No matter where you are in your school journey, there is a good chance that this year is not going to look like anything you have ever known or experienced before. This is true for children, teachers, administrators, and parents. There is a lot of discussion about educational standards, some discussion about mental health, and in my opinion not nearly enough discussion about the lacking socialization and community building that occurs when diverse people interact.
Now, more than ever perhaps, books have an incredible role in showing children different cultures, religions, viewpoints and ultimately the unifying humanity that binds us all.
With children stuck inside for months now, and only seeing the same people day-after-day, chances are children aren’t learning about the diversity around them that comes from just seeing people at the library or grocery store or on their soccer teams. Someone isn’t eating a samosa for the first time when they go over to work on a school project at Fatima’s house or learning about the sport of cricket when they see Harry and his dad playing in the yard, they aren’t seeing Mustafa’s mom in hijab at the park, celebrating Chinese New Year with their neighbors or helping a friend plan her sister’s quinceanera. So many stereotypes can be broken down when we get to know people different than ourselves. So what happens when we are holed up in our homes and not challenging ourselves, not showing our children other people’s experiences?
Teachers and parents are adapting and coping with a lot of educational and routine changes, but the power of literature has not changed, it has just been amplified during this pandemic. As a critical tool to growing and learning, fictious friends can open windows into diversity that a Zoom window may have slightly closed.
If you are trying to find diverse books for your children and feel overwhelmed, Bates College has a wonderful easy to use resource that can help you identify and explore multicultural picture books. This free resource has a searchable database that anyone can use to locate and explore children’s books featuring Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) characters and see what roles and messages are depicted in the story. https://diversebookfinder.org
Public and School Librarians, particularly those who might have a lighter load with fewer kids coming in person, can further take advantage of the Collection Analysis Tool (CAT). An online tool that allows you to upload your picture book database and receive a report detailing your collection’s racial and cultural strengths and weaknesses. https://cat.diversebookfinder.org
Back to school is not the same as it has always been, but the literary resources available today are better and more diverse, so please take advantage. Representation matters, but only if we are interacting with the representation. Teachers, parents, librarians, you got this, Happy 2020-2021 school year!