Visibility Matters

Marley Dias, an 11-year-old student in New Jersey, was tired of not being able to relate to the characters in the books she was assigned to read for school. “I was sick of reading about white boys and dogs,” Dias told PhillyVoice. When her mother challenged her to do something about it, Marley came up with the #1000BlackGirlBooks movement, a book drive that aims to collect books that feature black girls as the main characters in the story.

Finding such books may be harder than you think – a recent study by the University of Wisconsin found that, of the 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, only 93 were about black people. In a New York Times op-ed, Monster author Walter Dean Myers voiced his concerns about the lack of visibility: “Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?”

Myers is just one of the authors included in the LitART reading curriculum as part of our commitment to diverse representation. As the number of minority children in US public schools continues to grow, it becomes more and more important to provide these students with the opportunity to read about characters that they recognize and can relate to.

Below is a sampling of some of the books featuring black characters included in the LitART curriculum:

Flower Garden, Eve Bunting
These Hands, Hope Lynne Price
A Chair For My Mother, Vera B. Williams
Cherries and Cherry Pits, Vera B. Williams
Nikki and Deja series, Karen English
Cendrillon, Robert D. San Souci
The Story of Ruby Bridges, Robert Coles
Talkin’ About Bessie, Nikki Grimes
Keena Ford series, Melissa Thompson
Tar Beach, Faith Ringgold
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, Phillip Hoose
After Tupac and D. Foster, Jacqueline Woodson
Monster, Walter Dean Myers

Like Marley Dias, kids want to read about characters who look like them and have experiences that they recognize. When students see themselves and their culture reflected back at them from the pages of a book, they become more engaged in their reading. Ensuring that reading lists include positive portrayals of minority groups is essential for providing the visibility and representation necessary for students to learn about themselves and others.