If a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s that much more important to consider what they’re communicating.
“Children need to see themselves represented in the books they read and in their teacher’s instruction,” said Jackie Arnold, assistant professor of teacher education. “Yet even today, only a small portion of children’s books are published by or about diverse groups, and we still find our bookshelves and classrooms lack high-quality materials that represent diversity in our society.”
To address this issue, Arnold and Mary-Kate Sableski, assistant professor of teacher education, designed a new tool to help schoolteachers identify and select more diverse children’s literature. The field-tested rubric provides a way for teachers to rate books on a scale from zero to three.
- • Books rated a zero feature no diversity, such as those with animals as the characters.
- • Books rated a one might feature diverse characters but not as main actors, including the Harry Potter stories which include only Caucasian main characters with just a few diverse characters in the background.
- • Books rated a two have diverse characters as an important element in the story, but the primary intent of the book is not to communicate a message of diversity.
- • Books rated a three intentionally and explicitly display a theme of diversity, such as The Price of Freedom by Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin. The history of slavery in America is a central theme to this book, communicating an intentional message of diversity.
“The rubric is important because even teachers who understand the need for books that represent people of different cultures, genders and abilities might have limited experience selecting titles,” said Sableski. “Not only will this rubric help teachers categorize the books, more importantly we hope it inspires them to discuss and collaborate about diversity in literature and the role it plays in their classrooms.”
Colleen Gromek, a former middle school language arts teacher and current adjunct instructor at the University of Dayton, said she has used the rubric to evaluate classroom materials and has also found it useful as a parent.
“I never noticed how many books for young children were entirely centered around animals,” she said. “My husband and I work hard to make sure our home library reflects the diversity of the world around us. I constantly refer to the rubric as a tool when purchasing or borrowing books for my son. We try to ensure the books that surround him serve as both mirrors of his own experience and windows into the experiences of others.”
The study by Arnold and Sableski that produced the rubric is published in Literacy Research, Practice and Evaluation.