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.