Enough windows – where are the mirrors?

I was prompted to think about this again with the publication of the White Ravens 2019 list at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The issue of increasing diversity in an international school setting is a complex one, and something I’ve written about at length in the past.

In English

There’s the linguistic diversity bit – collections of books in “Languages other than English” (LOTE) (that post is getting a bit long in the tooth and probably needs updating) a more up to date article featuring Jeremy Willette can be found here.  Though I do object to the phrase “mother tongue” the reality of many of our dual language students is that the language other than English medium at school could be that of either parent, but is often that of the father. So I prefer to refer to “home language”. In 2014/15 I went through somewhat an obsession on language, researching it to death, you can find some of the posts on that here. The one thing I would definitely add to this conversation is that unless the LOTE collection is updated regularly and championed by teachers and parents or a language based club, they often don’t earn back the investment in purchasing and the real-estate they occupy. So if you want to invest in a linguistically diverse collection you also have to invest in a mindset of pride in home language and a sense of ownership over the collection and its maintenance within that linguistic community.

The hardest part internationally is that issue ofnot our diversity . If you have a moment, please read that post. Students who are in international education often defy the traditional (North American) definitions of diversity. They are not poor, black, hispanic, urban, immigrants. That is not to say that it’s unimportant for our students to be exposed to stories of all these groups of people and more. In fact their privilege demands that they access poverty, racism, immigration and need through the windows of literature. But those versions of diversity are not mirrors for them. With a great budget we have no shortage of windows. It’s the mirrors we lack.

And again, when we have these diverse books, we still need teachers and librarians and students and parents who will read them and champion them. Students who will dare to take a book with a cover of someone who doesn’t look like them and read it. Families and languages

The thing with international students is their lack of homogeneity – something I encountered when looking at linguistic diversity. This table (from my 2015 research) speaks to some of the many variations. (Yes, in those days I also referred to MT /Mother Tongue). So one of the most important sources of mirrors for our students often is books in translation. Particularly for the “globetrotter” subsection of our students. Looking at the White Ravens list above doesn’t give me that much comfort I’m afraid.  The issue I have is that most of the books in 2019 are BANA originated (Britain, Australia/NZ & North America) with the exception of one from the Philippines and one from India.  2018 was a bit better (one from Romania, India, Ghana and Korea). The list is unwieldy, you can’t search by age group. And you can’t get a print out.

Some more sources of inspiration include the various IBBY organisations. Including USBBY – even though the criteria for inclusion on the list is includes:  Books that help American children see the world from other points of view; Books that provide a perspective or address a topic otherwise missing from children’s literature in the U.S; and Books that are accessible to American readers (where accessible can mean a multitude of things). Again, painfully it’s hard to get a simple list to down load – no I don’t want a pptx, or a bookmark, I just want a list to print out to buy from.  And IBBY UK. Their latest publication: Children’s Literature in a Multiliterate World looks to be particularly interesting. One lives in hope.

One of the many things that concerns me with all of this, is the emphasis on picture books. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE fan of picture books. But the over-reliance on translating picture books? It just adds a PB to the five F’s (food, fashion, festivals, folklore, and flags) of pretending we’re oh-so-international and inclusive.

The Global Literature in Libraries Initiative is more cause for hope. Particularly as they reach out and co-opt people in-situ to aid with their uncovering of local treasures.

In this diversity quest, one is often more of a sleuth than anything else. For example needing to have a look at awards like the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and then looking at names of authors and illustrators and seeing if any of their works are translated and available. And how sad it is that many of those authors and illustrators don’t even have a web presence? Isn’t that one way in which IBBY could assist them? Just like publishers have a page on their site for each of their authors couldn’t these nominated people each have some kind of a presence. And many of the links don’t even work.

The “and available” thing. Holy hannah publishers. Get with the global world please. Honestly it’s hard enough just getting to know about Australian and New Zealand and Canadian books, not even to mention anything that is not from USA or Britain. What ever happened to the whole “print on demand” movement. I could possibly understand why it’s hard to find picture books, but middle grade / young adult / junior fiction? Surely that’s not an issue?

How are the rest of you doing with your diversity collection? What “sells” to your students what do you need to work on promoting? Do your teachers gravitate to them / read them or do they need to be pushed?



2 thoughts on “Enough windows – where are the mirrors?

  1. Your voice is so important on this issue. Thanks for this post, Nadine. Thanks for the shoutout to the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative. We are just getting started! For your readers who may not be familiar with us, they can subscribe to our blog (the field to subscribe is at the bottom of the blog), or follow us on Twitter at @GlobalLitin, or follow us on Facebook at #GlobalLiteratureinLibrariesInitiative. Many people do all three! I look forward to getting you involved!


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