A couple of weeks ago, Karin Perry and Rose Brock and I did a presentation for our undergrad students and the COE faculty on the need for diverse books. This is the 2nd year we have used this as our theme for talking about new books. We do this because, when we look at the faces of those future teachers, we do not see much diversity. We have a few men, a few African Americans and Hispanics. But, for the most part, most of the audience was white (and so are we, we would hasten to add).
I can still recall my first teaching position in January of 1977. I was the 3rd teacher for this group. The class was 97% African American, 2% Hispanic, 1% Caucasian. The only text I had ever been taught to use with middle school was Huck Finn. I took one look around the room and decided I needed to know more, I needed to find more books to share, I needed to learn about diversity. And I set out to do that almost 40 years ago. That learning has not ended. I doubt that it will. You see, I was the kid with the divorced parents at a time when there were no books about kids of divorce. I did not see myself in a book. I saw Pollyanna and Rebecca and other blissfully naïve girls. I was not one of them. I was not Nancy Drew nor Cherry Ames.
It was not until I took YA literature with Dick Abrahamson some years later that I began to see myself (as that teen Teri) within the pages of a book. And I remember thinking that these would have been books I would have cherished growing up. Now, I can provide those books for classes and readers now. Karin and Rose and I can stand for 90 minutes and talk about MIRRORS and WINDOWS and DOORS. We can share books with these students. We can give them resources (awards, web sites, blogs, etc.) so they can grow their own knowledge of diverse literature.
One of my graduate courses this semester is Historical Development of Literature for Children. I am using WILD THINGS: ACTS OF MISCHIEF IN CHILDREN'S LITERATURE. The reading assignment this week was from the section on LGBTQ. As students presented the information they gleaned from the text, time and again there was an expression of surprise about how it used to be versus how it is now. They are reacting to the taboos that existed before many of them were even born. They are shocked, sometimes, to learn that authors kept things hidden, that there were not always books about LGBTQ.
Diverse books, diverse voices, diverse editors and publishe4rs: all this is not just nice. It is needed. Every time I hear an adult talk about "those" people (and it seems there is much of that in political discussions, erm, debates, of late) or the "other", I am reminded of the value of diversity. I am reminded that I need to seek voices and books and resources. And I need to add my voice, too.