Originating at a free library in North Portland, realizing the lack of representation of different sorts of people in children’s literature, Reading is Resistance was born. The goal? To give children of different backgrounds books that feature characters like themselves and reflect the diversity of their communities. It’s even more important than you might think at first too!
Production is dominated by wealthier and whiter people, so it is not surprising that many people have been left underrepresented in different forms of media, and that even includes our children whom are obviously in no position of power to change that for themselves. In short, Reading is Resistance is going to work to redistribute that power to people in Portland. A list of books featuring characters of a variety of backgrounds has been created to do just that. People in the community can self-select which books they would like to donate to children who would otherwise not be able to have them.
Books and other media are often a child’s first glimpse at different people, places, and experiences. Even silly stories featuring talking rabbits going on adventures helps children learn and understand different parts of life. They can give an incredibly positive experience or an incredibly negative experience depending on the kind of materials they’re exposed to and pick up on. For example, children of color are not completely oblivious to the fact that nearly all of the characters in their books and other media are white. Normalizing such a simple thing about them (their skin color), and portraying people of color in prominent roles as opposed to how popular media tends to perpetuate ridiculous stereotypes can do wonders for a child’s self-esteem/self-image and improve their quality of life.
There has been somewhat of a boom in children’s and young adult literature of books featuring such characters. It is speculated that part of the reason for the lack of diversity in protagonists and themes is about fear of “making it worse” or doing so in a distasteful manner, but whatever the real reason, that gap is finally closing and there are quite a few good books that children and young adults alike will enjoy and have enjoyed. Though simply because they might be available in one sense does not mean everyone truly has access to them. These books cannot normalize anything, comfort children, inspire children, or accomplish practically anything if they never get into a child’s hands.
ReadingIsResistance.Wordpress.com features a link to an Amazon wishlist where books can be directly gifted to the organization (which contributes to local free libraries and even public schools). There is a plethora of books recommended by readers and concerned people in our community that could be beneficial to the development of a child and the community as a whole down the road. It is made incredibly easy to figure out too, book titles are followed by what kind of characters they feature or what kind of themes they discuss.
This method of interacting with the community in order to gather contributions of books that reflect it’s own diversity is precisely how we can redistribute power and get more appropriate or perhaps even more useful literature into the hands of children that may otherwise feel alienated by their own media. We all become directly involved in building authentic relationships and community at a time where it is probably more important than any other time in many of our lives. There are quite a few people out there who could actually try and withhold such knowledge and community-building from innocent people, and that is putting it exceptionally lightly. Reading is Resistance is a call to action.
Summer 2017 PSU Capstone Students UNST-421