Book Review: Let’s Talk About Race in Storytimes by Jessica Anne Bratt
In the book Let’s Talk about Race in Storytimes, Jessica Anne Bratt lays out how librarians can start talking about race as part of their regular storytime practice. She begins with an introduction explaining her reasons for committing to talking about race in her storytimes and how the Black Lives Matter movement’s tenant of starting your antiracist work where you are inspired her to work within libraries to move us as a society towards racial equity. The next two chapters of the book outline why it is important to storytime age children (typically age 0-5) about race while also giving readers the foundational skills they’ll need to start talking about race in storytimes. In this section she includes a list of diverse books with talking points, storytime scripts, and definitions to important terms used in anti-bias work. In chapter three she discusses changing your mindset from the mindset of an ally, which is typically passive, to the mindset of a coconspirator, who is actively involved in the situation. In this chapter she also answers some frequently asked questions related to talking about race with children. The last two chapters of the mind dive into how to put this new aspect of your storytime practice into action, with example storytimes, and advice on how to take talk about race in storytimes from an aspiration to a reality. The back matter includes a Storytime Action Plan worksheet and additional resources to continue your learning.
This book is a great guide for any librarian who is looking to create more diverse and inclusive storytimes at their libraries but don’t know where to start. While other guides of this kind might have got bogged down in teaching the reader everything that they need to know about E/D/I work, Bratt keeps this text laser focused on the practical application of celebrating difference and making race explicit when working with pre-readers and their caregivers. She offers other resources throughout the book as well as in the back matter for anyone who is looking to expand their knowledge about the topic of E/D/I outside of the preview of storytime. I appreciate the book lists and example storytimes included in this book so that readers can get an idea of what talking about race in storytime looks like and practice (and realize that it’s not as intimidating as it seems!)
Bratt also gives readers talking points for if they receive pushback when they begin talking about race in storytime. For example, in a section addressing the question: “What if I am labeled as having an agenda or am accused of using taxpayer dollars to fund an agenda?” Bratt responds, “First, there is no agenda behind being a good citizen and wanting justice for all people…We tell children to ‘love everyone’ and ‘treat everyone fairly’ as if saying those words will somehow present a magical blueprint that gives kids the language, behavior, and tools to navigate identity biases.” I think these talking points will help librarians to feel empowered to start this practice at their libraries knowing that they have the tools to deal with possible negative feedback from the public. I highly encourage anyone who leads storytimes at their library to consider adding this (quick) read to their upcoming professional development plans.
Storytimes, like any other library program, may receive challenges or attempts may be made to censor them. If you experience an incident of censorship or attempted censorship at your storytime because of your decision to address race (or for any other reason) please report that incident to the OIF. You can find more information about how the OIF supports libraries and library staff during a challenge as well as the form to report censorship here.
Tayla Cardillo is the Branch Librarian of the Oak Lawn Branch Library in Cranston, RI. Before her current position she was a YA librarian. She completed her MLIS at the University of Rhode Island and her B.A. in English at Rhode Island College. Tayla has known that she wanted to be a librarian since she was 17 years old. When not doing library wizardry, she enjoys playing tabletop games and cosplaying.