If you’re looking to make your classroom library more diverse, there are several steps you can take to curate a wide array of reading selections. We’ve put together tips and resources that will help you build a diverse classroom library and foster an inclusive classroom environment.
Children, especially underrepresented students, can benefit from reading stories featuring characters they relate to in terms of culture and lifestyle. Reading about characters from similar cultural backgrounds going on amazing adventures or tackling important issues can help give our children confidence and a sense of belonging.
When you create a culturally diverse classroom library, you provide students with the opportunity for these kinds of experiences. Students can also learn about a culture or experience other than their own, which promotes empathy and an understanding of the world around them.
Tips to Build an Inclusive Classroom Library
If your classroom library doesn’t feature many books with characters of various backgrounds, ethnicities, abilities, and identities, or if you’re looking for ways to improve the inclusiveness of these resources for students, we can help. Try these six tips for building a diverse classroom library.
1. Identify Existing Books with Stereotypes
Before you build a diverse classroom library, take stock of what you currently own. Examine each book in your collection and decide whether the story or characters promote stereotypes based on ability, race, mental health, and so on.
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.
Children . . . can benefit from reading stories featuring characters they relate to in terms of culture and lifestyle.
5. Know Where to Find Diverse Stories
If you don’t have a diverse classroom library yet, it can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to get inclusive books, or if you lack the budget to expand your selection.
That’s where these resources can help!
- We Need Diverse Books: An important organization focusing on supporting the creation and distribution of diverse stories, We Need Diverse Books can help you start your journey to building an inclusive library. Check out this page on where and how to find diverse stories.
- Diverse Book Finder: Another useful online tool, the Diverse Book Finder is a collection of stories about Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC). You might start here if you’re struggling to find the right stories to fill certain gaps.
- Social Media: Many diverse authors hold giveaways for educators on their social pages, and searching social media is also an easy way to connect with other teachers and book sellers who can help you find the stories you need for creating an inclusive library. Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads are great places to start.
- Social Justice Books: This website has a fantastic collection of diverse stories and resources for teaching diverse perspectives through literature. While you’re planning your diverse classroom library, consider checking out Social Justice Book’s page to help pick the books you purchase.
- Thrift Stores: For major bestselling stories that feature diverse characters, it’s more common than you think to find these novels in your local thrift store or used bookstore. Pop in every now and then to see if you can find the next perfect book to include in your classroom library.
6. Use Your School’s Resources for Assistance
Your school likely has an expert on children’s literature: your librarian! This person (or team of people, depending on your school’s size) can be a fantastic resource to lean on when building your classroom library.
You might tell them your goals and what your library is missing and ask them for help ensuring your current books are truly inclusive. Even better, for whatever books you’re not able to fill in on your own, your school’s library might be able to assist. It’s a great idea to understand their inventory in case you have a student looking for a particular perspective that’s not yet a part of your diverse library.
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Get expert advice on how to build a classroom library to meet diverse learning needs in our webinar Connection and Culture in Secondary ELA: How to Support a Multicultural Classroom Community.