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Pushing Back, Pushing Forward: Diverse Books for Summer Reading

May 24, 2021

Pushing Back, Pushing Forward: Diverse Books for Summer Reading

How will you be an advocate for diverse books? We invite you to upload your own resources that can help others augment their curriculum. 


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On the Importance of Diverse Books

For children and adults alike, "seeing" people who are like us succeed encourages us to believe that it can and will happen for us as well. Having examples and role models is important not only because they enable us to visualize our possible futures, but because they also help us to define our place in the world. But what’s it like not to be seen? All too often, for many children growing up in the American education system, the only books available in their schools and libraries portray other children and adults who don’t look anything like them. Many children wonder:

  • “Why aren’t the stories my family members tell me in a book?”
  • “Why don’t the authors we read have names that sound like mine?”
  • “Why is the way I speak considered incorrect?”
  • “Why is the way I do my hair wrong?”
  • “Why is the food I eat not normal?”

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Culture Matters

When children notice that the books available to them only celebrate and discuss white characters, it sends a clear message: Your experience doesn’t matter. Whiteness is what’s considered normal, and other things are “weird” or “foreign.”

The reckoning we’ve experienced over the last year, as it pertains to combating, dismantling and abolishing the caste-like racial hierarchy in America, is long overdue. It is a call for recognition, for empathy, for understanding and for acceptance. It begins with education. It starts with the books we read.

The lack of diversity in the books we read as children is an ongoing problem for the students and communities we teach across the nation. While progress has been made over the years in portraying Black, Indigenous, people of color and LGBTQ characters in literature, more progress still needs to be made. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in 2019, books released by U.S. publishers contained the following amount of primary characters that pertain to these identities:

  • Latinx: 197 (5.3 percent of total books)
  • Black: 441 (11.9 percent of total books)
  • Indigenous: 37 (1 percent of total books)
  • Asian/Asian American: 325 (8.7 percent of total books)
  • Pacific Islander: 2 (0.05 percent of total books)
  • LGBTQ+: 115 (3.1 percent of total books)
  • Disabled: 126 (3.4 percent of total books)

So, how can diverse readings contribute to righting the wrongs of the past? In many education circles, we speak about diverse literature as a tool that acts as both a mirror into oneself and a window to new cultures. And the benefits that come along with activating these “mirrors” and “windows” provide a way for students of all backgrounds to:

  • Feel comfortable after seeing themselves in stories that both they and their peers read, while exploring their own identity and sharing it with others;
  • Raise cultural competency and awareness;
  • Build empathy through exposure to new cultures and ideas;
  • Understand what things we have in common and how we can celebrate our differences;
  • Look beyond ourselves and challenge how we view the society we live in with a critical lens;
  • Employ a critical lens in our day-to-day lives to help children compare and contrast; and
  • Instill children with an anti-racist mindset through increased racial literacy.

Share My Lesson’s new collection of lesson plans and resources, Celebrating Diverse Books for PreK-12 Students, aims to meet this challenge of pushing back against the status quo of what we read and learn in school and help students explore all parts of their identity, whether it’s family dynamics, culture, language, race, gender, ability, beliefs or socioeconomics. In this curation, you’ll find innovative learning resources from partners like ADL, First Book, Lee & Low Books, Re-Imagining Migration and Storyline Online. You’ll also find tips, ideas and professional development tools to help you diversify your teaching and adjust to a more culturally responsive pedagogical framework.

This new collection of resources is just the beginning. It is a foundational collection of diverse texts we’ve compiled to better serve not only the community of teachers, paraprofessionals, specialized instructional support personnel, librarians and parents on SML, but also the children and communities they serve.

How will you be an advocate for increased diversity in the books educators teach? We invite you to upload your own resources that can help others augment their curriculum. Comment below with any thoughts or feelings on how we can help.

Explore this collection here.

Andy Kratochvil

Andy Kratochvil is an SML team member who loves hiking, video games, scary books, Mexican food, and finding great content for the Share My Lesson community.He studied political science and French at California State University, Fullerton and received his Master’s in International Affairs from Americ


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