Providing representation in books requires more than just simply making sure the characters have a variety of skin tones. To be intentional about creating a culturally responsive library, we must look at the characters, the stories being told, and who's telling them. Students should see their world represented in the authors and illustrators as well as the books themselves. A culturally responsive educator examines their library to ensure a variety of narratives told by a variety of storytellers.
Evaluate the current titles available to students in your classroom. See the diversity audit in the resources section.
First, take a tally of the main characters' race and ethnicity: White, Black, Asian, Latinx, Native American, Mixed, Other, non-human.
Then, ask yourself the following questions:
For the books with non-white characters, how does the storyline portray them? Does it reinforce harmful stereotypes? Is it a positive story or is it only showing the character from a disadvantaged perspective?"
While it is important to acknowledge the challenges facing people of color, we want to ensure our books are not exclusively telling kids that this is the only storyline people of color can experience.
Ask yourself, "For the books with non-white characters, how many are written by white authors?" This isn't to imply that books written by white authors should automatically be discarded, but it is important to consider who is in charge of writing our stories. You want to make sure that the majority of books about people of color are also being written by people of color.
There is no perfect ratio of books to have, but we want to be mindful of what our books demographics look like. There is a noted issue with under-representation in children's literature, so we want to combat this by being intentional in the titles offered to students.
Identify what voices and stories are lacking. This does not have to correlate with your classroom's current population - all students will benefit from seeing all types of cultures represented.
Find titles that portray the cultures lacking from your library, prioritizing books written by authors from those respective cultures.
There have been many movements in children's literature recently. Following hashtags like #WeNeedDiverseBooks or #OwnVoices on social media can be a great jumping off point for finding some new titles.
Before adding a book to your classroom, you should always preview it yourself. For picture books, it's often possible to find a read aloud of the book on YouTube, but for novels or any picture books you can't find online, a public library is very helpful. Many libraries have an extensive network of branches and can transfer books to your local branch making it easy for you to grab several titles at a time to review.
Reorganize your library to make room for the amazing new books you have found.
Buying all of these books is not necessary. Getting books donated is always worth looking into, or of course you can rotate titles in and out by checking them out from your public library. Many libraries offer programs for educators to be able to check out a box of books at a time with no late fees.
Teachers may feel pressure to have hundreds of books available to students at all times. While a healthy selection is ideal, the truth is that rebuilding a library is a slow process and it's really not necessary to have 50 bins for students to choose from. Get rid of any books you deem problematic, and keep enough books to provide a variety of topics available. You can slowly phase unwanted books out as you add in the better choices.
Why do you want to diversify your classroom library?
How will you handle the possibility of needing to get rid of books you may have sentimental attachment to?
What will you do with books you want to get rid of?
What are your goals for your classroom library?
How can you incorporate these diverse books into your existing curriculum?
What resources do you have available to obtain new books for your classroom?
Don't expect to be able to create an ideal library overnight. Many teachers' rooms are stocked with hand-me-down books for a reason: books are expensive, and a classroom needs a lot of books. Utilizing the library is a great way to be able to provide quality books without causing financial strain.
Creating a diverse library isn't just about having different skin tones represented, but also cultures, abilities, and stories. It's also important to have a variety of genres; diversity in non-fiction reinforces for students that different perspectives are part of our real world.
To incorporate student voice, it can be powerful to survey students about what their interests are and keep that in mind when stocking the new library. It creates buy-in for the kids by giving them books that appeal to them, while also creating leverage to possibly expose them to new perspectives on favorite topics.