Updated: Feb 22, 2021
Many of our children are on school vacation this week. If you, like me, are still stuck at home, maybe working, and are looking for an equity focused activity to do with your children, try a racial equity bookshelf audit.
This activity is good for families who are white or “white adjacent” * because it
demonstrates the invisibility of inclusion and exclusion by race – in everyday life - and it teaches children to be critical observers.
Get started: What is a bookshelf audit?
A bookshelf takes stock of what is on your child’s (or your own!) shelf, asking:
Who is represented?
How they are represented?
Who is missing?
For children’s books for all ages, ask yourself:
How representative are our books?
Are some outdated and need removal? (what to do with these - scroll down)
Do we need awesome new books which reflect the US (How find -on a budget? Scroll down)
Young Children (Pre K – Grade 2)
Step 1: Remove all books with animals.
Step 2: Remove all books with non-human characters.
Step 3: Keep all books with BIPOC people (including books with an ensemble of diverse
Step 4: Keep books with BIPOC main character. (Vernon Area Public Library – video below)
Questions for Young Children
What do you notice?
Do these books show all kinds of people?
Who do we see a lot of? Who don’t we see very much?
Why do you think we should have books which show everyone in our communities?
How would it feel to NOT see people like you in books?
What should we do now? (get more books!)
Older Children (Grades 3 – 6)
Option 1: Same as above and….
Track your data (as in the video)
Shop for new books with your child – using your data.
Share your discoveries and observations. (With your extended family? Friends? Local library? School? Local government?)
Option 2: Same as above and audit a second time for ...
Read this article on intersectionality with your child Intersectionality Facts for Kids (kiddle.co) and ask them to choose another factor to audit for:
Option 3: Same as above and audit for role played in the book
Who is in charge?
Who is the problem solver?
Who makes decisions?
Who does NOT talk?
Who is the troublemaker/bad person?
For an example for auditing for the roles in books, see this video of an audit looking at male vs. female characters -The Ugly Truth About Children's Books - YouTube
Teens (Grades 7+) – A Conversational Approach
You can do a physical audit of your shelves – either together or in parallel (you do your books/your teen does theirs). However, some teens are… well, less inclined towards activities with parents. If that’s the case for you, try conversation instead.
Books for School: Who is represented in their reading for school?
Who are the authors?
Who are represented as main characters?
What roles do characters take? Who has power? Who does not?
Do books with diverse characters highlight White Savior Complex? (Yes, Atticus Finch. I’m talking to you!) Now We Can Finally Say Goodbye to the White Savior Myth of Atticus - NYTimes.com
Do these books accurately represent your school? Your friend group? Your community? The United States?
Who is left out? (Authors? Characters?)
What impact does your reading have on your learning? On your beliefs?
What impact do these books have on your classmates? (both white and not)
What impact does this have on the greater community?
How might you educate others about these ideas?
PS - These conversations also apply to movies, television, social media, and music.
Environmentally Friendly Ways to get New Books:
* Book swaps with friends.
* Buy Used
Amazon offers used books for sale
* Your local library
* Kindle (and your library)
* Buy a new book – then donate it to the library or school when you are done.
Environmentally Friendly Ways to Get Rid of Outdated Books
Please don’t donate outdated books to other children.
Use (non-offensive) pages as wrapping paper or to make greeting cards
Cut up for collage or other art projects
Did you know that you can recycle books? How to Recycle Books & Magazines | Earth 911
Save them (keep out of regular circulation) and use to talk to your children about racial justice issues.
Want a template to your track books? Interested in doing an audit of your own, adult library? A Breakdown of My Bookshelf Audit + Free Templates – Paging Serenity
*white adjacent is the term I use to recognize that some on this journey are not white. My children, biracial (White/Asian) are white adjacent. They have some privilege conferred by whiteness but also face discrimination at times.