We are not all the same – the books we read

In the early hours of the morning – like at three this morning – I woke up with a start. All of a sudden I understood why as a child I kept going back to a few books to read over and over. The two that jumped out at me were book 1 of the Boxcar Children and Madeleine L”Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

These are two very different books – one realistic fiction, one fantasy.  One was an easy read, straight forward and not a complex plot. The other was detailed, complex and a book you needed to think about. Why did I seek out these books?

I had no clear idea until last night – some 50 years later that I was looking for books that reflected my experience.  (I know not a quick thinker. ) I was seeking books that had families like mine. I grew up in a family without a father. In the 50’s and early 60’s in small town middle America my family was very different. I didn’t have friends I could talk to who could understand that feeling of missing a parent so I looked to books whose main character or characters were missing a parent or who’s family structure was different than two parents and 2 or three kids. I needed a mirror and a window to help me think and process my own experience.  It was a driving force in my reading even though I did not realize it.


Needless to say that when I became a teacher I wanted to be sure that there were books that reflected my students lives. I just knew it was important. I have written about this several times -the need and want to find books that reflect the beautiful faces I see each day. I knew, in some small way, that we need to see ourselves in the books we read.

IMG_0757In the past, for my students, I was only able to find books about slavery, and historical events. They were great but my African American students, my Hmong students, my Latino students, my students with special needs wanted to know that there are children who live lives like they do. They needed to see themselves in the everyday world now not just in the past. So I continued to search and hunt for books that reflect their experiences not just the cultural past of some of my students.

This last weekend the social networks were full of posters, comments and pictures for the #We need diverse books. I was so excited to have so many voices sharing that message. I loved the picture of a young lady who wrote – We need diverse books becausewe are not all the same! 

Please keep sharing!  Publishers need to know we are seeking books to reflect ALL our children. Writers need to know we care and are seeking those books as well.



About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in Reflection and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to We are not all the same – the books we read

  1. Tara Smith says:

    Amen! I think the ones who need the push are publishers, and they need to hear from all of us. Thanks for reminding us why we need to engage with #Weneeddiversebooks and effect change.

  2. arjeha says:

    You are so right. We are not all the same. We need to celebrate who we are and know that there are others out there with similar experiences.

  3. What an epiphany you had. It would be great if all children could find a good book to relate to.

  4. Renae says:

    What a beautiful post! I, too, had an epiphany with literature this morning: Curious George 🙂 We may not be “quick thinkers”, but we are deep thinkers! I would love to be able to link your post to an online class I teach. One of our discussions is on this very topic, having literature that represents all children!

  5. lmkersch says:

    What an epiphany! And how insightful you have been to anticipate the needs of your students. It is easy to find literature that reflects the so-called normal families with blond-haired, blue-eyed children who have a father who goes to work with a briefcase and a mother who bakes cookies, but not nearly enough literature to reflect all the real families of our students. Even though my family was part of the norm (well, there were six kids in my family, so I’m not sure if others considered us part of the norm!), I still loved Little Women with their struggles as their father was off at war, and Five Little Peppers and How They Grew who were raised by their mother. Nancy Drew seemed all the more courageous because she was raised by her father. Of course, if there was a mother in the picture, she would not have been able to get away with half of her adventures!

    • Thank you for your response. Feel free to use this with your class. I would love to keep this topic in front of lots of people. The more talking and discussing the more change we will see.

  6. Linda Baie says:

    Love this, have been posting & taking some different challenges so I can add even more to my book knowledge. I understand about wanting to find a book that mirrors how you live. Even today I read & love books that are somehow connected to my life, what I’ve experienced, and so on. Thanks for sharing again!

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