The benefits of a diverse reading experience from an early age are far-reaching. Read on to find out why it’s important to read a variety of diverse books to your children!

Books have an important role in everyone’s life: from the picture books we’re read as babies, the titles that fill our childhood, all the way to the books we pick for ourselves later on, words have influential power. There are multiple parenting styles arguing for different approaches to literature – what they all have in common, however, is an acknowledgment of the importance of literature in the first place.

The types of books we are familiar with shape the way we view the world. Especially when we’re younger, these influences can have long-lasting effects. Reading books about others like you and seeing yourself represented within these pages allows you to feel self-assured and important within your place in the world. Whereas reading books about people who are different – in their ethnicity, cultures and customs, preferences, anything – allows you to not only view these “others” as perfectly normal too, but to step into their shoes and see the world through their eyes as well.

It is no surprise, then, that diversity in children's books has become a necessary aspect to consider. The importance of representation in children's literature has been growing with the years, and in 2022, parents are encouraged to pay attention to the titles they’re reading to their children more than before. If you’re new to the world of diverse children’s books, fear not! We’re here to explain how – and what – diverse books should be a part of your family life.

Why diverse books matter

In 1990, Dr Rudine Sims Bishop published a paper titled ‘Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors’ – a piece of work that paved the way to more widely-accepted diverse children’s books. In the ground-breaking article, Bishop argues that books act in three different ways depending on their subject matter relative to the reader: either as mirrors, windows, or sliding glass doors.

So what does this mean?

Books as mirrors

Books that act as mirrors portray scenes familiar to the reader. They are books that reflect different aspects of a person’s identity, for example family setup, ethnicity, gender, race, culture, language, religion, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation.

Upon reading these books, children make the association between the characters and themselves -the similarity of their experiences. By enabling students to make connections to themselves, mirror books provide validation and affirmation, ensure that children know that their stories matter, and show children the possibilities of who and what they can be.

As mirrors, books have the power to validate a reader’s existence and experiences.

Books as windows

On the other hand, books that act as windows operate on the opposite end of the spectrum: they show aspects of a person’s identity that the reader would be unfamiliar with. Window books are books where children see parts of a world that is different from their own.

Window books offer a glimpse into other people’s lives and introduce readers to new worlds, perspectives, and experiences, all the while engaging readers with important topics and social issues.

The most important aspect of window books is that they remind readers that their view is not the only view. 

Books as sliding glass doors

According to Bishop, books can also act as sliding glass doors. These doors allow readers to walk into a story and become part of the world that has been created by the author, regardless of whether the book acts as a mirror or a window. Sliding glass door books enable children to empathise with characters without reference to their relationship to these characters.

Why we need diversity in children’s literature

Books in and of themselves are none of the above – they become mirrors, windows, or sliding glass doors when they are read by particular people. Bishop’s metaphor focuses on the reader’s relationship with the text – the same book can be a mirror or window depending on who the reader is.

In the right light, they can even be both. Dr Bishop writes, "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 the larger human experience."

The point of Dr Bishop’s paper, and her argument for a diverse reading experience, is that children from a young age should be presented with a range of books, including mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Diverse literature examples are most likely to result in well-balanced, socially aware young readers.

Not having all types of books in a young reader’s library can have adverse effects on development. Bishops writes, “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”

Diverse children’s literature examples

Which diverse books you pick for your children will largely depend on their and your own circumstances and identifiers.

Australia is an increasingly multicultural country, with a shifting focus on diverse books meaning more and more titles that take mirrors and windows into account for a variety of different identities. This is great news! It means that picking diverse books isn’t difficult at all.

Below, we have collected some of our favourite diverse children’s books to start your journey:

  • We Are All Different by Tracey Turner and Asa Gilland
  • I'm Australian Too by Mem Fox
  • Haboba's House by Alia Gabres
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
  • Abuela by Arthur Dorros
  • Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer
  • Little People, Big Dreams series by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara

Don’t forget to purchase these books through our Booktopia partnership here. By doing so, you are supporting Stoyfest’s endeavours in promoting children’s literature.

Are your kids ready to put their skills in empathy and imagination to the test? Storyfest has a range of children’s literacy programmes, to be enjoyed by all. Check them out here!