Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Mirrors + windows for every student
Greater acceptance of self and others can result from developing inclusive libraries in schools
By Michael Tapia | January | February 2021
“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation and readers often seek their mirrors in books.” (Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990)
I recently joined the board of our local educational foundation that annually provides major grants to educators for innovative classroom projects in my former school district. In light of the pandemic and current events, I was very pleased when our board president suggested a “mini-grant” program for the 2020-21 school year to allow educators the opportunity to obtain more inclusive literature for use with students. Diverse Books for Kids MiniGrants is providing Pre-K-12 educators with the funding to augment their classroom or school libraries so they are more diverse and representative of our community as well as the world at large.
I volunteered to assist with this effort along with two former colleagues, one a former assistant superintendent of educational services and the other a former school district board member. My primary role has been to develop resources and booklists along with short workshop presentations for elementary, middle school, and high school level educator applicants, as well as a presentation for our foundation board and grant donors.
Even though I have 35 years of experience as a classroom teacher and principal, I had no idea of the range and depth of children’s literature resources and booklists available until I started investigating this past summer. To appreciate the challenges educators have faced over time in diversifying their library collections, consider that in 2018, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin, Madison, reviewed 3,134 children’s books for their racial/ethnic representation content. Here is the breakdown of representation in these books: one percent American Indians/First Nations; 5 percent Latinx; 7 percent Asian Pacific Islander/Asian Pacific American; 10 percent African/African American; 27 percent Animals/Other; 50 percent White.
Please note that the Animals/Other group had more representation than all of the categories combined for people of color (Edith Campbell, et. al., 2019) and that half of the books represented Whites. Why is this a concern? Consider the following: Children from dominant social groups have always found their mirrors in books, but, they, too, have suffered from the lack of availability of books about others … They need books that will help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in … If they see only themselves, they will grow up with an exaggerated sense of their own importance and value in the world — a dangerous ethnocentrism. (Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990).
Even though I have 35 years of experience as a classroom teacher and principal, I had no idea of the range and depth of children’s literature resources and booklists available until I started investigating this past summer.
In another review of children’s literature, this one spanning 24 years, from 1994 to 2017, only 13 percent of these books included multicultural content despite of 37 percent of the population being people of color. Additionally, of the 3,700 books reviewed, only 7 percent of them were written by Black, Latino or Native authors in 2017 (Lee and Low Books, 2018).
Again, why should it matter if students engage with diverse literature? Another reason relates to student achievement (Janelle W. Henderson, et. al., 2020):
  • Access to culturally diverse children’s literature in classroom instruction and libraries is critical for literacy achievement and motivation (Feger, 2006).
  • McCullough (2008) found that students’ reading comprehension increased when reading culturally relevant materials.
  • Teale and Gambrell (2007) found that the significant contribution of high-quality responsive texts was an integral part of a literacy curriculum innovation that increased achievement.
  • These studies point to the importance of further examining classroom libraries for access to culturally diverse children’s literature.
In the resource document that I developed for the educator applicants’ use, Diverse Children’s Literature Resource Links, over 80 links to various articles, blogs, guides and videos from an array of roughly 40 or more organizations/websites were included. Organizations/websites offering multiple resources used in the document include the Anti-Defamation League, American Library Association, California Department of Education, Colorín Colorado, Edutopia, Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Here Wee Read, International Literacy Association, Teaching Tolerance, Welcoming Schools and YouTube.
Among the dozens of resources I reviewed and included in the resource document, several provided guides or forms to determine the diversity of one’s classroom or library literature collection. They range in terms of thoroughness from simple to complex. Diversify Your Bookshelf is a one-page checklist with a dozen boxes to check from Sample questions include, Do you have books that… are written or illustrated by a person of color? or Do you have books that … have an LGBTQ+ theme or main character? Booksource’s Inclusive Classroom Library Checklist is a two-page form that includes components reflecting well-roundedness, representation of various racial/ethnic/cultural groups, representation of various racial/ethnic/religious/cultural history, diverse authors and illustrators and a variety of perspectives and experiences. For a really deep dive into one’s collection, Teaching Tolerance offers Reading Diversity: A Tool for Selecting Diverse Texts, featuring four four major components including Complexity, Diversity and Representation, Critical Literacy; and Reader and Task Recommendations. Each of the components involves the use of a form to complete to help the educator determine if the title will be read or not by students. Lastly, Edutopia offers a unique strategy of determining the range of representation in one’s class library through the use of a bingo game (Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, 2019).
Providing diverse literature to students needs to begin early in their education. Consider this scenario in an elementary classroom at a Title I school in northern California (Nora Fleming, 2019):
“In her class …, Gibbs tries to ensure that her classroom library provides a mirror for her students — a world in which they can see characters and themes that reflect their identities and experiences, such as skin color or hair style, family and home life structures, spoken languages, or abilities … Once students ’feel seen themselves,’ it’s also critical that they be exposed to characters and stories that are different — windows into the lives, customs, and beliefs of others ’so that when they grow up, they are able to work with all different kinds of people.’”
Several articles in the resource packet encourage the use of read-alouds at the middle school and high school levels in addition to this common practice at the elementary level. In Why Every Class Needs Read Alouds, the read-aloud is compared to a Swiss army knife; it has multiple uses at every age and in every content area. Some other observations (Laura Varlas, 2018):
  • Teachers can use read-alouds to create a class bond; promote a love of reading; preview information, themes, or text structures; model effective reading; show how texts connect; or provide an exemplar for writing.
  • Read-alouds also create a bridge to more complex texts.
  • Hearing stories provides an oral language foundation and can improve the acquisition of academic vocabulary, especially for ELLs.
  • Read-alouds provide a scaffold to the reading and writing that students do on their own.
  • Data show that children of any age who regularly have books read to them score higher on state and national literacy tests.
The need to seriously consider rethinking “literary canons” especially at the middle and high school levels is a frequent topic in the resources reviewed. The Handbook of Research on Literacy and Diversity posits that engagement is critical for literacy success. Teachers and librarians repeatedly note that representative literature encourages engagement in learning. Indeed, engagement is a key predictor of overall academic success. Using literature with more diverse authors, characters and stories should be considered for inclusion in classrooms (Resilient Educators, 2020). Rich possibilities for pedagogy can emerge from literature collections in which all cultures are encompassed, none are excluded, and the site of cross-connections and nuance become the critical points to drive home … We are suggesting a more expansive approach to literature selection that can redesign and ultimately redefine the narratives and literature types that compose the classroom library and support literacy instruction … Diversity in literature reflects a dynamic intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, economic condition, religion, and more. (Angie Zapata, et. al., 2018).
Although developing the Links to Diverse Books Lists involved a lot of research, once the categories of book lists were determined, it was an affirming experience to see the vast array of recommended and award-winning titles. Even though it’s important to acknowledge the intersectionality of students’ identities, it was necessary to create separate lists to ensure that the grant applicants were aware that titles were available for underrepresented groups. In addition to book lists representing multiple aspects of diversity, additional book lists were created for the following categories (listed alphabetically):
  • American Indian/Native American
  • Arab American/Middle Eastern and/or Muslim
  • Asian American/Pacific Islander
  • Black/African American
  • Books with Characters with Disabilities/Special Needs
  • Empowered Females/Girls
  • Jewish
  • Latinx/Hispanic — Also Bilingual and Books in Spanish
  • LGBTQ+
  • Multiracial Characters and Multiracial Families
  • Socioeconomic — Homelessness/Hunger/Poverty
The selection of these categories came naturally, though it wasn’t until I reviewed the Booksource Inclusive Classroom Library Checklist and noticed that there was a Financial Hardship descriptor in the Variety of Perspectives and Experiences component of the document that I added the Socioeconomic booklist category. Keeping in mind that a goal in developing the booklists was to help the grant applicants save time as they determined the titles they wished to select with potential grant funding, the lists are not exhaustive. However, a large number of the lists represent some of the best titles available either as award winners or recommended by experts in the field. Again, these lists represent a range of titles for grades Pre-K-12. In Book Lists Representing Multiple Aspects of Diversity, the first list in this collection, some of the awards that educators may be very familiar with include the Caldecott Award, Newberry Award and the Ezra Jack Keats Award. However, there are others with which you may or may not be familiar. Here is a sampling of those that are included in the document:
  • 20 Books Featuring Diverse Characters to Inspire Connection and Empathy
  • 20 Picture Books for 2020: Readings to Embrace Race, Provide Solace & Do Good
  • 25 Wonderful Books That Celebrate Diversity
  • Best Fiction for Young Adults Award
  • Books Matter (books dealing with identity, bias and bullying — filter by topic)
  • Diverse Picture Books Featuring All Kinds of Families
  • Engage Students in Discussions on Bias and Bullying with Diverse Middle Grade Books
  • (The) Jane Addams Children’s Book Award (Peace, Social Justice, Global Community, Equity for All People)
  • Once Upon a World Book Award (Tolerance, Diversity, Social Justice Themes)
  • Skipping Stones Honor Awards 2020 (With Reviews)
  • Walter Awards and Walter Honor Books (“Providing Children with Powerful Mirrors and Windows”)
  • Working Together for Justice (Association for Library Service to Children)
In nearly every booklist representing individual categories, recommended and award-winning titles are included. Here is a sampling of some of these lists for individual categories:
  • American Indian Youth Literature Award
  • Arab American Book Award Winners
  • Literature Awards — Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature
  • Coretta Scott King Book Awards (African American/Black)
  • Schneider Family Book Award (Disabilities)
  • Award-Winning Youth Books: Amelia Bloomer Top Ten (Empowering Females)
  • The Sydney Taylor Book Award (Jewish)
  • Tomás Rivera Book Award (Latinx)
  • 2020 Rainbow List (LGBTQ+)
  • Top 10 Children’s Books with Mixed Race Families
  • Chapter Books that Raise Awareness About Hunger, Poverty, and Homelessness
Again, recognizing the intersectionality of students’ identities, some of the same titles may appear on more than one list and these lists represent just a fraction of the book titles available. Also, in addition to the many mainstream publishers in the marketplace, there are many small publishers of inclusive and diverse books of which you may or may not be aware. While some of these are imprints of larger publishers, they still provide alternative and unique titles. On the Here Wee Read website (2019), no fewer than 46 publishers are listed. Among those listed: Beach House Publishing publishes board, picture and chapter books that cater to Hawaiian children; Con Todo Press publishes books that reflect a more balanced representation of women, Latinos, and people of color; Salaam Reads is a Muslim children’s book imprint of Simon and Schuster; Yali Books is an independent publisher of picture books, young adult books and graphic novels with a focus on South Asian cultures. A number of the publishers included on the list are owned by people of color and some include authors of color. While most represent domestic businesses, the list includes a few publishers in Canada and Britain.
Along with other consistent and inclusive school practices, regularly providing students with their windows and mirrors throughout their school experience will assure opportunities for every child to be seen, heard, and accepted!
An additional rationale for offering more diverse literature to students is to make sure you are following the law and implementing SB 48, also known as the FAIR Act and part of the California HSS curriculum as described in this excerpt from a CDE SB 48 FAQs document: the expanded language now includes: “…a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America…” (CDE, 2020). Also, a close review of the diversity in your district (or lack thereof) using your CDE/Dataquest data along with your most recent CHKS data (especially the Domains of School Safety, School Engagement and Supports, and Substance Use and Mental Health) particularly for your racial/ethnic/language minority and LGBTQ+ subgroups, may supply additional impetus to use diverse literature as a means of positively engaging students in their school learning environments.
Along with other consistent and inclusive school practices, regularly providing students with their windows and mirrors throughout their school experience will assure opportunities for every child to be seen, heard and accepted!
Bishop, Rudine Sims (2015). Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors, Reading Is Fundamental ( Note: This article originally appeared in Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, Vol. 6, no. 3 Summer 1990.
Campbell, Edith, et. al. (2019). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018, Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fishman-Weaver, Kathryn (2019). How to Audit Your Classroom Library for Diversity, Edutopia (
Fleming, Nora (2019). Why Diverse Classroom Libraries Matter, Edutopia (
Henderson, Janelle W. (2020). Take a Close Look: Inventorying Your Classroom Library for Diverse Books, The Reading Teacher, International Literacy Association.
Varlas, Laura (2018). Why Every Class Needs Read Alouds, Education Update, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Zapata, Angie, et. al. (2018). Expanding the Canon How Diverse Literature Can Transform Literacy, International Literacy Association.
Resources without clearly identified authors
Booksource Inclusive Classroom Library Checklist, (2020).
Diversify Your Bookshelves: Download This Free Printable Checklist, (2020).
Diversity in Publishing From A to Z: A List of Book Publishers Who Specialize in Diversity and Inclusion, (2019).
Frequently Asked Questions: Senate Bill 48, California Department of Education/CDE (2020).
Teaching Tolerance A Tool for Selecting Diverse Texts, (2016). The Diversity Gap in Children’s Books 24 Years 1994-2017, Lee & Low Books, (2018).
Why Kids and Teens Need Diverse Books and Our Recommended Reads, Resilient Educator (2020)
Michael Tapia is a retired principal of Montalvo Arts Academy in the Ventura USD.
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