If you have not seen this Ted Talk by author Grace Lin, “Windows and Mirrors on Your Child’s Bookshelf”, it would be so worth your while to take a few minutes and watch it. This is a powerful look at the importance of children seeing themselves in the books they read (mirrors) and also having books that show them other children’s experiences (windows):
In my school librarian role, I try to purchase and promote a wide variety of books so that all students have windows and mirrors in the library in terms of race and culture as Grace Lin talks about, but also in terms of family makeup, experiences, religion, special needs, learning differences, and more.
As a mom, I want to make sure that my daughter’s bookshelf is filled with a variety of books as well–some that reflect her experiences and others that help her walk in someone else’s shoes, build empathy, and expand her worldview.
Here is a place to start if you are seeking out windows and mirrors for the little ones in your life:
Stella by Starlight and Out of My Mind are two stellar middle grade chapter books (that’s upper elementary/early middle school) by the incredible Sharon Draper. This author is so skilled at putting you in a particular character’s shoes and her books are impossible to put down.
Out of My Mind is a book I recommend all the time in the library for fans of Wonder by R.J. Palacio and students love it. In this novel, we see the world through the eyes of Melanie, a brilliant eleven-year-old with a photographic memory who also has cerebral palsy and is unable to walk, talk, or write. After being dismissed and underestimated by classmates and teachers her whole life, everything changes when Melanie is finally able to make her voice heard. This is such a powerful story.
Though set in 1930s North Carolina, Stella by Starlight, also by Sharon Draper, is so relevant to our lives today. Stella must find courage and strength in order to stand up to the forces of hate and racism in her town, where the Ku Klux Klan has become very powerful. I often show book trailers to my students (like a movie trailer, but for books) and there is an excellent one for Stella by Starlight where Sharon Draper shares how her grandmother’s journal helped inspire the story:
I love these two books so much and they both feature family makeups and cultures that might offers windows or mirrors for the children in your life.
In Just Like Me, three girls with a unique connection are sent to summer camp together. Julia, Avery, and Becca were adopted from the same orphanage in China as babies and their families have stayed in touch, referring to the girls as one another’s “Chinese sisters”. Everyone expect the girls to be close, but the last thing Julia wants is to go to Camp Little Big Woods together and she certainly doesn’t want anything to do with her Chinese heritage. This is a heartfelt story about growing up and figuring out where you belong, set amidst the adventures of a summer camp readers will long to attend.
The Misadventures of Family Fletcher has a classic, old fashioned family story feel that reminds me of another favorite series, The Penderwicks. The book opens at the start of a new school year and follows the everyday ups, downs, and adventures of “Family Fletcher”–navigating friendships, trying out for the school play, adjusting to a new school, camping trips, and holidays. This tale of Papa, Dad and adopted brothers Sam, Jax, Eli and Frog will make children wish they were one of the neighborhood kids that can just pop in and join the fun at the Fletchers’ house.
Don’t Throw It To Mo! by David Adler and Ling and Ting by Grace Lin are engaging, funny early readers with a diverse cast of characters.
In Don’t Throw It To Mo, Mo is seen as a “butterfingers” on the football field (which is literally true since his creative coach has had him practice catching a slippery football coated with butter!). Can he make the winning play for his team? Get a Hit Mo! is also available now and I hope we’ll see more to come in this series!
Ling and Ting Twice as Silly is one of the many fantastic books by Grace Lin you can add to your child’s bookshelf. This is the fourth book in this series and it’s my favorite. Each chapter is laugh out loud funny and their silly adventures make a great read aloud.
Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe tells the story of artist Jean Michel Basquiat who was famous for his collage style paintings. The illustrations in the book are incredible, Javaka Steptoe actually used wood and materials he found on the streets of New York to create the beautiful collages in the book. This book also won the highest picture book honor in the US, the Caldecott Medal.
You might know Sherman Alexie from his Young Adult book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, which is based on his experiences growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Thunder Boy Jr. is a sweet, funny picture book about a Native American boy who does not like being named after his father, “Big Thunder”. “Little Thunder” as he’s called, wants his own name that suits him and speaks to who he is. You can check out the trailer below:
Sherman Alexie did a great interview with NPR when the book came out in 2016: Sherman Alexie On His New Kids’ Book And The Angst Of Being A ‘Jr.’ . He actually spoke about how The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats was a kind of mirror book for him as a child: “I was 4 or 5 on the reservation, and it was the first book I ever read with a brown-skinned character…”. He went on to say, “But in that instance, I had this recognition of another human being in the world, fictional as he was, but that there was another person in the world who was like me.”
What seems like a simple bus ride with a boy and his nana, becomes a rich experience of shared wisdom and lessons about appreciating our everyday lives in Last Stop on Market Street. This book won some of the highest honors in children’s literature: a Newbery Medal, Caldecott Honor Medal, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. Check out the book trailer which features the creative team behind the book: author Matt de la Peña and illustrator Christian Robinson.
More about those exciting children’s book honors to come. It’s almost time for the Oscars of children’s books!