The Importance of representation in your classroom
By: Christina Samek, OverDrive Marketing Specialist.
I loved Shiloh. I enjoyed Where the Red Fern Grows, despite what happens in the end. I begged my Dad for a dog for years because of those books. I read The Yearling not long after those because I heard it was about a pet deer. I won’t get into the traumatic devastation following that ending either but as you can see, I really liked books about adventurous boys and their animals. At least I thought I did. The first book I remember reading that featured a little girl was To Kill a Mockingbird and while I loved Scout and her father, she didn’t feel like me. We read Number the Stars and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl in the same year and I remember touching the covers, seeing their faces, and wondering if I would be as brave. These stories, reflecting tumultuous times in our world history, are important and I am so glad I know them. But, I spent the first formative years of my education identifying with little boys and their dogs, but unlike Marley Dias I lacked her gumption to say anything. Or, little girls who weren’t afraid of real life monsters. Children who weren’t at all like me.
Now, times have changed a little bit. You can find all types of girls across many different kinds of stories. Brave ones, awkward ones, beautiful ones, average ones, ones in love, ones in love triangles, ones blissfully NOT in love triangles. Girls like Victoria Darling in A Mad, Wicked Folly who shunned tradition and made her own future. Girls like Hanalee Denney in The Steep & Thorny Way who navigates a dangerous slope in finding her father’s killer in a time where she, a person of color, had no rights and very few allies. Representation matters. In all the examples I’ve shared, Hanalee, is the only character of color. I struggled connecting to the stories I read because the characters didn’t feel like me but in each of those, there was someone who looked like me. Big or small part. There are of course stories out there that do feature people of color but often these stories dictate a time in history. Or feature a person in history who actually shaped history. All great. All very important stories. But you connect to a story when it pulls you in, when it captures your imagination. A story, that’s simply that, a story. One you read aloud, tucked away before bed. Or, in the back of the bus before or after school. A story like The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, available in our catalog as a beautifully narrated Read-Along. Keats perfectly captures the joy and wonder of the first snow fall, experienced through the eyes of a child. A child, as Rumaan Alam beautifully articulates, who just happens to be black.
The Snowy Day is one of many stories to add to your classroom’s bookshelf. In fact, we have so many, it’s lucky our bookshelves are digital! We have title lists inspired by Marley Dias and the ’1000 Black Girl Books’ movement. We also have titles that feature African American characters or African American authors. In addition to those we have titles featuring Asian characters or Asian authors, Latino/a characters and authors, LGBTQ characters and authors…and the list goes on. Our dedicated content analysts are happy to build lists that meet your needs at anytime.
Show your students a world of possibilities. Give them characters that look and feel like them. If they can imagine something is possible, then it will be.