The Chalk Blog

Curating a Diverse Classroom Library

The Windows and Mirrors Model 

As a black girl growing up in a predominantly white community, I didn’t see much of myself in the books I was reading or the stories being told.  I wanted to learn more about the people that looked like me and was hungry to explore the places my people came from.  None of which was part of the standard district curriculum. Beginning in second grade I began making choices about who or what I studied, based on what was relevant to me.  For a biography project, I chose a little known black historical figure, Marian Anderson.  For my 5th grade geography project, I chose to study Kenya.   

With an increasingly diverse school-age population, making school relevant to students is critical. 

Educator Rudine Bishop Sims (2012) tells us that for children from marginalized groups, this “near invisibility suggests that books and literature, while often pleasurable, are in some sense apart from them.” And for children that do see a reflection of themselves in the curriculum, the impact can create a exaggerated sense of importance and value in the world.  So, not only is it necessary to provide mirrors, or opportunities for students to see their identity, culture and experience, but also windows that offer views outside of a student’s own life and identity.   

As teachers we have great influence on the texts our students read.  Their choices are often influenced by the options available on the classroom bookshelves.  Let’s be sure that we’re offering books with diversity of race, gender, socioeconomic status, disability, culture and family composition.  These books can provide a sense of belonging for all students and can help develop awareness, empathy and compassion for others.  Who knows?  Perhaps one of your students will even be inspired to write their own stories! 

Ready to start evaluating and adding to your current collection of books?  We’ve pulled together a few resources to help you begin the process of curating diverse classroom materials.   

  • How to Choose Outstanding Multicultural Books:  Scholastic has put together a great list of criteria to consider as you examine your library of books.  Get advice from authors of color and book recommendations to help add to your diverse collection. 
  • Lee and Low blog:  Lee & Low, an independent children’s book publisher specializing in diversity, aims to share stories that children of color can identify with and that all children can enjoy.  Check out their blog for book lists and guides, classroom lesson ideas, author interviews and book reviews.   
  • We Need Diverse Books: This grassroots organization of children’s book lovers is working to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.  Here you’ll find a comprehensive list of where to find diverse books, resources for inclusive writing, book giveaways for teachers and a free app called OurStory. 

If you want to dive deeper into classroom diversity, we encourage you to explore our culture and language courses.

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References: 

TSCHIDA, CHRISTINA M, et al. “Building on Windows and Mirrors: Encouraging the Disruption of ‘Single Stories’ Through Children’s Literature. Journal of Children’s Literature, vol. 40, 2014, pp. 28–39. 

Bishop Sims, Rudine. “Reflections on the Development of African American Children’s Literature. Journal of Children’s Literature, vol. 38, no. 2, 2012, pp. 5–18. 

Topics: Teaching Excellence, diversity

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