Children’s books matter: Mount A project aims to create a more diverse preschool library

Sitting on a small chair at Sackville Playschool Inc., surrounded by picture books and colorful notice boards, Susie Andrews describes herself as a “story scholar”.

You might expect this Mount Allison oriental religion teacher to teach ancient Buddhist texts in an amphitheater, but since last semester she and her students have studied 4,000 children’s books dating back to the 1970s.

Their goal is to read and catalog every picture book in the Sackville Playschool Inc. library with the goal of understanding what stories are being told, how they are portrayed in those stories, and how to ensure that the book collections celebrate diverse groups and individuals. .

“Our question is: why are performances important? Andrews said. “Why is it important what we read together? “

Mount Allison students Denise Loar, Oorja Gonepavaram, Josh Cormier and Em Doucette are part of a group that continued to work on a children’s book project even though the course ended weeks ago. (Vanessa Blanch / CBC)

She grabs one of her favorite books titled Fauja Singh continues and read aloud one of his favorite lines. On the cover, a man with a white beard and a yellow turban crosses a finish line.

“You know yourself Fauja, and you know what you’re capable of. Today is a chance to do your best.”

Written by Simran Jeet SIngh, it tells the story of the oldest person to run a marathon and the challenges he faced along the way.

“If we know that representations are important for things like empathy, self-confidence, community building… then we probably want to know what we read together and how we want to grow.”

Susie Andrews, teacher at Mount Allison, shares this story from Simran Jeet Singh as an example of the various books available and that can be part of our libraries for young children. (Vanessa Blanch / CBC)

For Andrews, the stories we share show who we think are important, what we value, and how we think about others.

“I was trained to work with stories from the 600s, stories from the 1200s that mattered too – significantly. As I shift my attention to the stories being told in my home, community, country or continent, all of a sudden the conversations come to life … and create energy. “

Power of representation

Allison Butcher, principal and teacher at Sackville Playschool Inc., said that when Andrews approached her with the idea of ​​reviewing books in their library, she jumped at the chance.

“I am aware of the number of white nuclear families or nuclear rabbit families for god’s sake that are in our books,” she said.

Over the past few years, Butcher has strived to update the school library to include stories from all perspectives.

Watching college students go through every book in the library made her “proud of some books and maybe not so proud of others.”

Allison Butcher reads to her preschool class of 10 children aged three to five at Sackville Playschool Inc. (Vanessa Blanch / CBC)

Butcher said that every day an educator has the power to “make or break a child” and the things she shares with them can have a huge impact.

She remembered a book she once read to her class. One of the characters was a little boy who wore a pink shirt.

During the story, one of his students spoke up and said, “Boys can’t wear pink – my dad said boys can’t wear pink.”

Later, Butcher took the young boy aside.

“And I said, ‘You know what? Boys can wear pink, ”she said. “‘Maybe dad doesn’t like wearing pink, but some boys can. You can.'”

Butcher said children only know their little piece of the world and as they grow older they may find that “their little piece of the world doesn’t quite match who they are on the inside.”

“What we’re trying to do with these kids, all kids, all people, is empathize and bond with other people and understand that even though people are not the same, We are all the same.”

Students bring diversity to research

The students who signed up for the course come from all disciplines, but most had previously taken classes with Andrews and said it was his enthusiasm that brought them back.

“We’re all here for the ride,” said business student Oorja Gonepavaram with a laugh.

This “walk” was so meaningful that even though the class was over and grades were awarded, many students continued with the project – spending a few hours each week reading and cataloging the preschool library books.

The students believe that this work is the best way to prevent “otherness” from lasting into future generations. Otherness is a verb that means to treat or see someone or a group of people as different from yourself.

Oorja Gonepavaram came to Sackville from India to study business at Mount Allison, where she is entering her fourth year. (Vanessa Blanch / CBC)

Gonepavaram said she and many other international students have struggled at times to integrate into a small town in New Brunswick.

“So it’s very important to see how certain ideologies are instilled in people at a young age, through the books they read.”

The project got her to look at the stories we share and tell children in a very different light.

“As a queer person in India, I’ve never seen a performance… and it’s funny because we have such a large population, especially transgender back home, and they’ve never been represented in anything. either, “she said.

Josh Cormier of Shediac is entering his fourth year in commerce at Mount Allison. With a Mi’kmaw father, Cormier said that growing up he didn’t see any family like him. (Vanessa Blanch / CBC)

Business student Josh Cormier of Shediac said his mother is white and his father is from the Esgenoopetitj First Nation.

Growing up, he “had the benefit of being seen as white,” but Cormier saw the treatment of Native people in a way that most whites did not see.

“Everyone deserves a chance. If you can’t see yourself in a positive light growing up, what do you do? How can you dream? How can you hope? “

Em Doucette of Stratford, PEI, is entering her fourth year at Mount Allison University where she is studying international relations. (Vanessa Blanch / CBC)

Fourth-year student Em Doucette of Stratford, Prince Edward Island said that as a major in international relations she has studied tribalism and believes this project will help end the “us versus them” mentality.

“What we talk about really matters,” she said. “If you grow up seeing only one type of person all of your life, then you meet someone new no matter what you are going to see as different.”

“That’s why we have to work on this, to make sure the next generation is tolerant and even more than tolerant – accepting.”

Denise Loar, 37, is entering her third year at Mount Allison University where she is studying psychology. (Vanessa Blanch / CBC)

At 37, Denise Loar is a mature student who decided to return to college to study psychology after a close family member revealed she was transgender.

She was surprised at how difficult it was to find support for this transition in their life and hopes to offer help to others.

“I often think about how, as adults, we are drawn to the self-help books section of the bookstore – because we want to relate to people, we want to know we’re not there. only person to live this particular story. “

Loar wonders what difference it might make if more children’s and youth books feature members of the LGBTQ community.

“Does this give them the opportunity to reflect in a book and recognize, ‘Hey, maybe this is how I feel and this is who I am’, to allow them to start exploring? their own personal development? “

What do they find?

So far, Loar and his classmates have found that the majority of children’s books describe a “white nuclear family, two children, a stockade, a dog and a cat.”

Sackville Playschool Inc. has collected 4,000 picture books, some dating back to the 1970s. Principal Allison Butcher says the work of Mount Allison students will contribute to the ongoing efforts to have a more diverse library that represents and celebrates all. world. (Vanessa Blanch / CBC)

“It was surprising to me how many more animals were in children’s books, compared to people of color, people of different ethnicities,” she said. “It’s not something I have ever realized.”

Listening to his students talk, Andrews watches them intently, sometimes raising his arm in a silent cheer when they make a good point.

“That’s it for me,” she said of her work with her students. “It is my awakening and it is my fall asleep. It is the source of meaning and joy.”

Butcher hopes that by the end of this project, the library at Sackville Playschool Inc. will be “rich and have a wide choice that will meet not only what people think they need, but also what they need.” and don’t even know it ”.

“We are moving more and more towards celebrating differences rather than tolerance or acceptance,” she said. “I think as a community we are becoming more and more like that, which is quite wonderful to see.”

About Bradley J. Bridges

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