are many systemic racist systems in place that hinder how books are published, we can raise up books featuring diverse characters and support BIPOC authors and illustrators.
Our newly formed, grassroots organization pushed forward with the Diverse Book Basket campaign. Our goal was to get diverse books into the hands of kids—from preschool to high school. Books are powerful tools that help generate a dialogue within classrooms and beyond. We successfully delivered over 120 books to schools across the country. Representation matters and given the statics mentioned above, many children are not being represented in their own classroom libraries.
For a more detailed look into how to complete your own diverse book audit, check out the MAR Canada blog and read Caitlin Baker’s informative piece.
Some key questions proposed in her blog post include:
whose voices are represented?
whose voices are underrepresented?
do you have books that feature #ownvoices?
how can you fix it?
How can we fix it? How can we make a difference beyond our own circle? MAR’s mission is to unify our parenting skills while teaching antiracism by doing the work, starting at home. We are a pillar within our respective communities and serve our education systems, workplaces, and youth by advocating for antiracist practices emphasizing diversity and inclusion.
As we continue to “do the work,” we are excited to announce our new Literacy Partnership with Scholastics.
Scholastics has curated diverse and inclusive book collections and made strides in including #OwnVoices and BIPOC authors and illustrators. MAR is thrilled for the opportunity to bring books to even more children and families through this new partnership.
As we culminate our Black History month celebration and move into Read Across America week, let's continue to push forward in sharing diverse books with our children. Empower our children to learn from stories that create mirrors and windows in the world around them. I’ll leave you with a final quote from Rudine Sims Bishop, the mother of multicultural children’s literature:
“When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities, because together they are what makes us all human.”
Personally, as I continue on my own antiracist journey, I’m bringing my children (and their bookshelf!) along for the ride. We are learning and growing together… and that’s the best kind of family experience. Are you ready to expand your child’s library and provide those opportunities for mirrors and windows? Take a look at our Bookshop store for lists of books for all reading levels. (https://bookshop.org/shop/MAR)
Stay tuned for programs planned with Scholastics and how you can get involved. Let’s keep “doing the work!”
Rudine Sims Bishop, The Ohio State University, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” originally appeared in Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom. Vo. 6, no. 3. Summer 1990
Cooperative Children’s Book Center Diversity Statistics