For some of my students of a certain age, they love series chapter books. I probably shelve and reshelve more Rainbow Magic and Beast Quest and Geronimo Stilton books than everything else combined for this age range (Grade 2~5).
Some kids go in for fantasy – Rainbow Magic, Beast Quest – but others like realistic fiction, like the Little Animal Ark books and Critter Club. Some combine their love of princess and cute animals with the Rescue Princesses books.
Judy Moody and Junie B. Jones go in and out daily, but Sassy sat on the “chapter books” shelf, mostly ignored, even while Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind is a huge hit with slightly older students. Every year, I have at least a handful who come in, clutching it to themselves, breathless, telling me ohmygoodnessit’sthebestbookeveryouhavetoreadit all in one breath.
So why not Sassy? It’s a heartwarming story about a quirky, adorable little girl and her family and her best friends – so, basically all of the things Junie B. Jones is about, or Judy Moody, and really what’s at the heart of the Rainbow Magic books, except they have wings.
Out of My Mind looks like this. In a Q&A on her website, Sharon Draper says that Melody’s race is intentionally left ambiguous.
We’ve all heard about the doll test, and a more recent study showed similar results. I do honestly believe that this is why Sassy books aren’t flying off the shelves with Junie B. Jones. (Can you imagine Junie B. and Sassy in a classroom together?)
Although this blog post at YASLA is about YA lit, it probably filters down to middle grade and even early chapter books. The Rainbow Magic fairies that my students love so much come in a variety of colors, but there’s not much/any diversity in shape, hair texture or style, clothing… Junie B. goes home every day in kids’ backpacks, but Sassy is a tough sell.
So what do I do? I keep selling ’em. When younger students ask me for Dear Dumb Diary (a series that lives in the secondary library), I suggest Sassy as an alternative. I mention Sassy to the kids who read Out of My Mind and come back jumping up and down to tell me it’s soo great. (They’re shelved in different areas of the library, so students wouldn’t necessarily find one with the other.)
It’s not just Sassy, either. As a librarian, I make a conscious effort to purchase, display, book talk, and share diverse books – not just during special theme months, but all of the time. I believe in the importance of diverse books, and I believe in the power of good books. I believe in windows and mirrors. It’s not enough to simply buy these books and let them gather dust on the shelves. It’s my job to put books in students hands, and help them find titles they might otherwise miss.