Today’s guest blog post is from Dr. Mandy Stewart, an assistant professor of bilingual education at Texas Woman’s University. Follow her on Twitter at @DrMandyStewart.
How many books have you read in your lifetime? How many picture books did an adult read aloud to you while growing up?
Most of us can’t even begin to count the innumerable books we have been exposed to since birth. Each book — its story, its illustrations, its author, and its language — sends strong messages to children.
But what messages do children receive? Are they learning every day at school that their language, the one they speak to those they love most, is not worthy of being in books? Are they learning that people like them don’t belong in printed stories? Unfortunately, those are the messages some children receive on a daily basis at school.
Culturally and linguistically diverse books are not as accessible in our public libraries and bookstores as more mainstream books. It takes countless hours (and countless dollars) to find books in other languages and get them in the classroom. Every year I look for books in Spanish that are at various reading levels, that are engaging and that mirror students’ experiences. And it is exponentially more costly to find the same books in other languages from even more cultural perspectives.
The good news is this does not have to be the case. Today there are many children’s, adolescent, and young adult authors writing from diverse cultural and linguistic perspectives and many publishers bringing these stories to life. We now have quality age-appropriate literature available in many languages.
Through their Stories for All Project, First Book is a pioneer in ensuring that all children have access to culturally and linguistically diverse books. They have an excellent collection of literature that represents diverse families. They also have many easy readers, picture books, and chapter books available in Spanish and other languages. I am grateful that I am able to purchase many of these at a very low price for my son’s Spanish/English bilingual 1st grade class.
We must keep demanding quality literature in more languages, written and illustrated by more diverse people. Surely we want all children to say: I am learning to read in my own language. My language and culture are important enough to be represented in the books in my classroom. My life story is worthy of being written. My family, my language, my culture, and my life experiences are valuable. I am important.
We cannot stop until that is a reality for EVERY child and youth in our schools, in our neighborhoods, and in our society.
Mary Amanda (Mandy) Stewart, Ph. D. is an Assistant Professor of Bilingual Education at Texas Woman’s University. Her son is in Mrs. Schirico’s 1st grade bilingual class at Elkins Elementary in the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw Independent School District in Fort Worth, TX. His class has received about 100 books from First Book in English and Spanish to read at school with each other and at home with their parents.