Finding and implementing diverse children’s literature in the curriculum has been a priority throughout my teaching career, but it has only been in the last few years that I‘ve thought about how I can move beyond my library walls. I teach my students that one person can make a difference in the world, and I have started to put that belief into practice. Here are several actions I’ve found helpful in promoting diverse children’s and young adult literature with students and beyond.
Seek out and read diverse literature: We’re better able to suggest diverse titles if they are part of our reading life. Yes, I know that finding diverse titles can be tricky. There aren’t enough books available, but find what we do have. If you want title suggestions and some form of accountability, participate in a reading challenge such as “Diversity on the Shelf,” “Latin@s in KidLit,” or “Africa Reading Challenge.” The hosts provide reading suggestions, and participants offer reviews as they read. Award lists are another great resource. There are many blogs that have diversity as a focus, too. The CCBC-Net discussion in February 2014 generated a helpful list of blogs and other online resources with a diversity focus. Also, as you search for books, if your local public library doesn’t have the titles, put their suggestion forms to use. If your bookstore doesn’t stock it, ask them to.
Share and share widely: Booktalk the titles with your students, and display them. Don’t confine this sharing to the heritage months, either. Genres, themes, and other displays can always include diverse lit. Share beyond your walls, too. Last January, SLJ senior editor Shelley Diaz wrote about the lack of awareness regarding Latino titles, but people may not even know about the books that already exist. We need to be promoters—even if you just slap some stars on the title in Goodreads. If you have more time, review books online, or share your thoughts via social media. If you don’t have a blog yet, this is the perfect incentive. You can also recommend titles for book clubs, Battles of the Books, or state and national award lists.
Seek out professional development: Take advantage of opportunities to teach within your district or at local or national conferences. Point staff to resources that promote diverse literature and titles that would support their curriculum. When a team recently asked me for memoir suggestions, I recommended Little White Duck: A Childhood in China (Graphic Universe, 2012) by Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez, When I Was Eight (Annick Press, 2013) by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and Drawing from Memory (Scholastic, 2011) by Allen Say—along with other titles from a variety of cultural experiences.Encourage critical thinking: Both staff and students benefit from learning how to evaluate texts they encounter. Being able to detect bias in fiction or nonfiction is a valuable skill. My students are learning to keep an eye out for stereotypes and whether there is an absent voice or perspective. They are becoming critical readers, and we are having some incredible discussions as a result.
Buy diverse books: Our purchases are what will speak the loudest to publishers. In your personal life, you can take the “Birthday Party Pledge” that asks you to give diverse literature as birthday gifts for a year. You can also support the authors you love by buying their books for your own library. In your professional life, be sure to look for diverse titles as you place orders. Small presses, like Oyate and Lee & Low, are often great places to find diverse literature.
These are just a few of the ways I will be actively supporting diverse children’s and YA literature in the coming years.