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We Need Diverse Books

February 28, 2015

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign has been going strong for a while now. When I first started to see the hashtag on twitter and checked out the website my first response was “Of course! More diverse books and more diverse authors would be fantastic!” I still think this, but as I have made a deliberate effort to read diverse books and engage my students in them a well, the more I realized that I originally was really thinking that I just “wanted” more diverse books. The more I delve into these books, the more I realized that we actually need these diverse books in the same way we need engaging young adult adventure stories to hook reluctant readers, the same way we need engaging texts for 10th graders who read on a 6th grade level, the same way all of our children need access to great books and great literature that they want to read. The longer I teach, the more and more convinced I become that becoming a reader and all that entails should not only be our noble pursuit for students, but should also be considered our students’ fundamental right.

I recently read a blog post by Mass Literacy Champion Dr. Kim Parker entitled Why We Need Diverse Books. In her post she uses Rudine Sims’ Bishop’s article “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors” to clearly articulate how diverse books how diverse books provide mirrors, windows and doors for all people, but especially students of color. As a white teacher teaching primarily students of color, I completely agree that my students need more mirrors in their reading because I know the power of seeing yourself in a text. But here I would also like to offer three reasons why we ALL need (not just want) diverse books in our lives, even white readers like me.

1) Sometimes a door becomes a window.
I’ve read plenty of books where the main character is a white girl in high school. Sometimes she is pretty and popular but with a dark secret. Sometimes she is the DUFF. Sometimes she is the geek. But rarely has her experience of high school mirrored mine, even though I was a white girl and a suburban high school once. Instead, I have often found that books that best provides some mirrors into my own childhood in the stories of the jocks, or the boy geeks. Without seeking books that don’t appear to mirror my experiences and self, I have found some of my most valuable mirrors.

2) More diverse authors leads to better books
As a voracious reader, nothing is better than finding an author whose books completely draw me in and make me forget the world around me. In fact, I’ve missed several subway stops wrapped up in such wonderful books. #WeNeedDiverseBooks is promoting diverse authors and bringing them to the forefront, thereby increasing the number of gifted authors whose books myself and others have access too. I’ve already discovered some amazing authors through immersing myself in YA literature that I never would have found as a purely “adult” reader, and I know that more diverse authors in my life will lead to more of these discoveries.

3) More diverse books are more likely to turn reluctant readers into voracious readers
I have many students who are reluctant readers. They have yet to find a book that they get lost in, or that helps them learn about themselves, or that opens their mind to fantastical new worlds. They are not immune to the draw of a good story; they see movies, and even start to read The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner after the movie comes out, but then they quickly lose interest. More diverse books, about characters they never dreamed of, or characters that look and sound like them, can only increase the chances of them finding that one book or one series that finally turns them into readers who are then seeking out their next good book.

bookstackIn 2015 I’m looking forward to reading at least 50 diverse books, starting with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks summer reading list. I’m currently in middle of the beautiful book Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, and next in my library stack is we were here, Five Flavors of Dumb and Parrotfish. But I’m also on the hunt for recommendations!

What diverse books (by diverse authors and/or about diverse characters) do you recommend? Let’s get the reading list going!

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