Are All Book Covers Created Equal?

Last fall, during a booktalking session with Bank Street Children’s Librarian Allie Bruce, an 11-year-old girl in Jamie Steinfeld’s 11/12s Humanities class asked, “Why is there a bird on that cover, when every other cover you’ve shown us so far has a picture of the main character?” A big question, with a complicated answer. The book in question, Julia Alvarez’ Return To Sender, is about a Mexican girl; the other books discussed (so far) had centered on white characters.That 15-minute booktalking session turned into a year-long project in which kids explored numerous aspects of identity through book covers, book content, toys, TV shows, movies, and advertising. With help from Diversity Director Anshu Wahi, students looked critically at the messages about different aspects of identity: race, gender, sexuality, body image, and more.
As one 6th-grader said,

“Now I can tell my family all of the information I learned today and all of the secrets about covers… WOW! This really makes me think! I hope we do this again so my head won’t explode!”

Allie has documented the children’s discussions and their reactions in a five-part series on the Center for Children’s Literature blog:

Part I: Bank Street 6th-Graders Weigh In On RACE
Part II: Bank Street 6th-Graders Weigh In On GENDER
Part III: Bank Street 6th-Graders Visit a Certain Bookstore Chain
Part IV: Bank Street 6th-Graders Talk With Knopf Editors!
Part V: Wrap-Up and Reflection

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