Books for Readers of Color: Celebrating the Everyday

Celebrating the Mundane

"Black Kids Don't Want to Read about Harriet Tubman All the Time" is the thought-provoking title of an op-ed in The New York Times by author, editor, and parent Denene Millner (March 10, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/10/opinion/sunday/children-literature-books-blacks.html) in which she discusses the need to expand diversity in children's books. Millner extols the value of what she calls the mundane— giving the apt example of stories about things "like a little kid going out after a snow storm"—and calls out an over-representation in the grim, the serious, and what has come to be all too typical, but not really "everyday," stories of the black experience. There is a place for recognizing history and landmarks of African-Americans, the author acknowledges, but as she describes it, the real "nourishment" comes from books wherein "color is of no consequence in the stories, but it still matters to black children looking for themselves in the pages." This focus of Millner's critique deserves school librarians' attention.

Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors

As library professionals, we strive to build and maintain a "balanced collection" as a matter of course in collection development. Millner suggests an interpretation of balance that reminds me of Rudine Sims Bishop's powerful metaphor of mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors (1990). Millner provides yet another lens valuable for the evaluation of books available for children of color, and it's deceptively simple: do adults (publishers, librarians, teachers, parents) give child readers the wonder that can be found in the ordinary?

Now, recognizing what you don't or can't know is both a skill and a self-reflective quality essential for librarians (and useful for all people, really). As a white person, I can't say that I know from experience what children of color need to hear and see in these stories of the ordinary. But I, and other librarians, can commit to finding these critical stories by consulting professional materials and reaching out to community resources and people, including children and families themselves. For me, one step in that process is revisiting professional materials about building diversity in the school library collection, and looking in particular for publishers, topics, and strategies that reflect this consideration of the everyday stories of humanity, particularly in fiction.

As a start, here are some articles and workshops from School Library Connection that offer discussion and guidance on evaluating diversity in one's collection, instruction, and services. With Zilonis and Swerling's series of columns, note the discussion of windows and mirrors, as well as the recommendation of publisher Lee & Low Books as a longtime advocate and publisher of diverse books.

On Common Ground, column by Mary Frances Zilonis and Chris Swerling

This workshop by Sandra Hughes-Hassell and Casey Rawson explores high quality library services and instruction for African-American youth as an issue of social justice, framed through Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (CRP).

I developed a set of professional exercises to accompany the workshop, posted in the workshop's Learning Support. The Lesson 8 Activity may help librarians interested in "connecting and engaging with others interested in literacy learning and the lives of African American youth. Examples of persons to follow [on Twitter] are Black Caucus of the American Library Association (@BC_ALA) and prominent scholars such as Beverly Tatum (@BDTSpelman)."


Works Cited

Millner, Denene. "Black Kids Don't Want to Read About Harriet Tubman All the Time." The New York Times. March 10, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/10/opinion/sunday/children-literature-books-blacks.html

Sims Bishop, Rudine. "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors." Perspectives, 1, no. 3 (1990): ix–xi. 1

About the Author

Rebecca J. Morris, MLIS, PhD, earned her master's degree and doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh and her undergraduate degree in elementary education at Pennsylvania State University. Rebecca teaches graduate courses in school librarianship and youth library services. Rebecca has published articles in journals including School Library Research, Knowledge Quest, School Libraries Worldwide, Teacher Librarian and the Journal of Research on Young Adults in Libraries. She is the author of School Libraries and Student Learning: A Guide for School Leaders (Harvard Education Publishing Group, 2015). Rebecca is a former elementary classroom teacher and middle school librarian.

Email: rmorris@schoollibraryconnection.com

Twitter: @rebeccajm87.

MLA Citation Morris, Rebecca J. "Books for Readers of Color: Celebrating the Everyday ." School Library Connection, May 2018, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2149952.

View all citation styles

Entry ID: 2149952

Back to Top