The Importance of Diverse Mentor Texts

It’s not just a hashtag. It’s not just the latest buzzword. Incorporating diverse books into your lessons is important for so many reasons.

And it’s important for ALL classrooms… making sure to share books with black and brown characters, various family dynamics, and cultural differences aren’t JUST for the classrooms that have all of these unique qualities included in them.

Rudine Sims Bishop shared this about using diverse books:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

Yes, we want students to have mirrors in books, where they can find themselves and be affirmed… but let’s not forget about the windows and doors- exposing students to new views of the world is important for students to learn acceptance and to be culturally aware.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson is an excellent book to use to introduce the AWESOMENESS of the diversity in the classroom to your students! You can purchase the unit you see in this picture here.

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Choosing Mentor Texts

As you are choosing those quality books that help students read like writers and write like readers, keep in mind the students in your own class for those mirrors, but also look for texts that will provide windows and doors for ALL students. Choose books that reflect the diversity of your community, but also other communities, too.

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Are you choosing books that include people of different races and cultures? Do students know that some women wear hijabs, even if no one in their class or family does? Do students realize that some families live in apartments in the city, even if they live in a house in a neighborhood? Use a book like, Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse to teach writer’s craft, figurative language, new vocabulary, and small moment stories, all while sharing about a little Black girl named Tessie and her mama waiting for the rain to begin in the hot city.

Or, here’s another mentor text with fantastic figurative language about a little girl who is determined to catch a chicken on her grandmother’s farm. For a kid growing up in the city or suburbs, The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice Harrington might be the first exposure they have to present-day life on a farm!

Are characters in the books participating in modern activities, or are they all based on historical events? Shaking Things Up is a collection of poems about past and present women who have made a difference in our world, like Angela Zhang – a modern-day Asian-American teenager who is working toward the cure for cancer!

Make sure that the only “diverse texts” you are sharing aren’t just about past events, or only shared during Black History Month or Women’s History Month. Of course, there is NOTHING wrong with reading books that share about times of segregation (for example) because students need to learn about this time and reflect on the similarities of discrimination that still occur today… but how are students seeing children of color TODAY in the texts you are choosing?

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts is a great example of a mentor text that ALL students can learn a lesson from while also featuring black and brown characters. The main character, Jeremy, lives with his grandmother in this story, revealing a family dynamic that some students may relate to or some may now understand exists. It’s a fabulous mentor text that can be used to model dialogue, teach point of view and perspective, and contains great vocabulary!

These book examples don’t even scratch the surface of all of the fabulous mentor texts that can be used to teach ELA and also provide mirrors, windows, and doors for your students. I have been more conscious of using books in my resources that will provide more inclusivity. Making sure students feel represented in culture, gender, race, religion, and family structures is so important. You can check out some of my units where I focused solely on celebrating diversity here.

I also use a variety of mentor texts in all of my resources, if you want to just shop around.

I’m always open to add more mentor texts to my list, so let me know if you have a favorite you’d like to see in a future unit!