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.’

“Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” in 1990

The goal of Diversity Rocks the Book is to empower all kids to see themselves and value others through books and to educate parents and teachers on the importance of bringing diverse books into the home and classroom environment.

This coming March, the Human Relations Commission will run a city-wide program that addresses this lack of diversity in children’s literature. Diversity Rocks the Book 2019 will place more than 500 diverse books in front of and into the hands of Holland students. The program also includes guest readers in the classrooms and training for teachers and parents.

The program was inspired by recent national efforts to support diversity in books led by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Education at Ohio State University and grass-roots efforts such as We Need Diverse Books. Both argue that when children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in society.

Diversity Rocks the Book launched in March, 2018. It established 3 main program components: children’s books with diverse main characters donated to city schools and preschools, community volunteers serving as guest readers in the classroom, and resources for parents and teachers. In its first year, the program distributed 84 books to public and charter schools within the city and 19 guest readers visited 22 classrooms and reached more than 700 students. Thanks to generous support from Herman Miller Cares, this year’s program will be expanded to include newly selected titles for preschool, elementary and now middle school students at Holland Public Schools, Black River Public School, Vanderbilt Charter Academy, and the Head Start and Great Start Readiness Program in the city.

2019 Book Selections

The DRB project planning team, comprised of local educators, librarians, and service organization representatives, selected seven picture books and eight middle grade novels for this year. In selecting the titles, the committee considered for a wide array of characters, experiences, and points of view. All but three of the titles were released this past year.

“It is critically important for all children to see themselves reflected in the books they read,” said Erin Davison, Children’s Librarian at the Herrick District Library and a member of the Diversity Rocks the Book Planning Team. ‘It’s also important for ALL children to read diversely to expose them to the wider world outside of their own experiences.”

Calling All Guest Readers

The HRC is recruiting Guest Readers to visit local classrooms during the month of March. Interested individuals can register online to be a guest reader; teachers will soon be able to go online to schedule a guest reader.

Teacher Training

In addition, the Diversity Rocks the Book project will host a teacher training on Monday, February 25th from 4:00-5:30 pm at the Holland Museum. Guest speaker Jessica Anne Bratt from the Grand Rapids Public Library will talk about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Teachers at the targeted schools can pick up their grade-level sets of the books at the end of that training.

Program Planning Team

  • Lynette Brander, Holland Public Schools
  • Carrie Pifer, Vanderbilt Charter Academy
  • Zahabia Ahmed-Usmani, Black River Public School
  • Amanda Heidema, Herrick District Library
  • Erin Davison, Herrick District Library
  • Connie Locker, Holland Museum
  • Lexi White, Holland Museum
  • Valeria Almanza, Ready for School
  • Megan Koops Fisher, Ready for School
  • Deb Van Duinen, Hope College/Big Read Lakeshore
  • Lisa Miller, Grand Valley State University-Meijer Campus
  • Heather Eizenga, OAISD
  • LuAnn Kern, City of Holland