This post was written by educator Julie Yeros.
Some of the most powerful tools in the classroom are books. And in my elementary classroom, diverse picture books helped propel my students toward learning about themselves and the world around them.
As a teacher, I loved to travel during holiday breaks and summers. My students were excited to hear where I had gone and what I had seen, so I would pull down our classroom world map and share my photographs, souvenirs, and stories. I brought in books for us to learn more about people and places around the world and integrated them into many of my lessons.
My students were connecting to the books personally — seeing characters that looked like them or their families. They were hearing new author voices — offering different perspectives. And they were dreaming — about places to see and ways they could make an impact.
Reading books that offered mirrors (seeing themselves) and windows (seeing the world in which they live) reinforced the importance of valuing our differences and appreciating our diversity. Mirror and window books, which educator Emily Style originated in the 1980s, are found in all genres and across all ages. They can be integrated across the curriculum, shared together as read-alouds, used as mentor texts for specific lessons, and explored during independent reading.
As our diverse and inclusive classroom library grew, so did our discussions and actions. Students were engaged and curious. We had wider and deeper conversations and they asked thoughtful questions that led to further inquiry. My students were on their journey to self-discovery and to understanding their important role as citizens of the world. Mirror and window books had armed them with the knowledge and mindset to become responsible caretakers of our planet and caring advocates for human rights and social justice.
Books can bring us together, and we need that now more than ever. Diverse literature helps build classroom community and can set the stage for a year of global learning – whether you’re teaching in person, remotely, or a combination of the two this fall.
“I have a kimono from my obāchan too.” A student made this text-to-self connection during a reading of Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki. She was from Japan and had moved to the United States years earlier. She told us about her favorite kimono, the one her grandmother in Japan had given her, and asked if she could bring it to school the following day.
She invited her classmates to try on her kimono and geta (wooden clogs) and to ask questions about her Japanese family and traditions. Her answers conveyed a new sense of confidence and pride. It ignited the other students’ curiosity about discovering their own cultural stories and more presentations followed.
All children need and deserve to see themselves and people that look like them represented in the books they read. It makes them feel valued, connected, and inspired. Mirror books reflect students’ identities, cultures, family structures, languages, beliefs, interests, abilities, etc.
Look for mirror books that have relatable connections (dreams, challenges, friends, adventure), accurate depictions of characters, and do not perpetuate stereotypes or bias. The following are a few of my favorites.
- All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold highlights appreciating our differences and welcoming everyone.
- Families, Families, Families by Suzanne Lang assures kids that no matter what it looks like, if you love each other, you are a family.
- I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley celebrates the beauty of Black hair.
- Teach Us Your Name by Huda Essa empowers kids to teach others how to pronounce their names correctly.
- Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F. Zia features Indian American characters and a plan for a batch of hot, hot roti (flatbread).
Equally important as books that reflect students’ identities are books with characters who look different from them and have experiences that are unfamiliar to them. Window books introduce the rich diversity our world has to offer. They build intercultural understanding, foster a sense of empathy, and provide new and multiple perspectives.
Open their world with books that share stories, teach history, share cultures, and explore a wide range of unfamiliar topics and experiences. Look for window books that are historically and culturally accurate, include current events, address important issues, and equitably represent diverse groups.
- A Place to Stay, A Shelter Story by Erin Gunti shares the experience of being homeless.
- The Adventures of Laila and Ahmed in Syria by Nushin Alloo transports us to the history and culture of a country before it was forever changed by war.
- I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien features the assimilation of immigrant students in their new school and community.
- One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul is an inspirational true story about transforming a community and making a difference in our world.
Class Mini-Lesson: Identifying Mirror & Window Books
Introduce the terms mirror books and window books. Share examples and discuss the importance of reading both. Provide pairs of students one or two books (from a variety of genres) to classify as a mirror or a window book. Ask them to explain their thinking. Alternatively, teachers can read mirror and window books aloud in a video classroom or via Epic. Students also can browse and find their own book examples on the platform (One Plastic Bag and I’m New Here both are available there!).
Encourage students over the next week to find a mirror book to read. In their writing journal, ask them to explain why they chose it and how it reflected them, their family, culture, or community. Do the same with a window book, asking them to explain why they chose it and what they discovered. To wrap up the lesson, have students write and illustrate their own mirror and window books and share them with their classmates in person or virtually. And as you look to build a more diverse classroom library, try these helpful resources:
- The Classroom Library Questionnaire from Lee & Low Books helps analyze your classroom library and determine where there are strengths and gaps in diversity. Browse the website to find books, collections, and resources that are “about everyone, for everyone.” Many come with a teacher’s guide, interviews, and/or activities.
- Use the Diverse BookFinder | Identify & Explore Multicultural Picture Books tool to browse books by setting, religion, gender, race/culture, content, and genre.
- Storytime Online and KidLit TV also allow students to browse books and identify mirror and window book examples.
Our world has never been more connected. It is important to prepare our children to be informed, compassionate, and engaged global citizens. Understanding themselves, others, and the world around them begins at birth, and reading diverse picture books is a powerful place to start!
Sharing mirror and window books is one #TeacherStrong strategy to increase diverse literature in the classroom. What’s yours? Share it with us and your peers @NatGeoEducation using the #TeacherStrong strategy toolkit.
Feature image by Julie Yeros