We Need Diversity in Books

Reading does two things:

  1. It acts as a window that students can look into and explore worlds they’ve never before seen.
Window

CC Flickr Peter Miller

2. Reading acts as a mirror that reflects the reader’s thoughts, experiences, and emotions back in a story.

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CC Flickr Sukanto Debnath

As I’ve grown as a reader, and a person, I now find myself looking specifically for books that are windows into worlds I don’t know. I’m looking for new experiences, new mindsets, and new adventures.

In my early years of high school, I looked for books that I could see myself in. I read books with divorced families to see how they coped. I combed through every Sarah Dessen book ever, reading and rereading The Truth About Forever. In Macy’s perfectionism, I saw myself. I also saw how I might begin to let go.

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I clung to books I could understand, books that offered me solutions and directions. When I was trying to discover myself, I was reading books that were mirrors.

Every student deserves a chance at this discovery process. According to Zetta Elliot’s blog:

“Of the 5,000 children’s books published every year, no more than 5 percent are written by or about blacks, Asians, Latinos or Native Americans.”

How are children supposed to find a mirror and fall in love with reading if they have less than a 5% chance to do so? What kind of message does this send to our students? Certainly that they aren’t important.

There is a danger for the students who have plenty of mirrors to look through. They are lacking multicultural windows that promote understanding and acceptance. In a country where racism is still pervasive, books that allow other children to see people who are different is the beginning of building tolerance.

Why are books lacking such diversity? I can’t believe that it would be because we lack the writers, or writers creating the material. According to the US census in 2014, 70% of the population was white. This means there is still a large population of minority writers.

What is it then? I think the publishing companies hold much of the blame. They publish books on what they believe are marketable. Christopher Myers writes of this problem in his New York Time’s article. His father was turned down because witchcraft and astrology would not sell. The fandom of Harry Potter and Twilight proved that idea wrong.

Do they also think that stories about children of color will not sell, even though that is 30% of the school age population? We live in a world of diversity, whether publishing companies choose to accept that or not.

Diversity

CC Flickr DryHundredFear

Every single child deserves a chance to connect and connect deeply with a book. Each student needs a chance to see parts of themselves reflected in a book. Librarians, educators, and publishing companies need to do absolutely everything in their power to make this possible.

***I have been asked by several people to share some authors of diverse reading, so here are some starters:

Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming)

Jason Reynolds (When I Was the Greatest, All American Boys, The Boy in the Black Suit)

Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Burned, so many others)

Aisha Saeed (Written in the Stars)

Patricia McCormick (Sold, I Am Malala)

Meg Medina (Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass)

Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns)

Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian)

What book suggestions do you have?

 

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11 responses to “We Need Diversity in Books

    • That is really interesting to think about! I think Zach West had a similar experience as you. You should check his blog post as well. Before the articles this week, I had never thought about reading with the idea of mirrors and windows. I’m really glad for the new perspective though. So interesting how everyone reads for different reasons!

  1. I too found out after reading West article i have mostly read books that would bring me through a window into another world. These windows of opportunities to be someone else, somewhere else, experience something else are what I enjoy most about reading.

    • I can definitely relate to that statement. Those are reasons thst I choose the books I read now. I just believe that it is still important for students to experience both the window and the mirror. Our preferences are not always theirs. 🙂

  2. If a kid cannot see himself/herself in any of the books that they read then they do not feel connected to books. This creates a hatred of all reading because books do not represent characters that relate to the readers. I also constantly chose books in high school that I saw myself in the characters and that allowed me to escape into a different world. I needed that in high school, and I think that we all do. Great blog post!

    • Thanks, Marqui! I agree with you. Most high school students read to escape through a window, or the read to look in a mirror. Both are equally beneficial, but it is through the mirror that students tend to grow from.

      • Yes, I agree. They grow with books that act as mirrors, and their view on the world grows with books that act as windows. Some books do both, and that is simply amazing because it shows that someone in a different culture than you can feel and act the same way that you do. It can show us that we all aren’t as different as we like to think we are.

  3. I have a suggestion, “I Lived on Butterfly Hill” by Marjorie Agosin It is the story of a girl from Chile` who comes to America because of a dictatorship in her home country.

  4. Pingback: Diversifying My Reading Life | nicky banzhaf·

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