Bates debuts one-of-a-kind search engine for diverse children’s books | News

As a Bates student, Brenna Callahan ’15 helped run a literacy program at Montello School, a Lewiston elementary school about a mile from campus. That work often involved reading to the pupils.

One day Callahan read the picture book Nabeel’s New Pants: An Eid Tale to a Muslim child.

It was the first time that he had seen a book about that Islamic holiday, says Callahan. “He saw himself in that book in a way he hadn’t before. And that was powerful.”

There is considerable power in children’s books. It’s a formative power, especially in the case of picture books for younger children, with their rapidly developing intellects and personalities.

So what’s the formative impact on children of color when most picture books — as many as 90 percent — are all about white people? And if you want to lay hands on one of the relatively few books that feature diverse characters, what happens when the local library catalog can’t help you find them? And what if that library doesn’t even know which races or cultures are represented in its children’s book collection?

Krista Aronson, associate professor of psychology at Bates, has devoted considerable time and thought to such questions. And she has an answer.

As part of a team including Callahan, Bates humanities librarian Christina Bell, and noted children’s author-illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien, Aronson has created the Diverse BookFinder project: a three-fold set of resources that bring new accessibility to the world of diverse children’s books:

  • First, there’s the Picture Book Collection, a comprehensive physical collection of some 2,000 diverse books. Housed at Bates’ George and Helen Ladd Library, the collection is nationally unique in that the books are available for anyone to sign out.
  • Second is the Diverse BookFinder, a public database that went live this week. Designed to mirror the ever-growing Picture Book Collection, the DBF makes — for the first time — diverse picture books…

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