Mirrors, Windows, Sliding Glass Doors; Prisms…Curtains…Starting Blocks…and More!

The first evening I walked into room 212 of Ramseyer Hall at The Ohio State University and took a seat near the front, so I could see and hear everything Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop shared, my life as a librarian, writer, and speaker was changed forever. You see, my family and I had uprooted our lives from northern New York State to move to central Ohio so I could earn a PhD in children’s and teen literature from the best. And, along with Drs. Evelyn Freeman, Janet Hickman, Barbara Lehman, and Patricia Scharer, Dr. Bishop is the BEST! 

I wished to somehow open my mind and pour in every bit of wisdom and knowledge these women held. However, Dr. Bishop soon made me realize that although knowledge and wisdom can be shared, to be truly valuable, it must be earned. And so I set forth continuing to earn and share my knowledge and wisdom from that time to the present. 

What is the overriding piece of wisdom I’ve earned from her and so many others? That every child who walks through the doors of our spaces, our libraries, our classrooms, needs to be respected and validated not only by us, but in the books we offer, and that we need to encourage them to tell their own stories. If we don’t, we are denying their very existence. 

How has Dr. Bishop and so many others done this? Through metaphors and similes, of course! Most notably, her famous “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.” In the spirit of looking back, looking forward, and offering a little earned wisdom, let’s explore for a bit how else books have been labeled. In doing so, I will give credit to either the original coiner of the simile or the oldest reference I can find (if one could be found at all): 

  • “Books as therapy,” also known as bibliotherapy, is an old concept, said to date back to 300 BCE, when some books and libraries in ancient Greece were regarded as “healing for the soul.” 

  • “Books as medicine” is closely related to the simile above. Books as Medicine is a digital project by Mary Mahoney, a historian, podcaster, and educator, based on her 2018 doctoral dissertation “Books as Medicine: A History of the Use of Reading to Treat the Self and Its Diseases in the Anglophone World, 1800-1940.” She is currently writing a popular history of bibliotherapy in the United States. 

  • “Books as bodies and as sacred beings,” the title of a 2021 book edited by James W. Watts and Yohan Yoo, alludes to the idea that books are both living and spiritual at the same time. 

  • “Books as bridges” looks at books as connections between the reader and ideas. It is a cultural exchange program run by the International Book Project and the name of a 2010 book by Jane Baskwill, with the subtitle “Using Text to Connect Home and School Literacy and Learning.” 

  • “Books as partners,” the title of a 2020 book by Lesley Colabucci and Mary Napoli (subtitled “Diverse Literature in the Early Childhood Classroom”), means they are companions and of equal value to the reader. 

  • “Books as tributes” mean they are symbols of gratitude and respect. 

  • “Books as tools” was used by author Matt de la Peña in relating that children come to books very open-minded, whereas adults generally approach only books that affirm their ideas. 

  • “Books as history” is taken from a 2008 book title by David Pearson, with the subtitle “The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts.” 

  • “Books as weapons” is the title of a 2010 book by John B. Hench subtitled: “Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets in the Era of World War II.” It tells the little-known story of the vital partnership between American book publishers and the United States government to put carefully selected books, highlighting American history and values, into the hands of civilians liberated from Axis forces. 

  • “Books as art” refers to both their illustration and their entire packaging; an art piece as a whole object. 

  • “Books as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” is Dr. Bishop’s 1990 simile that changed the landscape and conversation around books to include representation of all cultures and ethnicities. 

  • “Books as prisms” was introduced by author Uma Krishnaswami in a January/February 2019 Horn Book Magazine article in revealing the many identities of characters, and the intersection of those identities. 

  • “Books as curtains” was coined by author and scholar Debbie Reese to share the idea of some cultures choosing to hide part of their collective character from those outside the culture for privacy and safety reasons. 

  • “Books as magnifying glasses" refers to “learning how to look more closely and 'read' the world more deeply…Parents, educators, and other adults in children’s lives can model how to use books to examine the social, political, and economic causes and consequences of what’s depicted in a story, and explore how those stories can reveal broader realities,” according to author Alejandra Domenzain.

  • “Books as springboards” is contemporary author Jason Reynolds’s way of saying books should launch readers both into discussions and onto other books. 

  • “Books as starting blocks” is my simile, as a starting block allows proper positioning of the reader, allows force to be applied to question the story, and allows understanding of the angle or point of view. A book as a starting block puts the reader in a position to accelerate, focus, and maximize their intellectual and creative strength, and propels them forward. The more force applied on the block creates a greater release of energy and more velocity. And the more force applied to the block, the less chance of falling or stumbling on ideas. What eventually happens for the reader is the ability to question, move on to other books, engage in discussion, and tell their own story. 

We who work in the world of books for children and teens have seen, over the decades, books be both revered and reviled, promoted and prosecuted, badly written and boldly written. We have seen them sully lives and save lives, and we have played a role, for better or for worse, in bringing them to children and teens. At a time of rampant book challenges and banning, we need to hold dearly to the wisdom we and others have accumulated and fight for young people’s right to read, grow, learn, and tell their stories. If we don’t, what will their legacy of wisdom be? 

Christina Dorr
Christina Dorr

Christina Dorr is an author for ALA, speaker for the Bureau of Education & Research, education consultant, and adjunct faculty member for Kent State University. She is a retired 30+ year school, public, and college librarian who has taught and provided library services for patrons from preschool to grad school and beyond. 

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