Why does seeing themselves in books matter to children?

African American Parent Tips, Literacy, Racial Pride, Research -

Why does seeing themselves in books matter to children?

Eye See Me...I am beautiful

Rudine Sims Bishop, professor emerita of The Ohio State University, frames the problem with the metaphor of “mirror” and “window” books. All children need both. Too often children of color and the poor have window books into a mostly white and middle- and-upper-class world.

This is an injustice for two reasons.

One is rooted in the proficient reading research. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, researchers asked, “What do good readers do?” They found that good readers make connections to themselves and their communities. When classroom collections are largely by and about white people, white children have many more opportunities to make connections and become proficient readers. If we want all children to become proficient readers, we must stock classrooms with mirror books for all children. This change in our classroom libraries will also allow children of the dominant culture to see literature about others who look different and live differently.

A second reason we must ensure that all children have mirror books is identity development. For African American children, Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are not enough. They must also see African-American artists, writers, political leaders, judges, mathematicians, astronauts, and scientists. The same is true for children of other ethnicities. They must see authors and illustrators who look like them on book jackets. Children must be able to envision possibilities for their futures. And they must fall in love with books. Culturally relevant books help children discover a passion for reading.

One year ago my wife and I opened EyeSeeMe African American Children's Bookstore in University City, MO. We created EyeSeeMe in order to help bridge the cultural divide, so that African American children can benefit from exposure to literature that respectfully mirrors themselves, their culture and their families. Additionally, we want all children to develop an appreciation for African American culture and for those who may be different from them. EyeSeeMe, is the only children’s bookstore devoted exclusively to promoting positive African American Images and African American History while advocating for Academic Excellence. 

We have worked with a number of school districts and parent organizations in the region including Kirkwood, Clayton, and Saint Louis City. We help supply diverse books to their libraries and classrooms as well as advise them on best practices for incorporating African American material into your curriculum and lesson plans.  Moreover, we facilitate Book Fairs and host field trips and after school programs in order to help excite children about reading and history.

My wife and I would love the opportunity to stop by the store and and talk about how we can be of service to your family, your church, or your school district. Until we have the opportunity to meet, here is the link to our website: www.eyeseeme.com

(Includes excerpt from "How Common Core’s recommended books fail children of color" By Jane M. Gangi and Nancy Benfer)

1 comment

  • Marguerite Smith

    Dear Owners of EYESEEME book store,

    I am a literacy coach in an elementary public school in the Hartford, CT area. I just found your website and am thrilled with the selection. I wanted to thank you for opening your store and providing a resource to educators like me who understand the importance of providing books in classrooms that mirror the students in that class. I have witnessed, too many times, the forcing of white kid books on African American students just because we do not yet have mirror books in our classrooms. I am working to change that in my one building and a source like this is a HUGE help. Would you ever consider adding a guided reading level to the book displays? That would be an additional help to educators. This fall, I am holding a session with teachers to make them more aware of African American authors and characters. In my opinion, our white educators may know about Ann Cameron and Mildred Pitts Walter (Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World is one of my favorites) but they still need to learn about Keena Ford, Miami Jackson, Ellray Jakes and Sharon Draper’s Ziggy. I have already emailed two of my colleagues about your website and look forward to sharing this information with our parents in the fall. Do you know of any bookstores like this on the east coast? Thanks again!

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