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How Books Shape Our Dialogue Around Diversity & Race

In 2021, the Children’s Cooperative Book Center reviewed 3,357 books and found that only 9.3% were written by Black authors and 13.3% featured Black characters. While the statistics are staggering, the problem with the lack of diversity in books extends beyond any bookshelf as the books we read and learn from shape our dialogue about diversity and race.

Recently, Jacqueline Woodson and Schele Williams sat down together to talk about their new books The Year We Learned to Fly (Woodson) and Your Legacy: A Bold Reclaiming of Our Enslaved History (Williams) and how children learn about slavery and ancestry. Woodson and Williams dive into the power their books bring to children, classrooms, and educators, by telling a complete history and encouraging children to be curious even in a difficult conversation.

Watch the full conversation between Jacqueline Woods and Schele Williams below or on YouTube. Thank you to Penguin Young Readers and Abrams Books for sharing this amazing conversation with us.

Eligible educators can purchase both books on First Book’s Marketplace – The Year We Learned to Fly (in English and Spanish) and Your Legacy: A Bold Reclaiming of Our Enslaved History. Families, First Book fans, and curious readers can find both of these books on Bookshop, with 10% of purchases donated to First Book’s mission.

Creating Enthusiastic Readers

Diverse books in classrooms and on reading lists give young readers an opportunity to learn at a critical stage in their development. Books like The Year We Learned to Fly and Your Legacy nurture readers, helping them to learn about new perspectives and often reflect a child’s own experience through the pages of a book.

Representation in books also creates enthusiasm in students. In a survey of First Book’s Network, 90% of respondents agreed that children would be more engaged if they had access to books that reflect their lives. For educators serving underrepresented populations, these books are paramount to creating an environment that encourages conversations that foster positive identity development. At its core, inclusive stories promote empathy and help children understand and appreciate diversity, build respect, and celebrate their similarities and their differences.

The Stories for All Project™

To help publishers recognize and respond to the market for diverse books, First Book approached the industry in 2013, with the offer to purchase $500,000 worth of books featuring voices that are rarely represented in children’s literature. The books to be purchased would represent minorities, characters of color, and others whose experiences resonate with the children we serve.

The response to our offer was so well received, that we decided to double our commitment, purchasing $500,000 worth of new titles from both HarperCollins Publishers and Lee & Low Books — a $1 million investment in diverse books. And just like that, First Book’s Stories for All Project™ was born and today is a combination of Special Edition print runs and carefully curated titles on our Marketplace that represent diverse races, cultures, and lifestyles.

First Book continues to harness market forces to create social change; by aggregating the untapped demand for books and resources in thousands of low-income communities, we’re helping to create a new market for the publishing industry. In 2020, 86% of all purchases by the First Book community of educators included at least one diverse book, with hundreds of thousands of culturally relevant books reaching the kids we serve each year.

Additional Resources for Anyone

First Book continues to work with our partners to create engaging and relevant resources for educators serving in Title I or Title I-eligible schools. While only Title I educators are eligible to shop the Marketplace, anyone can download our free resources or purchase your favorite books from Bookshop.

If you are a Title I or Title I-eligible educator and new to First Book, we invite you to register for our free Network – the largest and fastest-growing network of educators, schools, and programs serving children in need across the United States and Canada.

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