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Diverse book covers collage

We Need Diverse Books

When kids grow up not seeing themselves in books they grow up feeling like they don’t matter. ~ Eric Smith

Young people are looking for stories that deal with issues that feel familiar and stories that help them figure out who they are in the world.

Do we still need to ask why we need diverse books? Author Tananarive Due writes, “Diversity’ should just be called ‘reality.’ Your books, your TV shows, your movies, your articles, your curricula, need to reflect reality.” We are a diverse society that only recently started questioning and expanding the literary canon used in schools. Why? Although diverse stories, characters, and storytellers are more prevalent in the publishing world. In 2019 The Cooperative Children’s Book Center released the results of their 2019 survey on diversity in children’s and young adult literature. Clearly, we have a long way to go before our diverse society’s “reality” is fully represented in middle grade and young adult literature.

chart that breaks down the percentage of diverse characters in children's and YA literature

Windows, Sliding Glass Doors, and Mirrors

The call for more diverse books is not new. In 1990, literacy advocate Rudine Sims Bishop wrote that, “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.” Do the books in your classroom and school mirror the diverse population in your school, communities, and the wider world? 

Evolving the Canon       

Publishing diverse stories and getting them into classrooms and schools is only part of the diverse book movement. Many teachers have access to more diverse books but receive limited if any professional learning on how to support student discussions around stereotypes, varying cultural perspectives, questions of identity, and tough topics. It’s not surprising then that the instructional default often becomes the literary canon, which is comprised of very few diverse authors, stories or characters. Even as the diversity in our schools has rapidly changed in the past 50 years, the literary canon has not. As a nation we are still hooked on the classics that only tell part of our “common experience.” Imagine if we let the literary canon truly “mirror” who we are as a nation and the whole story of our shared experience.

Author E. Lockhart believes that the literary should be flexible and expand as times change.

Related Resources

Diverse book covers collage

Diverse Books Project

Kids need diverse books — places where they can find themselves, see reflections of themselves, and see worlds different from their own. Browse our collection of books and resources for families and schools.

Award-winning author Matt de la Peña talks about the many kinds of diversities that students need to see reflected in books, including students who are struggling in school or living in a group home.

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National Education Association (NEA)