Mirrors and Windows

I’m borrowing the metaphor of windows and mirrors from National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and wishing I could borrow her eloquence along with it. I concur with her belief that children (and perhaps adults) should find each in their books as they see people who are both like and different from themselves. I join my small voice in a growing choir of children’s book people calling for diversity in their books. By definition, diversity includes ethnicity, gender, religion, mental and physical challenges, and no doubt others that don’t come to my mind at the moment.

Growing up a vanilla person in a world of vanilla books, my first memory of a book that gave me a peek out the window was All-of-a-Kind Family. The five Jewish sisters of the book grew up in New York City’s east side at the turn of the century. We four daughters of a Baptist preacher grew up in rural North Mississippi. Stepping through the book’s window, I experienced a different world eating Mama’s hamantaschen and gefilte fish, going down to Papa’s shop in the basement, and celebrating Purim and Passover.

Yet even as I enjoyed these new experiences and exotic food, I glimpsed things I could also see in the mirror. We four McGee sisters figured out what long-lasting items to buy in the candy counter with our small change. We hated the dusting chore that Mama assigned, and we looked forward to celebrating our own religious holidays of Easter and Christmas. Naturally, I felt a close kinship with Ella as the oldest in a group of close knit sisters who created their own entertainment and overcame small differences of opinion from time to time.

Love for this book has led to other things. I began to look purposefully for other books that gave me a peek out the window – books that were “scarce as hen’s teeth” at that time – to use a Southern expression. I read All-of-a-Kind Family aloud every one of the fourteen years that I taught second grade with hardly a Jewish child in sight. My students loved the view out that window as much as I did. And I believe the book began a love that I am carrying now to the third generation as I give books to my grandchildren with both windows and mirrors.

My voice in this diversity chorus may be small and sometimes a bit off-key, but each voice counts. I hope you, too, will join this choir in celebrating the variety in the human race as you buy and share books that have both windows and mirrors.

[Sneak preview: Monday’s blog will review a new book on an unusual kind of diversity.]