9 Promoting equality through diversity in texts
Writing about African American children’s experiences of literature, Professor Rudine Sims Bishop (1990) from Ohio State University introduced the metaphor of ‘windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors’ to explain how children see themselves reflected in books, and how they can learn about the lives of others and appreciate the rich diversity of society through reading. Bishop explained that:
Mirrors enable children to see themselves in the text. By honouring children’s diverse cultural identities in books and other texts, you can support them to see that their own life stories matter.
Windows let the reader look upon unfamiliar cultural spaces and view worlds that are not like their own. For some children, stories might be the only place they meet people from other cultural backgrounds, and for others, books might offer alternative understandings of different cultural groups.
Sliding glass doors invite the reader to step into other cultural worlds, to empathise with the feelings of the characters, and better understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in.
Highlighting the importance of cultural diversity in children’s literature, author and cultural critic Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes how, whilst growing up in a middle-class Nigerian family, she loved to read, but the books available to her tended to be British or American stories featuring Caucasian characters. Adichie explains that as a consequence, her own childhood writing always included characters who were white with blue eyes, and that she didn’t know that people like her could exist in literature. You will hear Adichie discuss these challenges in Session 3.
Professor Bishop used the metaphor of mirrors, windows and sliding doors in relation to ethnic diversity, however, it equally illustrates that when children’s texts positively represent (dis)ability, linguistic diversity, gender equality and are LGBTQ-inclusive, they have the potential to validate the experiences of individuals and promote understanding and inclusion. Thus, diversity in children’s literature has the potential to reshape societal views and promote social justice and equality for all.
You will read more about diversity in children’s texts throughout the course and explore ways to expand your knowledge of diverse children’s literature.
If you want to hear Professor Bishop explain her ideas further you can watch this short optional video.