Grade 6 student influences diversity in children literature

March 10, 2021

Diversity in children’s literature helps students’ academic achievement.

Teacher candidates in the Curriculum, Pedagogy and Learning in Early Childhood Education course heard this important lesson during a guest presentation at the Faculty of Education. Instagram influencer Ainara Alleyne, a grade 6 student from Stoney Creek, Ontario, spoke to teacher candidates about the importance of having diversity in children’s literature.

Alleyne uses Instagram to review children's literature with a focus on black authors and books with black characters, said course instructor, Sarah Hennessy.

Diversity in children’s literature is more than just having diverse characters in a story. Teacher candidates learned the importance of casting diverse populations in favourable scenarios instead of focusing on hardship and historical sufferings. What’s more, young people need to see themselves as capable, intelligent, and hard-working rather than just being resilient, said teacher candidate Leanne Snider.

“I thought that Ainara's inspiration to start her own Instagram channel stemming from her own lived experiences to be one of the most powerful components of this presentation,” she said.

Teacher candidate Katelyn Martin also found Alleyne’s presentation powerful. In fact, she’s determined to ensure her students feel included with the books she chooses for her classroom because it allows students to connect with their education. In addition, it was important to hear Alleyne’s opinion on children’s literature in schools and how she educated teachers on what’s missing in libraries and how they should include diversity within their teaching strategies.

“Her perspective of children was very informative and validating as it connects to what teacher candidates have been learning about with regards to inclusion and diversity and how we can incorporate these concepts in our classroom,” she said.

Furthermore, Snider plans to encourage her students to research or share resources with one another to identify which texts they’re interested in rather than having them select books from a predetermined collection. 

Also, teacher candidates learned that diversity in children’s literature makes them feel represented in literature.

“Students should feel connected to the material they’re learning to enhance their confidence in their self-identity,” said Martin.

In addition, Martin said she will change her approach to selecting children's literature as she will focus on books that explores diversity, different perspective, cultures, themes and topics, which will allow students to feel more connected with their learning and school environment.

“If one young girl can change the contents of an entire school library, which then ripples to the 40 teachers and they each update their own classroom libraries, how far does her impact really go? What happens to students when they realize this power?” added Snider.

The guest presentation was a collaboration between Hennessy and teaching assistant for the course, Carla Ruthes Coelho.