Using Diverse Books in Library Programs – ILA 2016

B A Binns & Nancy Goodfellow

B A Binns & Nancy Goodfellow

The Illinois Library Association, ILA, held it’s annual conference in Rosemont, Il on October 19 and 20.  On Wednesday, Oct 19, I spoke at a session titled Using Diverse Books in Library Programs. Along with my co-presenter, Nancy Goodfellow, a member of the National Association for Down Syndrome, the talk focused on three areas:



Diversity – Moving past just being tolerant and actually embracing and celebrating the richness of each individual

Empathy – about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Our ability to empathize as a way to making the world a better place

#ownvoices – the hashtag was created in 2015 for authors and illustrators who create books with diverse characters who share their identities. This firsthand knowledge and shared experience enables ownvoices to craft stories from a unique and authentic point of view with an extra degree of nuance and authority.

Preschool thru 2nd grade.
The common narrative about kids from marginalized groups tends to focus on deficits and problems. We focused on works and speakers that serve as a counter-narrative to challenge negative assumptions and stereotypes.

With these younger children,  I suggest programs that revolve around kids playing and interacting with those different from themselves as a normal thing. We also looked at books that help expose kids in this age range identity and social justice. The more kids see ‘the other’ represented in stories, the more ‘other’ is removed from their thinking. The goal is for children to read books because they are good books, without taking notice that they are about someone who is a different color or gender or cultural background.

3rd grade through middle school
The discussion began with Booktalks and the pros and cons of focusing on the diversity factor while talking about books to program participants. I usually tell the diversity characteristic during booktalks, but as an aside, a “something you should know,” not as a defining feature. Even when I don’t mention how a character is diverse, people who know me know most of the books I discuss are going to feature characters from multiple cultures. And everything I write centers around stories of kids who are different from each other finding ways to come together.

Other programs for this age range discussed include

  • Having participants review book covers to see how their library compares to the following 2015 infographic of statistics on diversity in children’s books collected by the CCBC – Cooperative Children’ Book Council at the University of Wisconsin by reviewing some shelves and recording and discussing their results.

(Created by David Huyck under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.)

  • Having participants “cast the movie” for a book they have read, and reviewing their internal def aults about these characters.
  • Using popular books such as the Harry Potter series to introduce the topic of hurtful words, including quizzing the kids about a word in the books that is comparable to the R-word because books don’t have to be categorized as diverse to provide opportunities for discussions about diverse topics.

7th grade through adults
To compete with the wide variety of choices people of this age have for their time and energy, librarians and teachers have to offer choice. That includes the kind of reading and programming that will actively involve kids and lead them into deeper engagement with their own lives. We also have to do more to let them know what choices are available. This includes graphic novels for older students, and using programs designed to introduce students to diverse books such as Blind Date with a diverse book, Speed Dating diverse books. We also covered social justice programs that help kids see and write about ways they are alike and substituting several diverse books for classics in some programs and/or class situations such as discussions on bullying or social class.

All ages
Final discussion focused on ownvoices and independently published books such as I’m A Brilliant Little Black Boy, and Large Fears. These books help show kids that they do belong.  We also talked about the organization, Sit Stay Read, which helps train adults who want to volunteer to do programs for their schools or libraries.

Kids need the opportunity to talk about differences in a safe environment. It is especially important to be matter-of-fact about differences and have open, honest conversations about them. If you make something taboo, it will be taboo. If you make diversity part of everyday life, kids will accept it as normal and unremarkable.


Following the session I joined other Illinois authors at the Illinois Author Showcase on the exhibit floor.  A number of librarians who attended the presentation stopped by and asked additional questions.  I was also able to mentor a self-published author.


A pdf of the handout given to participants can be downloaded here

A pdf of the books discussed during the presentation can be downloaded here.

This entry was posted in #weneeddiversebooks, Conference, Disabilities, diversity, Librarian, Multicultural, self publishing. Bookmark the permalink.