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Picture Books as Mirrors and Windows

Peggy Johansen - Mamakating Library Director
Posted 11/23/20

According to Jane Gangi, a Mount Saint Mary College education professor, “To develop healthy identities and become proficient readers, children must see themselves in books. All children need both …

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Picture Books as Mirrors and Windows

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According to Jane Gangi, a Mount Saint Mary College education professor, “To develop healthy identities and become proficient readers, children must see themselves in books. All children need both ‘mirror' and ‘window' books - books in which they see themselves and books in which they learn about cultures beyond their own.” Children learn empathy as they observe relatable characters who appear different from themselves.

Now caregivers and teachers looking for diverse books for young children can access a robust search tool to identify and explore multicultural picture books. Diverse BookFinder, at diversebookfinder.org, provides searchability for a comprehensive collection of titles that aims to include all depictions of Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC) in mainstream picture books published or distributed in the U.S. since 2002.

For each item, BookFinder provides information on who (which BIPOC characters) is depicted, and how they are depicted (what messages these stories send). Adults will find this data enables deeper conversations with young listeners and readers. For researchers and those curious about children's book publishing, Diverse BookFinder also provides analyses of picture book trends concerning the depiction of BIPOC characters.

The database can be searched by title, author, or identifier such as race/culture, gender, religion or by topic such as adoption, holidays, immigrants, and multiracial families. Perhaps you would like a gift for a growing family, in which case you can search under books for baby showers or books to welcome a new sibling.

When you've made a list of books you'd like to see, check your local library's catalog. If the picture book you would like to borrow is not available in your library or through interlibrary loan, know that a library card from any RCLS library enables you to borrow books from collections farther afield via US mail, including the Diverse BookFinder collection located at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. There may be costs involved for this service, so ask a staff member at your local library.

Whether you choose to find picture books using Diverse BookFinder or just browsing the shelves at your library, remember to look for books that serve as both mirrors and windows. Children gain strength from seeing themselves, and empathy from observing others, in the pictures and stories shared with them by caring adults.

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