Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Are my students visible?

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


The power of visibility can never be underestimated.
- Margaret Cho

When browsing in the children's section at my local library this past spring, I found a beautiful picture book on display  - Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper. I checked it out, knowing my preschoolers would love the heartwarming story of a boy riding in his family car, only to find the moon following him. At the end of the read-aloud, one preschooler lingered at my knee, studying the beautiful illustrations.

I said affectionately,
"Do you think Max loves the moon as much as you do?"
and he replied,
"Yes, he does, but, see, he is brown and I am not."
"Yes, you are right, you noticed his skin color...you and he are different, you and he are the same."

Preschoolers notice details. There was no malice or bias in his words. I love that this little boy studied the illustrations so closely. And what a testament to Floyd Cooper's extraordinary artwork - so realistic, so life-like, so gorgeous.

In reflection of our conversation, I started thinking about my picture book library. I have an extensive collection, gathered through the years, since my own (now adult) children were little. The reality is, the majority of my picture books feature white characters. What must this be like, day in, day out, at my read-alouds, for my students of color?  Children should see themselves in the stories we share.

I do not want it to be a rare experience for children of color to see themselves reflected in positive ways in the world around us.

I decided to spend some time this summer adding more diversity to my existing picture book collection. My summer goal has been to find more books about ordinary moments, ordinary situations, embellishing all the topics that young children love, but with black, brown, diverse faces in the illustrations.

What if it was the norm for me to read books that featured people of color? 

I have unleashed my inner "teacher nerd" this summer!

I have spent time on the web,
chasing down book lists,
reading through blogposts,
searching through articles,
reviewing award winners,
looking up various topics,
on and on,
scanning for books.

The other day, armed with an Excel spreadsheet with the list of possibilities (see, I told you I am a "teacher nerd"), I wandered over to my local library and searched through the stacks, to see if I could find any of them. What a fun afternoon I had! It was so delightful to have endless time to browse, not driven by any particular curriculum deadline, simply to savor children's books. I found a great many of the books on my list, and I spent time reading them, considering their appropriateness for my preschoolers, and imagining how I might fit them into read-alouds throughout the year.

Of course, I didn't find every single book - I have many that I still want to track down. The list itself is a living thing - I keep adding books to it, whenever I find new ones. My initial research has focused primarily on finding picture books featuring black characters...clearly, I have a long way to go before I can consider my book list truly diverse. But, wow, there are so many amazing books out there!

Let me whet your appetite, too...check out picture books by Angela Johnson, Anna McQuinn, bell hooks, Brian Pinkney, Eloise Greenfield, Ezra Jack KeatsFloyd CooperJacqueline Woodson, Kadir Nelson, Mary Hoffman, Patricia McKissack, Yuri Morales. (This is by no means a complete list, but I had multiple great finds for each of these authors.)

Here's to a few more days of summer exploration and a new school year filled with reading new books!


  1. This is the second Tuesday in a row that I've encountered the discussion of diversity in children's books. Last week, it was in Kate Messner's end keynote at the Scholastic Reading Summit. I'm trying to be more conscious of diversity in purchases for my school library. Great post!

    1. Thank you! I'm going to see if I can locate Kate Messner's keynote speech.

  2. This is such an important post. I recently had a conversation w/ a writer (not naming names) on FB about the importance of diversity. We did not agree. Yes, kids of all ages need to see themselves in the pictures, in the stories, in the authors. And I did not know bell hooks (She doesn't capitalize her name) wrote children's books; I've only read her as a literary theorist. I love her essay writing and am eager to see the children's books.

    1. Thank you for sharing that bell hooks doesn't capitalize her name! I updated my post, to respect and reflect that.

  3. I have books by all those authors, Maureen, & they are wonderful, part of what I read to the grand-girls. You are right, I do want children of all colors to read books that show kids "of all colors". Now especially I want my grandchildren to see other children who may look different, but still have the same kinds of experiences, & occasionally very different ones. There is one blog I read that shares lots of diverse books: Rich In Color-very good. Best wishes in your search!

    1. Thank you for the blog suggestion! I will be checking it out. I knew you would be familiar with these authors! Any others that come to mind that you would like to share?