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shelf care: caring for yourself (AND OTHERS) through a diverse library

I have vivid memories of books, storytelling, and being read to. My father was an excellent storyteller of the sort to make up plots and carry them through to an end. And he could create a string of them for anytime we asked for a bedtime story. I remember class "trips" to our school library. One of my favorite memories is listening to my elementary teachers read chapter books to us - classics, well-written stories. Very white, very traditional, very biased books and stories. How, dear Explorer, do we incorporate a healthy, diverse library of books for our kids? Their experience of the world begins in the home and at school. They experience the world and other cultures through storytelling. If they don't read or hear about them, they won't know them. If they don't know them, they won't accept them.

"Everything we read constructs us, makes us who we are." (Mem Fox) Our brains are small, yet powerful. When working and utilized properly, they hold lifelong memories, thousands of facts, create beautiful pictures from scratch, and analyze the world we see - all in a matter of seconds! What we are taught and learn at a young age can become the basis for how we see and act in the world around us. Our relationships with people in our world are shaped by how and what we put into our brains. Diverse and inclusive literature (stories in general) are how we develop a good understanding of the world around us without having to directly experience every part of that world. Storytelling is how culture is passed on. "A library that not only addresses your child’s holistic learning (intellectual, emotional, social, physical, artistic, creative and spiritual potentials) but also helps your child see more fully, affirm, and celebrate their identity as well as the identity of others." (Corey Emanuel, phd)

3 questions to remember:

  1. Why does a diverse library matter?

  2. What are the dos and don'ts

  3. What books should we be reading?

So, why does a diverse library matter? Contemporary children's literature reproduces stereotypes about people who traditionally have experienced oppression from dominant groups. Patterns of gender bias and stereotypes are evident in children's books, thereby promoting sexist ideology. Characters from minority groups are misrepresented or represented, underrepresented, or shown in biased positions. Incorporating new, diverse stories by diverse authors is a primary options for families and educators to begin with when building their children's libraries. Also, utilizing educational opportunities with classic children's stories that may be biased, but then teaching how to be inclusive and what to do as a changing mindset can be a tool. It's important for educators and parents to pay attention to books, storylines, and characters to know how characters are being represented or what characters or groups are NOT being represented.

What should we NOT do? Don't avoid race topics. Don't avoid it if you're uncomfortable. Become knowledgable and comfortable. And don't be afraid to NOT know the answers! It's ok! Take some time to find helps and resources to assist you. Don't push aside or "shush" your kids when they have hard questions. They either learn it from responsible, caring adults or they'll learn it from somewhere else that you may or may not be able to control.

What should we DO? Look for cues in the literature. Are there glaring evidences of racism, bias, discrimination, etc? Use your discretion on whether it's a clear opportunity to educate or if it's such a blatant disregard for humanity and needs to be discarded. TALK about how you can be an ally. Allies are cross cultural. They should help human beings as human beings no matter what station or race or gender they are. Be a good human. Use good developmentally appropriate examples.

IT. IS. POSSIBLE!!! Your challenge, dear Explorer, is to find examples and strategies as often as you can that are inclusive stories and representations of our world at large. Our world looks different than what we see in the mirror. Find our differences and accept them and celebrate them.

And as always, KEEP EXPLORING!


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