Access to diverse books positively impacts children as readers and as people. Having access to diverse texts helps children expand their vocabularies, deepens their understanding of language, provides opportunities for problem-solving, provides critical affirming experiences to students’ lives, and presents opportunities for students to learn about people with different lived experiences.
Students of all races, genders, religions, languages, abilities, interests, and beliefs should have opportunities to have affirmative literary experiences, where they see themselves reflected in the books they’re reading. These opportunities still do not exist today for many children.
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center publishes research on books depicting characters from diverse backgrounds. The research showed that books included very low representation of primary characters for many backgrounds and experiences. According to this data, many students are more likely to encounter a book with a primary character who is an animal or other nonhuman character (29.2 percent of total books) than a book including a primary character who is Black/African (11.9 percent of total books), Asian/Asian American (8.7 percent of total books), Latinx (5.3 percent of total books), a person with a disability (3.4 percent of total books), or LGBTQIAP (3.1 percent of total books).
Students need access to texts that reflect experiences diverse in race, ethnicity, gender, and language. Such access increases motivation, which is likely to have a positive impact on reading comprehension.
Scholar Rudine Bishop Sims astutely notes, “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”
When children are able to access books that pique their curiosity through diverse texts, it also leads to volume of reading, builds students to read more complex texts on the same or similar topics, and introduces new vocabulary—all markers of improving reading comprehension.
As an English and reading teacher, I sometimes struggled to provide texts that affirmed my students’ lives and communities. My last district was conservative-leaning, and I was often weighing political tension against my own highly knowledgeable, expert, teacher judgment. However, since I built relationships with parents and earned their trust, I was able to teach a variety of books in my middle school including “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers and “The Afterlife” by Gary Soto.