Intro: Welcome to the Picture Bookstagang Podcast
And we’re the picture bookstagang! We invite you to join us here every other week while we discuss amazing books and issues in children’s literature. As well as Early literacy education and parenting as it relates to reading. We can’t wait to dig in and deep and get nerdy about picture books with you.
0:36 A: Hello! And Welcome back to the Picture Bookstagang Podcast today we are going to begin an ongoing conversation about how to start diversifying your bookshelf, I am joined as always by my two lovely co-hosts Kelly and Corrie.
C: Hello! Glad to be here!
0:56 A: So we need to be upfront that we have been working on this podcast as a whole for quite some time, one of those projects that we’ve been talking about doing and starting up. But since we started recording there have been the uprisings and the very long overdue social awakening that has occurred with the Black Lives Matter Movement and this conversation has come to the forefront and we really hope to do it justice but it is difficult to do in just 30 minutes. So this is just the start of a much longer conversation that we will be continuing over many episodes and Kelly and Corrie really the focus of their account is choosing books that celebrate diverse people in books and being inclusive.
1:51 K: So we want to make a few disclaimers before we get started starting with the fact that we absolutely are not anti-racist educators we are all picture book reviewers. Two of us are parents, two of us are teachers (Ale is both, which is why that adds up to 4, but is actually 3) we’re looking at the best practice from those viewpoints in selecting books thoughtfully and how we personally approach starting conversations with kids either in our home or in a classroom but it is by no means the best or only way you should be seeking out a variety of different voices when you’re looking at reviews for books. You should be listening to Black reviewers and Latinx reviewers and a wide variety of backgrounds when you’re looking for books. Our opinion is not the be all and end all.
2:45 C: Exactly and one other thing to note when we’re using language like diverse it means it includes books that have Black Indigenous People of Colour BIPOC but it does not exclusively mean BIPOC led books. A diverse bookshelf includes a little bit of everything and isn’t just centred around animal books or specifically excluding books with white characters. So all of that said let’s dive in and chat about diversifying your bookshelf.
3:18 K: So I wanted to start by talking about a challenge that I put out on my Instagram account @Inclusivestorytime a few weeks ago and I asked parents to look at their bookshelf, parents and educators, and take a more critical eye. Who is represented in those books? Is it all animals? Are they all white children? What’s the breakdown of that? It went a little viral and even today I’ve had multiple people who’ve taken the challenge and I’ve been able to see the breakdown of their shelves, and it was a very telling exercise for a lot of people that they realized their personal values did not reflect what they were showing their children on the bookshelf. Interestingly the numbers in most cases were very reflective of the publishing industry as a whole, so way more animal characters than human characters, and of those human characters way more white Cis heteronormative characters than there were LGBTQ or BIPOC characters. So it’s been very interesting to watch people awaken to this reality on their bookshelf as a whole.
4:34 C: And there is a whole other aspect to that of then going the extra step and determining who the authors are because having a diverse bookshelf is the first step, it also depends who creates the books and if they’re perpetuating harmful stereotypes or problematic images.
4:56 A: We’re also personally in kind of a unique position because we request specific books to be sent to us for review and this allows us to curate our shelves in a way that people relying on books as gifts or used books to populate their shelves do not so we also do want to reinforce that this evaluation can be done in terms of what you take out from the library. Because that’s a huge part of what you’re reading at home and you don’t need to buy every single book in order to celebrate diverse books.
5:30 K: Yeah and I do want to interject that there is a really good challenge way back on @Theconsciouskid’s account that is about making sure that the books you take out of the library that a certain percent of them have characters that don’t reflect your child in them. And reading that challenge for the first time was my pivotal moment of understanding our bookshelf did not reflect our values, so I want to give credit where credit is due on that but the library is an important resource you don’t have to buy every single book.
6:03 C: Now I love going to the library and checking out all the new books that are coming out and I also definitely want to recognize that it can be really overwhelming when you’re not sure what to look for in a book and if there’s quality illustrations. In the shoutouts link below there’s a super helpful PDF that I’ve used that’s from Teaching for Change and I’ve used it in presentations that I’ve given for professional development training to other educators and I think it’s really accessible for folks that are just beginning this endeavour, it’s just 10 quick tips for how to have a critical eye on a picture book you might be considering for the first time, when you might be thinking of checking it out from the library or bringing it in to the classroom.
6:55 A: That sounds awesome I’m going to have to read that myself. Your challenge was a really big reflective process for me because I really started to think not just about the books that I collect. Because, let’s be honest, our personal shelves are not average. We collect books as a hobby and we receive a lot of free books for review and so on. So when I was actually looking at the books all laid out on the floor it got me to thinking about which of these books actually make it into the daily routine with my kids and which ones I’ve actually read at school to kids, which books are we reading that are fun and also inclusive.
7:52 K: So yeah, a good portion of the books that are being published today that feature BIPOC or LGBTQ or disabled characters are incredibly serious in nature, they’re non fiction pieces that are for conversation and education, they’re meant to be handled with care. And there was an Instagram live with Britt Hawthorn and she made exactly that point, she’s those are not the books that you leave on your bookshelf to be read freely, they’re meant to be handled with care and to have intentional conversations. Books with very heavy topics like enslavement for example they can be really traumatic for a Black child to read. So you really have to handle that with intention and c are so it’s really important you have a variety of subjects that also show diversity not just those really heavy heavy heavy topics.
8:51 A: They are incredibly important to have and discuss and learn from, don’t get me wrong but they are not the books that my kids are choosing to reread again, they’re not the books that I have out for them to flip through and play with. They’re books that you handle with care as you said. And I think that realizing that the books that are in our daily rotation are not the most inclusive they’re not showing the most divers characters and experiences is really problematic and I think we really need to consider when we are purchasing books for every day reading that we are also choosing those that have a diversity of characters in them and that are also fun..
9:48 C: And you know ideally own voices titles which again means they are written by the people that they represent on the pages because we want the books that we end up reading on a loop to be inclusive too. And Kelly made this point again before if you are say a Black child, or me-being queer- if I was a child I don’t want all the books that my teacher read to be so serious like enslavement or bullying for example. We want to see all sorts of different characters that reflect the beautiful array of humanity in the world. You know? Having fun and reflected in those fun books.
10:37 K: Yeah, not every book has to be about Stonewall when you’re queer. You want to see that joyfulness, and that’s something that I’m so glad to see that’s come to the forefront with everything that’s happening right now. Black joy is such an important topic that we have to get out there, we need to have those Own Voices titles that express joy and reflect joy back at the people that they represent. All children need those mirrors in the media that they consume to build self esteem and build self love that’s vital for their mental health and well being as they grow.
11:25 C: Snaps to that.
11:30 A: I have to say that one more added element to this, is the books that I really want to see that are just fun stories. Because you get the extra serious heavy books and you also get these whole genre of books that the entire book isn’t a story per say it’s more about everybody is different and we love everybody and that is lovely. A wonderful sentiment. Very important. But also I just want a book that is an exciting story, that something is going to happen, it has a plotline. For example, we got this new one Kids Can Press “Going Up” It’s a favourite in our house right now and it’s about a birthday party in an apartment building and everyone is going and they’re bringing something and it’s got a wonderful diverse array of characters and families, and food they’re bringing and they’re going up on the elevator and there’s just too many people on the elevator. And my daughter is like “There’s too many people!” She gets a little stressed out, there’s excitement there, there’s birthday cakes and it has everything that a kid really wants to read about again and again, there’s a story and a plotline and it’s diverse. And it’s about kids living in an apartment building, AND. It’s not one or the other there’s the and. It’s really important for me and I don’t feel like there’s enough of that out there.
13:12 K: That’s a book that I think all of us have been talking about as being one of our favourites of 2020 so far because it’s an ensemble cast, there’s a diversity of human beings, there’s diversity of family structure, there’s representation of living in an apartment building which is a socioeconomic representation, it hits so many different points and it is just purely joyful fun which is so important.
A: So important.
13:46 K: yeah, so important. So one of the other things that I see right now is that people are looking for extremely serious board books to read to their toddlers and their babies, which honestly isn’t really age appropriate. When we say it’s never too early to talk to your kids about race and racism, especially with white children we mean at an age appropriate level. You want to be fighting bias and normalizing different appearances while building empathy for people who are different from them. And that comes from just seeing different faces and talking about those people with your children, naming if you’re a white parent, that that’s a white child and that other child on the page picking flowers is a Black child. That’s okay to say out loud, and I think that’s a bit of a stumbling block people are hitting right now. You don’t have to read “A is for Activist” every single day to to raise an anti-racist child from birth. So.
14:42 A: That’s so true and that really for me goes back to, I think that it’s important to have the kind of books that our kids are excited about, that are age appropriate, that have the kinds of plots that they are into those books need to have these features as well. It’s not just that we want a whole extra genre of super serious board books as well. That is not what we are asking for, although those are also wonderful books.
15:25 C: Agreed and it’s getting the main message across. It’s just as important to have a diverse array of characters doing a diverse array of things. THe idea is to normalize all experiences so we need to show all experiences on a bookshelf and that is the main goal of having a diversified bookshelf. That you have a little bit of everything.
15:53 K: Yeah and in part of showing those experiences is also hearing from authors of different backgrounds so we get the perspectives of their view point because when we default to the industry standard of white authors. We’re hearing a white experience applied to those activities. We need different voices talking about those experiences as well.
16:19 A: So, I totally agree with all of these and I think that people really need to be considering what their goal is here. So if your goal is not just to diversify your bookshelf but also to diversify the books your children love to read, you need to think about, is this book more than just considered diverse. You need to think about what topics your child is interested in reading and about finding those books that are in that genre that include diverse people so working to build a non-fiction collection that doesn’t just have white characters or represented or has authors from a variety of backgrounds equally important.
17:11 C: Exactly and it really depends, what your purpose is, what your budget is especially and who your audience is. Which is why, just buying a premade list might not be a best idea, might not be the most impactful to your audience.
17:32 K: So how do you select books to diversify your shelf? We have some questions you can ask yourself.
17:41 A: Right, so, number one you need to think about who is going to be reading or listening to these books, is this for a specific child or is this for a large group. What age are you looking for? It will depend on who you really are, are you a teacher or are you a parent? The second big question to ask yourself is what is the context they will be using this? So a book that is a bedtime story has totally different features that you are looking for than for a classroom reference library. And you need to know what you need.
18:24 C: Definitely and also the purpose of the book. Are you trying to start a specific discussion, are you providing information is this for early reading practice or is this just for fun? Also cuz fun is a huge deal and we don’t want to dismiss it, just like we were talking with about “Going Up.” And also what is your budget and how does it fit into your existing collection? How can you slowly work on that? Maybe go into thrift stores, library sales, exchanging books with friends. You see so many “Little Free Libraries” pop up which I love.
K: So much, yes.
19:12 A: I’m actually really big on practical purchases when it comes to when I recommend people buy. So as a teacher you have a certain amount of money at the beginning of the year that your principal will allow you. So for example one year I opened up a new Kindergarten classroom and I was given $200 Canadian for books, that was the whole budget for books for the year. And you really need to think about what is going to last you, what are the needs, and maybe getting the hottest newest hardcover books, even if those are the ones people are recommending on their list is not a great choice because you only have $200.
20:02 K: Mhm, so budget is huge. But our last, sort of question to ask yourself is. Have a look through them the books that are currently on your shelf, have a look through them with a critical eye. Are they potentially problematic? Does the book centre a white character and the black or brown character used as tokens? You can really look at some of the books on your shelf and a really important exercise is to just leave some of the books out that are not serving your needs right now. I think it’s really good to go through your books now and then and look at them more critically, you know maybe we could be doing better here. Maybe this one is okay to put in the recycle bin. Not every book is a good book.
20:46 A: No, that’s so true and I think that a lot of people have this sort of idea that because a book has been published by a major house it is correct. And the way that people are being corrected is correct. But it’s not always the case in fact it is a lot of the time not the case and we need to use our own critical thinking powers to say is this okay?
21:15 K: Yeah, definitely. Big time. I think that’s one of the most important things you can be doing when you’re diversifying your bookshelf is look at what you have and look at what needs to come out of that. That’s a huge important powerful thing that you can do and it doesn’t cost anything.
21:32 C: Which is the best cost, honestly.
K: Yeah. Free ninety nine.
C: Free ninety nine.
21:38 C: Even though I don’t actually think that there is a one size fits all solution for creating the perfect diversified bookshelf I think that if it’;s something you’re committed to doing it’s going to require some leg work and it’s going to require the steps and steps we haven’t even mentioned. This is a starting point we are certainly not the experts.
22:07: K : And all this book collecting it’s ultimately fun. Picture books are fun! Reading with your kids is a wonderful, wonderful bonding experience. Reading with your class is a beautiful thing. But we also need to remember that however your bookshelf looks right now the most important part is the conversations that you have with your kids that is what makes all the difference it isn’t about having the perfect collection of perfectly balanced humans represented on your shelf and themes, it’s about the conversations that accompany those books.
22:41 A: Definitely and sometimes even taking a book half way through reading is not ideal and has problematic parts, you can use that as an opportunity to make disclaimers, to ask your kids questions and to start a conversation that will change the direction of their thinking and encourage them to be media literate and have critical thinking skills. By questioning the things that we are reading with our child we are teaching them that it is okay to question the page it is okay to question the author it is okay to say “I don’t know if this is right” so one example is, sometimes we find older books just at my Mom’s house or whatever, and we have some “Curious George”
23:33 K: Ahhh ha
A: I have to say that’s one that we will definitely that we will talk about at length, perhaps at a different time. But there is a lot of problematic stuff there, and rather than just reading it through and quietly hiding it under the couch or throwing it out it’s an opportunity to say, what is happening here? What is the context here? And to talk about that. And ask them, “what do you think about this?” And they are capable of thinking even if they’re little, you gotta give them the credit.
24: 02 K:Yeah. And you know I’m somebody who doesn’t have any Dr. Seuss or “Curious George” or a variety of other problematic books on my bookshelf but you know, they happen sometime, a play date, coming home from school…
24:15 A: Yeah, book bags.
K:No matter how much I try to talk to teachers, it happens sometimes. So you know, I don’t want to buy or support those things, I want to make sure I’m speaking out against those things but they happen and with a four year old they’re not there yet on no I don’t read this.
A: Well how could they possibly know?
K: Yeah! So that’s when I’m using those opportunities to have those bigger, age appropriate, discussions.
24: 41 C: And I also think a really important part of that is taking existing books that you have for example, truck or construction books which are almost exclusively male voiced and change some of the pronouns as you’re moving along. Make the dump truck a girl, as you’re reading out loud and you can ask these questions about what you think they’re doing and why, because even some of the most mundane books can lead to much bigger discussions which ultimately what you’re looking for to fight this unconscious bias all of us pick up through our lives. However I will say my big disclaimer, you can change the language but you can’t change the illustrations, while changing the pronouns is something really easy and should definitely be done, the illustrations also need to be looked at critically because it shouldn’t be…changing the pronouns isn’t enough is what I’m saying.
25:53 K: Absolutely
A: There’s definitely opportunity there to talk about those illustrations especially books that have more stereotypical illustrations, for example like a princess book, where it’s what you would traditionally expect to see you can talk about, why do you think she looks like a princess? And you can elaborate on that and have bigger discussions and it can lead to more. So don’t ignore these kinds of things, that is a big part of diversifying your bookshelf. But also the way that you talk about any book you are encountering together.
26:35 K: Absolutely, like you can’t always help it when you’re at the library choosing your books and a certain books comes off the shelf and you’re like ew now maybe not that one. But you have to be equipped as a human being to talk about that book with your child and go, “This is why we maybe don’t agree with this” or “why are you thinking that that person looks that way or is wearing that clothing and why do we think that maybe doesn’t reflect reality.” So you just have to build these questions into your tool kit as a parent or a caregiver and keep them handy and not be afraid to have these conversations because kids are amazing the way they think sometimes when you let them lead by inquiry.
27:25 A: And we have to remember that our kids are existing outside of us.
K: Oh yeah.
A: They’re going to go out into the world, they’re going to go to daycare, they’re going to go out and see other images, they’re going to be watching things on TV. We do not control every facet of the media and the content that they are absorbing and so we need to be having these discussions to give them the tools to be critically thinking when we are not in the room and when we are not there to say ‘oo I don’t think that book is a good idea” because they’re going to see other books and they’re going to need to be able to think for themself.
28:04 A: That is really what we need here.
K: Yeah, so you know that’s really what it is, when you’re looking at your child’s bookshelf or your classroom bookshelf the most valuable thing you can do as a human being is be more critical going forward. It might not mean as much, in terms of buying up new books as it does mean, like I said before, weeding out books that you have. Keeping out books year round instead of just keeping them in the Black history month pile. Things like that. It’s working with what you have in so many ways especially in a classroom environment. It’s also listening, sometimes when somebody points out to you, “hey that one’s not so great!” And I’ve had to do that as a parent with my child’s teacher and it’s an uncomfortable conversation but that’s a huge part of it. Is standing up and saying “hey this isn’t so good anymore, we need to do better.”
29:08 A: For sure and I think that one of the bolder choices that we can make is to remove problematic books from our everyday rotation. So if it comes up, yes, discuss it, but if you know that something is seriously problematic it should not be in your everyday reading loop, it should not be the book you are choosing for the literacy circle in your classroom, removing things like Dr. Seuss from your collection which is a huge topic, that is really well covered by @theconsciouskid and I think @readlikearockstar did like a whole Seuss thing, we will show the link in the show notes. But picture books with racist authors that have more subtle racist themes and subtexts, we need to start exiting these from the shelves as we move into a more socially conscious and equitable era, yes we’re giving our kids the tools to look at images that are problematic but we also need to be saying “okay, this isn’t okay to have out and this isn’t okay to be a teaching material anymore.”
30:15 K Yeah. You can leave something in the past even though you have nostalgia about it and still understand that it’s not okay by today’s standard. And that’s something that so, so many people are going through right now, they have to change the way they think and they have to leave some things in the past and just accept that they are for the past they are not for the future.
30:38 A: People really hang on strong to some of these though.
A: Like Seuss is such a hard, hard fight there.
C: It really is.
K:But once you learn about it you can’t unlearn it, it’s bad, it’s so bad.
A: But people do. Like on Library fight club. Sometimes I host this thing called #Librarianfightclub I haven’t done it in a while, but I’l post up a book that is divisive for whatever reason and Dr. Seuss was one of the ones that people were really to sling it out in a mud pit over because people were not prepared to give up the nostalgia they were not prepared to give up the rhymes and the aesthetic and the themed days, they just really clung on real strong there.
31:31 K: It’s actually way, way past time, people have the knowledge about this now and if you don’t it’s incredibly easy to find. But a lot of people who have that knowledge are still refusing to confront it. I’m hoping that this new era that we’re entering with one of the most significant racial uprisings that has ever occurred is so deeply important to happen, I’m hoping that this truly helps a lot of parents really examine some things like Dr. Seuss and finally just stop it. It has to stop. I can’t even say it enough, it has to stop.
32:15 A: (Chuckles) It’s a matter of priorities though.
A: Like what is your priority here? Is your priority to set a standard for what you will allow in your classroom on your shelf what authors you are saying are worthwhile and you are saying we should be listening to. or is it just you want your nostalgia, is your priority just, oh, you like it.
32:41 A: You know? What are the values here? Is the question.
32:45 C: I think also, too, what I think a lot about is sometimes people think that just because they’re not saying something overtly, let’s use the example of homophobia, that they’ve done enough of a job to let their children know all marriages are good marriages. But what we’re also seeing is if you don’t explicitly say to kids “sometimes two girls love each other and they get married when they’re adults and they make that decision and it’s beautiful and valid just like a man and a woman, just like two non binary people, that fall in love and get married. IT’s not enough to…
33:35 K: It’s not enough to hope they just absorb it from the ether. You have to be verbalizing it and having explicit conversations about this, intentional conversations.
C: Exactly. Thank you for simply making that point.
33:53 A: Well, well also it’s that we have to think about your kid as a tiny computer, whatever you are inputting into that computer that is their understanding of their world, that is their understanding of values, that is the information that’s in the computer. So if you are not choosing books that show that, the example that you were saying that it’s okay for two women or two men to marry each other and have a family, they don’t know that! They don’t know it unless you show it to them.
A: Unless you tell it to them unless this is a piece of information you have directly inserted into their brain so you can’t leave this stuff out because that is a huge impact.
K: Yeah it’s a life it’s the real world.
34:42 C: Alright so I hate to be the bearer of bad news. This is a topic we could all talk about for actual hours and days.
K: And have..and have.
C: Rest assured we will be coming back to this topic, over and over again from different angles as we dig deeper into different topics on the podcast. But we wanted to have this episode really be a starting point and just to explicitly say that in the future we are going to be doing much deeper dives into specific points that we touched on in this episode like, “Own Voices”, Self Publishing, representation in publishing and just so much more. So many more topics.
K: Yeah, there’s really no end to how much we could talk about this and in the show notes we’re gonna link some of the resources, accounts and human beings we’ve referenced in this episode. But we’ve barely scratched any kind of a surface this is not a whole conversation. This is just the very tippy beginning point.
35: 55 A: Right and like we mentioned you’re here to diversify your bookshelf you’re interested in it and I’m sorry that we don’t have a one size fits all list that you can go out and buy, that’s not the answer that we have for you here today but questions to ask yourself and definitely there are people out there other reviewers outside of us who are doing a lot of leg work and recommending books one by one, and you’re just going to have to go out there and make decisions. And it’s an ongoing process it’s not a one time bulk buy that’s it, we’re diverse now! It doesn’t work like that.
36:34 K: (Chuckles) Not at all, not even close.
36:36 0A: So thank you for joining us in our first discussion on diversifying your bookshelf here on the Picture Bookstagang podcast, you can follow us on Instagram @picturebookstagang and be sure to subscribe on Apple, Google, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Be sure to drop us a note and let us know, what are you reading?