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Squeaky Little Wheels

In this time of fear and anxiety about the next four years (and hell, the last five hundred years), it is more important than ever that we teach our children to be critical about the media they consume. What are you watching on TV? What news sources do you follow, are they valid? Oh, and what books are on your kids' bookshelves? Yes, I’m talking about those seemingly innocuous board books and picture books.

Now, I don’t necessarily mean just the nonfiction titles, though nonfiction gives important facts and context to the present. And I am not saying go burn all your books and buy bell hooks, Howard Zinn, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Audre Lorde (but PLEASE go buy these authors’ books). What I am saying is look at whose perspectives your books represent. Go ahead, look real quick, I’ll wait.

Right. For the majority of us, the narratives and perspectives are dominantly white (Eurocentric), male, hetero, able-bodied, and  cisgendered, all the hegemonic adjectives of the dominant culture with some anthropomorphized animals in the mix. You don’t have to get rid of these in liberal shame; instead, call your kids over. Ask them what they notice about these books. It’s okay to ask some leading questions: “Hmmm, do you notice some similarities between all these characters? I am noticing their skin color is the same” or “Let’s put our books into piles, maybe books with animal main characters and books with boy main characters” or “Gosh, I notice our historical fiction books tend to be told through white experiences, what do you notice?”

Now it’s time for conversations and facts. When we limit children’s perspective to exclusively the majority's, we are by definition “othering,” devaluing and marginalizing any differing perspectives, experiences, and ideologies. We and our children internalize this. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center publishes yearly statistics about the “by and about” aspects of books, i.e., who’s writing the books and who the books are about. These stats are dismal. For the more visual thinkers in your life, here’s a great image:


Ask kids why they think this is the case? What would happen if more people’s narratives were represented in the books they read? Why are publishers so afraid of publishing books with different voices?

Take these conversations, take all of this anxiety and fear, and have your kids put that energy to use. You want to raise activist citizens who stand up for what’s right? You’ve got to start at home. How? Well, Grownup, if you can, use your pocketbook. Create an inclusive bookshelf by buying books that represent multiple perspectives and people, preferably from publishing houses that focus on these types of books. What direct action can the kids take? They can take their newly critical eye and bring it to school — what do their classroom libraries look like? What do their school libraries look like? When they bring those book flyers home in their backpacks, what do they see? If these spaces are not representative of the multitude of experiences in the world (and in our country), have the kids make some noise! Write to publishers, urge teachers and librarians to reevaluate their collections. Be a squeaky wheel for justice.

For more by the author on student activism, read "Loud in the Library: Creating Social Activists at School" and watch her Ed Talk "Creating Community and Active Citizens." For more resources on social justice and activism, bookmark the Horn Book's Making a Difference landing page.
Liz Phipps Soeiro
Liz Phipps Soeiro
Liz Phipps Soeiro is an elementary school librarian in the Cambridge, MA, Public Schools. She is an advocate for inclusive libraries and active in her community to create spaces that are welcoming to all students. She tweets @Cport_Special @ReflectLibrary and blogs at reflectivelibrary.blogspot.com
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Kitty Flynn

Hey, Kelly Alhfeld--report back on what you learned. We would love to hear more!

Posted : Dec 14, 2016 03:36

Kelly Ahlfeld

Thank you, thank you for this post! I am eager to ask my students to help me look at our collection. Keep on squeaking....

Posted : Dec 12, 2016 04:10


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