The Power of a Book.
A recent article from School Library Journal, discussed how libraries across the country are seeing diverse titles on the rise. After all, many readers – kids in particular – want to read about people and things they can relate to, and sometimes that means judging a book by its cover. Who's image do you see on the cover? What about the author's photo on the back? Do they look like you? Why not? The fact is, these images should be diverse as the plot lines in the stories that line the shelves. And thanks to a big push by librarians, that's becoming more of a reality.
The SLJ article Can Diverse Books Save Us? shows that in today's divided world, librarians are on a two-fold mission. First, to address the need of representation and make sure readers can find characters, authors and illustrations who are like them on their shelves. The second is to deliberately give readers access to books with characters, authors and illustrators who are not like them, in hopes of building empathy and understanding by getting a glimpse of someone else's lived experience and point of view.
According to the article, "Across the board, librarians are buying more diverse books – two-thirds of the sample, 68 percent of survey respondents – report purchasing an increased number of children’s/YA (young adult) titles with diverse characters in the last year." Not surprisingly, the level of importance of access to a diverse collection varies in communities where populations tend to be more homogenous.
While there has been a lot of progress made thanks to the work of individual librarians and organizations like We Need Diverse Books, there's still a long way to go. My own experience as a librarian and a few quotes for the SLJ article make this clear:
“Please, more books about Muslim kids. Also Black Muslim kids. My students are Somali—there are no books that I can find published by big publishers,” commented Anna Zbacnik, a media specialist at Brimhall Elementary in Roseville, MN.
In Brunswick, Melissa Orth has difficulty finding contemporary stories of East Asians. Other librarians also seek non-historical portrayals of various cultures and ethnicities and ones that bust stereotypes and “single story” narratives.
“I am trying to find books where there are kids or teens just living life while black / gay / trans / fat / Muslim, etc.,” says Libby Edwardson, youth services librarian at Blue Hill (ME) Public Library. “Not that they ignore the challenges that accompany being a minority, but kids want to see mirrors of themselves in books. They don’t want to always have to see characters that represent or teach something bigger than themselves.”
I encourage you to read the entire article to draw your own conclusions, but mine is this: There are lots diverse voices writing books, and more readers are reading them. Librarians are buying diverse books now more than ever, which is great – but that can't be it. Now let's see the school curriculums change to reflect this, and let's support publishers who use their resources to make these types of books a reality. Let's hold each other accountable and not build any more unnecessary walls. Let's work together to keep tearing them down, brick by brick.