BookNet Canada recently released “Demand for Diversity: A Survey of Canadian Readers” where 58% of the 500 respondents agreed that “they (and others) would benefit from more diverse books.” At First Book Canada, we have been hearing this demand for more diverse books from our network of educators for years. They want books that reflect the lived experiences of the kids they serve, and help their kids by seeing a character like themselves overcome challenges, aspire, and succeed.
More specifically, in our 2018 Member Impact Survey, we heard from educators in Ontario, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan about the need for more Indigenous content to reflect the large population of Indigenous students in their schools. One educator from rural Saskatchewan said: “As a school we have been focusing on Indigenous themes because nearly all of our students are Metis or Cree.” These kids are often underrepresented in contemporary literature, but they deserve to see themselves or characters like them overcome adversity and have fantastical adventures.
Through the First Book Canada Marketplace (FBCMP), we have created a growing list of diverse books that portrays groups traditionally underrepresented in literature. The Stories For All ProjectTM includes books that portray characters who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), and/or LGBTQ+ and/or have special needs. With the Stories For All ProjectTM, we can respond not only to a growing need for Indigenous content, but also supply a variety of books that reflect the diversity of the children we aim to support.
Jo Dowson, an Elementary School Library Technician in Burlington, ON told us:
“My school is very multicultural and we have recently enrolled several refugee families. … [B]ooks like Yasmin, the Zookeeper allow us to reach all of our students and provide visual representation of our Muslim population. This title shows characters wearing hijabs, presents characters with names similar to our student’s names (Yasmin, Ali) and uses terms in Urdu. Some [students] make connections with their family, here and abroad, others make connections with their classmates. What I appreciate is that the book is not focused on the culture or faith, but rather offers a wonderful story with characters who look like our students”
The FBCMP is working to address a gap in representation for children who do not see themselves in the stories that have been published in the past. In 2018 alone, members of our educator network purchased over 100,000 books from the curated, high-quality books.
After purchasing Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson, an educator said:
“I have been searching relentlessly for diverse texts for my 4th/5th grade students. … It is so powerful, honest, affirming, and hopeful. Jacqueline Woodson is an amazing author and this book confirms that. I would highly recommend this book for diverse [groups of] students that are struggling with social/emotional issues. It gently shows how building community through conversation is one real option for kids dealing with life’s challenges.”
Kids in high-needs communities deserve to have high-quality books that reflect not only their lived experience but also their potential. To affirm the lived experiences of children who need the most support to reach their potential, we need to supply them with books that reflect their unique experiences. Through the FBCMP and our First Book Canada programs, we are trying to do just that.
“Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”Rudine Sims Bishop