In the latest edition of the Ontario School Library Association’s Magazine - The Teaching Librarian - our President, Joanne Sallay, interviewed with our tutor, Erica Yu, to spotlight Little Free Diverse Libraries - GTA.
Article as seen in January 2021 issue:
When this issue’s theme of diversity was announced, my first thought was to introduce Teaching Librarian readers to a grassroots initiative called Little Free Diverse Libraries GTA.
At the beginning of July, one of the tutors on our team at Teachers on Call, Erica Yu, shared her plan to make BIPOC books more accessible to students by providing them for free. A graduate from the Master of Arts in Child Study & Education Program at OISE, and an elementary teacher in the Halton District School Board, Erica is deeply passionate about students seeing themselves represented in the books they read.
She was inspired by a campaign that started in the United States utilizing free little libraries as a platform to share BIPOC books and wanted to bring this to her local community. In June of the pandemic, Erica created a GoFundMe page, an Instagram account, and started to spread the word amongst her friends, family and colleagues. Erica’s fundraiser and mission has been embraced by many around her who share her values and goals of inclusivity.
To learn more about this unique project and how Teacher Librarians can further incorporate diversity into their libraries, I interviewed Erica Yu to share her thoughts with us:
1) For those new to Little Free Diverse Libraries - GTA, please describe your mission and goal?
Little Free Diverse Libraries - GTA was inspired by Sarah Kamya, the founder of Little Free Diverse Libraries (based in Arlington, MA and NYC). The mission is to highlight, and amplify BIPOC voices/characters, providing opportunities for continued learning and conversations through books. Especially here in Canada, conscious effort has been made to do this with Indigenous voices.
2) As an educator yourself, what inspired you to start this initiative?
As an educator, I see the growing diversity in today’s classrooms, and want all children to see themselves represented in the books around them. I didn’t have this as a child, and want to see the narrative changed for today’s students. These Little Free Libraries are a wonderful resource that families can tap into, to diversify the books that their child(ren) are exposed to.
3) How many books have you acquired and how many Little Free Libraries have been stocked to date?
To date, about 395 books have been acquired, and 97 Little Free Libraries have been stocked!
4) Who are some BIPOC authors and publishers to look out for?
There are so many amazing BIPOC authors/publishers to look out for, many of whom I have discovered through this initiative. Just a few include: Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Grace Byers, Kiley Reid, as well as Canadians Desmond Cole and Sherry J. Lee. I also found an awesome First Nations distributer ‘GoodMinds’ who are a “thriving family owned and operated business based on the Six Nations of the Grand River at Brantford, Ontario, Canada.”
5) What are some of the most popular books you have distributed that Teacher Librarians may want to add to their collections?
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi is one of my personal favourites, and is a popular one among many of my friends and colleagues. All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, Fatty Legs by Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and Christy Jordan-Fenton, Jambari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall, and Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry are also must-haves (in my opinion)!
6) For anyone reading this interview who wants to help, how can others get involved to support your mission?
There is a GoFundMe page for this initiative (gf.me/u/ybhm4b) with the funds being used to source BIPOC books to distribute to Little Free Libraries. I have also set up a registry with Indigo that supporters can use to purchase specific books that will be sent to me to distribute. (Search ‘Erica Yu’ in registries - it will be labelled ‘Little Free Diverse Libraries - GTA)
7) What are you planning next for Little Free Diverse Libraries – GTA?
Ooh that’s tough to say - at the moment I am quite focused on teaching my class of Grade 3s, with the extra challenge of adjusting to this ‘different’ year! I plan to continue this initiative for as long as possible - I very much hope to continue to raise funds to acquire BIPOC books and keep distributing them to Little Free Libraries around the GTA, and maybe even beyond! I would also like to reach out to bigger companies/publishers in hopes that they are able to donate books to this worthwhile cause!
8) What advice do you have for Teacher Librarians in how to incorporate diversity into student learning and school libraries?
I don’t feel as though I am in any position to give advice, but I would just say to make it a conscious and deliberate effort to include diverse books in your libraries/classrooms. In one of my courses in my Teacher’s Education program, I heard something that has stuck with me - as educators, our spaces should have both ‘mirrors and windows’ - mirrors, so students see themselves reflected in the materials/visuals they are exposed to, and windows so they have the opportunity to look out and explore other cultures that are different than their own/beyond the walls of their space. Students are our best resources - tap into their wealth of experiences and knowledge to guide you.
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