Displaying Multicultural Books: The Magic of Windows and Mirrors

I've often suggested that booksellers and librarians play around with "windows and mirrors" when it comes to displaying multicultural books. They can place such a title on a shelf of diverse reads for readers looking for windows into another world, or for children hoping to see their particular ethnic/racial experience reflected in a story. In the past, this kind of display was the only way I might see one of my books face out in a library or bookstore, or featured online.

These days, in a practice that's becoming more common, a multicultural book is displayed with other titles around a "mirror" theme common to all children.

For example, my novel Rickshaw Girl might be placed on a shelf beside other fiction for children with Asian settings and protagonists. It might also be displayed as it is here, at Graves Memorial Library in Kennebunkport, Maine, as part of a collection called "Young at Art: Picture Books and Novels Featuring Young Artists." This display about art includes several other titles that may or may not be "multicultural."  Any reader who wants a story featuring a protagonist who is a young artist will be offered my story. That reader may or may not find her ethnicity reflected in my book, and it may or may not provide her with a first window into Bangladesh. An adult gatekeeper has guided her to a list of books where she will see her love of art reflected, but the rest of a story's mirror/window magic will be between her and the book, where it belongs.

Another example is my book Secret Keeper, which in the past has been featured as a title about India. Recently, however, I found it on a Minnesota's Hennepin County Library list called "YA Books For Tomboys: young adult novels featuring characters that love sports, love to get dirty, hate pink, and don't want to be 'ordinary' girls." There's my "multicultural" novel, rubbing elbows with the likes of Little Women, Hunger Games, and Island of the Blue Dolphins. Again, a reader who likes strong female protagonists will be offered my book, and the other mirrors and windows offered in the story—if she chooses it—are up to her.

Adults who are trying to connect kids with stories, take a look at your lists and displays with fresh eyes. Then have some fun playing around with new windows and mirrors themes to lead young readers to multicultural books. I'd love to hear about your creative lists and displays.


Brian Kelley said...

Great post and a conversation to continue often. Sometimes I "forget" that even though it is my 20th year in my classroom and classroom library, it is my student's FIRST year in that environment. They don't know most of the 2000 YA books on my shelves and I (we) have to keep shuffling the deck, book talking, and changing the picture for our kids.

Among other conversations, I do intentionally expose my Ss to statistics of multicultural books offered, the book cover conversation, et al...and they are wonderfully receptive and open to reading something, anything, if it is a good story.

No matter how old or young, no matter skin tone or heritage, good writing is good writing...and this truth is rooted deep in a kid's bones.

carol@storytalkertales.com said...

Great idea. A story from another culture is not just about that locality. It is also about the heart and desires we all share.