Third graders in Ms. Assia Day’s class at Maya Lin School recently completed an ambitious audit of their classroom library that not only revealed the need for more diverse books for the school but resulted in students taking direct action to improve the situation.
The project began when the students read Stamped (for Kids) by Ibram X Kendi and Jason Reynolds. As part of this book study, the third graders discussed how books can serve as either mirrors or windows for readers (in that readers can see their own lives and experiences reflected back to them or see out into new worlds and lives).
Students also talked about the importance of having access to diverse books, as these open diverse windows and mirrors and help students gain a better understanding of the world and people around them. “Social justice education is especially important in the early elementary classroom,” Ms. Day says. “Incorporating social justice concepts into the classroom helps students learn to think critically about social issues that impact them on a daily basis. Students should be able to be aware of their own identities, and recognize and respect the identities of people who do not look like them, or talk like them, or practice the same religions."
Talking about books, in turn, led Ms. Day's class to audit both their classroom library and six other libraries across the school.
After counting and sorting 3247 books in the 7 classroom libraries at Maya Lin School, the students found that:
- 256 featured Black characters
- 343 featured Multiracial characters
- 988 featured White characters
- 1660 featured animals
The students discussed what they had found, speculated on reasons for the lack of diversity in some library collections, and brainstormed how to increase the number of books featuring diverse students in their school. After coming up with a solid list, the students:
Represented the racial breakdown of book characters via infographics
Put posters around the school about the lack of diversity in the class libraries
Held a fundraiser and raised $740
Purchased 70+books for 7 classrooms at Maya Lin School
Wrote letters to important people at AUSD (including Superintendent Scuderi) asking/ telling them about the problem
“I believe it’s important to equip students with the necessary skills to confront the bias and racism that they face both now and in the future" Ms. Day says. "Often when discussing difficult topics in the classroom like racism, students feel a bit overwhelmed. It is a huge topic, and it is easy to feel as if they have no impact on the world, or ability to make change. With this project, my goal is for students to have the experience of recognizing bias, exclusion, prejudice, and injustice and then doing something about it.”
On November 15, the students shared their research at a Books, Inc. fundraiser for the school. After reading from a report the students wrote and sharing their infographics, the eight students at the event fielded questions from an eager audience of parents and children. “You should pay attention to people," class member Abby told a student who asked what people can do to support diverse libraries. "Everyone’s different! What if all the books were one color? How would another culture feel? How would you feel?”
When another student asked what the best part of the project was, third grader AJ replied, “Brainstorming what we wanted to do and then knowing we were doing something to help.”
After the event, we asked Mielle, also a member of Ms. Day’s class why having diverse books in classroom libraries is important. “It’s important to have a diverse class library because if you don’t have diverse books, you don’t learn about other people," she said. "You end up with a biased library."