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A Liberated Library: Building a Bookshelf That Affirms, Empowers and Inspires Readers

by Aundrea Tabbs-Smith

All of us experience events in our lives that make us question what we thought to be true. We are put in situations that push us to speak up for others and lift our voices higher because the world needs us to evoke change. Feeling affirmed, empowered, and liberated allows for our imaginations to take shape and soar. Picture books have a beautiful way of leading us towards liberation- encouraging us to recognize another perspective, advocate for a worthy cause or even affirm our own identity.

When choosing books for my children’s bookshelf, a classroom’s library or a social media post  I ask myself:

  • Does this book allow the reader to feel affirmed?

  • How will this book empower and encourage advocacy?

  • Will this text lead the reader towards liberation? 

In order to answer these questions truthfully it is important to keep in mind the books that children are exposed to have a tremendous impact.  The words and images have the ability to nurture or conversely to undermine a child’s sense of self, positive attitude towards others and motivation to act for fairness. 

Choosing books that affirm, empower, and encourage advocacy will lead to liberation and allow us to create a bookshelf that inspires readers to be their best selves.

The books I have selected below have pulled at my heart, pushed me to think critically and encouraged my imagination to ascend towards liberation.

I’m From

By Gary R. Gray Jr., Illustrated by Oge Mora

Recommend age: 4-8 years of age

The reader follows a young child as they navigate their world, encountering all the people, places and things that ground them and shape who they are. 

Liberation Lens: highlights the peace that can lie within ones’ familial and cultural identity

The Good Hair Day

By Christian Trimmer, Illustrated by J Yang 

Recommended age: 4-8 years of age 

A child dreams of long hair in this delightful story about self-expression and embracing our most authentic selves.

Liberation Lens: empowers the reader to share their true selves with the world.

A Day With No Words

By Tiffany Hammond, Illustrated by Kate Cosgrove

Recommended age: 4 years and up

An engaging picture book that shares what life can look like for families who use nonverbal communication.

Liberation Lens: embraces a unique method of speaking and communicating 

Say My Name

By Joanna Ho, Illustrated by: Khoa Lee

Recommended age: 4-8 years of age

Each page is a beautiful celebration of the sounds and divine strength of each name coupled with their culture of origin. Ho encourages everyone to embrace their names and honor and learn those with which they may not be familiar.

Liberation Lens: centers how correctly pronouncing a person’s name honors and respects them 

The Words We Share

By Jack Wong

Recommended for ages: 4-7 years of age

An unforgettable story about communication, connections and community. A young girl helps her father navigate life in a new country where she understands the language more than he does.

Liberation Lens: explores the distinct weight children of immigrants often carry and a reminder of the power of empathy.

Rock Your Mocs

By Laurel Goodluck, Illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight

Recommended age: 4-8 years of age

A beautiful tribute to Rock Your Mocs Day, observed yearly on November 15.

Liberation Lens: celebrates the joy and power of wearing moccasins, as well as Native pride

Author bio:

Aundrea Tabbs-Smith is the author of For the Quiet Black Girl: Trying to Find Her Voice in a Predominately White Space and creator of the Black Joy by Black Authors Scratch Off Poster. She has a B.A. in Elementary/Early Childhood Education from Temple University and a Master’s in Special Education from Bank Street College of Ed. She is a former classroom teacher who wants to amplify marginalized voices through literature. 


Follow her on Instagram: @aundreatsmith


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