The official student newspaper of St. John's School.

Diversity in Books

Recently I found a new type of book that I enjoy reading: diverse books. Diverse books are books about people from other countries, other cultures, with different traditions and different abilities.

I was lucky that my teachers assigned us some great diverse books. Reading books about places like India, Pakistan and Rome gave me a new perspective of the world and helped me understand its diversity. I enjoyed reading the diverse books and discussing them with my classmates and my teacher. This helped me interpret and dive deeper into these subjects. Reading about people who have different lifestyles, situations or challenges and comparing and contrasting my life with those of the characters in the books was eye opening. I also found similarities in the life of children everywhere. Whether I read about kids who lived in huge cities, like Veda in “A Time To Dance” by Padma Venkatraman, or in the remote villages, like Amal in “Amal Unbound” by Aisha Saeed, these books helped me put myself into other kids’ shoes no matter how different our lives were.

Many libraries display diverse books for Cinco de Mayo or Black History Month. I remember browsing the display and picking some of those books that I enjoyed when I visited the library with my parents. From the bilingual “Little Mermaid” book I learned my first Spanish words. I was surprised to read the African version of the “Little Red Riding Hood” called “Pretty Salma” by Niki Daly. In this book, Salma lived with her grandparents in an African town, and the antagonist is a dog, not a wolf. The vibrant illustrations show life in the African town, traditional musical instruments and clothes. The librarians should make a permanent display for diverse books that they would change frequently to make people aware of the treasures hidden in this type of books.

The St. John’s Middle School Library has 9,636 books and among those books, 4,957 are under the category of diverse books, with 1,009 in cultural studies and 164 about LGBTQIA+ topics and people. Our library probably has a higher percentage of diverse books than many other libraries  or bookstores because, according to the National Education Association, in 2019 12% of U.S published children’s books had black characters, 9% Asian, 6.3% Hispanic and less than 1% Native American.

It is important for the children who are part of  minorities to read stories about characters that are like them or have similar lives to them — “mirror books,” as the librarians and teachers call them. The kids relate to the characters and have the reassurance that their feelings, ideas and thoughts are important and cared about. This motivates them to read more and could lead them to create their own stories. As Middle School Librarian Monica Rose said, :It’s good to have different views and lenses and everyone to see themselves in stories.”

Having diverse books helps spread awareness about topics that are overlooked or not talked about. For example, Amal Unbound is a book about child labor. I found an article in the New York Times about child labor in the US. A topic like this can be read and compared to other lifestyles, and can help build empathy.

Reading diverse books gave me a new perspective of the world, it opened a window to different countries, cultures and traditions. The so-called “window” books can help kids understand cultures, abilities and different life situations that they have not experienced.

I encourage the students to read diverse books, and to share them with their family. I encourage the teachers to include more diverse books in the class reads and summer book recommendations. I challenge the librarians to display more diverse books more often. I challenge the publishers to publish more diverse books. This way more windows and doors will open for various people to different worlds and additional mirrors will be revealed.

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