Imagine for a minute…..you’re a 6 year old black student, so excited to finally get back into school since being out since March! You’re eager to get your hands on books again since you didn’t have access to any of your own at home. You finally walk up to the classroom library in your new room excited to find a book that has a main character that looks like you. You start rifling through the first bucket….none. You go to the second and third bucket, and you finally find a couple. You must have looked at 100 books; and of those 100 books, you found only 10 that have a black main character.
Now, imagine being a latinx student; of those 100 books, you found 5 with a character that looks like you. Native American student? 1 out of 100 books has a character that looks like you.
I first saw this graphic at a Donalyn Miller event I attended a couple of years ago. I remember when she projected it, and explained that out of the 3,100 children’s books that were published in 2018, these are the percentages of each ethnicity that was represented as a main character. I wish I could say that I was completely shocked and taken aback, but as someone who’s been an avid reader since grade school, sadly, these percentages seemed right to me.
Half of all these books had a white main character, while 27% of the books’ main characters were animals! I truly believe we can do better for our students of color. They should not be finding more books with animals, than they do of their own ethnicity. I do have to say that we have made some improvements since the last study was done in 2015, but we still have a long way to go. For your reference, here is the graphic from 2015.
Summer is the perfect time to do some reflecting and thinking about the books that you have in your classroom library. Do the books in your library have equal representation? Will your students be able to see themselves in your books? Will they be able to look into others’ cultures and experiences? Here are a few tips to get you started.
Rethink your definition of diversity. Maybe you’re thinking that you have tons of diverse books already. But, do the diverse characters that you’re thinking of play a main role in the story, or are they just simply a secondary character? Often times, the only times students can find themselves in a book is as a “sidekick” to the main character.
Be honest with where you’re starting. Maybe you’ve done the inventory of your books and your collection falls more into the 2015 graphic. That’s ok. You’re acknowledging it and ready to work towards making it equal.
Use your resources. If this idea feels overwhelming to you, look around. Chances are you have people in your corner ready and willing to help you! If you’re not sure where to start or what types of books to invest in, reach out to your librarian, literacy coach, or someone else that can steer you in a direction.
You’re in this for the long haul. I totally get how much of an investment it is to build a strong classroom library. DO NOT try to do it all at once. Just tackle a little bit at a time. Maybe this year, your goal is to acquire more LGBTQ books and next year, you’re going to work on finding strong books with Native American characters. Visit garage sales, thrift stores, Half-Price Books to find some great books at a great price.
This is such exciting work! If you happen to be local, please reach out to me; I would HAPPY to come help you in the process. Sometimes it’s helpful for a set of new eyes to look things over with you.
If you are looking to learn more about the misrepresentation and what we can do, check out We Need Diverse Books. This organization is wonderful and a wealth in information to help you!