Realizing My Home Library Needs Some Diversity

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

 


Last week I interviewed a local college professor who is scheduled to talk to the parents at my school about diversifying their family libraries. It was a great discussion as I asked her to give me some examples of children’s literature that deserve a place in classroom libraries, while also filling a clear need of representing people of all walks of life, race and ethnicity. 

But it also made me take a long, hard look at my own selection of literature. 

I pride myself on being an avid reader and writer, but when I took a look at our home library, I saw that it was lacking . . . a lot. Very rarely on our shelves will you find books featuring people of color or written by them. Also, my mother’s family is Mexican-American, and never once did I seek out a children’s book featuring Mexican-American characters or families to share with my kids. I believe part of this stems from my own background—my mom favored paperback romance novels and my stepdad only read Louis L’Amour westerns, but as a college-educated woman, I should know better. Why have I not set out to find more diverse examples of literature to recommend with my kids or grace my own bookshelves? 

My husband reads self-help and motivational books. Books written by wealthy, successful white men—people like Stephen Covey and Ken Blanchard. I read a lot of the “book club” selections that feature predominately white women and suburban life, or young adult thrillers written by women such as myself. Occasionally I’ll select a memoir, but again, it will be something like “Educated” that's landed on the New York Times Bestseller List. 

Thankfully, I’ve noticed the teachers at our middle school and high school have been working hard to diversify the assigned reading for my kids. My daughter read “Kite Runner” this year, and my son read the first in the series of the graphic novels about John Lewis’ work with the Civil Rights Movement last year, March

But as a parent, I need to do more. From the professor I interviewed, I learned the importance of giving our kids a window so they can see what the world looks like, but they also need a mirror in order to see themselves reflected in that world. I can still follow those recommended lists of classics, like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but then I need to also follow up by having my kids read something else written during that time period by a Black author, so their voice can be represented accurately. And as for myself, I have some work to do. I will first begin by reading more books by women of color, of all different races and ethnicities. Any recommendations would be welcome as I begin my own research—The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet is on the top of my contemporary picks to start with.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and magazine editor who has way more books than she knows what to do with, but she could use more. Visit her website at www.FinishedPages.com

13 comments:

Sioux Roslawski said...

Some books that I love by authors of color:

The Color Purple--Alice Walker
The underground Railroad--Colson Whitehead
The Nickel Boys--Colson Whitehead
Like Water For Chocolate--Laura Esquivel
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings--Maya Angelou
Freeman--Leonard Pitts Jr.
The Last Thing You Surrender--Leonard Pitts Jr. (One of my all-time faves)
Just Mercy--Bryan Stevenson (they made a YA version of this one--I'm using it in my classroom this spring)
Snapshots from the Wedding--Gary Soto (a great picture book... he's written many, many kids' novels)
Sherman Alexie--has written great books for YA readers
A Thousand Splendid Suns--by the author of The Kite Runner (The Kite Runner is more of a boy/man's story. This one is a woman's story.)
Allegedly--Tiffany D. Jackson (YA)
Let Me Hear a Rhyme--Tiffany D. Jackson (YA)
Jazmin's Notebook--Nikki Grimes (YA)

I think we're looking at our own shelves and our own choices because the "window" has been broken. Books are windows into the rest of the world, but the glass shards are scattered on the ground. I would hope that someday soon, our house will have many windows that look out on varied horizons and neighborhoods and countries.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--Two things I forgot. One, great post. It made me look on my own shelves along with racking my brain and my collection at school. Two, Jason Reynolds is super hot these days (YA) and his book "Long Way Down" is a great one. (It's written in a series of poems.)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Renee,

Great post!

When seeking to diversify your shelves look for:
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger. Her debut novel (a fantasy) has landed on a lot of prestigious lists this year.

Rebecca Roanhorse is another fantasy writer

Class Act and The New Kid are two MUST READ graphic novels by Jerry Craft. They are probably young for your son but pertinent and funny.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas is both LatinX and trans. Also an amazing novel.

Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia is atmospheric horror that would likely appeal to you. Not too bloody but oh so creepy.

Check out Vivien Chen's mystery series for something lighter. It is important to have diverse books of many kinds so that we don't forget that they shouldn't all be "issue" books.

A graphic series for younger readers is Vamos! Let's Go by Raul the Third.

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park shows diversity on the prairie.

Louise Ehrlich is another go to author. Check out Night Watchmen.

If you do want an issue book by a woman, check out Iteoma Oluo's So You Want to Talk about Race.

I think I've taken up enough time/space. If anyone wants more recommendations, I only went part way through this year's reading list. I also have my lists from last year and the year before that.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

I applaud you Renee for seeing a need to have more diversified books in your library and making changes. The book suggestions Sioux and Sue made are excellent.

Angela said...

Great post, Renee! I'm currently reading Children of the Land a memoir by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo about growing up as an undocumented immigrant family in the US, with terrifying encounters with ICE (the real life American Dirt). Before that, I read On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, an autofiction by Ocean Vuong. I bought Heavy by Kiese Laymon, so that's next on my list. My favorite book I read this year was In the Dream House, a memoir by Carmen Maria Machado about her abusive lesbian relationship. Before that, I read All You Can Ever Know, a memoir by Nicole Chung about her experience as an adoptee and her search for her Korean roots. I mostly read diverse authors, but mostly all memoir (!), so I need to diversify in that sense, of trying other genres.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Yes, yes! All You Can Ever Know. What Angela said. That should have been on my list.

And When the Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantu, a former border agent who is Mexican American.

Renee Roberson said...

Wow, wow, wow! Thanks to everyone for all the kind words and these amazing recommendations! I'm writing all the titles down in my journal so I can begin seeking them out. I love that so many of these books will be perfect for everyone in my house to dig into. You're never too old to start exploring new things.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

You will find some fantastic recommended reading list from the group We Need Diverse Books and also A Mighty Girl. Lee Wind’s site also has a list of LGBQTIA titles by age group

Angelica R. Jackson said...

https://www.amightygirl.com/

Angelica R. Jackson said...

https://diversebooks.org/

Angelica R. Jackson said...

https://www.leewind.org/?m=1

Cathy C. Hall said...

Lots of great recs here and along with We Need Diverse Books, ask your librarian. In my Georgia county--we probably have over 70 nationalities represented here--the libraries work hard to provide diversity in fiction and non-fiction. So though I don't have the books on my shelves, I know exactly where to find 'em! (And if your library doesn't have these books, ask! They are mandated to serve the community by having books representative of EVERYONE!)

Empish said...

Kudos to you for wanting to expand your library! I realized the same thing some years ago and started reading more books by people of color. Not sure if you have read the Vanishing Hlaf yet, but it is an excellent read. My book club red it a couple of months ago.

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