As a pre-kindergarten teacher, in both Washington D.C. and San Francisco, I spent years nurturing growth for young students; cognitively, physically and emotionally. To be in the classroom was to enter a place of wonder. One where children discovered the world around them through science, exercised important social-emotional skills amongst new friends, and strengthened their fine and gross motor skills.
For kids, books become a fun way to absorb new skills, and story time serves as a daily source of joy and creativity. Each year, our classroom fostered a love of books through reading nooks, book fairs, and parent participation. Over time, I became exposed to thousands of children’s books, the time-tested classics, the popular, and the modern. It was during my teaching years that I observed something starkly lacking in children’s literature. Few storybooks portrayed women as bold, confident, and ambitious leaders. As a feminist and an educator, I knew firsthand the impact a book has on a child. A book is an opportunity to inspire, to teach, to love.
One of my favorite memories as a young child was belonging to a monthly book subscription. The first box included a tote, and each time I received a book, I’d carry them in the tote and walk around the house proudly. I loved reading as a child, and growing up my love and respect for books only grew. I knew with each book I read, a new opportunity was born, to think and discern more clearly, and to live a more complete and whole life. As if that wasn’t enough, books also gave me the opportunity to serve. I now teach new generations of kids literacy skills, and pass on the profound and celebratory experience of reading.
When I reflect on the types of stories I read as a child, I carry mixed feelings. I am deeply grateful to have been surrounded by books growing up, and yet know, many of the ones I read lacked characters that looked like myself and other minorities. Besides a superhero, I cannot remember a single storybook containing any powerful, and in-charge female characters. While I may not be able to go back in time, and hand a younger version of myself a book with hispanic characters, or brave female leaders, I can do something to bring about change today. Selecting books I read to children with intention, books that have representation of multicultural backgrounds, and stories that portray girls and women as they truly are; intelligent, brave, and empowered. Because I know, that when kids are exposed to stories with bold characters, they feel empowered, and empowered kids are something we need more of. When a child opens a book and sees a character that looks like themself, they feel just a little more loved and celebrated. A book is a powerful tool to give to a child, let’s select them mindfully.