Intentionality: What’s in Your Bookshelf? by Laura Wagenman
73.3% in 2015. 50% in 2018. While I love numbers, these numbers are cause for concern, reflection, most importantly, action. According to the School Library Journal, 50% of books published in 2018 contained characters who are white. When this was released this past June, it made me even more determined to be intentional about the books my daughter reads. When we looked at the 2018 graphic, my daughter noticed the 50%. She noticed that we have so many books published with people who look like us, people who are white. The mirrors are everywhere and when you look into these mirrors you see a king, an astronaut, a fireman. The message is clear. You can be anything in the pages of these books. Contrast that with the cracks in the mirror in the hand of the child who is American Indian/First Nations.
My daughter and I are avid readers and love to attend book events. I am intentional about the authors we visit looking for #ownvoices, as Rudine Bishop Sims refers to as windows into people’s lives and most recently, the stories behind the curtain. This past year, we have had the pleasure of meeting Bao Phi, Kao Kalia Yang, Cheryl Minemena, Ger Thao, and Debbie Reese. Even with all the conversations about representation, #ownvoices books and events, I have found my 4th grader gravitates towards characters who look like her. When I ask, without judgment, why she chooses the books she does, she sees herself in the main characters whether they are having friend problems or have the same hobbies.
Since she wasn’t choosing #ownvoice books to read on her own, I became more intentional with the books we read together. We read Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson and had some gut-wrenching conversations about immigration. New Kid by Jerry Craft opened her eyes to microaggressions that were prevalent in the book and debunked stereotypes she has heard. Apple in the Middle by Dawn Quigley, her now “all-time favorite book,” and Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorel led to conversations about the history of Indigenous People in the United States; the loss of land and language during colonization through the boarding school era. To support our learning as a family, we have visited the Our Home exhibit at the Minnesota History Center to learn more about the Dakota and Ojibwe of Minnesota and we recently visited Hocokata Ti so she saw first hand the contributions not only of the past but of today and every day.
I am pleased to see that in the past weeks, she has been choosing more #ownvoices books. When she came home with Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan, I found out that her teacher has been book talking the Maud Heart Lovelace Award Nominees. Also an avid reader, I know her teacher is being intentional not only to cultivate a love of reading, this teacher is also ensuring that each child has the opportunity for that mirror, window, or curtain.
We have a long way to go in our world as the publishing statistics show but I have hope that with each new #ownvoices book being published, each intentional act by parents and teachers to choose books that reflect the beauty of each child, we will change the statistics to create a better world, one book at a time.
Laura Wagenman is in her fourth year as a Staff Development Assessment Specialist. Prior to that, she taught first and second graders in Southern California and fifth and sixth graders in a suburb of Minneapolis. Laura is an avid reader who hopes to continue to cultivate the love of reading in her daughter and enjoys sharing her love of books with teachers, friends, and family. You can find her on Twitter, @laura_wagenman.