If I’m being honest, I will admit that books featuring black protagonists do not circulate as much as those featuring white kids. I work in a private school in a predominantly white suburban area. Most of our students and staff are white. The library has a wide range of books, and I think every student can see him or her self represented on the shelves. Over the past few years, I have looked carefully and critically at our collection to be sure that the books represent the world as it is now. I think it does, but it requires sustained attention. The place I need to think more proactively about is not the books that come into the Inly Library, but those that go out. Our kids read many books that are “mirrors” to their lives, but not enough of the equally essential “window” books.
As mixed as I am about recognizing the accomplishments of a group of people during a designated month, it does present an opportunity. This is one of the best parts of working in a school, rather than a public, library. I can use my position as a teacher and librarian to require students to read something from a different perspective. As Gene Luen Yang, last year’s National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, wrote in his Reading Without Walls Challenge, “read a book outside your comfort zone.” We are not doing our jobs if we don’t give kids a more expansive view of the world they will inherit.
And so tomorrow morning, along with displaying books about the Winter Olympics, Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day, I will put about books by black writers and illustrators: Jacqueline Woodson, Andrea David Pinkney, Christopher Paul Curtis, Carole Boston Weatherford, Kadir Nelson, and many others. The kids will need to make a commitment, but so will I. My 6th grade students are each going to read one of those books. I will initiate conversations, read to them from the wonderful new book of short profiles, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, and with them, explore ways we can all take steps out of our comfort zones.
On a completely different note….
Apparently there was an after-hours visitor in the Library last week. I left school late after a meeting one evening and was the first person in the Library the following morning. This is what I saw:
It makes me happy to think of friends from different books getting together at the end of the day. Exchanging stories, perhaps?