Several years ago, I was in a packed auditorium listening to one of my favorite teachers and reading advocates, Donalynn Miller. I was taking notes on early childhood reading statistics, picture books I needed to check out, and strategies on how to further engage my students in the love of reading. Then, she began speaking about something that changed me as a reader and semi-professional book pusher: books are mirrors, windows, and doors.
Books as Mirrors, Windows, and Doors
Every person should see themselves reflected in the books they read. A child needs access to stories that mirror their own lives, characters that look like them, and characters that struggle with similar problems.
In addition, homes, libraries, and schools must have books on the shelves that invite readers to take a look into a world unlike their own. A reader should pick up books, often, that transport them into a different time, a different place, a different culture. This window into something new is how we appreciate uniqueness, understand history, and grow our ally-ship to others.
Finally, texts have to give readers an access point to tough conversations and global issues. Books allow us to open our hearts and minds. They are an anchor for discourse, debate, personal growth; truly a door to expose us to new knowledge and thinking. Miller’s words on this topic hit me like a ton of breaks although they were simple and obvious. I had an obligation, as a teacher and mom, to fill my libraries with books serving as mirrors, windows, and doors.
Literature as a Tool
I am a white mom of four white boys. The second my boys took their first breaths outside the womb, they had privilege just because of the color of their skin and the community in which they live. When much is given, much is to be expected. One of the most important jobs I have as a mother is to help grow my boys into empathetic, conscious, service-oriented global citizens who use their privilege to help others, to stand up for others, to be an ally. Literature is one of my most important tools to do this work.
I knew my own children would have books all around them that are mirrors. I didn’t need to give that a second thought. However, over the years, I have been intentional at getting my sons access to texts that are windows and doors. I do not claim to be an expert on diverse texts, but I am thoughtful with the choices in our home library and can share some wonderful books that I feel should be on every family’s bookshelf.
10 Diverse Picture Books You Need
*The titles I’ve chosen are written by BIPOC authors. I also linked these books to Black-owned Michigan bookstores wherever I could. Additionally, I included other links below that give even more phenomenal choices.*
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
Leave it to me to start my list of 10 picture books with a non-picture book. This text is necessary, though, and I had to share it. It is unacceptable, the history I wasn’t taught. This book tells the story of racism: its origins, its micro-aggressions, historical racists, and historical anti-racists. Stamped has helped doors open in my own unlearning, understandings, and journey to be an ally. It is written specifically for a younger audience.
Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History & Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
These books give a voice to so many important stories as they profile Black men and Black women who have made impacts on our world.
Jabari Jumps & Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall
These two picture books are favorites in our home. Each follows Jabari, a little boy, as he tries to conjure up the bravery needed to jump off the high dive at a pool and the perseverance and imagination necessary to invent. Both books have sensational positive lessons and pep talks that we all can use.
Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Millard
Fry Bread is a wonderful story of a Native American family full of tradition and heart. Plus, there’s a recipe to make your own fry bread included!
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
An ABC board book for little learners and their families to explore values such as community, equity, and justice.
I am Perfectly Designed by Karamo Brown
A boy and his father take a walk through the city. While walking, the little boy learns how important he is in the world. This book has powerful messages of self-love and family. My boys loved the pictures as well.
Under my Hijab by Hena Khan
A young girl observes girls and women in her family wearing their hijab, each in their own individual way. This picture book celebrates culture and diversity and helps readers understand the purpose of the hijab within the Islam faith.
Bedtime for Sweet Creatures by Nikki Grimes
This is a beautiful story of how every child has some animal inside of them, especially when it’s bedtime. Also, the illustrations are stunning.
I am Enough by Grace Byers
This picture book gives us messages we all need: respecting others, showing kindness, and celebrating how important each one of us is in our world. My boys love hearing this book again and again.
Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho
In January 2021, when this book comes out, I will be rushing to get it. This is a powerful story of a young Asian girl working to celebrate her own beauty and empowerment. It will make a perfect addition to any family library.
Additional Diverse Book Lists
I hope the list above is useful to you as you grow your own family library within your home or as you think of friends or loved ones who could use a thoughtful gift. Books are powerful and bring so much joy and learning into each reader.
Please see these other links for even more wonderful diverse book choices: