Wednesday, April 18, 2012

'Mirror books' enrich the learning experience for culturally diverse gifted learners

I introduced the concept of 'mirror books vs window books' to my undergraduate students in our diversity education course this week in our discussion of CULTURALLY RELEVANT TEACHING (CRT). Many students remarked on their KWL (what do I know, what do I want to know, what have I learned) charts that they had never heard of the concept of 'MIRROR books vs. WINDOW books'. Several years ago, I read an  interview with Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, a language arts specialist who later became a professor at The Ohio State University. As early as 1990, Dr. Bishop, began writing about the concept of 'mirror books' to emphasize the importance children having books that reflected their culture and experience. She also discussed window books as those books that provided children a glimpse of the world outside of their experience and noted that these were important as well. Some research has suggested that the use of mirror books contributes to increased reading comprehension scores for culturally diverse groups.

I want to remind educators and parents of the importance of students having access to literature that shares 'their story' and helps them see the possibilities inherent in life experiences through individuals who look like them, male and female, from every cultural group. Today, good bookstores and libraries are chock-filled with books that are written by and represent almost every cultural group in the world. It is the responsibility of educators, parents and other advocates to ensure that children and youth have access to books that represent their experience by authors who look like them as well as by other authors.

I am very pleased to note that authors of multicultural literature for young people are also publishing books that have gifted learners as the main characters and specifically identify the characters as such. One series that comes to mind is Walter Dean Myers' award winning 'The Cruisers' series.

The Cruisers is a three part series with parts 2 and 3 being released later this year. It tells a story of a group of gifted teens from a fictitious school for the gifted in Harlem, New York. To say that the storyline is well-done is an understatement. Each of the characters has their own strengths and special personality attributes. In 'The Cruisers' readers will see themselves and the daily struggles that diverse students have interacting in a school for the gifted with students from other groups. I highly recommend that teachers and parents also read this book.

Recently, I also came across another book by a new author. 'The Magic Pencil' by Karen Dabney is another good example of gifted black students interacting in school and life experiences with family and friends. What is so unique about 'The Magic Pencil' is that the main character actually discusses 'code switching' and the daily act of having to (and sometimes being forced to) speak 'standard' English and the colloquial language of some communities.

In this book, Dabney has done what no other author has done by having the main character actually talk about how he 'code switches' is why it is important to his daily functioning as a high ability student, who is also black. As one reviewer notes, the story of The Magic Pencil is 'brilliantly crafted'

Providing students a sense of all the possibilities through their reading materials by sharing stories and imagery of people (mirrors) who look like them and have their experiences AND opening new worlds (windows) through reading are equally important to the development as world-class readers, thinkers, and doers.
For more information about the importance of 'mirror' books-


  1. Thanks for the book suggestions. I am always excited to see new books showing positive images of African-American children, especially within a school setting.

    Aly in Va.

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