Third Graders on Why #WeNeedDiverseBooks
For as long as I’ve taught, I’ve struggled to find books that reflected the lives of my students. It’s not that they didn’t like the books I grew up. Like all first year teachers, I struggled, but that first class of fourth graders loved Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. The Giving Tree, James and the Giant Peach and Miss Nelson is Missing were all winners too.
But they couldn’t fill a certain unmet need in my classroom. They couldn’t show my students that their classroom and the world around them reflected and valued their lives. Year after year, I found myself frustrated looking for just the right book about a Dominican American eight-year-old living in New York City.
And yes, I know about the Tîa Lola series. But that’s the problem. White kids like myself get a whole universe of stories — mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, humor — with white protagonists, and kids of color have to mine the same narrow selection, mostly realistic and historical fiction, hoping to find a character to connect with. All children deserve a panoply of books that serve as mirrors and windows.
My students aren’t happy about their options either. This year we spent about six weeks talking about the lack of representation in kid’s literature and writing book reviews of our favorite books featuring characters of color. We wanted to share our favorite stories with diverse characters so that other kids (and adults) could enjoy them too.
Toward the end of our unit, the monthly Scholastic Book Club catalog arrived. It was the perfect teachable moment. We looked through the catalog, and counted 7 (Possibly? Did that fairy on the book cover thumbnail have brown skin?) books with characters of color out of more than 100. We agreed this was not okay. So the students wrote letters to Scholastic Books asking for more diverse books and stating why diverse books matter.
Their letters expressed a range of feelings and arguments, and they are all worth reading. Below you’ll find just a sampling of their powerful words. I’m hoping you’ll continue to www.wereaddiversebooks.com to read them in their entirety. You can also follow us on Twitter @DiverseReaders.
Dear Scholastic Books…
“In my opinion, I think that diverse books matter because I am a Latino person and it’s hard to find diverse books almost about me.” — Susana [put ages]
“We want there to be more than ten or 20 diverse books. Please and thank you :) Diverse books are important because there are more books with white people in it.” — Sean
“What if kids from Japan, Jamaica and more want to read books about characters like them. For example what if a Japanese girl wants to be an astronaut and every time she reads about one it’s always about a white character. What if she thinks only white people can be astronauts?”
“People of color should be appreciated more like other people. This is why I disagree with the amount of books published.” — Nicole
“How come there are more books about white people and less books about people of color? As a mixed kid I would like to read more Asian story books and people of color and white people. And I am saying in my words that pretty pretty please make more books about people of color.” — Maguette
“What if I am in a library only with your books and I want to read a book with Dominican characters but you made NONE. SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!” — Julian
“Every time I go to the library, in my mind I’m like “Is there going to be some new Latino books?” But I don’t see any.”
“We need diverse books because people would feel bad. People want to buy books with people of color.” — Jeremy
“Another reason is because you can make people feel like their life matters in this world. It can also be a good thing and it can be a very good solution because kids and adults too want to feel like they are appreciated!” — Jada
“Diverse characters matter because if you were black and you just saw books with white people it is going to be boring! You will want mirror books and also window books at the same time.” — Heidi
“Diverse books are important because people are from different cultures and they want to read of diverse people.” — Franchesca
“We need more diverse books because there is only a lot of [books for] white people and not that many [books for] Black people and we want a lot of [books for] Black people” — Erik
“Diverse books matter to me because they’re special to me and it’s like a gift to the people… I felt happy when I read a book about somebody that had brown skin.” — Edwin
“If there’s any Black, Asian, Latino people in your workplace I bet they’re waiting for that moment to make a book with their nationality character book so please make that change NOW! please.” — Antonys
“This is a problem because black people want to see mirror books and mirror books are like if your life is like the book. So please fix this.” — Amethyst
“I feel my opinion is correct because if me as a Black person wants to read a diverse book and they don’t have diverse books I’ll feel bad. At first I didn’t think diverse books were important, but now I think diverse books are important. I think characters of color matter!” — Amber
Want to support my students and their quest for more diverse children’s books?
- Follow us on Twitter @DiverseReaders
- Visit our blog We Read Diverse Books and please comment on their writing!
- Share this post or our blog on social media. If you use Twitter, use the hashtags #DearScholastic and #WeNeedDiverseBooks and try to tag Scholastic Books. We’re still waiting for their response. *UPDATE — Scholastic Editorial Director David Allender has commented on all our letters. Now we will be looking for action!
- To support the larger campaign for diverse books check out WeNeedDiverseBooks.org and find ways to get involved.