How a Literacy Group Increased Diversity in its Best Books Lists

Wanting to make sure readers see themselves on the pages of books, as well as get a window into other perspectives, the International Literacy Association worked to increase the diversity in its annual Choices Reading Lists.

Last week, the International Literacy Association (ILA) announced the winning titles in its 2018 Choices Reading Lists. Compared with 2017, the 2018 lists include 50 percent more diverse books overall. This was the result of a deliberate effort by ILA to increase titles featuring an author, character, or storyline reflecting diversity in race, gender identity, or ability.

“Until we no longer have to seek out diverse literature, it’s critically important that educators connect our young readers to the broadest possible spectrum of voices,” said ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post in a press release. “Much work still needs to be done, but we’re proud of our progress this year.”

The Choices reading lists are three different reading lists—Children’s Choices, Young Adults’ Choices, and Teachers’ Choices—which are curated by children and educators themselves.

The way it works is that ILA calls for submissions from publishers for books released during the current calendar year, then ILA and the Children’s Book Council reviews the submissions to make sure they adhere to certain requirements. But “neither ILA nor CBC has influence on the books that are ultimately chosen for the lists,” according to ILA’s Christina Lambert, who manages the Choices Reading Lists.

After that, the books are shipped to team leaders in five geographical areas of the U.S., who are then responsible for organizing, inventorying, and circulating books to a school network of 2,500 students for Children’s Choices and Young Adults’ Choices and a network of up to 50 elementary and secondary teachers for the Teachers’ Choices, Lambert said.

The students and teachers then read and vote on the books based off a points-system rubric, and the top 30 titles for Young Adults’ and Teachers’ Choices win, and the top 100 titles for Children’s Choices win.

But, even with this process in place, ILA realized it needed to increase the diversity in its Choices selections. “In our field, we often talk about mirrors, windows, and doors. Students need to see themselves on the page—mirrors—but literature can also offer a window into other people and perspectives,” said Lambert. “Reading itself creates a door into other worlds and experiences.”

To get started on growing the number of diverse titles, ILA updated its call for submissions.

“We encourage publishers to send books that showcase a diversity of cultures, races, gender identities, and abilities, reflected through cover art, characters, authors, and illustrators, in our annotated reading list, so that more student populations recognize themselves on the covers and in the content, allowing for greater engagement and motivation to seek out like titles,” Lambert said.

ILA also worked to increase the diversity of the participants themselves. For instance, the group looked at student populations in terms of things like location—urban vs. suburban vs. rural—and the percentage receiving free or reduced lunch, among other metrics.

“The goal is to give every reader, every educator a voice in the process,” Lambert said.

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Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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