By Kathryn Robinson

In the world of children and young adult literature, mirrors and windows are oft used metaphors to describe books. Books that provide children with the opportunity to develop self-awareness through seeing reflections of themselves in the text are referred to as mirrors, while books that provide children with the opportunity to develop social awareness through exploring and experiencing the lives of others are referred to as windows.

When working with students, it’s important for them to experience both mirror and window books.

Why is this important?  The development of students’ self- and social-awareness skills are an essential, and sometimes overlooked, part of helping them become good students, citizens and workers, especially given the complex, diverse society within which we all live. Through thoughtful stories and conversations, our City Year AmeriCorps Members can harness that powerful force of books to help our students become smarter and more empathetic by:  

  • promoting students’ understanding of all aspects of our diverse society,

  • exposing students to stories that validate their life experiences,

  • sharing stories with positive representations of their culture and background,

  • discussing inequalities that surface in stories and ways to address them, and

  • sharpening students’ academic skills by supporting their understanding of point of view and their ability to view text through varying frames of reference.

Anne Murphy Paul’s Time magazine article, “Reading Literature Makes us Smarter and Nicer” shares that, “the emotional situations and moral dilemmas that are the stuff of literature are also vigorous exercise for the brain, propelling us inside the heads of fictional characters and even, studies suggest, increasing our real-life capacity for empathy.” By students seeing themselves, and others different from them, in a story, they’re more likely to develop a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism about themselves while at the same time developing their abilities to understand the perspectives of others with backgrounds and cultures different from their own.

While almost any book can open up great window or mirror potential, if you’re looking for a place to start, check out Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Fish in a Tree, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, or El Deafo by Cece Bell, or Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña. These are all well-regarded children and young adult books that any student (or adult) could benefit from reading.


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