BLOGS  >  SEPTEMBER 29, 2021

Representation Matters in Literature


“Representation matters.” This phrase has become widely popular in just about every sector of our culture within the last decade. From movies and television shows, to politics, and of course, throughout literature, the gospel truth is that representation does matter. It’s this idea that people like to see and hear stories about people who look, sound and live just like them.

I am no different. As an African American, an avid reader and an educator, not only do I want to read books about other awe-inspiring black people, but I also want opportunities for my students to experience the same. Just as much as my kids can turn on the local radio and literally hear their stories being sung across the airwaves, I want them to be able to see themselves mirrored throughout the stories on the pages they choose to read.

This is why representation matters.

And this is why I selected these books! I wanted to string together a list of works that could easily captivate the minds of young readers, and also resonate with them on a personal level. I figured these books might draw reluctant readers out of their shell and into a world they never imagined they’d actually see themselves in.

But the question remains, “Why books?” And more importantly, “Why do children need to read books about things they already know?”

Here’s my answer: If through reading kids can transport themselves into a world they’re already familiar with, it will almost feel as if they’re no longer reading about being in someone else’s shoes, but instead, they are walking in them. This is why readers will often admit that they’ve gotten “lost in a book.” The words coming from the pages completely snatch them up!

So, when my kids from the west side of Chicago read Kwame Alexander’s basketball book, The Crossover, they aren’t just walking in Filthy McNasty’s Jordan brand shoes, they’re running and dunking in them! 

This is what we want, ya’ll – for our kids to see themselves in action! 

In class, I’ll often share funny stories from childhood with my scholars. These stories are usually pretty common amongst black families and speak to the average black experience in America. All throughout my storytelling, my kids are nodding in agreement, laughing their heads off, and literally screaming phrases like “YAAAS! I know exactly what you talkin’ ‘bout!” They’re familiar with the stories and feel a sense of belonging as they engage with their own reality.

We want books to do this to and for our readers.

I want books like Big Hair, Don’t Care and Crown to show my little black girls and boys that their hair is beautiful, no matter how kinky, curly or nappy it might be. I want books like Nelson Mandela, The Undefeated and March to inspire their young minds and challenge them to take action in fighting for what they know to be true!

I want my girls to read Dancing in the Wings and truly believe they can make something of themselves by expressing the passion and rhythm and heart they have within. And for my fellas, I want them to feel motivated to work hard, to discipline themselves and to shoot for the stars after reading sports books like Home Court, Crossover and Ghost.

The phrase “representation matters” is not just a buzzword to me. It’s a must, a reality that I am constantly fighting for. I want my students, and students everywhere, to have the chance at seeing themselves in the books they have around them. I want every reader, regardless of their circumstances, life experiences or reading ability, to have at least one opportunity to nod, laugh and say, “YAAAS! I know exactly what you talkin’ ‘bout!”

This is why representation matters.

Happy reading, ya’ll!

Mr. Reed

Chicago IL

You probably know Dwayne from his viral music video, "Welcome to the 4th Grade." Dwayne's mission is to reach students -- sometimes through music, but always with purpose and enthusiasm.

@TeachMrReed on Twitter | Instagram | Facebook
Mr. Reed on YouTube

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