Who do you see in your books?

I'm in this book!

I love the days that I get to be in classrooms with kids. Today I visited with a quartet of kindergarten boys that were working on their independent reading. They were SO excited to be reading, but they became ecstatic when one guy noticed that a character in his book resembled him.

The boys went on to search through each book in the bin, finding their doppelgängers (as well as the long lost twins of many of their classmates). One of my new friends, Anthony, was temporarily crestfallen when he couldn’t find himself. In a few minutes he victoriously showed me a book called My Family which included ‘himself’ and his grandfather.

The photo search led the boys to briefly discuss race and ethnicity. Their statements were so matter-of-fact:

That boy is Chinese, and so are you, right?

Amir, that boy looks like your brother, because he has brown skin and hair like yours, but he’s shorter than you.

I don’t know if any of these guys are Mexican, like me…Oh! This one is for sure! 

And then they moved on with their day. That short but important conversation wouldn’t have happened if the boys hadn’t been able to see themselves in the illustrations and photos.

We use a tool to rate our district preschool classrooms called the ECERS-R (Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale – Revised), and it includes sections about diversity in the visual environment, as well as in classroom books. I’ve seen teachers put out extra photos and books before their rating month, but diversity should be part of the environment and children’s book choices every month. I hope that we can consistently provide diverse materials not to gain points on a rating scale, but because it’s the right thing to do.  For Anthony, Amir, and countless other students, thoughtful book choices could make all the difference in their engagement and motivation as they learn to read.

Who do you see in your books?

In early readers and in higher level books without illustrations, can students ‘see’ kids they can relate to, in addition to kids who are different from them?

Even if you’re not working with or raising kids right now, who do you see in your adult fiction choices?

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