BHM Series #12: Diversify your Bookshelves

The resources below have been updated! Click here for the revised worksheet.

This month, I am especially excited to learn more about the African-Americans who have made our country great. And, as I mentioned in a previous post, Black History Month isn’t just about celebrating the contributions of African-American heroes and heroines and the effects of racism in our country. In my search for knowledge, I am coming across some great resources that I’d like to share with you!

(This is the twelfth in a series of posts devoted to celebrating Black History Month. To see more posts in this series, click here.)

Have you even heard of the book: The Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison? In it the main character and narrator of the story, an African-American man, struggles to define his identity in a racially polarized world. On his journey, he encounters many different characters who each try to fit him into their own narrow perception of the world. Throughout the story one of the most important ideas is that of blindness, which basically represents how people in various cultural and social groups willfully avoid seeing and confronting the truth. Characters inability to see their own prejudice prevents them from seeing that which they do not wish to see, thus the main character’s true nature becomes “invisible” in their eyes.

I’m feeling lately, like Mr. Ellison would be saddened to find that the themes his book addresses are still just as strong today.

Reading an interview by Deray McKesson, a popular Twitter hashtag activist interviewed for the Atlantic McKesson speaks about the invisibility of the black experience in today’s media and relates it to Ferguson and other protests against violence toward black people:

Hashtag Activism Isn’t a Cop-Out by 

Missouri would have convinced you that we did not exist if it were not for social media. The intensity with which they responded to protestors very early—we were able to document that and share it quickly with people in a way that we never could have without social media. We were able to tell our own stories.

The history of blackness is also a history of erasure. Everybody has told the story of black people in struggle except black people. The black people in the struggle haven’t had the means to tell the story historically. There were a million slaves but you see very few slave narratives. And that is intentional. So what was powerful in the context of Ferguson is that there were many people able to tell their story as the story unfolded.

Read more here.

So, what do we do about this? How do we raise the voice of black Americans so that they are included in narrative of our rich American story?

Diversity your Bookshelves

When your child is little, you can do a lot to ensure he or she is exposed to diverse perspectives of ALL ethnic groups, by actively seeking out literature that reflects the diversity of our city, country and world. My daughters and I had been on an adventure kick reading some really great authors with female heroines: Anne of Green Gables, A Wrinkle in Time, Chronicle of Narnia etc. Over time, I realized that none of the characters in their books had characters of color.

Audit your own library…

The “data” nerd and educator in me wondered what the diversity on our own home library shelves looked like. So, I created a Diverse Library Inventory for me and my girls to investigate how many of their books contained characters of color. By picking a bookshelf we “sampled” our home library of kids books and were surprised to find the cultural diversity on our shelves was extremely lacking. In fact, there was more diversity of animals represented (see n/a/ below) than people of different ethnic and cultural groups. (Yikes!)

(Note: The resources below have been updated! Click here for the NEW revised worksheet!)

It's amazing what you find when you "audit" your own library.
It’s amazing what you find when you “audit” your own library.

Click here to download a NEW updated Diversity Inventory Worksheet to see how diverse your home library is. Or better yet, get other families involved and organize your child’s classroom, school or neighborhood library to conduct an audit of some of the shelves there.

Need to diversify your shelves?

Check out my Pinterest Boards for some great recommendations of diverse books at all levels. You can also check out offerings by book publishers like Lee and Low Books, a publisher dedicated to publishing diverse stories that all children can enjoy. Or, check out other book lists in this series.

Follow Alison Collins’s board heroines of color on Pinterest.

Want more ideas? Check out these related reads: Diversify your Child’s Toy ChestWhat Color Crayons are in Your Coloring Box?Books that Get the Conversation Started

How are you actively exposing yourself and your children to positive African-American role-models? Please share your ideas, resources and comments below!

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