How you proceed from there—by removing the book from your library altogether or using it as a tool for learning—is up to you and your school or district leaders. In certain cases, you might want to label a book for your students as one that portrays negative stereotypes. Encourage your students (should they choose to read these stories) to talk about how these books stereotypically represent diverse communities and how they could be written in a more inclusive manner that reflects our culture today.
If you haven’t read the story yourself or are unsure of how your own experiences may influence your perspective, do research online to find out what reputable sources are saying about the book. For example, the San Francisco Public Library put together a resource of several books containing negative stereotypes that the library continues to circulate for research purposes and because of public demand.
The bottom line: books that aren’t telling the stories of marginalized people respectfully can be used to spur conversations about why these texts can be offensive. Note that there are many diverse books published in recent years that represent cultures in positive ways and are worth considering.
2. Include as Many Unique Perspectives as Possible
When you think about diversity for your library selection, be inclusive of many life experiences. While it’s important to find stories that feature every race and culture, it can also help to include books featuring children with disabilities or nontraditional family structures, for instance. Students who deal with mental health issues would benefit greatly from reading about kids their age facing similar challenges.
Not sure where to get started? Here’s a checklist that covers the many characters and perspectives that should be featured prominently in your library.
3. Consider the Stories That Feature Diverse Characters
While your students can benefit from knowing about the difficult moments behind the history of diverse communities, consider also having them read stories about diverse people in fun, casual settings. Ideally, your diverse classroom library will reflect both of these scenarios.
For example, you might add books to your library featuring Asian characters that focus on difficult and emotional subjects, such as immigration or Japanese internment camps, as well as about Asian children doing fun and exciting things, like battling magical creatures or playing in a band at school. This wide range of subject matters can help reinforce to your students that everyone is equal, and everyone deserves a wonderful life.
4. Ask for Help from Your Class
Another great way to build a diverse and inclusive library designed for your classroom is to include your students and their parents in the process. You might ask everyone in your class—whether through an online poll or by carving out time during the day—to share what kinds of stories they’d love to read. While not every family may be able to contribute, you can give them the option to donate any diverse books they have at home.
For instance, you can ask students to list specific titles or even just give a general description of stories they crave. Not only will your students get the chance to share what they’re excited to read about, but they will also feel important and included. It’s a win-win situation all around!
Including the parents in the conversation can also offer an inside perspective from someone who knows what would benefit their child. For example, their child may be struggling with anxiety and would benefit from reading stories centered around that topic. With this additional information and input, you’ll be able to build an inclusive library filled with diverse stories covering a wide range of people and perspectives.