Mirrors and windows in our library collections

| Author: Jeannie Skinner | Post a comment

At the recent IBBY Congress in Auckland, a number of speakers used the analogy of books as both windows and mirrors in various contexts:

  • about growing up in NZ, back in the day, with books predominantly from the UK and US
  • about needing more diversity in books, reflecting the whole community not just the majority
  • about the role of books and story to make the world a better place by fostering understanding, recognition and empathy for differences and similarities.

Jo Buchan has done a great blog post here about the IBBY Congress, and check out Paula Green's blog post about IBBY too. Jo refers to the original essay Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors by Rudine Sims Bishop.

This essay originally appeared in Perspectives: Choosing and using books for the classroom, Vol 6, no 3, Summer 1990, and the hopes it expresses are just as relevant today:

"Those of us who are children's literature enthusiasts tend to be somewhat idealistic, believing that some book, some story, some poem can speak to each individual child, and that if we have the time and resources, we can find that book and help to change that child's life, if only for a brief time, and only for a tiny bit. On the other hand, we are realistic enough to know that literature, no matter how powerful, has its limits. It won't take the homeless off our streets, it won't feed the starving of the world, it won't stop people from attacking each other because of our racial differences, it won't stamp out the scourge of drugs.

It could however, help us to understand each other better by helping to change our attitudes towards difference. When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and similarities, because together they are what make us all human."

Mirrors and windows

What a powerful tool a rich and diverse library collection can be for seeing ourselves and seeing the world beyond. There are various campaigns gaining momentum, encouraging us to embrace increased diversity in publishing, library and classroom collections, our own reading and promotion to students. These include We Need Diverse Books, and Gene Luen Yang’s Reading without Walls challenge.

We need diverse books is “a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”

Gene Luen Yang, graphic novel creator and the US fifth National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature (2016 – 2017) has issued a  Reading without Walls Challenge.

"As National Ambassador, I issue you a challenge! I challenge you to read without walls in one of three ways:

1. Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you.

2. Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about.

3. Read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun. This might be a chapter book, a graphic novel, a book in verse, a picture book, or a hybrid book.

If you really want to go for the gold star, read a book that fits all three criteria!"

See also his comic, Glare of Disdain. There is such a big, heartfelt story captured in these fewer than a dozen illustration panels, and in it he refers to Rudine Sims Bishop’s essay too.

Your school library collection – diversity and representation

On the National Library Raising Readers online course last term, a participant, Helen, shared a lightbulb moment she had in her school library:

"A little girl was having a hard time loving her hair (she has Afro-American hair) and her teacher had asked for some positive body image books to help her and her classmates.  In sourcing and finding some books (and there are some beauties out there) I began to look at our collection through different eyes, how were our own students reflected in the books of our collection? It became an opportunity review the diversity of our collection acknowledging the different readers that make up our school. I have to say it's still a work in progress..."

Another teacher friend, Roberta, had for the first time a student on the autistic spectrum in her class. She was keen to find some resources that might help the other students in her class understand and empathise with what the world might be like for that student, and know how to be supportive.

As well as looking at various on-line resources  school toolkits from NZ and internationally, Roberta gathered together some picture books, fiction and non-fiction, to share with her students and add to the school library collection.

What engaging and useful titles would you find if you searched your school library catalogue for books about autism? 

Here are the search results of books for children / YA about autism spectrum disorders in our Services to Schools collections. Most of the books are about helping “neurotypical” children understand about the behaviours, triggers and appropriate responses or strategies to help other students on the autism spectrum. One title in particular, Asperger’s Rules! by Blythe Grossberg, is for students with Asperger’s themselves, providing strategies and “translations” to make school life easier, and to navigate other social situations and life generally.

This short, annotated booklist 7 kid approved books for tweens with Aspergers from Read Brightly is useful too. Read Brightly is well worth exploring for other short and appealing booklists. I’d endorse a lot of their choices of the 50 best books for 9 and 10 year olds –  do you agree? Could this be a “have you read…?” book challenge for your “tweens”?

Congratulations on providing those mirrors and windows in your collection for all your students!

image: architecture on Pixabay