The Librarian Files: Representation in Reading
By Denisha Polin
by Sharan Kaur and Denisha Polin
As the sole librarian in her school, the high-accountability role can be isolating and intense. That’s why we’ve invited Sharan to write a blog series for Renaissance covering a new topic each month: we hope this blog series will give other secondary school librarians practical tips for library reading engagement and tracking strategies. In addition, Sharan hopes this blog will provide some comfort to other school librarians.
A confident and capable school librarian is integral to all students’ reading development.
“We aim to provide a wide range of library stock that makes all children feel like they have a voice. Our stock represents a wide range of cultures that ensures representation and is not tokenistic. Recent particular choices include Planet Omar by Zanib Mian and Little Badman by Henry White & Humza Arshad.”
Research from the NLT (National Literacy Trust) about seeing yourself in what you read claims:
- Books act as a ‘mirror’ to affirm readers’ identity, while for others books can act as a ‘map’ to help readers seek their place in the world
- Students like to read stories where they see themselves/their cultures represented, but 1 in 3 children said this currently doesn’t happen
- Students should also be encouraged to read books outside of their own immediate environment to understand and immerse themselves into cultures different to their own
As well as engaging with stories that are relatable and reflective of their own race, culture and practices, students should also be encouraged to read books outside of their own immediate environment to understand different people and cultures.
How have we applied this to learning at my school?
1) Book ownership
NLT research also says book ownership is associated with greater reading enjoyment and frequency, so at the start of Year 7 all students are given the book Pig Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman as a gift from the library.
2) Black History Month
For Black History Month, we shared the book Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and reproduced the biographies of the historical figures around the library. We also created a Black Authors display.
We shared the story of the Graphic Novel version of the Montgomery Bus Boycott story of Rosa Parks on myON and shared the screen via video call to all the reading groups as a virtual DEAR.
3) Diverse books trolley
Carrying on from the success of the books selected for Black History Month, I curated a range of books of varying levels and placed them on our main display. We use Accelerated Reader book levels as a recommendation or make recommendations based on interest. Whenever I recommend books from here, I begin with a scene-setting pretext surrounding the theme to open up a dialogue on the issues presented in the story i.e. social injustice in Black Brother, Black Brother; prejudice in Ghost Boys, overcoming adversity in Yankee Girl; celebrating women of colour from History in Noor-un-nissa Inayat Khan and I am Malala. The idea behind this is that students will either see their culture reflected or read about an environment different to their own.
We offer a series of books specifically curated to expose students to texts that reflect their worlds outside their immediate environment, e.g. The Kite Runner, but also act like a mirror to their own realities and culture, e.g. The Hate U Give or Refugee Child.
- Meaningful reading engagement
- Motivation to develop one’s reading identity
- Content is not tokenistic and ensures representation
- Readers take comfort when they see their own issues reflected in a story as they can relate to it.
“I think the range of diverse books in the library are good. It’s very exciting to see my own culture represented in the books I am reading by Bali Rai and it also makes it easier to understand as I find the content relatable. It would be nice to have a lot more, but the ones we already have are amazing” – student at Cardinal Wiseman School
Favourite books by Bali Rai: Unarranged Marriage and Rani and Sukh
“The books here at CW are so inclusive of many backgrounds and communities, it celebrates the diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community. Being able to read about other characters who are facing issues and situations I am facing or have faced just makes me feel so included” – student at Cardinal Wiseman School
Favourite LGBTQ+ book: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli.
You can find an in-depth explanation of how Sharan integrates inclusive books into the reading curriculum at Cardinal Wiseman using Accelerated Reader and myON on page 22-23 of our What Kids Are Reading report. Download your free copy here.
Read about how our Content Team are supporting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the quizzing and book selection process for AR.