In my previous role as a Children’s Librarian, I was introduced to the idea of “mirrors and windows” in books, a concept identified by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop. She said that children need to see themselves in the books they read (mirrors) and also get a glimpse into the lives of people different from them (windows). The general idea is that we need diverse and varied books for children to read so that everyone can find a mirror and a window.
While I completely agree that mirrors and windows are important for children and young people to experience through literature, sometimes I wonder if we adults don’t need these in the books we read as well. I’m privileged enough that it’s pretty easy for me to find mirrors of myself in books, and I hope everyone gets that experience. But I also know I’ve benefited immensely from “windows” into lives other than my own.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1969), 281 pages
As a part of our community read in the month of October, I read Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Dr. Angelou’s memoir about her younger years gives a vivid glimpse into the life of a black girl living in the 1930s-1950s. The everyday indignities she suffered will probably be what sticks with me the most. At her eighth grade graduation, a local white politician reminds a class of all black children that, despite their lofty academic achievements, the most anyone expects of them is to be maids, carpenters, and maybe athletes, while the white children at the next school will have a chance to be doctors and scientists. When young Dr. Angelou desperately needed a dentist, the only one in town (a white man) told her grandmother that he’d rather stick his hand in a dog’s mouth than the mouth of this young black girl.
Dr. Angelou is no longer with us, but these events in her life aren’t ancient history. Getting a glimpse into her life reminds us that we don’t really know what other people are going through or have gone through unless we pay attention and listen. I’m very grateful for the “windows” I’ve experienced through reading, and I intend to keep looking through them.
Public Service Leader