A book can show you the world but it can also show you a reflection of yourself.
We sat in silence. “Comments? Thoughts?” I asked this group of teachers. It was evident by the silence in the room that after watching Grace Lin’s TEDx Talk The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf, we were all reflecting on her powerful words: “There was nobody that looked like me in school. Most importantly there was nobody that looked like me in the books I love.”
I waited for teachers to share their responses after this TEDx Talk, and one by one their comments started flowing. One of them sincerely expressed her guilt for not thinking about this before considering how diverse her classroom is. Another teacher simply said she wasn’t sure where to even start looking for high-quality multicultural books that represent her classroom. “My books are the books that I wished I had when I was a child.”
Some of the questions I consider before purchasing multicultural literature for my classroom are “Who are the children in my class? What countries do they come from? What cultures do they represent?” Lucy Calkins reminds us that every child should see themselves in the pages of a book, and Grace Lin challenges us to ask ourselves, “Are all the books mirrors? Or are they all windows? Make sure that you have both,” she adds, “because if you do, you are setting a path for self-worth and empathy and that’s a brick road worth following.”
The following is a list of books we recently purchased to make sure our classroom libraries represent the children in our school. Our school populations are 20 percent international students who come from Mexico, Japan, Iraq, and Sudan. After doing some research, we found this valuable collection of books to represent these countries and cultures.
I’m New Here by Anne Sibbley O’Brien
Three new students from three different countries. What do they have in common? They are all having trouble communicating in English with their classmates. But with the support of an understanding school community, these children will strive in no time. A powerful and familiar story to many children in our classrooms.
Here I Am by Patti Kim
What does it feel like to be new in a city? To be surrounded by unfamiliar food and new noises? This boy and his family take it all in: the city streets, lights, and buildings, and through their eyes we discover how it might feel to arrive in a new place. A beautiful story told mostly in pictures with few words.
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald
Sometimes we find comfort in the little things, smallest gestures, or simplest objects. For Cartwheel everything is unfamiliar in the new country where she has moved. But a familiar blanket brings comfort, and a new blanket gives what she needs the most: a friendship.
We Came to America by Faith Ringgold
This country is home to many. And that’s what this amazing author and illustrator reminds us all. Many came before us. Many more will arrive. Through amazing illustrations, Faith Ringgold celebrates this beautiful country that unites us all.
Their Great Gift by John Coy
This book spotlights and celebrates the experiences of immigrants in the USA. Through the use of photographs and beautiful language, the authors conveys a message of hope as we look into all the values, gifts, and contributions that immigrants bring to our country.
Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin by Duncan Tonatiuh
In this book we get a close look at Charlie’s life in America and Carlitos’s life in Mexico. Readers will love getting a close look at these two cousins whose lives can be so different yet so similar.
The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman
This is one of those few books that highlight the power of illustrations for ELLs so beautifully. Hassan and his family were forced to leave Somalia in a rush, leaving memories, good and bad, behind. When a child can’t find the words to express his experiences, he finds the power of communication through his pictures.
The softness of the illustrations and the careful selection of words make this book a beautiful celebration of Muslim cultures. As the reader counts the different objects or symbols that represent the culture, they will be drawn to the artistic style of the illustrator.
La Madre Goose: Nursery Rhymes Por Los Niños by Susan Middleton Elya
A fun book that gathers the best of two worlds: English nursery rhymes with some Spanish words intertwined. Our bilingual learners will enjoy listening to or reading these sweet rhymes that are a big part of an American childhood but that also validate the beautiful Spanish language.
Lailah’s Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi
Lailah is very excited that she is finally old enough to fast during Ramadan. Lailah knows how important this is, but she struggles to explain this significant holiday to her teacher in the USA. Luckily, Lailah gets support from another wonderful school staff member, the librarian.
Through her TEDx Talk, Grace Lin planted the seeds of awareness and understanding, and opened an invitation to be more intentional about the books in our classroom library. “How can we expect kids to get along with others in this world, to empathize and share, if they never see outside of themselves?” The school librarian, other staff members, and the online reading community are all resources we can tap into so that the books in our classrooms are not only windows but also mirrors.