Why OurShelves? Be Counted for Diverse Kids’ Books!

Images from  Harini and Padmini Say Namaste  (Amy Maranville, Tim Palin, Bharat Babies),  Mommy’s Khimar  (Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, Ebony Glenn, Simon & Schuster),  Baby’s First Words  (Stefanie Paige Wieder, Christiane Engel, Barefoot Books), and  Max and the Tag Along Moon  (Floyd Cooper, Philomel Books).

Images from Harini and Padmini Say Namaste (Amy Maranville, Tim Palin, Bharat Babies), Mommy’s Khimar (Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, Ebony Glenn, Simon & Schuster), Baby’s First Words (Stefanie Paige Wieder, Christiane Engel, Barefoot Books), and Max and the Tag Along Moon (Floyd Cooper, Philomel Books).

Almost six years ago, our child, Anna, was born in our Subaru Outback on a cold night in January. She is feisty, brave and proud.

Anna also has two moms, which means she -- like so many other children -- remains under-represented on most bookshelves and during most storytimes.

Who our children see in their books matters. It matters a whole lot. Research is clear that by the ages of four (and likely earlier), children have unconsciously internalized cultural biases around identity - their own identity and that of others.

Families and children who are present and existing in stories are affirmed as “okay,” “normal,” “accepted,” and “worthy.” The families and children who are hidden and less present in stories are . . . well . . . less “okay,” “normal,” “accepted,” and “worthy.” Children’s books become one more place where the inequities of the status quo are re-enforced.

It need not be this way. What if we transformed our book shelves from being a tool that reinforces the inequities of the status quo to becoming a tool that affirms, models, cultivates and connects our children to the diverse, inclusive worldview that we envision for them?

In a world and time where much feels out of our control, one concrete action we can take is to reclaim our bookshelves to reflect who we are and our inclusive values. We can ensure the bookshelves in our home, at our school, at our local library, in our pediatrician and dentist offices offer “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors,” as Rudine Sims Bishop envisions.

We launch OurShelves -- and ask you to become a Founding Member along with us - because of three fundamental observations.

First, the high-quality diverse children’s books that do exist can be hard to find for everyday parents, teachers, librarians, and other early childhood caregivers who already don’t have enough hours in the day.

OurShelves is here to help. We connect the wonderful diverse children’s books that do exist to those seeking them. Our Super Star Curation Team combines the superpowers of librarians, teachers, early childhood experts, academics and parents to bring you the best available stories that feature LGBTQ+, racially, ethnically and religiously diverse, and feminist characters and families, among other currently under-represented identities in children’s literature.

The second observation that guides OurShelves is that there are not enough diverse children’s books. Period. Let alone those that represent the true and intersectional diversity of our nation and world’s children and families. This imbalance of who exists and who does not yet exist in children’s books is unacceptable and demands our attention.

What do we seek? We don’t just seek a token book every once and awhile. Rather, we envision a world where publishers publish, diverse authors and illustrators create, bookstores sell, and library, classroom, and home shelves offer a sustained and abundant outpouring of children’s books that actually reflect the incredible and beautiful diversity of our nation and world.

If we want to see a sustained and abundant outpouring of diverse children’s books, we must prove the sustained and abundant audience seeking them -- which leads to our third observation.

There are enough of us to prove that sustained and abundant audience, and thereby to change the picture book industry, now. In 2015, a majority of children born in the U.S. were children of color. There are between 6 and 14 million children in the U.S. who live in households with at least one gay parent. There are more than 12.5 million Millennial moms who support diverse families like mine.

OurShelves is here to seize this opportunity, with you. But how?

In addition to delivering existing beautiful diverse stories to your door, we will document who and what stories you still want to see in your books, but can’t find. Please tell us here. We will aggregate that data and share it (anonymously) with publishers. Most importantly, we will support publishers creating responsive content by being able to say, “When you publish book X, we are here to support you with Y sales.”

So when you become an OurShelves Founding Member, you’re taking two concrete actions that matter:

  • You’re ensuring that your children see themselves both affirmed and connected to the beautiful diverse world around them; and

  • You’re taking a stand and being counted, with your consumer dollars, in ensuring that responsive publishers face increased opportunity, rather than increased risk, when creating more diverse children’s books.

Many of us bear scars from standing up for ourselves and our children in hopes that they will face a gentler, kinder and more connected world. We have come too far, and the stakes are too high, to allow anyone to suggest to our little ones that they, their families, or others they know (or even don’t yet know), are not worthy of a place on the shelf.

Join us. Be counted. Be an OurShelves Founder. Let’s change the world. One book at a time. One child at a time.

With gratitude and hope,

Alli and the OurShelves Team

Alli Harper1 Comment