Providing books about diversity and inclusion that also reflect their school’s populations is a goal among librarians and classroom teachers across the Shawnee Mission School District. Elementary school librarians have collaborated to make these resources easier to find and access for everyone.
In June they launched a site focused primarily on award-winning books for children and youth. These awards include the Coretta Scott King Book Awards that is given to outstanding African American authors and illustrators and to the Pura Belpre Award that is given to a Latino/Latina writers or illustrators that best represents Latino/Latina culture. The 12 awards presented on the site offer not only this year’s winners and honor books, but also previous winners from past years.
These collections include books that feature authors, individuals, and characters representing different ethnicities, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) individuals, and those with physical and social-emotional disabilities.
“We hope this resource will give parents, teachers, and students a starting point in broadening their exposure to a variety of children’s books that represent and celebrate our diverse world,” Emily Mihelic, Brookwood librarian shared. “We also hope that through these books, meaningful and important conversations will be had.”
Many parents, students, and educators have been asking for books by authors and about characters that look like their families and students noted Gary Strout librarian, who has moved to Prairie Elementary from Broken Arrow Elementary. “Great literature celebrates diversity,” he noted.
Strout used the example of biographies, which he noted are often not representative of his student population. “Many of them are outdated and there are not any biographies about contemporary people,” Strout explained. “My goal is for students to learn to be appreciative of different cultures and different students at all our schools.”
At SM Northwest, Rebecca Anthony, AP US History and International Baccalaureate History of the Americas teacher, started a chapter of Project Lit this past year. “I created the site as a place for teachers, students, and parents to easily access information about Project Lit books,” Anthony shared.
Project Lit is a nationwide movement to get culturally relevant, contemporary books into the hands of students. In doing so, a community naturally forms around the books and those reading them, which is “amazing” Anthony expressed. “It is so important that our students have access to books written by a diverse range of authors and about a diverse range of characters,” Anthony added.
Many of the books are written by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, (BIPOC) authors and authors from the LGBTQ community, and the stories they tell also reflect the lived experiences of students.
“Students do not always connect with what they have historically been given to read in school, which erodes their love of reading over time,” Anthony said. “I witnessed so many students get excited about books this year, and I hope to scale the program up across the district.”