Reading does two things:
- It acts as a window that students can look into and explore worlds they’ve never before seen.
2. Reading acts as a mirror that reflects the reader’s thoughts, experiences, and emotions back in a story.
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.
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.
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)
Aisha Saeed (Written in the Stars)
Meg Medina (Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass)
Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian)
What book suggestions do you have?