Diverse Books for Every American
Now more than ever, educators are putting more value on and recognizing the importance of making sure the content they teach caters to students of all backgrounds. With the population of the United States and school-aged children becoming increasingly diverse, libraries are becoming more conscious of sharing books that students can see themselves in.
Diverse books are becoming more popular by the day and many people advocate for literature that reflects the experiences of all children. Building a diverse selection of books can come with many questions but there are plenty of resources to help guide those wanting to implement change into their bookshelves. Our nation’s libraries are putting equity, diversity, and inclusion on the forefront of their selection processes, encouraging everyone else to follow suit and contribute.
Importance of Diversity In Book Selection
Most books that have been published throughout the years have featured characters who are predominantly white. A 2018 infographic on diversity in children’s books showed that half of children’s books depicted characters from white backgrounds, over a quarter depicted animals or other entities as main characters and minority populations only barely made up a quarter of character depictions in children’s books. Of this portion, 1 percent depicted American Indians or First Nations characters, 5 percent depicted Latinx characters, 7 percent depicted Asian Pacific Islander and Asian Pacific American characters, and 10 percent depicted African or African American characters. It is also important to note that the number of books representing different backgrounds available did not correlate with the quality of those books. While students can also learn from the experiences of characters represented in the majority of books, it is important to diversify book collections to include characters from other ethnicities and races as well.
Reflection of Culture
Giving students a chance to see themselves in the books they come across is an important aspect of growing up. It gives them a chance to see their identities and experiences reflected in mainstream media which helps them with self-esteem, cultural pride, and connection. These types of books benefit the reader significantly and shows kids of any ethnicity, religion, disability, etc. that their stories also matter. It gives them characters that they can relate to, learn from, or look up to in ways that resonate with them on a different level.
Teaching Equity & Justice
Diverse literature is important in teaching children about experiences and lives different from their own. Just as important as it is for students of different backgrounds to read books that represent themselves, it is also important for their classmates to do the same. Exposing children to diverse books from the start instills empathy and understanding. When children are able to see perspectives from other backgrounds, they humanize people that look different from themselves. This can help combat things like racism, homophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, etc.
Librarians and other educators have noted the unwelcoming political climate that has been created over the past few years which has only been made worse by what is shown in the media. These factors have led to increased instances of bullying in many school communities. Teaching Justice found that almost all anti-immigrant related incidents in schools targeted Latinx students and anti-Semitic as well as anti-LGBTQ harassment made up a significant portion of their reports hate incidents also. Keeping bookshelves diverse affirms students of colors but also works to teach their peers kindness. It teaches them to recognize diversity as a strength rather than a problem.
Implementing Diversity at Local Libraries
Libraries and staff all across the nation have been stocking their shelves with titles that include diverse books for all school age children. The School Library Journal’s (SLJ) Diverse Books Survey showed that a majority of librarians believed it was very important for their library to have a book collection with diverse points of view available for their younger patrons. This has been reflected in actions that libraries and schools have taken. Many are reevaluating their programs and book lists and purchasing books that feature diverse characters and especially those that are written by diverse authors.
The first step towards developing a book list and collection that is inclusive and diverse is doing an audit of the books that are already on the shelf. The goals of these audits is to discover how well the books that currently exist in a collection reflect the experiences of the population. Librarian, Karen Jensen, created a procedure for diversity audits at her own library. This involved pulling statistics from various resources like surveys and the U.S. Census to get a better grasp of the population of the world as well as the publishing landscape. She then evaluated her own library’s collections and figured out the percentage of different backgrounds that showed up. Using this data she was able to improve upon what was already on the shelf to include books that featured more representation for the patrons she was serving.
These types of processes can be used everywhere and by anyone. A 2nd grade teacher in New York CIty conducts an annual diversity audit with her students. Together they look at trends in the racial diversity of children’s books in the nation and then evaluate the books in the classroom to see what matches up. Not only does this help her keep tabs on the type of materials she is exposing her students to, it also shows students that books can be the window into someone else’s life and creates an awareness for having diverse reading books in a class.
Those looking for other methods of auditing their collection can also create random samples, look at subject headings, or use a reverse audit process. Using book lists created by reputable organizations that advocate for diversity like the Stonewall and Rainbow reading lists to guide your audits can be a quick way to identify whether you’ve expanded your collection to include inclusive titles.
Many libraries and organizations have developed specific toolkits to address the topic of diversity in books and help educators discuss this topic with students, patrons, and the public.
We Need Diverse Books, School Library Journal, and the American Booksellers Association teamed up to produce Booktalking Kits which was created to bring attention to children’s books that have diverse characters and those written by diverse authors. It provides a wide range of books from picture books to those that are appropriate for older readers like pre-teens and teens. It includes title suggestions, comparative titles, and keeps different target audiences in mind, a great anthology of diverse books for those looking to get started.
In more recent years, the School Library Journal has also released their own diversity and cultural literacy toolkit, another great resource for those wanting to find videos, articles, and websites that touch on inclusivity. What is cool about this list is that the content that has been included was used by the SLJ during their training sessions and workshops on diversity and cultural identity. The list is divided into key concepts and resources are categorized into topics such as anti-oppression, allyship, language, stereotypes, etc. It also includes activities and discussion guides that can be helpful for those working through these topics for the first time.
Diverse Book Lists
Book suggestions for diverse titles and topics can be found all over the internet. Especially with the growing demand for inclusive books and really diving into culturally accurate representations, there are plenty of book lists to explore to fill your needs.
Overdrive, a service that provides digital reading platforms for schools and libraries is another player that has gotten involved with sharing diverse books and resources. Being a service that holds a large catalog of ebooks, audiobooks, and other digital media used by students, they understand the role that they play in engaging educators and students in content that showcases all stories. They’ve created a number of reading lists with thousands of selections on each list touching on Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ characters/authors, and characters and authors from different cultural backgrounds like Asian American and Middle Eastern cultures.
Social media has also become a big contributor to the diversity movement. Many libraries and organizations are using the power of social media to share resources, create awareness, and build momentum for the need for diverse books in learning spaces. These spaces have been used to share crowdfunding initiatives that help teachers match donations for diverse learning materials and create online communities that advocate for literature that better reflects the experiences of students. Hashtags such as #DisruptTexts and #DiversityJedi can be used to locate these communities on social media sites such as Twitter. Books, events, and stories of everyday library and classroom instances of diversity in reading is consistently shared through these hashtags.
Creating a Diverse Library
Creating a diverse library collection can take a lot of work, but it all starts with making the decision to change. Beyond that, make sure to involve your community in what you’re doing and incorporate feedback on what they would like to see. Focus on books that are relevant and present. While historical books can be an good teaching tool, students don’t only want to see themselves in books about slavery, internment camps, etc. Find materials that include realistic fiction such as adventures in school, friendships, or family. Finally, remember that new books are being written and published everyday. Creating a diverse book list is an ongoing process. Stay on top of the materials being released and have your library space reflect your intentions.