A thoughtfully designed classroom library is the heart of the early childhood literacy environment. So much of value comes from a collection of books, right at the children’s fingertips, that take into account their abilities, interests, and experiences! The message sent when classroom life revolves around the library space and materials, and when text activities are integrated into daily classroom life is, “This is a reading place. Books and reading are valued here.” As Christopher Lehman (2014) points out in a recent blog post, “What we make visible in our classrooms, in our schools, even in our lives, shows what we value, what is important, and what we feel and believe.” Seeing books and reading at the epicenter of classroom life speaks louder than any words could about what we value for our students and their learning.
There are many articles and books to help new and experienced teachers craft amazing classroom libraries. For example, in a recent post on her blog, Elizabeth Moore (2016) shares thoughts (and pictures!) about creating and using classroom libraries, and she links to suggestions for crafting classroom libraries for multiple age levels. So many such resources exist that I won’t repeat their messages here. However, one aspect of the classroom library that deserves special consideration is how the contents of a classroom library reflect the characteristics, backgrounds, and experiences of the children who will use it. Rudine Sims Bishop (1990) is often credited with coining the term mirrors and windows when referring to the special capability of books to provide children with a view out on the world as well as back on themselves. She says,
Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. 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 (p. 1).
You can watch author/illustrator Grace Lin conduct a TEDx Talk about her motivation to ensure that her books act as mirrors and windows for her young readers: http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/The-Windows-and-Mirrors-of-Your
Children use books to make meaning of the world and of its many inhabitants that have lives and experiences different than their own. Children can also, if provided the chance, use books to see themselves and their experiences affirmed as valued members of the classroom and the world in which they live. As children’s author Nikki Grimes explains, “Where better to introduce a child to the multiplicity of races and cultures in our world—and to our common humanity—than between the pages of a book?” (Hall, 2016, p. 18).
In spite of this potential, however, children from traditionally underrepresented groups have often failed to see themselves mirrored on their classroom book shelves, and publishers still have a long way to go to ensure that books reflecting the multiplicity of the world’s cultures, family styles, and races enter the book market. However, teachers populating their classroom libraries do have more choices than ever before to ensure that the books on their shelves act as mirrors and windows for their students. Here are a few of my favorite titles that may support that goal for your students. Hopefully these book suggestions will spark your thinking about how your classroom library can act to affirm the value of all of our children, their families, and their lives and will send you racing to the bookstore in search of mirrors and windows for your own students.
These two books, one with fanciful drawings and lyrics, the other with real photographs and straightforward language, prompt children to celebrate themselves and others as important parts of the bigger world.
These books, depicting children’s experiences in their neighborhoods, bring the world closer to home, displaying the vitality and beauty to be found right in their own backyards.
Books like these, displaying various family styles, provide opportunities for children to see all kinds of families in their many varieties and complexities.
These books, which tell the story of children who adapt to an unfamiliar classroom while also mastering a new language, will be especially appreciated by dual language learners and any children who face the challenge of moving into new classroom environments.
Both of these books address issues of children who feel different from their peers but who, with love and support, manage to succeed and thrive while staying true to themselves.
This post is brought to you by Dr. Sherry Sanden. Sherry is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Literacy at Illinois State University. She is a former first- and second-grade teacher and child care director. Her research interests include the ways that teachers learn about and use books and reading in early education classrooms. Check out Sherry’s past posts at this blog here, here, and here.
Bishop, R.S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and using books for the classroom, 6(2).
C. Lehman. (2014, February 10). Wear your heart on your sleeve (and walls and actions and) [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://christopherlehman.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve-and-walls-and-actions-and/
E. Moore. (2016, April 2). ICYMI: Classroom libraries to support reading workshop for every grade level [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://elizabeth-moore.com/bethmooreblog/2016/4/1/icymi-classroom-libraries-to-support-reading-workshop-for-every-grade-level
Hall, A. (2016). Turning the tables. Literacy Today, 33(5), pp. 18-20.