As Windows and Mirrors, Books Can Build Empathy, Acceptance

By Mrs. McHugh

HHS Librarian/Advisor of The Hawk

When you go to the library or a local bookstore, can you find books where you see a reflection of yourself? Are there books that feature characters who look and sound like you, who live where you do, whose experiences are similar to what you’ve gone through?

These books are often called “mirrors,” important to help people feel valued, understood and represented in their communities. Every library strives to include “mirrors” for diverse populations – based not just on race and ethnicity but also religion, sexual identity, learning differences, disabilities, economic factors, health issues and more. For people outside of these populations, these “mirrors” become “windows,” allowing a look into someone else’s world. While mirrors validate ourselves, windows help us build empathy and tolerance for others.

The HHS Library has a display of “window and mirror” books for Inclusive Schools Week, and has focused on adding more diverse perspectives in recent years to reflect national conversations about race, equal rights and tolerance. The publishing industry, though, still has a long way to go before it truly represents the makeup of our country. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, which tracks new books each year, half of all children’s books published still feature white characters. In 2018, animals, trucks and other inanimate objects were featured more often than four other ethnicities combined. Those figures focus on race, but experts say the issues are the same with books about LGBTQ and other perspectives. As depicted in the infographic, this results in large mirrors for some populations and a sliver of representation for others.

Organizations like We Need Diverse Books are working to change the publishing industry, as are young influencers using social media such as BookTok to post reviews. You can help by stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new genres or topics, and then spreading the word about books you like. Stop by the library and check out the latest display, or explore some of the resources for diverse books in this article. When we find “mirrors” in books, we feel more connected and understood. With more “windows” into others’ lives, we can become more compassionate and accepting. And as Inclusive Schools Week reminds us, we are stronger when we celebrate our differences and come together as a community.

2 thoughts on “As Windows and Mirrors, Books Can Build Empathy, Acceptance”

  1. I enjoyed this article and agree with the message that diversity has a long way to go in books. It was shocking to read that animals and inanimate objects are shown more often in children’s books than four other races, and that white people are featured in half of them. I think at the end this article sends the right idea: to open your mind up books about other people’s lives and experiences.


  2. It’s very sad that minorities are hardly represented in children’s media. I think using books as “windows” into others lives we learn compassion and empathy, which is an important thing to understand and learn when you’re little. I hope that books with different perspectives and more diversity will be published in the future. Thank you for this article!


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