Do you have a shelf of go-to books for your storytimes? These books probably have big, bright illustrations, engaging text that invites participation, and are just a blast to read aloud. But are many of your storytime books about caterpillars, puppies, and trucks? If storytime is for all kids, should they also see kids like themselves in the books we share with them?
From Research to Practice:
A recent Library Quarterly article called “Storytime Programs as Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors? Addressing Children’s Needs through Diverse Book Selection” by Cahill, Ingram, and Joo (2021) investigated how much a group of storytime facilitators’ book selections reflected human diversity. Their results indicate that much more work is needed to diversify storytime shelves.
The article begins with an insightful examination of the diverse books landscape within children’s librarianship. The authors address the persistent lack of community representation in children’s book publishing and report on current efforts to champion the creation of more diverse children’s books. Their study sought to answer the question “How do books shared in public library storytimes vary in terms of representations of diversity?” (Cahill et al., 2021, p. 272). They used a random sampling of 36 public libraries in the United States and observed a total of 68 different storytime programs. During these observations, the researchers recorded the title and author of every book that was shared, resulting in a list of 160 books. Using a coding system developed by Crisp (2016), the researchers analyzed these storytime books for representations of the characters’ culture, gender, sexuality, disability, religion, and language. They also looked for books that they described as multicultural, socially conscious, and culturally conscious (Cahill et al., 2021, p. 273).
In brief summary, their results indicated that the vast majority of the books in their data set were not representative of community diversity. For example, there were almost twice as many books about animals as main characters than people. Additionally, there were 135 books that had no discernible multicultural, socially conscious or culturally conscious content. Of utmost concern was the fact that two books depicted stereotypical and offensive imagery related to Indigenous people. All their results point to the urgent need for growing our awareness of the importance of representing diversity in our storytime offerings.
I worked for over two decades as a children’s librarian. I probably delivered thousands of storytimes during that time. I can absolutely corroborate this study’s findings that most of my own favourite storytime books did not reflect my community’s diversity in overt or even subtle ways. I do remember struggling to find storytime books that showed groups of actual human children rather than anthropomorphized animals.
Finding books that authentically show the diversity of human childhood that are also great for a storytime context demands careful curation, collaborating with colleagues, reading reviews and storytime blogs and, of course, reading research about diversity in children’s books.
I now teach future children’s librarians: we examine picture books with an anti-bias lens; we discuss specific research-based strategies that promote inclusion for children with disabilities. Also, we talk about diversifying the field of children’s librarianship to better reflect our diverse communities. I actively support and mentor all my students but especially those from under-represented backgrounds. However, Cahill et al have shown me is that I also need to train my students to intentionally seek out and use storytime books that reflect human diversity while still engaging groups with fun language and fabulous illustrations.
Key Resources for Diversifying Your Storytimes and Your Storytime Shelves
In one of the most valuable newly published resources from ALA, Jessica Anne Bratt has compiled and extended her past workshop content into an incredibly succinct and compelling handbook that should be read and used by all library workers involved in storytime. Also, I have added this book to my early literacy services course readings and ordered it for my university library. You can read more about Jessica Anne Bratt’s important work in this Jbrary post.
Social Justice Books: A Teaching for Change Project provides 14 lists of picture books aimed at young children on a variety of topics such as racial identity, disabilities, family, economic class, and activism. Many of these books are great storytime candidates, and the lists are valuable for collection curation and displays too.
Sesame Street in Communities has free resources for providers who support families on a long list of topics, including family bonding, foster care, homelessness, racial justice, and resilience. There are videos, handouts and even short courses to take to build your repertoire of ways to extend the ways you recognize and support the diverse families in your communities.
What other sources do you recommend for diversifying your storytime selections? Leave a comment!
Cahill, M., Ingram, E., & Joo, S. (2021). Storytime programs as mirrors, wndows, and sliding glass doors? Addressing children’s needs through diverse book selection. The Library Quarterly (Chicago), 91(3), 269-284. doi:10.1086/714317
Crisp, T. M. (2016). What’s on our bookshelves? The diversity of children’s literature in early childhood classroom libraries. Journal of Children’s Literature, 42(2), 29.
Our guest blogger today is Tess Prendergast. Tess is a children’s librarian who now teaches librarianship and children’s literature courses at The School of Information, University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada. She has served on many ALSC committees and is soon finishing her term on the Excellence in Early Learning Digital Media Award. Tess has published many articles, chapters and blog posts about early literacy. You can read more about her work here and here.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
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