Classroom Strategies, Tools and Resources

I See Me

Building a diverse classroom library with the help of First Book Marketplace

“Ms. Peters, LOOK! This kid looks like me.”

One of the greatest moments I’ve had this school year was seeing the reactions of students as they encounter a new book from my classroom library. They smiled and shouted. These shouts of joy were because they were seeing a face that reminds them of them. I have always known the importance of my culture and heritage, but never realized the feeling I would get from seeing my students happy to see a book with an African-American/Black, Hispanic, or Asian face. I mean, these babies were excited. I got all the warm feels from this.

I See… Money

Like many teachers, I put a lot of effort into filling the shelves of my classroom library. I’m either gifted books, go to various book banks to try and get some decent free books, or buy books with my own money. From my perspective, a classroom library filled with culturally relevant, high-quality books is a necessity, but it can quickly become an expensive classroom luxury.

Now, if you are like me, you know that books have great value. You love the way they look and feel. You want your students to feel the way you do when you hold a book in your hands. You enjoy seeing them read for fun and not only for the lesson. Because of this, you do not mind spending your own money to get books for your classroom, and you start by filling your shelves with books from well-known children’s authors. These authors have books that are considered classics with authors like Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Dr. Seuss, and William Steig to name a few. You grew up reading these books. As a young black boy or girl, you might not have realized that these books’ characters did not represent you and/or your culture and heritage. Fast forward to the present; you are now a teacher in an urban school setting and want to give your students a chance to see themselves through books.

Thank You, First Book

My school’s current librarian is the MVP. She realized that the books we had in our library were outdated, old, and not diverse. She made it her job to “update” the school’s library. As she was doing this, I started to notice more and more books being displayed that had characters of color on the cover. I asked her, “Where did you get these books from?” and she showed me, First Book and the online store, First Book Marketplace. First Book is a nonprofit that provides educators serving students in need with free or deeply discounted resources and books. While the marketplace does contain mostly books with small fees attached, it also has a Book Bank of free books, a section of free resources, and from time to time they also provide vouchers to educators allowing them to purchase books for FREE!! The first time I did it, I was a bit skeptical; I was not sure of the condition the books would be in, and which books I would be able to choose from. I was pleasantly surprised that this site had a TON of selections: books that were NEW and high-quality, and, even better, the price for the books was inexpensive. My voucher went a long way!

At first, when First Book gave me a code for $25 in free books, I only ordered that amount. As a teacher, I spend money ALL THE TIME for my classroom, and students getting something for free is the best. As I started looking more into this company and receiving more and more codes, I decided to order more books over the free dollar amount to help this company. Their selection of books from black and brown authors with black and brown main characters is just AMAZING! They have books by Jacqueline Woodson, Kadir Nelson, Ezra Jack Keats, and Christopher Paul Williams, to name a few. They also have books that have been awarded Coretta Scott King, Caldecott, and Newbery awards. These are books my students deserve.

The Best Feeling EVER

Recently, I ordered a few books from First Book Marketplace with a main character who is a Muslim-American girl. I have two Muslim students in my class. Just imagine the feeling I had when they opened those books and smiled. Now imagine their feelings….

If you’re an educator working in a Title 1 School, or if you support students in need, you may be eligible to sign up for First Book.

3 thoughts on “I See Me

  1. Thank you Tamika for the courage and tenacity you have to pour into your students. These books show them that they are indeed important and have a voice…even as young as they are.

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About the Author: Tamika Peters is currently a 3rd grade ELA/Social Studies teacher for Liberty Elementary School located in Baltimore, Maryland. She has been at her school for her entire 15-year teaching career. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Radio Broadcasting and Production from Morgan State University and a Master's degree in Education from Concordia University with a concentration in Curriculum and Instruction for the Inclusive Classroom.