More Than Just a Board Book

When I began my career as a children’s librarian, I inherited the board book collection for a couple of reasons but mainly because board books often have the reputation that they are possibly the easiest collection to manage in youth services. Most of them are straightforward and teach basic concepts like abc’s, 123’s, colors, and shapes. However, almost a decade later I’ve come to realize that although most board book stories may be simple they are more than just the “basics” and provide depth beyond the handful of words that are printed on the cardboard pages.

Board books introduce new parents and their little babies to early literacy, initiating the joy of reading. They provide caregivers with the opportunity to connect and engage with little ones in a way that is mutually beneficial. The past few years board books written by authors of color and/or depict children of color have substantially increased. The significance of culturally diverse board books emphasizes the beauty of differences in addition to teaching the basics. The positive impacts of representation in board books is countless as it increases cultural awareness, appreciation of diversity, and promotes a sense of belonging in literature for all children. I believe when children see themselves reflected in stories it builds their self-confidence and will reassure them that their presence, their voice is in society is truly valuable. Board books with representation give children the early stepping stones to weave stories of their own into reality.

When I became a mother, I began to look at board books much differently than I did before. Mostly, because as a mother of color raising two biracial boys, I wanted to make sure that I selected board books that would teach my sons the “basics” with illustrations that would resonate with them. Moreover, I wanted to support them in developing an awareness and understanding of how differences are something to appreciate rather than be intimidated by.

Photo courtesy of guest blogger

Another benefit that board books has given me is the opportunity to change the narrative. Both of my parents are predominantly Polynesian; my mother is Hawaiian and my father is Tongan and an English Second Language speaker. Growing up, my parents did not own any board books in their native languages to share with their children. Luckily, modern day technology has given me access to small business owners on Etsy or Amazon that publish board books in a variety of languages including Hawaiian and Tongan. Although my father struggled with the confidence to read to his children in English, he is now able to do the opposite and share his culture through literacy as a grandfather. The experience holds significant emotional meaning to him since he did not see himself represented in stories as a child or as an adult. It has shown me first-hand the effects of not seeing oneself represented in literature and how incredibly important it is to select books with representation as both a librarian and a mother.

How can librarians seek opportunities to promote inclusivity? We can select board books that teach the basics and include representation in our storytimes no matter what the theme may be. We can strive to feature displays that celebrate cultural differences beyond the heritage celebration months and not let that limit us but incorporate them all year along. While managing our collections, how often are we doing equity audits of the titles on our shelves? How conscious are we of culturally diverse characters when purchasing books, even those in collections as “basic” as board books? Is it possible to support smaller bookstores, especially those from business owners of color?

As children’s librarians, the careers we lead, just like each board book we select, are more than just the basics of providing books and storytimes. We inform new parents with the importance of literacy and of the continuous value that reading can achieve at home. But most of all, we are able to support children with accessing stories where they are able to see themselves and feel a sense of belonging that will have lasting benefits as they continue to grow.

Photo credit: Santa Clara County Library District

Today’s guest blogger is Raina Tuakoi. Raina is the Children Supervising Librarian at Cupertino Library with the Santa Clara County Library District. She is a 2012 ALA Spectrum Scholar and 2018 ALA Emerging Leader. Currently she serves on the ALSC Programming Committee and as the California Library Association Begun Scholarship Chair. Raina is committed to creating diverse programming, inclusive spaces, and accessible collections that support children and their families in public libraries.

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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