A recent tweet from Laurie Halse Anderson (author of Chains and others) quoted Jackie Woodson, “I saw lots & lots of windows and not a whole lot of mirrors. So I said ‘let me write some mirrors.”
The right metaphor is more than a pretty way to say something. It increases understanding.
We need books that mirror ourselves in enough ways to help us see our strengths, weaknesses, and potential. If our gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or some other facet of our personhood is never presented in any but a stereotyped way, our images of ourselves or others may be stunted.
Books that are mirrors for some are windows for others. Some of us live in a world of too many windows and very few mirrors. Others of us, in the same world, have so many mirrors no additional light can enter.
We all need both mirrors and windows. We all need diverse books. For too long, the majority has lived in literary houses with mirrors in the places there should be windows. Those of us who have had too many mirrors need to replace some of them with windows.
If we’re going to have those choices for literary diversity, we need to support the authors who give us different world views. I encourage everyone to buy and read books written by people of many backgrounds.
My shortest stack of most recently purchased books consists of ten picture books. A couple of days ago, I realized that four of them fit in this discussion.
Lincoln and Douglas: An American Friendship, written by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier, and published by Square Fish in 2008, is a picture book for second through sixth graders. It’s the history of the friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas.
The book opens with Lincoln waiting for the arrival of Douglas at a White House reception. Then the book compares and contrasts their early lives and the paths that brought them together. These two great men forged a relationship on shared values and mutual respect. This book taught me things I’m glad I now know.
As a side note, Douglas is one of the “contestants” for the Golden Halo this year in Lent Madness. He’s won two rounds in what is described as the “saintly smack-down.”
These Hands, written by Margaret H. Mason, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, and published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children in 2010, is also a picture book gem. It’s a poetic telling of historical events as told to the author by an old friend. Children younger than second grade will also learn from this story.
A grandfather tells his young grandson all the things the grandfather’s hands can and have done, but how those hands were not allowed to help bake the bread at the Wonder Bread factory until after the Civil Rights Act in the mid-1960’s.
Workers banded together to end the discrimination. “Now any hands can mix the bread dough, no matter the color.”
The story ends on what the grandson’s hands can do. Don’t miss the author’s note.
Beatrice’s Dream: A Story of Kibera Slum, written by Karen Lynn Williams, photographed by Wendy Stone, and published by Francis Lincoln Children’s Books in 2011, is the story of Beatrice, who lives in Kibera (Kenya), one of the largest slums in Africa.
The book uses Beatrice’s words at age thirteen. She’s an orphan who lives with her older brother. She has worries and a dream shared by many.
While this story is less lyrical than the first two books, it’s inspiring as a portrait of a life in another place under more difficult circumstances than most of us know. With this book also, check out the author’s note at the end. You’ll smile.
CJ’s nana helps him learn to find “beautiful where he never even thought to look.” The language creates beautiful images and conveys an important message. And make sure you see the author and illustrator photos on the back flap.
The plan for the next post is to review two adult novels from authors who spoke at Bookfaire last Saturday and add to the diversity discussion . . . just as soon as I read them.
I can’t believe it! Two kids’ books in Spanish just showed up in our Little Free Library!
Since one of them is the Spanish version of Walter the Farting Dog, I’m not sure it counts as a diverse book. But the other is An Illustrated Treasury of Latino Read-Aloud Stories, both in English and Spanish. The book was edited by Maite Suarez-Rivas, translated by Alma Mora, has multiple authors and illustrators, and was published by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers in 2004.