Kwame Alexander on Children’s Books and the Color of Characters

“If we don’t give children books that are literary mirrors as well as windows to the whole world of possibility, if these books don’t give them the opportunity to see outside themselves, then how can we expect them to grow into adults who connect in meaningful ways to a global community, to people who might look or live differently than they.” @newyorktimesofficial

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Mirrors and Windows

Contributed to CBC Diversity by Delia Sherman

It’s 1961. I’m 10, and in bed reading a book. My mother isn’t telling me to go outside and play because, first, we live on the 11th floor in an apartment building in New York City, and second, because playing outside always makes me wheeze.

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The book I’m reading could be anything—though, if I’m really sick, it’s likely to be The Swiss Family Robinson. The Swiss Family is mostly male and much older than I, but the practical details of their island life and the girl who has built her own house all by herself are endlessly fascinating to me.  

This is my special comfort book, but I also love The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and the Narnia series and the biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine from Mama’s nightstand, The Wind in the Willows, Nancy Drew, and A Wrinkle in Time. As an adopted only child, I find books about big, warm families of colorful siblings exotic and fascinating. But I like Little Men even more than Little Women. The boys of Plumfield School feel like a family even though they aren’t related by blood. I particularly identify with the musician Nathaniel, who is delicate and sensitive and lies a lot.

I’m a girl and I can’t read music, but I understand why he lies. I lie to stay out of trouble, too.

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Windows and Mirrors for a Better World

Contributed to CBC Diversity by Sam Kane

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I just took over a school library after a previous librarian’s tenure of sixteen years. I immediately hung up my “windows and mirrors” sign and set up my window-shuttered mirror beneath it. Why?

Because back in 1997 Emily Style’s concept of “windows and mirrors” shocked me out of my comfortable, unaware world. It transformed both my vision of and mission for bookshelves. Today, my windows and mirrors display both acts as a tangible reminder of my charge and also lets others know I value an inclusive library. 

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Before participating in a Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity (S.E.E.D) workshop, and learning about “windows and mirrors”, I took for granted that books and curriculum reflected an experience similar to my own. As a white middle-to-upper-class, heterosexual female of European descent, I saw myself mirrored everywhere. Books validated my existence.

It had never occurred to me that my Native American Hispanic colleague could have reached the same age without that bond of connection with a book. I had never thought about how books and curriculum didn’t mirror her.  I had never realized that she read books that only offered her windows with unfamiliar views.  Books had made her feel invisible.

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