I grew up in a large city. When I moved to Texas, things were awfully strange to me. I could go ride horses down the street. Horses! Of course, now urban sprawl has moved riding stables out of the city in Houston and even out of most suburbs. But some of my childhood friends still expect horses to be our chief mode of transportation. As a child I loved reading books that were windows: Nancy Drew solved crime all without parental intrusion and with no pesky siblings. Rebecca and Pollyanna had lives that, at the time, I wished I shared.
I would have loved some mirrors in my books, too. But books about single parent families, books about divorce, books about having to assume lots of duties even s a young child, and so much more did not appear in the books I read. It was really not until Dear Mr. Henshaw that books for young readers began to reflect more diverse realities.
Today, even though the numbers of books reflecting people of color are unquestionably too low, we do have a better chance of offering windows and mirrors. I want to offer windows to readers to show them characters who are NOT like they are. I want mirrors to reflect the lives of ALL readers.
Look at the diversity among the ALA YMA winners. The Coretta Scottt King Awards and the Pura Belpre awards honor books by and for African Americans and Hispanics respectively. The Newbery certainly reflected diversity this year (and has in the past as well). The first ever Printz was awarded to Walter Dean Myers for MONSTER. Granted, there needs to be much more done to honor words that reflect more diversity. The comics industry is making a concerted effort to do just that. Small presses are encouraging this as well (Cinco Puntos, Arte Publico, Lee and Low to name a few).
Now it is up to educators to make sure all collections, whether in a classroom or in the school or in the public library, are diverse. I have actually seen some educators write recently about not needing to have copies of award winners that reflect more diversity because, "they do not have those kids" in their schools, districts, etc. To them I say: WINDOWS!
Here are a few titles to get you started (though I realize most readers of this blog will know these titles. But if you want to share this with a colleague, it never hurts to have some book recommendations, right?