Promising Stories, Part 5: Books are Mirrors and Windows

This is the fifth in a multi-part series by Laura Benson, ISS Director of Curriculum and Professional Development. Find other installments here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 6.

Promising Stories: Culturally Responsive Literacy Learning and Teaching to Champion Antiracism and Student Confidence

We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become…

Ursula K. LeGuin

Books are Mirrors and Windows

I want the books I guide students to feel like mirrors and windows (Bishop, 1990; Benson, 2001).  I want them to see themselves in the texts we read. These texts are mirror texts. And I want to grow students’ knowledge of the world and their respect and compassion for people who are, or who students perceive to be, different. These are window texts. As a teacher of African American adolescent males, Alfred Tatum (2005) focuses on text to nurture identify. Literature in the classroom must reflect multiple ethnic perspectives and literary genres (Gay, 2000).

Teale and Gambrell (2007) profiled “the importance of engaging students in reading high-quality, age-appropriate, appealing books from a variety of genres that addressed substantive issues important to students” to raise urban students’ literacy achievement.

They added that the books we put in our students’ lives should be “culturally diverse and reflective of the students who would be reading them, feature children solving problems (not adults solving problems for children), and their overall tone uplifting.” We cannot close the reading achievement gap if students never read any text (Tatum). So, putting relevant and compelling texts into students hands is critical.

Culturally Responsive Learning Strategies:

  • Model and encourage students to write their own mirror stories.
  • Ask parents and family members to share mirror texts with their children so that they better understand and stand proudly in their own cultural heritages.
  • Create book clubs for and with students. Start books clubs with very short texts and build up to longer texts. Give students opportunities to fishbowl/observe effective book club conversations (I can even shown students a few minutes of Oprah’s book clubs or video clips on my own book club conversations to help them learn more about book club talk and relationships.).
  • Develop book sharing rituals. When students share books that grow their hearts, wisdom, and compassion, their peers will be drawn to more mirror and window texts.
  • Guide, give, and read aloud culturally relevant texts to and with your students. Books such as Celebrate: Connections Among Cultures by Jan Reynolds has given students and I rich opportunities to share and learn about how we celebrate birthdays and other rights of passage and compare our cultures to the cultures of people around the globe. Likewise in reading and discussing Carol’s Corner book reviews and recommendations from Dr. Carol Wilcox.Texts such as The Bus Ride That Changed History: The Story of Rosa Parks by Pamela Duncan Edwards and Freedom on the Menu by Carole Boston Weatherford have birthed incredible conversations about civil rights between myself and African American students I have learned with in Denver, CO, Bridgeport, CT and Minneapolis, MN as well as in discussion of justice, equity, and inclusion with students of color in numerous international schools. And I treasure books such as Guys Write for Guys Read, a text which really turns boys onto reading (Check out their website: ).

Below, you’ll find texts which connect students’ to their own cultures – mirrors – and texts which take students on journeys to learn about diverse cultures – windows. Should your international school need support acquiring these texts for your students, the ISS School Supply team is ready to help. I also recommend checking out and supporting Bookshop’s 2021 list of Black-owned Bookstores.


  • The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
  • Gordon Parks: How the photographer captured black and white America by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Harlem’s Little Blackbird by Renee Watson
  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer
  • The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz
  • My Hair is a Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of John Lewis by Jabari Asim
  • Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey
  • Schomburg: The man who built a library by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • The School is Not White! A true story of the civil rights movement by Doreen Rappaport
  • Separate Is Never Equal by Sylvia Mendez (desegregation)
  • The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler
  • Something Happened in Our Town: A child’s story about racial injustice by Marianne Celano, Mariette Collins, and Ann Hazzard
  • A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson
  • The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
  • Unstoppable by Art Coulson
  • Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner and Richard Rudnicki
  • We are Grateful, Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorrel
  • When We Were Alone by David Robertson
  • The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds (transformative power of words)
  • Am I a Color Too? By Heidi Cole & Nancy Vog
  • Is There a Human Race? By Jamie Lee Curti
  • Keep Climbing, Girls By Beah Richard
  • One Green Apple ~ Eve Buntin
  • How Much? Visiting Markets Around the World by Ted Lewi
  • I Am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Chil
  • The Dot and Ish by Peter Reynold
  • Wild About Books by Judy Sierra, illustrations by Marc Brow
  • The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winte
  • My Librarian Is a Camel by Margriet Ruur
  • Knock on Wood: Poems about Superstitions By Janet S. Won
  • In The Leaves By Huy Voun Lee
  • The Worry Web Site by Jacqueline Wilson
  • The Cheat by Amy Goldman Koss
  • Lunch Money and The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements
  • Story Time by Edward Bloor
  • Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell
  • The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts by Richard Peck
  • Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech
  • Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Here Today by Ann Martin
  • Bindi Babes and Bollywood Babes by Narinder Dhami
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (Newbery Honor 2004)
  • Jackie’s Wild Seattle and Leaving Protection by Will Hobbs
  • Brian’s Hunt by Gary Paulsen
  • How Angel Peterson Got His Name by Gary Paulsen
  • Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
  • Pirates! by Celia Rees
  • The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E. L. Konigsburg
  • Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt (Newbery Honor 2004)
  • Scrib by David Ives
  • The Misadventures of Maude March by Audrey Couloumbis
  • Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park
  • Replay by Sharon Creech
  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
  • Silverfin by Charlie Higson
  • Small Steps by Louis Sachar
  • Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
  • Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer by Robert Byrd
  • Hallelujah Handel by Edouglas Cowling, illustrated by Jason Walker
  • Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America by Sharon Robinson
  • John’s Secret Dreams by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier
  • Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier
  • Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson Talbott
  • Major Taylor: Champion Cyclist by Lesa Cline-Ransome, ill by James Ransome
  • A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet by Kathryn Lasky
  • If the Walls Could Talk by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Gary Hovland
  • The Darling Nellie Bly: America’s Star Reporter by Bonnie Christensen
  • The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein
  • Luba, The Angel of Bergen-Belsen, told to Michelle McCann by Luba Tryszynska-Frederick
  • Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan by Mary Williams
  • Tsunami: Helping Each Other by Ann Morris and Heidi Larson
  • Owen and Mzee by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff and Paula Kabuke
  • The Milestone Project, photographs by Richard Steckel and Michele Steckel
  • Wonderful Words by Lee Bennett Hopkins
  • In the Land of Words by Eloise Greenfield
  • Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring by Ralph Fletcher                              
  • A Writing Kind of Day: Poems for Young Poets by Ralph Fletcher
  • Least Things: Poems About Small Natures by Jane Yolen
  • Definitions by Sara Holbrook
  • Heartbeat by Sharon Creech
  • Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson (Coretta Scott King Honor)
  • A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms selected by Paul Janeczko
  • Fold Me a Poem by Kristine O’Connell George, illustrated by Lauren Stringer

To be antiracist is a radical choice in the face of history, requiring a radical reorientation of consciousness.

Ibram X. Kendi

All installments of the Promising Stories series can be found here:

  • Part 1: Introduction
  • Part 2: It Starts With Stories…Your Stories, My Stories, Our Stories
  • Part 3: Culture Connections, and Build on Students’ Strengths
  • Part 4: Reflection, and Outside Learning as an Avenue for Inside Learning
  • Part 5: Books are Mirrors and Windows
  • Part 6: It’s All About Relationships

View References and Resources for Developing Culturally Responsive Learning and Nurturing Antiracism

You can also follow Laura at @lbopenbook, plus view her curated antiracism padlet here.

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