Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop – Books as Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Doors

I don’t remember when I first heard of the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop. Perhaps it was in a children’s literature course in my undergrad or graduate studies. Her metaphor of books as windows, mirrors, and sliding doors was so impactful to me as I began my teaching career. It helped me develop my philosophy of the role of multicultural literature in the broader realm of education and within the walls of my classroom. 

Now, as a school librarian, I see this metaphor as a guiding principle and a foundational belief for me in the schools I serve. I believe I have an obligation to provide my elementary students with high-quality, multicultural works of nonfiction and literature that can be windows, mirror, sliding doors, or a combination of these. In our current political and social climates, I believe it is imperative to empower students to make meaningful connections to the books they read which will result in a greater understanding of the world around them.

This past week, I shared the story of Hair Love with all of my K-5 classes. It is the story of a little girl named Zuri. She and her dad struggle to get her hair perfect for a special event. They use videos made by Zuri’s mom to figure out how to style Zuri’s beautiful hair just the way she wants it to look. During the next scene in the story, we learn that Zuri’s mom has lost her hair and is ready to come home from the hospital. We can infer that she is treating some form of cancer, though the book does not explicitly state this. Zuri, her mom, and her dad have a very sweet and touching reunion at the hospital. They celebrate their love for each other including their love for doing their hair together.

Students loved listening to such a beautiful story of a family facing a big challenge together. While we didn’t label them with this distinction, students shared their own “mirror” stories and spoke about how much they love their hair and about family members who fought cancer. In the future, I would like to take more opportunities for students to make connections like this, as well as, encourage students to reflect on stories that are windows into experiences they have not had. 

While I intend to have discussions about these connections yet this year, I also plan to start my second year of teaching in the school library with a full unit on how books are mirrors, windows, and sliding doors. I hope this will empower students to use the books in our library to better appreciate and understand their experiences, their peers’ experiences, and the world around us.

Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 1(3), ix–xi.

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