Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors

Kristen StrobbeBooks, Diversity Initiatives, Inside WITS

At WITS, we believe it is important that books celebrate the histories, experiences, and everyday life of the students we serve, the city we live in, and the world we explore. In every aspect of our work with books, whether it is the stories students and mentors read at program, the book lists we create for teachers, or the books we recommend on this blog, WITS adheres to the philosophy of “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors.”

Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors: Defined

The notion that classroom curriculum should serve as “windows and mirrors” for students was first coined by educator Emily Styles in 1988. It was in 1990 that well-known children’s literature researcher, Rudine Sims Bishop, wrote about “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” as it relates specifically to children’s books. With this way of thinking, Sims Bishop states that books should be windows into the realities of others, not just imaginary worlds, and books can be mirrors that reflect the lives of readers. Sliding glass doors refers to how readers can walk into a story and become part of the world created by the author – readers become fully immersed in another experience. Approaching children’s stories through the lens of windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors, prioritizes diversity, honors many cultures, and promotes empathy.

Even I, an adult, can experience the effects of windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors in the children’s books that I read with students. For example, the book Saturday written and illustrated by Oge Mora, mirrors my experiences living in a city like riding (and worry about missing!) the city bus and wanting to enjoy a public space like the park. The story also mirrors my close relationship with my mom and how I would always look forward to weekends together because that’s when my mom didn’t have to work. Saturday is also a window for me, a white woman, because the story is a look at a young Black girl’s life.

What does Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors Mean to WITS?

WITS acknowledges that, historically, popular children’s books are culturally one-sided. In other words, the narratives presented predominantly center on the experiences of white children. Additionally, white authors often write books about children of color and can feature harmful stereotypes, tokenism, and inauthentic stories. The marginalization and corruption of these stories has lasting effects on students.  As Sims Bishop states, “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 in the society of which they are a part.”

WITS commits to finding and promoting books that feature authentic and validating stories about children of color. WITS regularly diversifies and updates our book collections for students and teachers. Our curated book recommendations include a variety of different types of texts that highlight the history and everyday joy of underrepresented cultures.  We ensure that the books we send home with students for WITSummer Books are culturally relevant and specific to the demographics of the Chicago schools we serve. WITS staff learn together to improve their understanding of how windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors show up children’s books, and how to identify stereotyping and lack of representation in stories. There are plenty more examples of how WITS incorporates windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors and diverse books into our work, just head over to the WITS blog and search “diverse books” to find more resources.