This article was originally shared on the Seidlitz Blog on April 29, 2020.
Imagine you are a second grade student born in America, and you only speak English. You’ve attended English schools until now. But your father’s job has relocated your family to France, and now you are in a classroom filled with students and a teacher who only speak French (a language you have never spoken). The science teacher hands you a book and signals for you to read it. You open the book and find that it is filled with pictures…no words. First a group of horses. A mare feeding a foal. A colt running wild. Then a group of pigs, chickens, cows, etc. Instantly, you begin to think about the information you know about animals. What they are called, where they live, what they eat, etc.
Though you aren’t able to communicate this information in French yet, you are able to follow along with the class and think in English using the schema and background knowledge you have about animals.
Why Use Wordless Picture Books?
Recently I saw a graphic (see below) that shared the percent of children's books that have main characters that are diverse. You can learn more about the article here. The statistics were alarming. It reported that the majority of main characters in on our library shelves are either White or Animals/Objects. I thought to myself, no way...my bookshelf is not representative of that. But then I looked. I started sorting out my books. I made stacks. I was shocked and saddened that my bookshelf truly was not as diverse as I imagined.
Students benefit from seeing themselves in the books they read. Why? For one, because seeing ourselves outside of ourselves makes us feel less invisible. As Brene Brown says, "We are hardwired for connection and without it there is suffering." We also gain much knowledge and learn empathy from seeing others in the books we read. So why aren't our shelves filled with books that have diverse characters?
If you've ever questioned why your students aren't interested in the books on your shelves, you might stop to think about the types of books that are there. Do they represent your students? Can the kids connect with them?
I also learned about a non-profit organization called We Need Diverse Books. Check it out. They share a lot of information including lists of diverse books.
In my quest for making my shelf more diverse, I have found some great books. I'll keep adding to this and if you have suggestions, please comment and include a picture if you can.