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Mirrors, Windows, and Books

Posted: September 3, 2019

By: Katy Almendinger, Early Literacy Librarian

When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read…they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.” Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop

I wanted to be a librarian because I believe that there is a perfect book for every child. Something with suspense that makes their heart race, something that makes them giggle, or something that reflects their own life in a beautifully relatable way. Books are mirrors and windows.

Multicultural education expert Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop coined the mirrors and windows phrase. She describes mirror books as those where children can find themselves, their families, their backgrounds, and their communities reflected in the stories.

Window books help children see the world around them, including characters that don’t look or live like them. It’s essential that children read both mirror and window books.

In 2015, the Cooperative Center for Children’s Books at the University of Wisconsin-Madison released an infographic that quickly went viral and shook the world of children’s literature.

With research and statistical support, the infographic showed that there are more books published about animals and trucks (nonhuman things) than African/African American, Latinx, or Asian/Asian Pacific characters. Our nation is becoming increasingly diverse, and children’s literature needs to catch up. There’s a growing grassroots effort to advocate for change in children’s publishing. We Need Diverse Books has stepped up to the challenge, and it has a growing social media following with #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

This summer, the Youth Department started a diversity audit to make sure that our picture book collection represents the entire community. We’re taking a serious look at every picture book we own and analyzing it for accurate representation. Is the main character a person of color? Do they identify with a disability? Is the main character LGBTQ? Are they living below the poverty line?

We will identify gaps in the collection and purchase new titles that more accurately reflect our Glen Ellyn community. GEPL staff will then use this information to deliver an increasing amount of diverse content in storytime, displays, and future programming.

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