Diversify Your Shelves

Last week we saw the We Need Diverse Books campaign storm Twitter.  In case you missed it or are feeling nostalgic:

Saturday’s challenge was to buy diverse books (or check them out from your local library.)  Even though it was a lovely spring day, my wee ones wanted to go to the mall (because apparently I’m raising teenager girls).  We ended up at the train table in Barnes & Noble.  The wee ones played while I looked for diverse picture books.

Here’s what I found: it’s really hard to find diverse books.  I know, duh – that’s the point of the campaign.  I pride myself on my collection of kids books about and by African American authors and illustrators.  But I’ve found most of them through specific title searches.  (Whoa, some librarianese just surfaced there.)

I’ve found diverse books in the past usually because I’ve sought them out.  I’ve tracked down specific authors and/or illustrators from blogs, reading lists and recommendations from others.  It was much harder to find diverse books simply by skimming the bookstore shelves.

I pulled out book after book, looking for one that didn’t have a white kid (usually a boy) or an animal on the front.  That’s no knock on those books in general – there are some excellent children’s books featuring white boys or animals as main characters.  But there were so many books that could have told the same story with a child of color, or a differently abled child, or a child wearing a headscarf or a child with two mommies.

We need diverse books to tell our stories.  We need to question why white (male) is the automatic default.  We need books that don’t assume one way of being is standard and the rest are “different” or “exotic.”

So with time running out on the cooperation the wee ones were willing to expend at the train table, I made a final mad dash through the picture books and found two of them, which the wee ones love (especially the alien one).  I found both of them because they happened to be on display.

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Here’s a tip for bookstores and libraries – displays matter.  Covers matter.  We are in the business of connecting readers with books – and especially the books they may not even know they need.  Help a reader out, especially before time runs out at the train table.

2 thoughts on “Diversify Your Shelves

  1. I agree, so much! I have recently realized that I only find it pretty do-able to find diverse books because a) my local indies and local St. Paul libraries have more diverse offerings than most places and b) I rely on all my educator-knowledge and know exactly which authors to search for. This time, I walked in to my local indie and took a few moments viewing the store like I would if I worked in another industry. I couldn’t find much by looking at displays – even though they knew about this campaign and took a picture of themselves for the campaign! I ultimately found many good books that fit the bill. I need to have a conversation with the store owner next time I’m in about diversifying the displays.

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    • I did the same thing when I walked into Barnes & Noble – I took off my librarian hat and looked at the children’s section with new eyes. It’s great that your indie knew about the campaign – also good that you can give them some useful suggestions as a customer. Thanks for commenting!

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