Sharon Reilly is the Chief Development and Marketing Officer at Jumpstart for Young Children and Brittany Walsh is the organization’s Director of Policy and Government
In a 1990 essay titled Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop describes books as “windows that tell the story of the human experience.” For children, books can serve as their introduction to the world within which they will grow. Bishop’s words were at the forefront on our minds on the heels of the presidential inauguration as the first woman and person of color elected vice president, Kamala Harris, took the oath of office. These images were striking; tiny hands of young girls of all races, ethnicities, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds reaching out to touch the television screen.
Today, as we continue to celebrate these historic firsts, we often do so without recognizing the systemic barriers that persist in making these firsts unobtainable for so many years, and the significance of young children seeing themselves and their experiences in the stories we share. As leaders of a national early education organization seeking to advance equitable learning outcomes for young children, Vice President Kamala Harris’s election was a powerful reminder of the impact of representation for our nation’s littlest learners. Through the magic of storytelling, we facilitate a child’s introduction to the world around them that has the power to open a window of opportunity that is truly limitless.
Children’s reactions to Harris caught our attention because we’ve seen it before—in preschool classrooms all around the country, tiny hands reaching out to touch a character or image as they see themselves reflected in a particular storybook. While Jumpstart continues to revise its supplemental preschool curriculum, as well as its selection of storybooks and classroom materials (such as images and toys)—there are many opportunities to apply this same lens to individual classrooms or even home libraries.
When characters in a story mirror that of the reader, it can be self-affirming. As you reflect on this moment, remember that there is no shortage of stories to share with children that lift up authentic characters for future generations; stories like that of politician and educator Shirley Chisholm, scientist Marie Maynard Daly, Nobel Prize winning chemist Jennifer Doudna, mathematician Katherine Johnson, youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman, and the story of Henrietta Lacks. Unsure where to start? Louise Derman-Sparks’s Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books offers a simple framework for considering children’s books.
President Biden asked, “Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world to our children?” Mr. President, Madam Vice-President, we will meet our obligation to ensure that every child in America has the opportunity to thrive. As you consider engaging the young children in your life, whether at home or school, remember those tiny hands are looking to see more of themselves and so are we.