Notable authors and illustrators highlight the importance of representation
Reading with kids should be an enjoyable experience for both adults and children. It’s cozy and intimate, entertaining and stimulating. Children love to lose themselves in an adventure, to feel like they’re along for a great ride.
But reading with your child is much more than fun. A good book provides kids with two critical life experiences: a mirror that reflects their own lives, and a window that lets them see into the worlds of others.
All children, no matter their ethnicity, race, identity, culture, abilities, family situation, or appearance, need to see themselves reflected in the books they read. It’s been said that if children don’t see themselves in the pages of a book, they’re going to go looking for themselves in all the wrong places.
In addition to being mirrors, books throw open a window for kids, letting them explore and experience worlds and people they don’t see in their own lives. Books allow them to understand and admire the multicultural glory of the world we live in. And so many contemporary children’s books are both mirrors and windows, showing children the connections among all humans.
I asked a few of today’s most notable children’s authors and illustrators to comment on a book — one of their own or one written by another — that exemplifies our mirrors-and-windows theme.
“The first book that acted as a mirror for me was The Carp in the Bathtub, written by Barb Cohen and illustrated by Joan Halpern. Seeing a book that featured a family preparing for Passover by making homemade gefilte fish — a family just like mine — brought tears to my eyes. I was 30 years old, and that was the first time I saw a Jewish family in a picture book.”
— Lesléa Newman, Author of Sparkle Boy
“My book, Grandma’s Purse, mirrors all families. Every child has had a grandma, MeMaw, Gram. What child doesn’t want to go through Mimi’s purse to find treasure? The mirror images here are clear when the little girlfinds Grandma’s pictures in her wallet, and she finds herself in the line of the family.”
— Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Author of Grandma’s Purse
“Collaborating with Salva Dut to write ALong Walk to Water provided me with a window in a way that I never could have imagined — not just for me but for the young readers of the book, who have subsequently reached out to communities in South Sudan. Those readers have gone from looking in the window to leaping right through it!”
— Linda Sue Park, Author of A Long Walk to Water
“A Different Pond by Bao Phi (illustrated by Thi Bui) is one of my favorite picture books of the last couple years because of its wonderful layers. Not only does it serve as a window into a Vietnamese American experiencefor me, it also serves as a window for the young protagonist in the story, as he won- ders about his father’s life back in Vietnam.”
— Matt de la Peña, Author of Love
Lin Oliver is the author of over 40 children’s books, including the Fantastic Frame series, the Hank Zipzer series (with Henry Winkler), and Little Poems for Tiny Ears, illustrated by Tomie dePaola. She is the executive director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.