Skip to main content

Books as Mirrors and Windows

Email share
Books lined up with the words 'Books as Mirrors and Windows'.

Reading diverse books are a valuable opportunity to increase students' empathy, build their sense of community, and provide insight into the many ways people see and experience the world. 

It is important that children not only see themselves reflected in books, but that books provide the context in which children are able compare different human emotions, experiences, and points of view. Ideally, diverse books also create accessibility - to different worlds and ideas - for all children.


Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop emphasizes the importance of diverse books with her analogy "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors".

"It's not just the children who have been underrepresented and marginalized who need [diverse] books. It's also the children who always find their mirrors in the books. They get an exaggerated sense of their own self worth and a false sense of what the world is like because it's becoming more and more colorful and diverse as time goes on." Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop


Mirror Books 

Mirror books reflect different parts of our identities such as gender, race, ethnicity, religion, culture, family, language, geography, socio-economic status, immigration status, and more. These books are affirming to a child's identity. Mirror books support children in feeling seen and that they matter; that their stories and experiences are valid. Mirror books can also open up a world of possibilities for children, showing them who they could be and what they can do.

When children lack access to mirror books, they may begin to believe that people like them don't write stories or read, or that people like them only are part of certain types of stories. Without mirror books, children may not see what types of life or career experiences might be possible.

"Everyone should be able to say that they're a hero in their story." Zoraida Cordova

Window Books

Window books are books that provide children with a look into the lives and worlds of people who are different from them. Window books expose children to new experiences, ideas, interests, perspectives, and ways of thinking about and doing things. Window books support building connections and understanding, and can help break down stereotypes, biases, and prejudices.

"If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." Toni Morrison


Barriers: Access to Diverse Books 

Though we now know how important diverse books are, books are not equitably accessible for all children. Buying books requires disposable income for families, and getting to a public library requires transportation and a library card to borrow materials. For some children, school may be the only place that they have regular access to books, however, not all schools are able to offer their students a wide range of diverse books. 

  • There are disparities in the publishing industry - a 2018 study revealed that 50% of books feature white characters versus 23% of books depicting Black, Indigenous, and people of color (specifically 1% Native American, 5% Latinx/Hispanic, 7% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 10% Black) as characters. The remaining 27% of books feature animals as characters.
  • Not all schools have equitable access to the financial resources to purchase books, or even have school libraries, and rely on donations. Donated books tend to be older and less diverse.
  • Teachers often purchase books for their classrooms out of their own pocket (determined by their disposable income), limiting access to only students in their class.
  • School book bans targeting diverse books creates fewer choices for students.
  • Schools and teachers may lack familiarity with diverse authors and book titles, and may be unsure about which books to choose.

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” Haruki Murakami


Choosing Diverse Books - What Makes a Diverse Book?

A key factor in creating authentically diverse and inclusive collections of books is to choose books about characters in which authors share the same identity, writing the story from their own perspective based on similar lived experiences featured in the story. These are often referred to as #OwnVoices books, which provide both Mirror and Window experiences for readers. Regardless of age, diverse book collections should include books that:

  • focus on relatable, everyday stories with diverse people as main characters.
  • are written from the point of view of diverse main characters and highlight how the intersection of identities can shape relatable lived experiences.
  • feature diverse main characters who have experienced a wide variety of life circumstances, preferably from an #OwnVoice narrator.
  • provide age-appropriate educational stories (fiction or non-fiction) that directly address diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.
  • contain non-fiction educational content about diverse world cultures, holidays, traditions, beliefs, and more.
  • are written in a variety of languages most commonly spoken in your community.

Use this questionnaire from Lee & Low Books to analyze the diversity of your book collection. 


"Great books help you understand, and they help you to feel understood." John Green

Culturally Diverse Picture Books with Great Everyday StoriesGreat Children's Books that Welcome All Families14 Children's Books About Families of All Kinds
75 Children's Books About DisabilitiesWonderful Multicultural Children's Books - Everyday Reading45 Favorite Diverse #OwnVoices Picture Books
6 Children's Books that Celebrate Family Diversity59 Children's Books That Celebrate Pride PBS KIDS for Parents Book Lists
Curated Diverse Book Lists - Little Free Library25 Middle Grade #OwnVoices BooksRealistic #OwnVoices Chapter Books
#OwnVoices Books to Share with Middle and High School KidsThe 50 Best Multicultural Young Adult Books of 2020Diverse and Inclusive Books to Inspire Young Adults
17 Books That Kids Say Have Helped Them Find Their Own Voice25 Must Read Young Adult Books with Diverse CharactersDiverse Books for Children - Create a Collection
41 of the Best Children's Books About Identity30 Essential LGBTQ+ Books for Young Adult Readers40 YA Books Showcasing Diverse Disability Representation


Banned Books 

Unfortunately, diverse books for young readers and youth are most often impacted by book bans in schools and libraries. When asked their views on book bans, the majority of youth were actually opposed, and strongly expressed that diverse books helped them think more critically about the world by exposing them to different experiences and perspectives. Read the thoughtful responses from youth readers in this article from the New York Times, and learn more about censored books by visiting the National Coalition Against Censorship

"Discomfort is always a necessary part of enlightenment." Pearl Cleage

Banned Picture BooksBanned Chapter and Young Adult Books
Worm Loves Worm by JJ AustrianMaus by Art Speigelman 
This Day in June by Gayle PitmanDrama by Raina Telgemeier
The Family Book by Todd ParrThe Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963by Christopher Paul Curtis
Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann HazzardStamped: Racism, Anti Racism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds 
Prince and Knight by Daniel HaakAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
I am Jazz by Jessica Herther and Jazz JenningsGeorge by Alex Gino
And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill TwissThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Jacob's New Dress by Sarah Hoffman The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 
Sex Is a Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings, and YOU by Cory SilverbergRoll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry by Mildred Taylor
Bad Kitty Series by Nick BruelBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
It's a Book by Lane SmithThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Uncle Bobby's Wedding by Sara BrannenBeyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susun Kalikan
My Princess Boy by Cheryl KilodavisAnne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Your Local Public Library

How To Make the Most of Your Local Library

Getting a Library Card

What to Expect When You Visit the Library 

8 Tips for Visiting Your Local Library

3 Ways to Use Your Public Library From Home

Lakeland Library Cooperative (West Michigan Counties) 

Visit the membership directory to find your local library.

Southwest Library Cooperative (Southwest Michigan Counties)

Visit the member directory to find your local library.

"A library card is the start of a lifelong adventure." Lilian Jackson Braun



Check out our growing collection of WGVU March #BookToks on TikTok!

"There's no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong books." James Patterson