Featured image courtesy of Envato Elements
I got into publishing for children because I was so motivated to create books for kids where their identities are reflected. The “mirrors” just were not there when I was growing up. That had a lasting impact on how I viewed myself and my place in the world.
Children need to see themselves reflected in the literature they read to develop a positive self image and feel like they belong in the world. Children also need to see diversity in books so that they develop empathy and understanding for people who look different from them.
Of course, there are so many more titles and so much more diversity in children’s publishing today! I’m very happy to see that progress and proud to be a part of it. But we still need more diversity in the stories and characters portrayed in children’s books.
There is even more work to be done after diverse books have been created. We need to improve the accessibility of diverse books to kids. This is especially true for families who can’t afford full price books and for families whose first language isn’t English.
Progress from 2015 to 2018
Here are two infographics created by the School Library Journal (SLJ) that show just how much progress has been made in the past few years.
There’s still a sad lack of picture books that let children enjoy shared reading experiences with family members who don’t speak English as their first language. Seeing yourself in a book is one thing. But seeing your family in a book and relating to them in their language deepens family bonds. A child who can enjoy literature in their family’s native language won’t feel so torn between two cultures.
Yet the most important thing is still accessibility. What good is a diverse book that can’t make it into the hands of a child that needs it? I’m excited to see efforts being made by librarians, teachers, and principals to make these books part of curriculum. But I think we also need to make sure the books have a way to get into the home as well.I discovered an amazing company called Bernie’s Book Bank when I was in New York for BEA (Book Expo America). I met the founder, Brian, and learned a lot about his company and his father, Bernie.
A passion for promoting literacy
Bernie spent his life and professional career promoting literacy. Bernie’s mission became a personal one for Brian as well. Brian started tutoring young, struggling readers after his father’s death. Eventually he realized that tutoring was just one part of a bigger issue.
Brian noticed that a lot of the kids that struggled to read didn’t have access to books at home before starting school. That didn’t change much after starting school, either. Books are expensive and libraries can only provide so much of the accessibility that’s needed.
So Brian started Bernie’s Book Bank out of his garage in 2009. Bernie’s Book Bank finds new and used books and distributes them to over 360,000 at-risk children in the Chicago area. Every child receives 12 books per month for 12 years. To date, Bernie’s Book Bank has distributed more than 15 million books!
Image from Bernie’s Book Bank Website
I’m so excited for business models like this getting books into the hands of kids who need them, and I want to find more of them!
If you know of any other book banks like this, please drop a link to their website in the comments!