Build a Diverse Classroom Library Part One

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Have you taken an inventory of the books in your classroom library recently? About five years ago I took a long, hard look at the collection of books I had. Here’s what it looked like…

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So many books. That’s a good thing, right? The amount of books was not my issue, but my collection lacked representation in a BIG way. Here’s what I see right away… American Girl, Flat Stanley, Junie B. Jones, Henry and Mudge, Curious George, Amelia Bedelia, Cam Jansen, Clifford… all of which have characters who are White. I see a biography bin that has a book about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And I also see quite a few animal books.

And then there’s that Dr. Seuss bin. I’ve since gotten rid of all our Dr. Seuss books. If you want to know more about why, read about it HERE. Here’s a little excerpt:

{Researchers Katie Ishizuka and Ramon Stephens found that only 2 percent of the human characters in Seuss’ books were people of color. And all of those characters, they say, were “depicted through racist caricatures.”}

You can tell that these books were well loved. They are bent, torn up, and thrown into bins. Students for 10 years read these books. But now I think about all the missed opportunities. I never thought to buy books that represented the students in my class. I never thought to expose my students to the big, beautiful world we live in.

My main goal was to just have books. Lots and lots of books.

What would have been a better goal? Having lots and lots of books that represented the children in our class, school, community, and world. Being more intentional. Purchasing books with a purpose.

So, let me show you how I’ve gone from where I was to where I am now and the progress that I hope to make in the future.

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I am going to dive into three common categories of books: Back to School books, Fairy Tales, and Biographies. I’ll show you about 8 books from each category that, when brought together, is a collection of diverse books.

First up, let’s look at Back to School Books.

If you go back through my blog you will find posts with activities for the books Get Ready for Second Grade Amber Brown, Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon, The Recess Queen, Chrysanthemum, etc. While those books are all GREAT, I read them all in one week. That means that my students’ first experiences with picture books were all White-centered. I wasn’t taking into account the students that would walk through my door. I wasn’t creating a space where they felt seen and welcomed.

I tell you that so that you can learn from me. Don’t make the mistakes that I made for way too long. Look for books that will allow your students to see themselves in the story. Look for books that give your kiddos a better world-view. Look for books that tell your students “I SEE YOU. I CARE ABOUT YOU. I VALUE YOU.”

Here are some great books to add into your mix of Back To School Picture Books (but they are also great all year long!)

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  1. We Don’t Eat Our Classmates
  2. The Day You Begin
  3. The Invisible Boy
  4. You Matter
  5. The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade
  6. I Walk with Vanessa (a wonderful wordless picture book to discuss bullies and becoming an ally)
  7. Crow Boy
  8. Chocolate Milk, Por Favor
  9. School’s First Day of School
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Do you teach a fairy tale unit in your classroom? There are gobs and gobs of fairy tales from different cultures. These books are great for comparing and contrasting traditional and fractured fairy tales.

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  1. Little Red Ruthie A Hanukkah Tale
  2. Little Red and The Very Hungry Lion
  3. The Princess and the Pea
  4. The Rough Face Girl
  5. Goldy Luck and The Three Pandas
  6. Rapunzel
  7. The Real Story of Stone Soup
  8. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters

One thing that I would note is that you can find fairy tales such as The Princess and The Pea by Rachel Isadora that tell the traditional fairy tale, but they have characters and settings that represent different cultures. There are so many options when it comes to teaching fairy tales

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It’s important for me to add here that I have both of the fairy tales pictured above. I am not saying that we need to replace every single book in a library, but I am simply showing how easy it can be to have a more inclusive library. It just takes intention.

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Now let’s talk about biographies. Often times, in the classroom, we save biographies about Black leaders until Black History Month. And more often than not, we only touch on Dr. Martin Luther, King briefly. Should we read biographies and stories during Black History Month? Absolutely! But we should also read them all throughout the year.

Two things to think about:

  1. During Black History Month (or another time throughout the year) am I including stories of Black inventors, doctors, community members, etc? Am I sharing world changers and path pavers?
  2. Am I including multiple cultures during my teaching units? This is one area where I want to improve. My book bin for biographies needs to be more inclusive.
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  1. Marvelous Cornelius
  2. The Boy Who Grew a Forest
  3. The Oldest Student
  4. Emmanuel’s Dream
  5. The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes
  6. Charlie Takes His Shot
  7. Sisters and Champions
  8. The World is Not a Rectangle

I hope that helps you as you begin or continue to grow a diverse classroom library. Please know that I am not telling you how right I am or how wrong you are. I am trying to show you mistakes that I have made in the past and how I intend on improving in the future. I think we can grow together and, in turn, impact the future of students.

You can find more blog posts for building a diverse library below:

  1. Building a Diverse Library Part 2
  2. Building a Diverse Library Part 3
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Hi, I'm Amy

Hey, y’all! My name is Amy Lemons and I am passionate about providing students with both engaging and effective standards-based Math and ELA lessons.


Sample a day of Rooted in Reading with these lesson plans and activities for Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary, and Grammar!

2 Responses

  1. Hi!
    I love the Rough Face Girl lesson! The link for the directed drawing does not work. Is that still available? I would like to use it with my second graders during remote learning.
    Thank you!