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Fawzia Gilani-Williams, PhD

Author, International Educator, Storyteller

                Mirror Books & Window Books


Mirror books are books that give visibility to who you are. Mirror books are extremely important for positive self development and especially so for young children. Apart from the benefit of mirror books speeding language acquisition, mirror books also promote positive self esteem and underscore a child's sense of belonging.  Essentially mirror books reflect the child. Where reference is made to any of the following - family, food, faith, culture, animals, plants, and buildings - they are part of the child's known, every day experiences. The benefit and inclusion of mirror books is  particularly important for elementary school teachers and elementary school librarians. According to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), 

When children feel a sense of belonging and sense of pride in their families, their peers, and their communities, they can be emotionally strong, self assured, and be able to deal with challenges and difficulties. This creates an important foundation for their learning and development. 

The question is what happens when a child doesn't see him or herself in a book. What then? What is the effect of invisibility? The concern is xenophobia and assimilation. Children’s literature has massive overrepresentation of one type of culture and massive underrepresentation of other cultures. To read the effects of this on children please refer to

Window books are just as important as mirror books. Window books develop respect and understanding for cultures, places, people, faith, and languages from other parts of the world. Window books make the strange familiar. They teach children powerful lessons on diversity and differences. When the strange becomes familiar it leads to prosocial choices, and ultimately it leads to global neighborliness. Please see the Qur'anic verse at the bottom of the page which underscores the Islamic perspective of universal affinity.

Canada has invested heavily in Canadian children's literature. According to Howson and Edwards (2009)

“the premier of Ontario announced a commitment to spend $80 million in additional funding for elementary school libraries. The funding is intended to help all elementary schools add books and alternative formats of print-based resources to their kindergarten to grade 8 library collections”

The reason for the additional funding was concerned with Canada's desire to give its children a sense of place. There were not enough mirror books that allowed Canadian children to develop their own Canadian identity. Black and Jobe state, 

“Familiar emotions, activities, families, and surroundings are sensed through the depiction of the characters and story settings. To evolve a national identity, youngsters need to develop ... a feeling of 'This is where I belong'. It is crucial, therefore, that they see their communities ... country reflected accurately and authentically in literature” 

Stella Miles Franklin points out that, “without an indigenous literature people can remain alien in their own soil.” From a young age children begin to learn about the world through the images that they are exposed to. Jaime Naidoo (2014) states, 

"One way that children learn about the world around them and other cultures is through the social messages found in stories. Stories help children understand how society perceives their culture as well as [other cultures] … children are greatly influenced by the stories they encounter." 

However, this becomes a concern when images seek to foster a certain mindset and exclude another. Sunderland (1985) believes that "most of what children read is filled with ideology ... ideologies have potential powers of persuasion, they are no less persuasive because they’re hidden."

It is problematic when certain children do not see themselves in the books they read. Children very quickly learn through inclusion and exclusion who is important in the world and who is not. 

“When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued”  (Rudine Bishop)

Below is a book intended for children between Grade 1 -3. The index page lists notable holidays like Christmas and Chinese New Year and also obscure holidays like Hina Matsuri. However, missing is the second largest celebration in the world - Eid, which is embraced by over a billion followers. When there is a failure or a resistance from mainstream publishers to include the culture of certain children, it provides an incentive for minority publishing houses to create a balance of literature for children who are invisible. 

How would children feel seeing that they or their friends are invisible in this text?