My classroom library is a large mix of reads. Several thousands of books greet my 7th graders when they enter and are free to leave the room in their hands. Over the last year I have tried to expand it as much as I can afford to make sure that it represents the world we live in, that it represents their experiences, that they can find themselves within our library and use that knowledge to boost their own lives. My students need to see themselves in our books.
Yet, after a conversation with a great friend, I realized that it is not so much the need to find themselves within our library that I should be focused on because let’s face it, most of the world surrounding them is filled with images that look just like them, sound just like them, and share many of their same experiences. They are used to turning on the TV and seeing kids that are like them. They are used to picking up books and seeing like them in the pages. To many of my students seeing something other than white is uncommon. For my mostly white, rural population of readers it is important that they find the rest of the world in the pages. That through our library they can experience the world that they do not live in. That their emotions can be stretched to encompass events that they will most likely never have to encounter. That the library provides them with a window to things that they most likely will never have to live through such as racism, extreme poverty, no access to education, civil war, religious intolerance and a myriad of other issues that exists in only small ways in most of their lives.
So when we rally the cry for diverse books, it is not just so that our kids can find themselves within our pages and find books that mirror their experience. It is so they can see the world they do not live in. It is so they can see a world that may not make sense to them and start to make sense of it. It is so they can start to develop empathy, interest, and community with other parts of the world, other societies, other experiences that do not mirror their own.
Most of my students have plenty of books that they can find themselves in. My job is to provide them with ones they can’t.
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.