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Books as Windows, Mirrors


As we celebrate Chinese New Year at school this week, with preschool classes creating dragons and parading through all the halls, I am reminded of an exquisite picture book, nominated for a Caldecott Medal, called A Big Mooncake for Little Star, by Grace Lin. The story is based on Lin’s experience as a mom teaching her daughter how to make mooncakes. This book, a favorite in our preschool classrooms, has actually been banned in some school libraries across the country, presumably because the author and the main character are Asian.


In a TEDx Talk called “The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf,” Grace Lin points out that books can be “mirrors” for children to see themselves, but they are also “windows” for them to see and understand others. Imagine a world where bookshelves contained only images of people who look like you – how scary people who look different could seem.


Lin’s own childhood experience is instructive. She grew up in an area where there were almost no Asian children, and the fact that she never saw an Asian character in a book made her want erase her Asian identity. She avoided learning any Mandarin and curled her hair.


Later, when her school planned to stage the play The Wizard of Oz, she desperately wanted to play Dorothy, practicing the songs at home. One day she asked her friend if she thought she could land the part. Her friend said, “You can’t play Dorothy, you’re Asian.” She felt horribly shamed.


Years later, after winning many honors for writing and illustrating books for children with Asian characters, her book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, a colorful tale that has been likened to The Wizard of Oz, won a Newbery Award and has been performed as a play by school children all over the world. Lin is thrilled she helped to create a play where any child can play one of the fantastical characters. (Second grade teachers Karima Hastings and Brenda Barnhart just read this book aloud to their class).


Bringing a library of diversity books into our preschool classrooms to purposely reflect the beautiful and varied languages and cultures of our families has been a specific focus of our ongoing accreditation process. In March, as we are thinking about including variety on children’s book shelves, The Meher Schools will host a book fair where parents of preschool and elementary children will be able to purchase a wide array of quality books. The fair will also allow us to add to our elementary library book collection. We will send more information closer to the date.


On the subject of introducing children to literature rich in diversity, pediatrician Gwen Hamilton, a member of the Meher Schools board of directors, notes that “when children’s bookshelves reflect diverse cultures, it helps children to normalize the experience of others.


“We learn through the characters that we all have family members and we all do basically the same things, such as eating meals together, even if the food might be different, like mooncakes or black-eyed peas. Reading books about all kinds of people allows us to approach others not with fear, but as potential friends.”


Check out some of the book lists from our Equity & Inclusion Committee to find books that celebrate diversity and include great cultural representation:

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