Averett Education Students Create Inclusive Books, Library Materials to Increase Diverse Offerings

Posted on December 14th, 2022 by Matt Bell

Averett University elementary education majors gained insight into the power of diversity in children’s literature this fall.

During the semester, students in Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Nina Huff’s reading and language development class focused on “Book Talk” sessions in partnership with Librarian Jennifer Robinson in Averett’s Mary B. Blount Library. Each class was a deep dive into a specific concept or area related to building diverse classroom libraries. Discussions included culture, ethnicity, special needs, family dynamics, gender identity, life challenges, medical conditions, environmental and social justice, respect/empathy, varied genres and perspectives, and more. Students also built a shared resource document highlighting 130 suggested books across multiple areas of diversity.

“I feel like this project is important because so many people go through so many different things whether its race or religion, differences in skin, sensory issues and learning disabilities. I think this project makes us more open minded and aware of all those around us,” said Averett student Shorok Hemdan, who is in her senior year.

In addition to the many areas of diversity, Book Talks also focused on identifying websites dedicated to diverse books for all grade levels, navigating database and library resources, viewing the current children’s collection, determining how books are leveled, investigating challenged/banned books and understanding neurodivergence. Each week, students were also given one new book for their future classroom library. Each focused on a different aspect of diversity.

It was after a class on neurodivergence that a focus on sensory books and the many ways of supporting those learners led to a unique activity: creation of individual sensory books for use by elementary students.

“I love our project on diverse libraries. I lean more toward wanting every child to be represented not just in books in the classroom, but in every aspect of diversity. I don’t think there’s one specific area that needs to be covered. There’s an assortment of issues for kids across all cultures and races. I want kids to open a book and find someone they can look up to,” Junior Baylee Lynch said.

Hemdan and Lynch, along with fellow classmates Sandra Avalos, Briteny Frazier and Crystal Manning, worked recently to sort through materials for use in their sensory books.

“I feel like it’s important because I felt like when I was in school, things weren’t very diverse. I really enjoyed this project because it gave us a chance to grow that diversity in the classroom. I loved being a part of this,” Frazier said.

The materials included everything from soft, fur-like pages to coarse, sandpaper pages and everything in between. Students will keep their completed books for their own classroom libraries.

“As a parent of a diverse learner, I see the importance of what we’re doing. He didn’t have any of this in kindergarten or preschool. We’re going to impact children with books they may not have and will be able to enjoy something they can relate to. They’re going to have themselves in a book,” Manning said.

Avalos added the project identified and addressed issues that are critical to supporting our diverse classroom populations.

“I think it’s important to raise awareness. Projects like this can really help minorities. Families in the ’70s and ’80s weren’t talking about issues surrounding this. Now we know more about this in modern times so we can address it more. It’s very important to people from different cultures for inclusivity,” Avalos said.

The sensory books each student created were presented in class near the end of the semester.