By Stephanie Johnson
I have always taken pride in the fact that I feel extremely comfortable reflecting on my teaching practices and looking for ways to improve. I just knew that I had the perfect class library where my students could choose from a variety of books that explored the African-American experience; books that represented our Blackness because of the amazing characters who were African-American. I also knew that my non-black students would also be intrigued by the books on the shelves. They would see how we embraced our kinky hair and various skin tones. I grinned and took my SuperGirl pose (superhero music playing in the background) believing that I had created a rich and diverse library that incorporated the idea of mirrors and windows.
Did I really achieve that goal? Had I filled the shelves with literature that told a variety of stories? Kwame Alexander said, “When kids regularly read about characters from different backgrounds or races or countries, the shared humanity of the
characters becomes more important than anything else. We need diverse books to be mirrors and windows so all young people can not only see themselves in literature, but see outside themselves, which makes them more aware of our connections as human beings.”
It is in this connectedness that we understand our similarities are more than our differences. It develops acceptance and empathy.
I truly thought that I was doing a great job of bringing the world into my classroom via the awesome books that lined my shelves. What I was really doing was showing my class that the world they live in was black and white; that most of their experiences would only be lived in black and white. I had forgotten that true diversity is not just about ethnicity and race but religion, disabilities, family structures, and LGBT. True diversity is inclusive. It allows us to see the world outside of ourselves and from other viewpoints. True diversity shows us how to interact with a cultural or value system that is different and still see its value.
So I took my cape off and hung it neatly in the closet and started the enthusiastic journey of creating a true diverse library. My challenge was not only finding the titles, but finding the funding to purchase the books. It was time consuming yet worth every second.
What can you do to ensure that your library is an excellent example of mirrors and windows?
Take Inventory- Carefully evaluate the books that you currently have. This may take some time depending on how many books you have in your library now. This step is well worth it. This is also the time to organize by concepts or topics.
Use social media-You can search Pinterest for booklists based on different criteria. I have found many different bloggers on Instagram that list new diverse books daily. See who they follow, then follow them!
Media center/Local librarian-Ask your school’s librarian for book suggestions. I have an awesome school librarian that loves introducing my students to books that are both mirrors and windows. The librarian may be able to order titles for you. This is a double win because all the students in the school will be able to access these stories.
Ask for help-I created a project on DonorsChoose.org asking for funding of all the titles I had discovered. You can post your project on Facebook where family and friends can donate. I was blessed enough to have my project up while every donation was being matched by a company.
I am happy to say that I am on the path to a much more diverse library.
Stephanie is originally from Detroit, Michigan, she now resides in Atlanta, GA where she teaches elementary school. This school year marks her 17th year as a full-time educator. She has a Master of Arts degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Central Michigan University. She enjoys building relationships with her students that last well past elementary school.
When she isn’t teaching, you can find her reading non-fiction, watching basketball, working in her garden, and playing with her granddaughters. IG: School_House_Rap