I've written about and have a permanent link to the article written 25 years ago by a professor, Rudine Sims Bishop, out of Ohio State called, “Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors”- in it Bishop likens books to these windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors, offering views into other worlds, a reflection of ourselves and an opportunity to explore and gain experience outside of our own lives. She explains that it is dangerous when kids aren’t given the opportunity to do this. And while her focus was on kids of color, I think the sentiment can apply to other disenfranchised and underrepresented groups of kids. She says,“When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part. Our classrooms need to be places where all the children from all the cultures that make up the salad bowl of American society can find their mirrors.”
Similarly, I recently read a quote by Junot Diaz. He also weighed in on books as mirrors and his own struggle as a child to find himself. He said, “You know how vampires have no reflections in the mirror? If you want to make a human being a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, ‘Yo, is something wrong with me?’ That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist? And part of what inspired me was this deep desire, that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors, so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it."
Librarians and others working with children have a duty to seek these mirrors out and provide them to the kids in their lives, and also just as importantly, we need to expose the myth that only certain, white, cisgendered, hetero narratives are important and worth telling. The more that we tell and consume stories and experiences that fall outside of our cultural norms, the better. The more that these stories are acknowledged and valued, the better our world, our schools, our kids are- everyone is.
In Jacqueline Woodson's , "Brown Girl Dreaming", there is a scene in the book, where young Jacqueline, who struggled with the fact that she didn't have the same academic prowess of her sister, found an intriguing book in a bookstore:
"...I might have missed the picture book filled with brown people, more brown people than I'd ever seen in a book before. If someone had taken that book out of my hand, if they said you're too old for this, maybe I'd never have believed that someone who looks like me could be in the pages of this book, that someone who looked like me had a story. Maybe I never would have believed that someone who looked like me could be in a picture book."
This is a beautiful illustration of how books can become a barometer for children, am I worth writing and reading about? Yes, and it's our job to make this clear to children.