How can caregivers and educators best guide children to and through picture books with positive racial representations? How can we also support kids in resisting or reading against racist content? These tips draw on the Whole Book Approach (WBA, which I created in association with The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art) and other resources to highlight how picture books can provoke meaningful, transformative conversations between children and adults that “embrace race.”
How many books by/about People of Color and Native/First Nations people do you count? How many are #OwnVoices titles? What goals can you set?
Storytimes often use performance methods that position children as an audience with adults reading to them. Shifting to instead read with children through co-constructive models like the WBA can support kids’ critical engagement with picture book representations of race by affirming that their ideas matter.
The WBA uses questions inspired by Visual Thinking Strategies: “What do you see happing in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What else can we find?” It also asks questions about art and design, such as why a book uses a portrait or landscape layout, or how endpapers can provide clues about a story. Ensuing discussions expose how creative processes involve choices, which, by extension, can support kids’ understanding that words’ and pictures’ representations of race are ripe for analysis, too.
Librarian Jessica Anne Bratt offers these tips, adapted from her google doc, “Talking about Race at Storytime”:
Paraphrasing helps kids feel heard and can let them clarify remarks. Linking ideas fosters collaboration so that many voices make meaning of a text.
In “The Acid Test for Literature Teaching,” reader response theorist Louise Rosenblatt writes, “Books don’t only happen to readers. Readers also happen to books.” It follows that one text can elicit many responses grounded in readers’ particular experiences and perspectives.
Scholar, Aidan Chambers, asserts that using open-ended questions and leading with the phrase, “Tell me…” can foster children’s comfort in taking risks in their discussions about books.
How can you empower them? Strive, especially, to hold space for children of marginalized identities addressing exclusion, and for those voicing concern about representation of “mirror” characters.