What’s your name?

It’s a question we are asked and ask many times in our lives. But how often do we consider all the layers of story and identity connected with the answer?

Some strangers may not even bother to learn your name but size you up by the way you look. You may be identified by your first and last name on paperwork and be judged on that basis. Colleagues might know your name but not your nicknames. Friends might know your nickname but not the story behind them. Family might know the history behind the name but maybe not your feelings.

Each and every name carries a world of stories, feelings, histories, associations, cultures and identities. Here are five ways to mine the richness in a name so that individuals can be seen and known for a tiny, yet monumental, part of who they are and how they feel they belong or don’t.

  1. Ask Questions. What does your name mean? Who were you named after? Why? How do you feel about you name? Has your feelings towards your name changed?
  2. Use These Poems or Story Excerpts as Writing Prompts: 
    • House on Mango Street’s “My Name” chapter By Sandra Cisneros
    • Z is for Zuri in Damitra Brown Class Clown by Nickki Grimes 
    • The Name I wanted by Richard Blanco 
    • Ismi by Suheir Hammad in Born Palestinian, Born Black 
    • His Long Tapered Fingers by Fan Chiang
  3. Have the students or group create a visual representation of their names and their feelings about it and make a name quilt
  4. Investigate historical or contemporary situations where groups or individuals have had to change names to “belong”
    • Ellis Island or Angel Island and current immigration to the U.S
    • Native American “assimilation process”
    • job, loan, and other forms of paper work discrimination based on perceived ethnicity of name
  5. Role play and examine the negative impact of name calling and brainstorm creative ways to be an upstander in those moments

And in case you want one more. Here’s a bonus activity! 

Read any of the books from this “what’s in a name” bookshelf and start a discussion with whomever you are with. ( click the image for book summary.)

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 12.08.04 AMScreen Shot 2015-09-17 at 12.07.40 AM

And by the way: my name Samantha means listener in Aramaic. I was named after the Bing Crosby Song “I am a one gal guy” from the musical High Society. When I was a reporter I used the byline Sam because I liked the gender ambivalence. And when I hear my full name, it’s usually because I am in trouble with my mother.

Feel free to add your own name stories to the comments below or share other name activities.

Transforming Your Space

after the Class Room Audit

So you’ve read your classroom for the silent messages that your room is sending. ( see here for how to do so)    You’ve determined how welcoming a place it is for multiple identities. Now what?

Here’s the fun part. Think about one thing you can add to your space that will make it a more inclusive environment?

Does that seem overwhelming?

Don’t worry, I’ve tried to make it easier for you.

I’ve  compiled  a sampling of diverse and inclusive resources to provide your students or your own children with mirrors that reflect and validate their own identities and windows that allow a view and an appreciation for identities different than their own. I have tried to provide a variety of materials in various disciplines that would be appropriate for a preschooler to a middle schooler. Click on the picture for my pinterst board of resources and enjoy celebrating all identities.

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After window shopping and gathering inspiration and ideas, fill out your wish list here.



A Non-Judgmental Class Room Audit

Without a word, classrooms send messages about what identities are valued and celebrated. In a diverse society many biases, conscious and unconscious exist. If we don’t resist them we support them by our silence. So take a moment to “read” & reflect on the messages your space is sending?

  • Who is reflected and validated by seeing a mirror in a poster, a dramatic play item, or a book on the bookshelf and so forth?
  • Do those items match the community you serve?
  • Does your space showcase the diversity of society at large?
  • What windows are you providing that will help your community see and appreciate identities different than their own?
  • Whose voices are missing?
  • How might you address your non-judgmental observations about this space?

As an example: Here’s a snapshot of my library audit as it stands at this moment. I haven’t finished decorating but I know what posters I own. I have put books on display about the beginning of school but I know what other books I work hard to have in my collection. However, what non-verbal messages I am sending is what counts. I know I value an inclusive world, but do those who walk into my space know that? I find it valuable to reflect on that as I set up my space for the new year.

Identity Group Who’s on the Walls/ in materials? Who’s missing? Reflections/Notes
Ability Only abled people

On walls – more differently abled people are represented in a scattering of books – El Defo new graphic novel comes to mind

Non-hearing, blind, wheel-chair bound – basically all categories While I have some books about this I don’t have enough in the collection – need to make sure I have some images and work on the books – I know some of the books exist but do I send an obvious message to those who walk in the library that this identity is valued by me?
Family Structure
Gender Call me Tree A gender-neutral book – how do I convey this in images?
Geographic Region Maybe add blocks for maker space that reflects different cultures
Religion I need to examine this category more closely – don’t know what I have or don’t – certainly don’t have images
Sexual orientation

Take a moment to jot down your own reflections about the journey that you are on and the one you want to provide your students. Feel free to share you observations in the comments below.


So you’ve identified the gaps on your shelves. (If you haven’t, click here to find out how.) You know you need certain windows and mirrors. You’ve determined that you should add some missing voices. And you don’t have as many multiple perspectives on a topic as you’d like. Now what?

Don’t panic! I’ve done some of the work for you and am sharing it with you now. I’ve compiled an ever- growing list of resources that I personally use to build an inclusive and anti-bias library. However, the list is only as good as my own research and it’s also hindered my own blinders or sweet spots.

For example, even though I’ve consciously been building diverse book collections for a long time, it was only a few years ago that it occurred to me to analyze the bookshelves for class bias. Focusing on other sweet spots of collection development impacted the children I teach. They did not have access to windows and mirrors that encompass the range of economic diversity. The books on my shelves mainly contained the default in most books: the middle class. While it’s tough to find books that portray a variety of socio-economic circumstances in positive light, it is our job to seek them out.

My list of resources and my own analysis of my collection is also only as strong as my blind spots. Recently, I asked attendees at a MSLA workshop about creating cross cultural collections. They identified some gaps, mirrors and windows, and missing voices that I had never even considered.

Why? First, because we all have our own biases whether we want to admit them or not. Secondly, the librarians, teachers and administrators who were present at the conference, serve different communities than I do. So of course, they quite rightly have different identities on their radar.

What I love about this work is when we share our concerns; we can pool our knowledge and broaden each other’s horizon.

Someone in the workshop said she was looking for Cape Verdean resources. Sadly, you aren’t going to find these books when you walk into a Barnes and Nobles. So I started to dig. I had never researched books for this identity before. I was thrilled when I found out that Janet Costa Bates, a woman whom I often see at New England SCBWI conferences, had published a book about her grandmother’s experience of emigrating from Cape Verde.

I was delighted to discover this fact for a number of reasons.

  1. Another person helped me think outside my own boundaries and inspired me to seek out resources for which I might never have looked.
  2. I discovered that it is hard to find windows and mirrors through traditional sources; but with some work they are out there. (Here’s Mike Monteiro’s list which is also included in the resources below.)
  3. There are some (though too few mirrors) available for the Cape Verdean community that you might serve.
  4. This is a perfect example of why we need to share our personal stories. I’ve casually chatted with Janet over the years. But it wasn’t until writing this post that I understood what mirrors she was offering a community of Massachusetts residents. If it wasn’t for the participant in my workshop who caused me to think in a new direction and if it wasn’t for Janet quietly writing her story, my students may never had a chance to experience a life so different and similar to their own. Because of course, I am now adding the Lee & Low new voices honor award winner, Seaside Dream to my own library collection!

So please, enjoy the resources I’ve compiled thus far. (If you share them with others just cite my work). But more importantly, share with me your resources. Tell me what you looking for so together we can grow a comprehensive list for every identity and every single story that adds to the multiplicity of that identity.

And don’t forget to check back here periodically as I am continually updating the below Symbaloo resources for developing diverse bookshelves! (click on the image for the topic links)

Anti Bias Articles


If you are a in a school, don’t miss out on the link to access your school’s demographic data and a multicultural appendix B list for the common core.

Race & Ethnicity Resources

The icon for each ethnicity links to multiple resources.

The icon for each ethnicity links to multiple resources.

LGBTQ Resources

There are other resources in the gender and family structure sections.

There are other resources in the gender and family structure sections.


Some of these resources deal with questioning  gender identity while others deal with more traditional gender stereotypes and related issues.

Some of these resources deal with questioning gender identity while others deal with more traditional gender stereotypes and related issues.

Family Structure

Many more resources on the way.

Many more resources on the way.


Only a few religions are represented so far. More are coming. Click on the religion's icon for more resources.

Only a few religions are represented so far. More are coming.
Click on the religion’s icon for more resources.


There are multiple identities within the community of the differently abled. Here is the beginning of a list to provide windows and mirrors for this group of individuals.

There are multiple identities within the community of the differently abled. Here is the beginning of a list to provide windows and mirrors for this group of individuals.


English Language Learners & Bilingual Resources

Sites to purchase materials in various languages and articles about bilingual topics.

Sites to purchase materials in various languages and articles about bilingual topics.



Examining for class is tough. Most books have a middle class default. It's important to see out a spectrum of economic realities.

Examining for class is tough. Most books have a middle class default. It’s important to see out a spectrum of economic realities.

 Diversity Blogs

Some blogs I follow to stay current on diverse resources to build an anti bias bookshelves.

Some blogs I follow to stay current on diverse resources to build an anti bias bookshelves.

General Resources

These sites could help you build your collection in various areas of identity

These sites could help you build your collection in various areas of identity



What blind spots does your bookshelf reveal? How do you analyze book collections for often unconscious bias? (Read here for an overview of all the steps to building an inclusive bookshelf.)

The only way is systematically and deeply.

It is tough to see what is invisible. But as gatekeepers of children’s books and subsequently the shapers of how a child understands the world, we must try.

Three lenses help bring biases into focus. Windows & mirrors. Missing voices. And multiple perspectives.

1. Examine the windows and mirrors.

• Check for mirror books, books that reflect your audience’s experiences.
• Look for windows, books that open up your audiences understanding of other experiences.
• Do you have more windows than mirrors?
• More mirrors than windows?
• Every child needs a variety of mirrors that reflect the complexity of his or her identity. This way his or her sense of belonging and value are validated.
• All children should have their world view expanded beyond their own borders. Reading about others encourages understanding, empathy and celebration of all humanity.windows&mirrors=global

2. Consider the missing voices.
• Whose stories are being told?
• Look at your non-fiction. Do you have just the victors’ story?
• Do your inventors, scientists, mathematicians, leaders, etc. represent a variety of races and include both male and female?
• Do you have materials that reflect voices rarely heard? Fantasies that have a differently abled heroine? A novel that shows an African American as neither victim, perpetrator nor a historical figure?

3. Analyze for multiple perspectives.
• If you have a title that depicts Christopher Columbus as an explorer hero do you have a title that considers the indigenous perspective?
• Do your Thanksgiving titles just focus on food, families, friends and celebration? Or do you include materials that share the Wampanoag’s point of view?
• Do these stories reflect the spectrum of experiences for that identity? For example does the collection have Puerto Rican, Dominican, and a variety of other Latino/ Hispanic voices? Or are all the titles examples of a Mexican experience?
• Do the voices paint just one way of life within a particular community or is there diversity of looks, family, work and so forth within that group?

As you try and balance your bookshelf with windows and mirrors, multiple perspectives and missing voices, you may not be able to fill the gaps on your own.
Don’t worry; I will soon post an extensive but not exhaustive list of resources to help you find these books.
Also feel free to leave a comment below sharing what titles you might need and I will see if I or other readers might have suggestions.

What world do your collections offer children?

That was the question I recently posed to librarians and other educators at the Massachusetts School Library Association Conference.

The workshop was specifically designed to help librarians examine their materials for bias and to give them the tools to build diverse collections.

But really all bookshelves, large or small, few or many, should be an inclusive representation of all the multiple ways of being.

There are four tools you need to build bookshelves that prepare children to be empathetic problem-solvers in a global world.

steps to build antibias

  1. IDENTIFY the audience or demographic.
  2. ANALYZE the collection /bookshelf for windows & mirrors, missing voices, and multiple perspectives.
  3. WEED out the Ds. These are books that are damaged, dated, don’t leave the shelf, and are discriminatory or stereotypical.
  4. GROW. Add books and other materials that provide windows & mirrors, that offer insights into many different experiences that show more than one view of a community. Scour resources that recommend inclusive, diverse, multicultural, and or anti-bias works. (Check back soon for an extensive but not exhaustive list to help you start).

I recently helped plan and facilitate a “Place at the Table” conversation sponsored by Children’s Book Council and Children’s Books Boston as part of Children’s Book Week. Below are the questions that I posed to the librarians, publishing professionals, educators and booksellers who attended. The conversations were rich and I would love to continue them virtually. Feel free to add your thoughts to this important dialogue about inclusion.

1. Why is it important that children have access to books with diversity content (ability, age, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic class)?

2. What are the barriers for diversity books that may prevent them from getting into reader’s hands?

3. What are some solutions, strategies, or conversations to help shift the barriers to getting these books into the hands of children? (Think about your industry.)

4. Who has access to power in your field? Which voices are denied access? Why?

5. How can we educate the gatekeepers in your industry? Or what do they need to know or believe to create bookshelves that reflect our population?

6. How can your industry promote and reward excellence as it pertains to inclusive literature?

If you are interested in reading more about the actual event, check out Horn Book’s post or the article in Publisher’s Weekly. 

And stay tuned to learn about some of the action steps people committed to taking to create change in their spheres of influence.

You don’t need to be Snow White to understand the power of a mirror. You just need to be a kid who has an adult who shares a book with you that reflects a part of your identity.

The joy which flooded my first grader’s face today as I told her and her classmates about a number of “old friends and new friends” made my aching back and sore feet worth all the while.

I didn’t need the reward of her glee half as much as she needed the validation that the world and her place in it was okay just because during the book fair I shared a book (with her in mind) called Tales of India.

But I didn’t share this book just for Diviya.  I shared it for all my first graders. For Diviya, this mirror, along with my pathetic year-long attempts to count in Hindi every time she comes to library, might help her know that there are people in the world who both recognize and celebrate her differences. But I also want my students, who may not have the direct life experience of the richness of the world, to know it exists. That is the power of story. It can work both ways. Each way forges a connection.

While it was a calculated gesture – I make sure I can share books that reflect my community and also expand their horizons-  it was also a simple and easy act that paid more than it’s weight in delight.

May we all have such  moments where we can feel the delight of self recognition or the awe of  providing it for others. May we all enjoy the thrill of stepping  out of our comfort zones and listening  to unfamiliar stories and experiences.

Go forth and find at least one mirror and one window today.

You may have heard about the Lego debateor the mixed reviews  about Goldieblox or most recently the up and coming “design and engineer your own dolls house”,Roominatewhich, while brilliant in concept, still panders to the marketing of “girl colors.” And then of course, there’s the maelstrom that erupted when journalist Peggy Orenstein published Cinderella Ate My Daughter

All these are examples of attempts to look at what “stories” or messages we are giving children. 

And I say children deliberately. Much of the focus in these discussions is appropriately about what role models, stereotypes, and gender identity constrictions we are giving girls. But these not so conscious but conscious prescriptions also perpetuate a particular world for boys.

When Jean Kilbourne pointed out the advertising messages I was consuming about what it meant to be a women back in 1983 with her first Killing me Softly, I never saw the world the same again. I am deeply and eternally grateful to  her for making  the smog I was breathing obvious. But I abdicate how to fix the world of media messaging to the likes of her and Peggy Orenstein.  I also I leave the valiant attempts to encourage girls and women in STEM to the likes of the female engineers of Stanford such as the creators of Goldieblox’s, Debbie Sterling and Roominate’s Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen.

But I won’t let those who interact with children off the hook.

I challenge you to ask the following questions when you pick up a book for your self, for your child or for your students. These questions are geared to picture books but with imagination can be adapted to any story or message you or the child in your life is consuming.

I also challenge you to think about your reaction to the fact that I wrote this post in pink! Did it bother you if so why?  Feel free to share your gut reactions if you have managed to ignore the color and read this far!

When you read a book take a few minutes to ask yourself or the child you are with these or other questions about gender roles. Pay attention to what difference it makes to your experience.  Should you be asking yourself these questions all the time now that you have started to pay attention? 

  • What do the women/girls look like?
  • What kind of work /activities are the women/girls doing?
  • What objects/toys etc are the women/girls playing with interacting with
  • What do the men look like?
  • What kind of work /activities are the men doing?
  • What kind of work /activities are the men/boys doing?
  • How do women and men interact with each other?
  • What sort of emotions do you see expressed on a woman’s/girl’s face?
  • What sort of emotions do you see expressed on a man/boys face?
  • What messages do you think the book is sending about the gender roles of men and women?

In honor of Presidents’ Day this week, I thought I’d share some quotes about difference and commonalities from various presidents through the ages.

Abraham Lincoln 16th U.S. President (1809-1865)

“Accustomed to trample on the rights of others, you have lost the genius of your own independence and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises among you.”

John Fitzgerald Kennedy 35th U.S. President (1961-1963)

 “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”


Hubert H. Humphrey 38th U.S. Vice-President under Lyndon B. Johnson (1965-1969)

 “Fortunately, the time has long passed when people liked to regard the United States as some kind of melting pot, taking men and women from every part of the world and converting them into standardized, homogenized Americans. We are, I think, much more mature and wise today. Just as we welcome a world of diversity, so we glory in an America of diversity — an America all the richer for the many different and distinctive strands of which it is woven.”

Jimmy Carter 39th U.S. President (1977-1981)

“We are, of course a nation of differences. Those differences don’t make us weak. They’re the source of our strength.”

Bill Clinton 42nd US President (1993-2001)

 “Justice may be blind, but we all know that diversity in the courts, as in all aspects of society, sharpens our vision and makes us a stronger nation.”

Barack Obama 44th US President  (2009–)

“What the American people hope -– what they deserve -– is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories, different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared: a job that pays the bills; a chance to get ahead; most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.” State of the Union Address, Jan. 27, 2010

“We can’t expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question somebody’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things.” Remarks at University of Michigan, May 1, 2010

I wanted to include this last quote even though it is not from an American President because if we all follow the advice, I believe the world could be a better place.

Andrew Masondo, African National Congress, Freedom Fighter, survivor of
Robben Island imprisonment along with Nelson Mandela

“Understand the differences; act on the commonalities.”

Read more at http://www.notable-quotes.com/o/obama_barack.html#mATJmI3mptUmu4hW.99 or http://thinkexist.com