Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Power of the Picture Book: Matthew Winner


I am a white male. Age 36. From typical life experiences (whatever that might mean) and from a typical upbringing (whatever that means, too). 

When I read most picture books, I see me. Different versions of me, but me nonetheless. Characters with my color skin, doing things that I did as a kid, speaking in words I heard and heard spoken to me as a kid, experiencing problems and conflicts similar to what I experienced as a kid. 

I don't recall being aware of this as a child, but I have become increasingly aware of it as an adult. 

The more I talk of picture books being mirrors and windows to readers, the more I've realized how many books I read that are mirrors of my own culture and experiences. The more I realize the books I read aloud at school are mirrors of my own culture and experiences. The more I realized the books I was featuring on my children's book podcast were mirrors of my own culture and experiences.

The problem with surrounding yourself with mirrors is that soon you can't see anything else.

What my reading life needed was some more windows.

I conducted a diversity audit of my podcast archive only to confirm what I already knew: too many mirrors, not enough windows. 

This concern became even more compounded when I began podcasting with my 5th graders. I had pulled up the podcast archive page to show them the faces behind some of their favorite books and to introduce them to how a podcast might look and sound. But in doing so I showed my school's diverse population a set of children's book creators in photographs that mirrored their library teacher, but not them. What message does this send to children when they are presented with a list of bookmakers their teacher celebrates, but they cannot see themselves in said list? 

Once this thought embedded itself in my head, I could not loosen it.

I want more than that for my readers.

And I want more than that for me. 

I want the books I read to be windows to me in equal or greater times than they are mirrors. 

I want the guests I host on the podcast and the books they share to be mirrors for my students, who don't often get to meet bookmakers. 

I want my students to look across the faces of bookmakers, whether through the podcast archive, the books I read aloud, or the books displayed throughout the library, and I want them to see themselves, not just so that they see this library and this school librarian value books depicting diversity through multitudes of experiences, but also so they can see themselves as bookmakers, see that this could be them one day.

I want to be more cognizant of the diversity statistics from The Cooperative Children's Book Center, and I want to make sure I am using my platform as both a school librarian, children's book podcaster, and children's book blogger to amplify the work and voices of authors and illustrators of color as well as First Nations/Native authors and illustrators.

Credit: Huyck, David, Sarah Park Dahlen, Molly Beth Griffin. (2016 September 14). Diversity in Children’s Books 2015 infographic. blog.
Retrieved from

I want to work with students to analyze our library collection and determine how culturally responsive and relevant it is. And I want to learn and be open to learning from educators like the one in this blog post from Lee & Low in order to assure that representing diversity is at the forefront of our decision-making when it comes to book orders, book promotion, book fairs, and read alouds.

I want to be better and do better. 

And I want to be better and do better for my students.

And I will, in part, because of the windows.


Matthew Winner is an elementary library media specialist in Howard County, Maryland. He is the co-founder of All The Wonders, a children’s literature website and more, and host of the All The Wonders podcast, a weekly podcast where Matthew talks to authors, illustrators, award winners, up-and-comers, and everyone in between. He is the author of ASHA WENT WALKING, a webcomic for young readers illustrated by Lorian Tu-Dean about a girl, her arctic fox companion, and her magic bag. In 2013 Matthew was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker and was invited to the White House as part of the Champions of Change program. Matthew currently teaches library media at Swansfield Elementary School in Columbia, Maryland. You can follow Matthew on Twitter at @MatthewWinner or by visiting

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