Take a look at the books in your child’s library. Do the characters featured on the covers look the same? Do the books featuring characters of color tell the same story? Are you a parent of color and frustrated that your child’s book collection does not reflect the diversity of stories of people of color? If so, it is time to diversify your child’s library!
One of the things I tell parents who want to build a diverse and inclusive library for their kids is this – you have to do so in a manner that is intentional and deliberate. Sure you can fill your library with books about Black History featuring Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, select books set in a random African village, and a book showing a child of color as one of several characters in the book. You can do that and call it a successful diversification of your home library. But would it be an inclusive library? Would it be one that celebrates differences and diversity, particularly diversity within cultures? One where kids of all backgrounds, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, and neurodiversity see themselves represented? In order to truly expose our kids to global cultures and all kinds of people through books it is important that we do so in a manner that is intentional, thoughtful, and yes, calculated. We have to do this so that our kids grow up learning that different kinds of people can occupy different spaces!
This is our approach with the books we select for our Atlas Book Club boxes. We have certain criteria that our book selections must meet in order to be considered an Atlas Book Club pick. You too can use these criteria to diversify your child’s library. I am happy to share 3 of our tips that you can use to diversify your home or school library:
Who is the main character of the book? Is it a person of color? Or a person from a protected class, e.g., LGBTQ+, differently-abled? Is it a person from a different country or culture? What is the story being told about the character? There is an emphasis on the main character because it is important that kids see that different kinds of people can lead and carry a story and serve as the protagonist. These are some things you should consider when you purchase a book for your child’s library. And after some time, you can train your child to ask these questions themselves when they are in their neighborhood or school library or at the book fair so that they are reaching for these diverse and inclusive books in a thoughtful manner.
Not Just One Story
Does the book shatter “the single story?” Are your only selections about black history, the civil rights movement? About South Africa, the apartheid? About Latinx stories, immigration? Are the books about LGBTQ+ only their coming-out stories? While all these types of stories are extremely important, they aren’t the only stories. When selecting books that feature characters from marginalized groups, be sure that you are selecting all kinds of stories, not just stories about their pain, overcoming pain and trauma, or their resilience. Select stories that show their excellence, their joy, their regular-ness, their everyday lives, and relationships. It is important that we share the broad spectrum of stories of marginalized people.
Does the book show kids being regular kids, e.g., being a good neighbor, flying their kite, being a good friend, and getting into mischief. It’s all about balance! Find the balance between historical books and books that show kids of color being regular kids. If you are familiar with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dogman books, there is a reason those books are extremely popular with kids. It is because those books show regular kids just being regular! Up to mischief, on adventures, and in interesting and often hilarious friendships. These are the types of books and characters that resonate the most with kids! Now select books that show kids of color in those types of stories. Some of our favorites here at Atlas are our United Kingdom Nest Jr. Box that featured a story with a young British-Pakistani Muslim boy who is always up to mischief! This is my son’s favorite! Another is our Cuban Nest Jr. Box featuring a Cuban-American adventurous duo. You can find these books with diverse characters too!
I hope these tips are helpful as you go about selecting books for your children’s home library. You should be asking these questions of your child’s school as well! What kinds of books are housed on the shelves of their library? What is the diversity of the books offered at books fairs? For more tips on how to diversify your child’s library, head on over to Atlas Club or join our newsletter here. You can immediately download all ten tips to help you do this in your home. Also, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about our workshops and consulting services where we can help your school or parenting group do this in a manner that is intentional and inclusive. We can do this y’all.
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