10 Tips for Reading Picture Books with Children through a Race-Conscious Lens
By Megan Dowd Lambert
Draw on expert resources to find and assess diverse books.
In our EmbraceRace Community Conversation we highlighted We Need Diverse Books and its Our Story App, but suggested many other great resources, too.
Conduct a collection/storytime diversity audit.
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?
Recognize and leverage the difference between reading to children and reading with children.
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.
Ask open-ended questions with embedded art and design vocabulary to engage children’s visual literaCY.
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.
Intentionally integrate discussion about representations of race into shared reading. Librarian Jessica Anne Bratt offers these tips, adapted from her google doc, “Talking about Race at StorytiME":
Use other questions (like these adapted from Lissa Paul) to get kids talking about how words and pictures can reflect, reinforce, or challenge systems of power:
Paraphrase and link comments to reinforce ideas and model active listening
Paraphrasing helps kids feel heard and can let them clarify remarks. Linking ideas fosters collaboration so that many voices make meaning of a text.
Welcome diverse responses and interpretations.
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.
Stretch beyond your readings/interpretations to center children’s responses.
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.
Be mindful of power dynamics at storytime, starting with the fact that all children exist under adult authority.
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.