Some of my fondest childhood memories are full of my love of books. I remember sitting on my bed, listening to a tape on my pink radio, engulfed into the pages of a book. I was a big fan of detective/mystery books (Encyclopedia Brown, Sherlock Holmes), and series books (Mandie series books were my favorite). Trips to the bookstore were how I wanted to spend my weekends and where I wanted to spend my allowance. Now as a teacher, I read a variety of children’s books. As a black teacher, children of color are significantly underrepresented. It is imperative for children to not only see themselves but see how the world is in literature.
Books are the gateway to the world. Amount of information gained, the way imagination is expanded, and the variety of worlds explored through books is endless. My role as an educator can be judged by not what my students can retain but how much further they want to explore and investigate. If I can present the world on a shiny platter of pages, then I will. I want the students I teach to enter the world at an advantage. Therefore, reading books with characters of color is a goal I attempt to achieve.
Allow me to introduce you to the books I have begun to collect containing main characters of color. I need my niece and nephew to see themselves in book and print. I need my students to see variety and life outside of their bubble.
I begin with Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison. I was introduced Vashti’s work via Instagram. I do not remember how, I assumed I fell down a rabbit hole, but when I saw her drawings, I was completely enamoured by her work. This book is, as the title states, a collection of mini biographers of powerful Black women across a variety of fields – arts, entertainment, science, civil rights, etc. This collection of profiles inspired me to write. I wanted to spotlight the women in my life who are making dynamic impacts. Look under by Know Your Weight: Women of Influence and Change catergory.
Vashti Harrison created her Little Leaders beginning with Bold Women. Throughout she provides her readers with short bios of Black women that have made significant impact on the world as we know it. I give the board book as baby shower and 1st birthday gifts. I hope to purchase her entire Little Leaders series. I appreciate Vashti’s desire to showcase boldness and bravery…(www.vashtiharrison.com/little-leaders, 2020). Bold women are have constantly shaped every aspect of society from arts and literature to science and technology. She has extended to Leader Dreamers about visionary women of any race and Little Legends about distinguished black men throughout history. I also appreciate how she has created board books of each so that inspiration can happen at any age.
I was drawn to Harrison through her illustrations. Someone reposted one of her drawings on Instagram and I has never seen black or brown characters drawn in such a way. I watched an IG live where she answers the perpetual question about the Little Leaders eyes. Harrison recalls the feeling of seeing how cuddly Winnie the Pooh was and wanted to make a character that someone would want to cuddle. She also did not want to draw the iconic individuals to their likeness but as children dressing up as them. That statement alone made me want to buy more books!
Harrison’s Leaders and Dreamers box set is an excellent addition to any child’s library. Her work can also be seen in Lupito Nyong’o’s Sulve, Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, and CeCe Love Science book and reader by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R. Johanne.
Give love. Get love.