I was reading and skimming through School Library Journal‘s May 2014 issue “The Diversity Issue” last night. I have been following the news and media regarding studies that the books that are being published really do not represent all people in our world. I started thinking about my contribution as a librarian in providing a collection to students that encompasses a global view of our world and providing a window to new cultures that our students might not engage with in our small, rural community. I decided to look at our collection and saw that I am making an effort to bring these books to our students, but I wondered how you and I could do more? I spent part of the evening browsing other blogs, articles, tweets and posts written by other school librarians to find their ideas or solutions. I also read the article in SLJ that talked about how the publishing industry thinks about diversity and I highly recommend that you read it as well as the entire issue – if you have to pick one article, click here > http://www.slj.com/2014/05/diversity/the-publishing-perspective-on-diversity-in-kid-lit/. I recommend that you browse through the entire issue as well.
Building a diverse collection has always been a part of my mission for our library and I deliberately purchase books that expand the cultural knowledge of our students and staff. These are one of my main purposes as the librarian of my building. I never want to only cater to the interests or reading preferences of my community because then they will have no windows to the real world or any experience outside of their comfort zone. Our students must know about people with a variety of backgrounds, belief systems, sexual orientations, ethnicities, etc.. This is the only way we can build empathy, compassion and open the minds of our school community. I believe every librarian and teacher has a responsibility to create a learning environment and collection that embraces diversity. A great first step for you as a librarian should be to look at the bibliographies in the latest issue of SLJ and start your shopping list.
My next step in really trying to make an effort to help our whole community (authors, publishers, students, teachers, everyone) is to actually READ the books that I purchase. I usually do read many of the books I purchase, but now I am making it a firm goal to read some of the books that I see are being recommended on diversity lists. I do a pretty good job of reading a variety of books, but I think it is a good idea to make it a goal and really work at it.
Finally, I’m going to talk about all of the great books I have read AND market them by book talking, blogging, tweeting or Face-booking. I already read a few this week and so I’m going to aim to write some short reviews and I’m going to talk them up to my students and to the teachers. I’m going to tell them if I think a book might work great as an additional text for their curriculum as well, and I’m going to tell them to read it no matter what.
I did read a book as an immediate response to this issue. I read The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata. It was listed on one of the bibliographies in SLJ and it was on my to-be-read list as it was a National Book Award winner. I should say that I’ve also just gone into the stacks to find books to read that are not necessarily award winners (but don’t negate the value of actually using these lists to help you out). The Thing About Luck follows the life of Summer, a 12 year-old Japanese-American who is traveling with her grandparents, brother and a work crew as they harvest the wheat crop in the mid-West regions of our country. My students and I will find that we share some of Summer’s experiences, but we will all learn something new because we are not that familiar with her Japanese heritage. Some of my students will relate to her experiences working with her grandparents on the harvest because we, too, live in a rural region in New York State. Some of my students live on farms, some of my students and their families are migrant workers and some of my students will also relate to her complicated relationship with her brother. Summer’s brother has some socialization issues and some of my students will feel a connection with him and his problems navigating a complicated, and sometimes, cruel world. I know that I felt a connection to Summer’s feelings about her brother and their shared worry about how he will survive when he is grown up. We also learn something new about families, Japanese culture, migrant workers, custom harvesting (actually I learned a lot about combines and harvesting -LOVED the diagrams!) and, ultimately, I learned so much about life from Summer, her family and the harvesting crew. Everything I learned really built my empathy for Summer and her family – it made me get to know them and to care about them. This is the best reason WHY we need diverse books – we need them so we learn to care about each other and who we are as people.
I know librarians do a great job of doing all of the things I suggested, so how can you help? Support your libraries, support your librarians and take action. Go to your nearest library (I suppose you could go to a bookstore as well, but don’t forget to use your library) and find a book about people you don’t really know or you do not know enough about, open it up, read it and be sure to ask for more.