Talking to Kids About Race: Racially Diverse Storytime Books

Awhile back I wrote a post about talking to kids about race.  Should we talk to kids about race in storytime? This post is the second in a series I hope to continue throughout the year.

Picture books can be a great tool to start these conversations with children.  If you need help finding racially diverse picture books that work well in a storytime setting, look no further (actually you should look further, specifically at the wonderful blog Everyday Diversity which reviews storytime books featuring people of colour, First Nations, and Native Americans).

In this post I’d like to welcome guest blogger Echo. Echo is the Children’s Librarian at an urban library in Washington State. She loves playing the ukulele and trying to convince her family that anyone can sing, even them. Echo is here to share an amazing resource she created – thematic storytime booklists featuring characters of colour.  Take it away, Echo!

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When I was first learning to prepare story times, I was trained to choose a topic, select thematic story time elements, then go through our story time books and children’s collection to find titles that fit the story time theme. This made for cohesive, successful story times, but artificially limited which titles I would consider for story time; making it more likely to include books that were about a topic, rather than about a character. I was frustrated by how difficult it was to find good story time books about a particular theme that included characters who were people of color so, I intentionally changed the way that I plan story time from the start of the process. Now, rather than choosing a theme and finding books to fit, I find a specific title, use it as a base on which to build the rest of story time, and allow themes to emerge naturally. This change in my planning process made the books the first priority and the most flexible element in story time.

This change empowered me to be more intentional about the books I share in story time and made it much easier to include diverse books. I evaluate every book that I use in story time, looking for excellent titles that: make good read alouds, are about interesting topics for preschoolers, have believable characters rather than relying on stereotypes, and treat the characters that are people of color as normal rather than other or different. This last criterion is particularly important for the library where I work. My library is located in an incredibly diverse city and a book about being a person of color, and so different from most of your classmates or friends, does not reflect the experience of most of the children who live here.

When children see themselves in the book, they are more engaged and make richer connections. I share all kinds of books in story time, but when I’m looking for a book to build a story time on, I choose books that portray children who are people of color doing simple, every-day things in familiar environments like Mice Squeak, We Speak by Arnold Shapiro. I recently shared this book at a story time in a local day care center. Excited preschoolers yelled out, “He’s like me!”, “I do that too.”, and “She looks like my friend!” The smiles and excitement of these children made it clear that they felt valued in that moment. It would have been a bigger stretch for these young children to make these kinds of connections with characters who did not look or act like themselves or the people around them.

Rudine Sims Bishop talked about books as windows to see into the experiences of others and mirrors that reflect ourselves. For many of the children I serve, these windows are everywhere, and mirrors are few. I am a white woman with the privilege and opportunity to work in a diverse community; I may not be a mirror, but I can help these children find them in the books I share.

And now to the lists!

Thank you, Echo, for sharing this resource with us. Where do you find racially diverse storytime books to share with your library community? Let us know in the comments!

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