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Working to Balance the Books

By Alicia Wanek

What was your favorite book as a child?  The one you read or got your parents to read again and again?  Now think about the main characters and consider how many of them were of a diverse racial or ethnic background.  Probably not many.  That’s likely because even today 77% of the characters in children’s books are white or are animals/non-human.  One Dallas mom and her son are working hard to ensure everyone has access to books that represent our diverse community.  Their project is the Little Free Diverse Library, and their goal is to put 10 books representing diversity of race, ethnicity, culture, religion, etc. into every single Little Free Library in Dallas. 

Rachel Koppa had always wanted to put a Little Free Library (LFL) in her yard.  There are more than 100,000 of these book-sharing boxes in 108 countries around the world, and almost 100 just in the city of Dallas.  The idea is remarkably simple, that families can take a new book to read and share a book they’ve already enjoyed at a registered box in their own neighborhood.  In researching fun ways to decorate hers, she was inspired by the story of a school counselor from New York who was working to include more diverse characters in the books in the LFL’s in her area.  Rachel presented the idea of doing the same in Dallas to her 8-year-old son Elliott, and they decided it was a challenge they wanted to tackle together.

Rachel has said, “I want Elliott to grow up in a kind world, and it’s not about not seeing race or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation or culture, it’s about seeing it and recognizing it, and appreciating it and knowing that the things that make us different are the things that make us interesting.”  They started researching the books they wanted to include.  Of the 10 books that they’ve been delivering to each LFL, they usually have four books for young children, three for older kids, and three for adults, and all have diverse representation.  Originally, donations of books were from friends and family, but as the word about their mission has spread, they’ve been getting donations from across the country.  Authors have reached out with donations as have strangers who’ve heard the story and seen their Amazon wish list.

Elliott has had access to hundreds of books to read himself.  “I have learned about MLK and about the march of the children, and also sometimes I look at the back of the book to learn about the author because the author always has a little story to tell too,” Elliott shares.

What Elliott is learning, though, extends beyond literacy and awareness.  The focus on service, the opportunity to learn new things, to meet new people, to teach responsibility and a good work ethic as they prepare all the books, and the importance of showing appreciation when they write a thank-you note for every donation are all life lessons for Elliott.  He and Rachel have also enjoyed getting the opportunity to see communities all over the city of Dallas as they’ve driven to each library that they may not have seen otherwise.  One of Elliott’s favorite visits was seeing the peacocks outside one LFL, but he lists the only downside as all the mosquitoes they’ve encountered. 

For parents, especially parents of children from other ethnicities or backgrounds, the mission of the Little Free Diverse Library is vitally important.  Matt Thompson, the father of two adopted children, says, “As a white dad trying to raise two Chicano children, I was quickly confronted with the fact that the popular and available library of kids’ books center on white culture.  As it often goes with being white, I just didn’t see the discrepancy until I was on the hunt for a different type of book.  And I had to hunt.  I wanted books that had brown heroes and heroines, brown people achieving in a range of fields, and beautiful brown people front and center…. not just Pinkalicious’ pleasant brown friend.  I want my kids to have their Chicano identity and self-image affirmed, empowered, and celebrated in all spaces, including in the books they read.”  Rachel and Elliott are certainly working to make sure all kids have access to those books because as Elliott says, “It is very important for kids and young adults and adults to see themselves in the books that they read.”

Now that they’ve almost achieved their goal of getting books to the LFL’s in Dallas, this mom and son are expanding their horizons.  They are now looking at doing the same for libraries in the suburbs of Dallas.  “These LFL’s are not just out for people to get books.  It’s for people to learn…”  says Rachel.  This mom and son duo are sharing important lessons one box at a time.

To make a donation to the Little Free Diverse Library – Dallas, visit their Amazon Wishlist at https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/3PHD0CQ76L46?ref_.  You can also find out more on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/LittleFreeDiverseLibraryDallas/

Rachel Koppa and her son Elliott pose with hundreds of books donated to help them fill every Little Free Library in Dallas with books that represent diverse characters.  Donations have come from across the country to help them meet their goal.
The Koppas want to ensure Little Free Libraries have books that represent different races, ethnicities, cultures, and religions. Elliott believes it’s important for every child to see themselves in the books they read. His mom Rachel says, “…. The things that make us different are the things that make us interesting.”
Rachel and Elliott have put 10 books representing diverse characters in nearly every Little Free Library across Dallas. Now they’re looking to expand their mission to surrounding cities.
Percentage of books depicting characters from diverse backgrounds based on the 2018 publishing statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center.

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