College of Education hosts workshop on diversity in children’s literature

“Picture books are art,” Angie Zapata, an assistant professor with the College of Education, said.
Tuesday’s children’s literature workshop focused on equality and empowerment, both through the content of the books and the authors themselves.

Angie Zapata, an assistant professor who teaches and researches literacy education at the College of Education, hosted a children’s literature workshop Tuesday in Townsend Hall.

The workshop, titled “Decolonizing Your Children's Literature Bookshelf,” focused on books from marginalized writers and illustrators and had themes of equality and empowerment.

“I hope you leave with new authors, new illustrators, new book titles for you to integrate into your lives, whether you are a future educator and are thinking about diversifying your collection of books or whether you are a nursing student and thinking about opening up new spaces in your own life for the rich diversity that’s in our world today,” Zapata said at the workshop.

Zapata said that one of the first steps in ensuring that children feel open and comfortable in their environment is having literature including characters and written by people who look and act like them. She said that incorporating both a physical and cultural similarity is beneficial to children.

“Issues of representation and the depictions of loving and looking and talking continues to be an issue in children’s literature today,” Zapata said. “Our bookshelves need to look like the future.”

Junior Mya White, an elementary education major, read from “I Am Enough” by Grace Byers. She said that she enjoyed the simplistic background design paired with the detailed illustration of the characters. White said she also appreciated the representation featured in the book.

“I was reading it and I related to it because I felt like she looks like me,” she said, pointing to the main character, a brown-skinned girl. “Like, exactly like me.”

Zapata said that to understand what it means to have diversity in bookshelves, an educator must first understand diversity as a whole, beyond literature.

“So what does it mean to reshape the literacy landscape in your home, in your classroom?” she asked the room. “Where our youngest children can begin to see themselves as those potential authors and illustrators where they write their own story, the stories that are missing as well.”

Zapata also highlighted the work of Junot Díaz and his new children’s book, Islandborn.

Graduate student Sarah Demarchena read from the book and connected with the experiences of the main character, who moves from the Dominican Republic to the United States as a baby and struggles to remember her homeland.

Demarchena said she’s had a similar experience in that her parents moved to New Jersey from the Dominican Republic before she was born, but she knows the island through them.

“And then it brings up how do we exist through the experiences of our family members when we weren’t kind of there to know what it was like ourselves, and so I feel like I struggle with that a lot and I have struggled with that when I was a kid,” she said.

Demarchena said she also liked the color used in the illustrations because it reminded her of her heritage and culture. Zapata said this emphasizes not only the power of literature, but also the power of picture books.

“A picture book is a conversation between a written narrative and an illustrative narrative and together, they’re art,” Zapata said. “Picture books are art. Picture books are art to respond to and we can think of art as shaping our cultural memory, so the narratives and even the single story we each have talked about.”

Edited by Morgan Smith |

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