We spend a lot of time in bookstores and libraries. So much so that my own children at the moment are playing library downstairs. We go for the inspiration, for the support of booksellers, to find new must-have purchases. We go as a family to recommit to reading, to get excited about what it means to be a reader.
But once in a while, something strikes me as out of place even in a bookstore. Today it was this sign at our Barnes and Noble.
I fixed it for them on my Instagram account.
And yet, all jest aside. These small signs. These sections of libraries. These displays that cater to only one identity, only one culture, only one representation. They may seem trivial at first and yet they add to the continued perpetuation that some books are for some kids. That some books will only be liked by the people it is directly marketed to. This is problematic because it once again speaks to certain books being for certain kids. It speaks to certain stories being the ones worth publishing. It speaks to how we only want diverse books if those books are diverse in the way we see fit. (Just like what the NY Times wrote about here.) It speaks to how we only display books celebrating African American history when February reminds us too.
We wonder why some of our students have stigmas when it comes to the books we read, and then don’t think to look at our own learning spaces to see where those stigmas are created.
But we have to do better than this. We have to do more, and it once again starts with the small details that we do have control over.
We have to first question how we use the word “Diverse” as Chad Everett cautions us to do in his blog post, where he reminds us all that the minute we call something diverse we are once again establishing whiteness as the norm.
We have to question the divisions we create in our classroom and school libraries. When we hand boys “Boy books” and don’t book talk a book to the whole class because it really is just meant for the “girls.” When we describe certain books as girly or fluffy and then hand it to a female.
When a child needs our help with book shopping and in our eagerness to help that child “see” themselves in books we only hand them books that feature characters that look like them. We have gotten better at handing white, hetero, cisgender kids window books, but don’t other identities deserve that too?
When we invite female authors to our schools and then only invite the girls to see them because boys might not understand or be engaged with the message.
When we create displays that honor African Americans and only pull out books that feature them marching or Civil Rights or in chains as enslaved people.
When a child tells us they loved a certain book and we assume we know why and don’t ask them what they loved it so we can help them find a better book, not based on our assumptions but actually on their desires.
When we only purchase books from the large publishers and don’t seek out the independent ones like Lee and Low who have been focused on creating a better world through books for many years.
When we herald big publishers creating special imprints to honor the voices of those who have been traditionally left out from their publishing houses, but we don’t question why they were left out in the first place. Why not publish them within their traditional branch?
When we are quick to “otherize” books and then hand them to kids as something that they can only identify with because of a shared trait, we are quickly teaching kids that they should only care about those that they share those same traits with. That unless they can find a surface commonality with someone then their time is not worth investing.
And so we must continue to do better. We must evaluate our learning spaces, our books, our displays, our book talks, and even who we hand which books to so that we can do better. We must continue to push for better representation and for an end to the notion that certain books are for certain kids, rather than just waiting to be discovered by everyone.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.
9 thoughts on “On Certain Books for Certain Kids”
There is just way too much in the way of gender marketing, from clothes and colors to books and toys! Your post is so relevant—especially in light of efforts to diversify books available to all our kids. Now to spread the word…
And while we’re at it, let’s stop lining kids up by gender.
Also why do we ask for gender on testing?
Very nice and informative post, reading books can make great impact so reading right kind of books is going to matter the most. Thanks for sharing such wonderful post
Thank you for writing so articulately about this topic. I have noted the situation yet struggled with how to formulate why it bothered me. For the month of February, I’ve been wondering why we have a display in our school’s hallway for Black History Month when I firmly believe that every day we need to celebrate the people who have contributed to our culture and fought for change. Your sentence, “It speaks to how we only display books celebrating African American history when February reminds us to” resonated. The idea that we only create such a display one month of the year could lead some students to celebrate that their history is being recognized. They might very well wonder, however, about white privilege deigning to acknowledge them for a mere 28 days of the year. My goal as both a history and an English teacher is to integrate all of our voices into the daily conversation.
Curious if you mentioned this error in judgment and marketing to the manger. If you did, what was the response?