If you were asked to sum up your classroom library or read aloud collection with five adjectives, what would you say? Would the word “diverse” make the list?
Our classroom library bookshelves and mentor texts should feel intentional, purposeful, and transforming; to that end, many educators and administrators are eager to infuse more culturally responsive, multicultural, and inclusive stories into the classroom. It can be overwhelming to figure out where to begin with this process, however. As Director of Curriculum & Literacy Strategy at Lee & Low Books, I step into schools and districts to advise on the key components of a culturally responsive book collection and action steps required to evaluate current collections for equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Whether you survey your collection in grade-level teams, with parent volunteers, or on your own, this blog post will share some of the best resources and strategies we at Lee & Low Books have seen over the past thirty years from schools and districts across the nation.
It is my hope your major takeaway with these resources is two-fold:
- How to move forward in building the equitable, contemporary, intentional, purposeful, transformative book collection your students want and need
- How NOT to feel overwhelmed
What is a High-Quality Diverse Text? What Features Might It Include?
Amazing definitions abound and I will share some of my current favorite guides here:
- Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books from Social Justice Books, A Teaching for Change Project
- A Guide to Selecting Multicultural Literature by Dr. Barbara D. Brown, African Studies Center, Boston University
- A Checklist for Evaluating Diverse Children’s Media from The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop
- 10 Criteria for Choosing Diverse Texts in Your Classroom from the Writing Mindset
- Classroom Libraries as Windows and Mirrors: Ensuring Diverse, Representative Books for Our Students 2018 ILA expert panel (Answer starts at minute 03:05)
- Assessing Children’s Literature from the Anti-Defamation League
- Diverse Classroom Libraries for K–6 Students from Reading Rockets
Why Should Diverse Texts Be Included in Literacy Instruction? What Are the Benefits to Students?
- Read the first person account from Rethinking Schools magazine by Dr. Sandra Osorio: “‘¿QUÉ ES DEPORTAR?’ Teaching from students’ lives” where she describes the changes in her classroom when she replaced her basal-reading program with diverse children’s literature relevant to her students and families (Spanish edition here)
- Listen to co-founder of #Disrupttexts Kim Parker’s interview on Harvard EdCast: Putting Diverse Books into Practice in which she challenges educators to think about “what are the best books at the moment that actually speak to young people”
- Review emerging evidence that shows increased GPA in all courses, attendance, and credit accumulation when black and Latino students are enrolled in high school courses featuring culturally relevant themes and texts
- Explore the research that shows culturally relevant texts are “integral to learning” and exposure to culturally relevant texts leads to comprehension growth for African American elementary students
- Dig into research on how a Mexican-American Studies curriculum provided academic gains to Latino students
- Build your understanding of how multicultural, diverse books have also been shown to be critical to white students’ learning
How to Get Started
Adding more culturally responsive and relevant books to your instruction does not have to be overwhelming, expensive, or time intensive. Be tactical with your time, wallet, and mental load by identifying the gaps or areas of growth in your collections: What is working? What is missing? Use these answers as your blueprint or road map to improving your collections or curriculum year over year. Ready to get started?
Step 1: Evaluate
Think about what will make the most immediate impact for your students in putting an action into place for equitable educational outcomes for your students and families. Are you evaluating a few books or a full curriculum? In order to know what you need, identify your gaps with these resources:
- One Book: If you are analyzing a specific children’s book for its cultural responsiveness and representation, here is the Teaching Diversity tool from Teaching Tolerance (PDF here)
- Collection of Books: If you are analyzing your classroom library, guided reading bookroom, or scope & sequence’s mentor texts, here is the Lee & Low Books one-page audit questionnaire (PDF here)
- A Whole Curriculum: If you are analyzing your curriculum, whether it is district-made or purchased from a curriculum company, here is the Culturally Relevant Curriculum Scorecard designed and published by The Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and Transformation of Schools (NYU Metro Center) (PDF here, Spanish edition here). In addition, English Learner Success Forum works with district leaders and educators on evaluating instructional materials for English Language Learners and Re-Imagining Migration has a framework for representing immigration in curriculum and the classroom.
Step 2: Find and Obtain
Don’t go at this alone! Just as we really shouldn’t rely on search engines for medical advice, be wary of search results and picture boards to help you find the high-quality, diverse, rigorous books you need. It can be hard to find diverse books and there are nearly 4,000 children’s books published in the United States every year. Seek out educator experts who are doing the heavy lifting in reviewing, analyzing, and comparing texts to meet your students’ academic needs and interests.
Websites and Blogs
- Diverse Book Finder
- Embrace Race
- The Brown Bookshelf
- We Need Diverse Books
- American Indians in Children’s Literature
- Diversity Resources from Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
- Small Presses Owned/Operated by People of Color and First/Native Nations from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center
- Latinxs in Kid Lit
- ¡Colorín Colorado!
- Reading While White
Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association, has a comprehensive list of book awards and recommended reading lists that highlight outstanding literature and nonfiction for young people about diverse peoples.
Your Public Library
I can’t say this enough—this is your closest, in-person expert in children’s literature who won’t charge you and knows your students and community intimately. Also, you can explore and use books without buying. Here is a map of all the public libraries, their branches, and bookmobiles in the United States—now you have every excuse to visit the library!