This is the third week in a series of author guest posts about diversity in children’s literature and the BookPeople Modern First Library initiative. For more about BookPeople’s Modern First Library initiative, and for more recommendations of wonderful new and classic picture books to read, visit bookpeople.com.
Previous posts in this series:
Meghan G., Kids book buyer: Introducing BookPeople’s Modern First Library
Chris Barton: A Modern First Library List
Chris Barton: Loved, valued, unique? Yes. Center of the universe? No.
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Books as mirrors
Cynthia Leitich Smith: This book is for you
Liz Garton Scanlon: Soul reflecting 101
Liz Garton Scanlon: Fear No Difference
I’ve been lucky enough to receive a lot of mail over the years – from parents, grandparents, teachers, and librarians – about All the World, a picture book I co-created with illustrator Marla Frazee.
It’s a moving and powerful thing when people take the time to not just read and experience a book, but to share that experience by writing to the author or illustrator about it. In almost every case, the letter writers talk about how the book has resonated with them – and their family or their students – specifically and especially. These notes serve as vivid and tangible reminders that readers are part of the creative equation – books come to life within their heads and hearts, especially when they see something of themselves in the books.
In the case of All the World, one of the most recurrent notes goes something like this: I love reading this book because my children look a lot like the children in the story.
Some of the notes go on to say: They are mixed race.
Or: They are brown skinned.
Or: They’re different, like our family.
You’d think it would take something more spectacular or profound to inspire people to write a fan letter or a thank you note. Something grander than just having kids who look a little bit like the kids in a picture book. But if seeing ourselves in books is our window into the book, our key to becoming part of the creative equation, then perhaps there is nothing grander or more profound.
When I chose my Modern First Library list, I had that in mind, first and foremost. Who will see themselves in these books? I hope the answer is this: boys and also girls. A huge range of boys and girls, with diverse histories and economic circumstances and genetic blueprints and family structures. A huge range of boys and girls who aren’t going to believe that “all the world is all of us” unless we show them that it really, truly is.
ELIZABETH GARTON SCANLON is a poet, writer, and teacher. She is the author of the highly-acclaimed, Caldecott-honor picture book All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee. Ms. Scanlon is assistant professor of creative writing at Austin Community College and is a frequent & popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two daughters.