5 Reflections and 15 Resources to Ignite Your Passion for Diverse Books
Let’s All Be Students of Diversity
This post is inspired by Donalyn Miller after her #NerdTalk at #NerdCampMi on July 8, 2019. She is a warrior and book whisperer for reading in the classroom, but more so, she is also a person who is not afraid to “make good trouble.” She started her #NerdTalk by voicing that she was the teacher who often raised questions to the administration at the end of the staff meeting. While many of her points on reading have helped form the construct of my teaching identity when it comes to reading, I have to be louder about another element that makes up who I am as a teacher. As an advocate for diverse literature in the classroom, it is my duty to be downright rowdy when it comes to putting materials and books in my classroom and in my district’s classrooms. #NerdCamp was a grouping of largely white women, like most of the demographic of the teaching profession, and Donalyn Miller spoke to white educators directly in the call for boisterous and clear advocacy of diverse texts in schools. We all have to be a deafening, strong force when it comes to diverse texts.
We Need Diverse Books, a nonprofit organization, defines diversity as “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.” I continue to be a student of learning about diverse texts and how to incorporate diverse texts into my classroom and curriculum. I’ve written about diverse books before on the blog as I have tried to work as many diverse texts as possible into my mentor text work. This infographic was posted again at #NerdCampMI as a reminder that we still have miles to go as a teaching profession and publishing industry before we can call ourselves “inclusive” or “responsive.”
While I am trying to get as many texts into my classroom and work on developing reading conferences in my room, I find that my curriculum and the books that are available to kids need to be more than black and white. I need more books like Other Words from Home by Jasmine Warga and George by Alex Gino and The Moon Within by Aida Salazar. My students need to hear the variety of stories that come from different cultures, backgrounds, and ethnicities. They need to hear about other gender identities in stories because stories are the way that we connect with each other. How am I supposed to build empathy in my students when there are no stories in my room to represent them?
The answer? We continue to do the work.
Areas I Am Working On
I am on a constant mission to find balance. My good friend Dionna Roberts, 4th-grade teacher and former literacy coach presented at #NerdCamp this year. In her session “Engaged in Being Lit Across Content” she based her work largely in Christopher Emdin’s ideas from For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education (Race, Education, and Democracy). She reminded the educators in the room that we are a mission to find the balance between building relationship and rapport with our students, maintaining academic rigor, and providing content that is reflective of our students’ culture, background, and life experiences. This balance needs to be the focus of very lesson and assessment in our planning.
I need to focus on the deficit of LGBTQ+ books in my classroom library and in my mentor text rotation. I used George by Alex Gino and Drama by Raina Telgemeier, but two books, out of the 35 or so books that I presented is not enough to represent an entire community. If we examine our deficit areas, we are not just finding flaws. We are finding the ways we need to improve. We are finding ways to expand our book search outside of what is comfortable or known.
I want to increase the level of identity work I do with my students. Remembering that the word “diverse” is also a tricky one because as educator we need to remember: “Diverse to whom?” As we keep referencing the white heteronormative culture as a the standard, we need to see the standard that exists within the walls of our classrooms. In order to better understand our students they have to see who we are as people and then we have to building relationships and rapport in order to see them. This starts with conversations and asking questions. I can’t stop asking my students who they are because with 158 of them each year, how many of them do I truly know? This needs to be a daily mission and reminder to be forever on the quest to know who sits in our students’ seats. We need to ground our work in their experiences, their language, and their identity as people. Remembering that we teach people is the heart of our work.
Be open to being responsive that some kids desire windows, some want mirrors, and some want sliding glass doors. Chad Everett in his session “To Know and Be Known: Examining Representation and Pushing Beyond “Diverse” Booklists” at the March 2019 Michigan Reading Association conference made the point that sometimes kids don’t want the Jason Reynolds book in their hands if their life experience is Jason Reynolds. How often are we checking our judgment about what we think kids need from us or their literature? Chad said a mantra that he adapted from Gandhi that has stuck with me from that day: “What you do for me, without me, you do to me.” This is a powerful piece about getting our students on board with the books they are reading and making sure they are the main voice in discovering new ways of seeing the world through literature.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. At the same Michigan Reading Association conference in March 2019, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle made the comment “teaching will sometimes feel like an act of rebellion.” It wasn’t until this past year, year nine of my teaching, that I got with this statement to the fullest extent. In short, I have four sections of general education students and my interdisciplinary team has all of the IEP/Special Education students on my team. I wouldn’t have chosen anything differently for my teaching load because the kid who doesn’t identify as a reader and writer is the reason why I get up in the morning. However, I need to come to peace with data and evaluation. The system is not designed to evaluate the love of reading that can happen in one school year or as Pernille Ripp would say, the ability to make a kid “dislike reading less.” This statement goes well in this post because my students that are striving to understand their own goals with reading are the same students that haven’t been exposed to as many windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors as possible. All of my students need more stories. I have to get comfortable that my mantra for the 2019-2020 school year is to BUILD EMPATHY and EMPOWER READERS in my room. Period. No matter what my data says.
Diverse Books Resources
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a great place to start in terms of starting to curate classroom libraries and reflecting on your own teaching practices. Here are 15 resources that create conversation and inspire reflection.
WeNeedDiverseBooks is an amazing nonprofit organization that advocates for and continues to offer programs that put diverse books into the hands of children. Their mission statement reads “Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children” and their vision statement reads “A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.”
National Council Teachers of English resource list “Students Have a Right and a Need to Read Diverse Books” by Millie Davis on 9/27/17.
Brightly Blog’s List of Diverse Books. Brightly is a website launched in partnership with Penguin Random House to recommend books to families.
School Library Journal’s article “An Updated Look at Diversity in Children's Books” by SLJ Staff on June 19, 2019. This shows the history behind the infographic above compared to the 2015 infographic released in 2016.
Diverse Book Finder is a website that “... is a collection of children's picture books that features Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC). We've reviewed and cataloged 2,000+ picture books published and distributed in the U.S. since 2002 to create a searchable database and a source of real-time data about who is in the books and how they are depicted.”
Here Wee Read and their blog post “THE 2019 ULTIMATE LIST OF DIVERSE CHILDREN’S BOOKS” is another place to start with book browsing. They also have lists focused on diversity that go back to 2016.
Chad Everett’s blog ImagineLIt. He posts some of his original works here. This type of resource reminds us that we have to be reflective at all times.
1000 Black Girl Books Resource Guide from the GrassROOTS Community Foundation. This guide was “...created from the #1000blackgirlbooks campaign led by Marley Dias.”
Social Justice Books: A Teaching for Change Project site and their curated booklists. They have booklists for 50+ topics. This is a great place to start if you want to start browsing for some more diverse titles.
The We Are Kid Lit Collective has a great 2019 Summer Reading List. Their purpose statement reads “The We Are Kidlit Collective works to create materials and opportunities to recognize the humanity of Indigenous and People of Color (IPOC) in youth literature. Our work is premised upon the principles of social justice, equity, and inclusion and centers IPOC voices in children’s literature in order to identify, challenge and dismantle white supremacy and both internalized and systematic racism.”
Reading While White is a blog run by white librarians that are fighting for change. Their mission reads “We are White librarians organizing to confront racism in the field of children’s and young adult literature. We are committed to working in the ongoing struggle for authenticity and visibility in books; to supporting opportunities for people of color and First Nations/Native people in all aspects of the children’s and young adult book world; and to holding publishers, book creators, reviewers, librarians, teachers, and others accountable. We are learning, and hold ourselves responsible for understanding how our Whiteness impacts our perspectives and our behavior as we strive to advocate for this movement.”
I have so much respect for Pernille Ripp. She is a 7th grade teacher, she is an author, and she is a reading warrior for helping kids and teachers find their passion for reading. She has a page of booklists that is also a great place to start browsing for books.
Teaching Tolerance is “A project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Teaching Tolerance was founded in 1991 to prevent the growth of hate. We began by publishing Teaching Tolerance magazine and producing films chronicling the modern civil rights movement. Today, our community includes more than 500,000 educators who read our magazine, screen our films, visit our website, participate in Mix It Up at Lunch Day, use our curriculum or participate in our social media community.” They created a page, “Is Your Collection Complete? What The Little Mermaid Can Teach Us About Class Libraries & Curricula” where they are outlining some reflections points for teachers in terms of classroom and curriculum.