Blog Windows and Mirrors

Windows and Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors: Ensuring Students See Themselves and Others in Literature

by Cathy Potter

In 1990, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop published an essay about the importance of providing young readers with diverse books that reflect the “multicultural nature of the world” in which we live.

In the essay, Dr. Bishop coined the phrase “Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors” to explain how children see themselves in books and how they can also learn about the lives of others through literature.

Dr. Bishop makes the point that it’s crucial for children from marginalized groups to view themselves in the books they read.

When books don’t serve as mirrors to children, Bishop says, “They learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in society.”

In addition to acting as mirrors, books can also serve as windows that give readers a glimpse into the lives and experiences of others.

Educators have the critical task of making sure our students have access to books in our classrooms and libraries that serve as both windows and mirrors.

Ensuring Library Books Reflect the World

As a school librarian in a predominantly white school district, I strive to make the library collection reflect the world outside of our small, suburban community.

Students in my school have access to books that feature characters from different cultures, races, and experiences. The books in the library expose readers to other points of view, perspectives, and issues they may not have faced.

It is important to include books about history in our collections; however, we need to make sure we are purchasing books from a variety of genres covering myriad issues and events — not just slavery or the Civil Rights Movement.

In addition to purchasing books featuring multicultural characters and settings, our classrooms and libraries should include books about socio-economic struggles, LGBTQ issues, and characters with disabilities and mental health issues.

Some of the most popular books in my middle school library right now describe immigrant experiences, examine issues of race and identity, depict transgender characters, and highlight issues of poverty and food insecurity.

Enticing Students to Read Diverse Books

In addition to purchasing diverse books for the library, I try make sure the books are checked out and read by my students.

I do this by prominently displaying books by diverse authors. I also include diverse titles in summer reading lists and recommended book lists.

Another way I generate excitement with our students is to booktalk new titles and include diverse titles in our March Madness book competition. Book trailers and videos of author interviews are also effective in generating buzz about books.

If you are looking for new titles to add your school or library, begin with awards lists. January is usually the time of year when organizations announce award winners for children’s literature.

Most educators are familiar with the Caldecott and Newbery Medals, but there are many other awards for children’s literature, including:

American Indian Youth Literature Award
Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature
Coretta Scott King Book Awards
Pura Belpré Award
Schneider Family Book Award
Stonewall Book Award
The Walter Award

Literature is a powerful tool for building empathy, understanding, and compassion in our students.

As Dr. Bishop explains, “When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities.”

Resources for Educators

We Need Diverse Books is a nonprofit organization that promotes “literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.” WNDB provides books to classrooms, sponsors The Walter Award, recommends books, and mentors writers. Be sure to download the Booktalking Kit.

We Are Kidlit Collective publishes a summer reading list for children and teens each year that features indigenous people and people of color.

Lee and Low Books examines issues of race and diversity in children’s books. Take the time to read through the blog archives; there are a lot of valuable posts on this site.

Project Lit is a “grassroots literacy movement” that you can follow on Twitter. The Project Lit Community encourages schools to form book clubs and have students read books from their lists.

The Institute for Humane Education has an online Resource Center with numerous recommended titles on diverse issues.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (realistic fiction)
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (realistic fiction)
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (fantasy)
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden (realistic fiction)
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James (poetry/picture book)
A Different Pond by Bao Phi and Thi Bui (memoir/picture book)
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (memoir/picture book)
Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry (realistic fiction/poetry)
Front Desk by Kelly Yang (realistic fiction)
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (fantasy)
Give Me Some Truth by Eric Gansworth (historical fiction)
Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly (realistic fiction)
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (realistic fiction)
Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (realistic fiction)
Hope in the Holler by Lisa Lewis Tyre (realistic fiction)
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter the the World by Ashley Herring Blake (realistic fiction)
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (realistic fiction/poetry)
Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds (fantasy/superhero)
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (mystery)
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (realistic fiction)
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (realistic fiction/poetry)
The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta (fantasy)
Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh (horror)
Sunny by Jason Reynolds (sports fiction)
Rebound by Kwame Alexander (sports fiction/poetry)
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell (informational picture book)

Be sure to forward this to at least ONE person who would benefit from these resources.

Guest blogger Cathy Potter is a school librarian at Falmouth Middle School in Falmouth, Maine.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.