Aug 12, 2017

Mirrors and Windows: Our Most Amazing World

Much is being made (justifiably) of the need to create and circulate books in which people from all backgrounds can find themselves. Of equal importance is that books depicting varied peoples, places, and points of view offer windows to a wider world for individuals whose world experience is narrow.
If this is in some way news to you, please learn more about the discussion and drive by checking into the WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS website and resources, here. 

It's not as if excellent books serving these purposes haven't available in the past. The tragedy is that the percentage of such books is vanishingly small, and has remained so for far too long. You'll find documentation of those facts and the decades-long publishing patterns in children's literature in this post from the reliable CCBC, as shared in Horn Book recently. 

In this post I'd like to share and recommend two books, one older and one very recent, that allow ALL readers to explore the world and find themselves along their reading journeys.
Candlewick Pres, 2010

Jeannie Baker is the multi-talented author/illustrator of MIRROR, published in 2010. This still feels like a "new" book to me, but it made its way onto store and library shelves nearly eight years ago. That was long before the current movement for more diverse books was underway. 
Ms. Baker's award-winning art wins praise from many quarters for it's technical and interpretive skill. More importantly, it draws young eyes magically and won't let them go until they have scoured every square inch, commenting and comparing,  turning pages forward and back, again and again.
In this case, her power is magnified by an incredible book design.


MIRROR is meant to be laid open to allow it to reveal, front to back, the English/Western life of a family in a modern urban setting. At the same time it can be read, visually, from back to front, following Arabic literacy conventions. That half of the book depicts the  life of a Middle Eastern rug-weaving family, turn by turn, until they meet the Western family at the center fold and their lives intersect. It's an intriguing and simple-but-brilliant look at the interdependence of all lives, of the many ways in which human commonalities define us even more than differences.


Compare Mirror to a very recent release by author/illustrator Matt Lamothe, THIS IS HOW WE DO IT. Rather than explore only two families and cultures, Lamothe selects seven families from around the world to portray and label the intricacies of those similarities and differences through the course of a day-in-the-life. 
He doesn't attempt to weave a storyline throughout their lives. In fact, he chose to shift the positioning of each character/culture instead of locking each in the same orientation on the page. The labeling is still effective and offers an oppportunity for kids to  eagerly challenge themselves, turning back often to remind themselves of who is who and where they live. 
Chronicle Books Canada, 2017
Endpapers do a a great job of showing just how small our world really is. Back matter provides a simple but helpful glossary (in natural, kid-friendly language) to expand on specific terminology from various scenes and cultures. The author's note explains how he was inspired to create the book and describes the complex process he used to assure authenticity for this nonfiction treasure. It's worth a read in and of itself, and the final double spread using photographs of the seven actual families should lead many young readers to explore Lamothe's final notes.

I particularly appreciate these two titles for use in presenting a balanced view of kids and families in far-flung parts of the world. I've shared  some recent  titles here and here that focus on refugees and immigrants.Presenting objective and realistic stories that  share those harsh experiences is essential, but it's all too easy for young readers to develop a false concept: that all "others" are destitute or desperate or seeking to leave their homes. These two titles provide a healthy contradiction to that misperception. They show a variety of daily life patterns in which the children and families are comfortably settled in routines and relationships that feel familiar and safe. In fact, they make the prospect of traveling and meeting people around the world quite appealing. 
We could use more with that attitude at every age, in my opinion.




Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.