Having kids at home and working full time, my partner and I have found ourselves looking for ways to mentally and physically relax – and tire the hell out of our kids. Evening walks have become part of our daily routine. We’ve been exploring streets around us that we’ve never been down before. We even broke our kids of their fear of the local cemetery (although I admit I made the task more of a challenge by making "Friday the 13" sounds during our walkthrough).
We were out for a walk last week when I noticed one of the many Free Little Libraries that people have in their front yards. It wasn’t the library itself that stood out – it was a book. I opened the library door and picked up a brand new copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Beautiful Struggle and inside was a sticker for KW Little Free Diverse Libraries. It’s a book that you wouldn’t expect to see in a little library.
“That’s the thing about little libraries. Sometimes they’re just Harlequin romance novels and dusty old textbooks. Finding works by diverse people doesn't happen often,” said Dinah Murdoch, the organizer of KW Little Free Diverse Libraries.
The project is inspired by the work of Sarah Kamya, a public school guidance counsellor from New York City and creator of Little Free Diverse Libraries. “Making surprise discoveries like The Beautiful Struggle is exactly what I envisioned the Little Free Diverse Libraries project to be,” said Kamya over the phone from Arlington, Massachusetts. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kamya temporarily moved back to her hometown to get out of her tiny apartment in the city.
While out on walks in Arlington, she would peek into little libraries for something to read. “I noticed that most of these libraries aren’t stocked with books from diverse authors or with diverse characters,” Kamya said. “I thought about how easy it would be to just put in some books.”
Kamya started with some books from her family’s collection. She then posted on social and raised over $1,000 in an hour. “I’ve raised over $13,000 to date. It’s incredible how much this has grown and how many people it’s reached.”
“Having people start their own Little Free Diverse Libraries projects are great! The more books out there, the better,” said Kamya.
Sarah Kamya in Arlington,
(Photo courtesy: Sarah Kamya)
Murdoch learned about the original Little Free Diverse Libraries project on Instagram. “With all the conversations around Black Lives Matter and anti-racism, I wanted to find a way to take action,” Murdoch said. “Inspired by Sarah, I thought it’d be great if I could help get books by diverse authors into our little libraries too.”
Similar to Kamya, Murdoch is also involved in education. As an Early Literacy Intervention Resource Teacher with the Waterloo Region District School Board, Murdoch works to help grade one students with reading problems. Her work also includes helping other grade one teachers become better at teaching reading and literacy.
“The school I teach at has students who speak dozens of languages,” said Murdoch. “In my own teaching, it’s so important for kids to have access to books where they see themselves.” Murdoch mentioned Ibtihaj Muhammad’s The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family as an example. “In the book, the main character’s sister gets a new hijab and their experience of her first days wearing it. This is the kind of story that kids need to be able to get hold of.”
Beyond sharing books by diverse voices, the Little Free Diverse Libraries project also focuses on getting people to shop at BIPOC and LGBTQ-owned bookstores. Here in Waterloo Region, Murdoch sources books from Words Worth Books and GoodMinds, an Indigenous-owned bookstore in the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. Murdoch also buys books from three Black-owned bookstores in the GTA; Knowledge Bookstore in Brampton, Notability in Durham and A Different Booklist in Toronto. If you’re interested in contributing, Murdoch accepts donations on her site. There is also a book registry on Indigo that you can order books from and have shipped directly to Murdoch to distribute.
“I’ve had complete strangers send me cash to buy books. It’s pretty humbling,” added Murdoch. In addition to donations, over 180 books have been purchased from the Indigo book registry so far.
Murdoch sees books as a way to help turn the conversation into action when it comes to being anti-racist. “We need to read books from different voices,” Murdoch added. “There are window books, those that let us experience someone else’s life, and mirror books, those that reflect our lives onto us. We need them both.”
For Kamya, it’s important to experience these things as normal. “Books where the main character is Black or LGBTQ or disabled – it should be normal to see these characters because it is normal. It’s the way life is and literature should represent that.”
Kamya wants people to experience nonfiction works by BIPOC and LGBTQ authors, too. “I’m currently reading three books at the same time, which is something I haven’t done before,” joked Kamya. She’s currently reading I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown, the anthology Well-Read Black Girl and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.
Experiencing diverse stories from BIOPC and LGBTQ authors is just part of the benefit of the Little Free Diverse Libraries project. “If you can’t see it, you can’t become it,” said Kamya. “Black and Brown kids need to see that they can be superheroes, scientists – anything they want to be. And white people need to see this too.”
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Our local libraries have some great resources to help you discover books from diverse voices. Check out these lists from the Kitchener Public Library, the Waterloo Public Library and Idea Exchange in Cambridge. You can also join the anti-racism conversation in Waterloo Region at the two-day Anti-Racism Town Hall happening on July 30 and July 31. You can also tune into the live stream of An Evening with Desmond Cole The Skin We're. The event is part of the Kitchener Public Library's 85 Queen event series and organized with the ACB Network Waterloo Region. The live stream is on Tuesday, July 28 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.