Building Mirrors: Black Panther and the Importance of Authentic Voices

In a world where books function as windows into other lives and cultures, children of color are asking for more mirrors. Ninety percent of the First Book Network of educators said their students would be more enthusiastic readers if they could read stories with characters that reflect their own lives.

Netia McCray, founder of Mbadika, a social venture dedicated to fostering youth-driven innovation and entrepreneurship, reflecting on the portrayal of African American women and girls in “Black Panther.”

Holding up those mirrors makes a difference.

“Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other arenas of public life, but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multi­faceted,” wrote Jamil Smith in The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther, in reference to the movie based on the Marvel Comics character. “Relating to characters onscreen is necessary not merely for us to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us. When it doesn’t happen, we are all the poorer for it.”

“Black Panther: The Young Prince,” Ronald L. Smith’s middle-grade novel based on the same character, is coming soon to the First Book Marketplace.

Second-grade teacher and First Book Network member Malik Ray likened books that reflect his students’ lives and experiences to dreams. “When the books [from First Book] arrived, I thought, ‘Here are 770 pounds of experience for your children. They are going to dream 770 pounds of dreams.”

“We’re starting to talk about their future in a whole new way,” he said. “Rather than saying, ‘I want to be a beautician like my aunt,’ we talk about owning a beauty salon. I want them to be able to dream. These books have given my kids hope.”

Authentic voices telling underrepresented stories remove barriers to learning and dreaming. Spend some time going through our curated collection of diverse books in the Stories for All ProjectTM on the First Book Marketplace, including our newest section, Books by African American Authors and Illustrators. You might find some dreams.