Krista Aronson, finder of diverse picture books

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Krista Aronson

Ten years ago, Bates College professor Krista Aronson wanted to find a picture book to help her daughter’s young classmates understand diversity. 

She struggled to find even one.

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It was a problem she never forgot. Now she’s helping to solve it by creating an online database of diverse picture books.

DiverseBookFinder.org has about 1,400 books, with more added every day. It’s a treasure trove of biographies, folklore, history, cultural heritage, stories whose leading characters are diverse and more.  

Aronson’s hope: That all children will be able to find books that reflect who they are.

Name: Krista Maywalt Aronson

Age: 42

Single/married/family: Happily married to David Aronson. We have two daughters: Sophia, 15, and Hope, 2.

Job: Bates College psychology professor

What is the Diverse BookFinder? Well, it’s the place to go when you want to find picture books featuring people of color. More specifically, it’s an online, searchable database of picture books featuring human characters of color published since 2002. We don’t select the titles to include — we include all of them. So, it’s not a list of recommended titles. It’s all of your options.

How did you come up with the idea? My oldest daughter, Sophia, was an important inspiration. When she was in elementary school (about 10 years ago) she was the only child of color who was not Somali; her peers grappled with how to categorize her and, consequently, how to accept her. Most hadn’t had much contact with non-immigrant black Americans. Knowing that kids their age gain a lot of information about the world through picture books, I began to think about how (books) could be used to experience difference.

How are books found for the database? Diverse books can be hard to find. We try and look everywhere — publisher catalogs (and outreach to about 120 publishers), award lists (about 33 awards), author and illustrator web pages, blogs and listservs. The list goes on and on. Despite our extensive efforts, we still miss some important publications, though, and always welcome suggested titles.

What are kids missing out on when their reading list mostly reflects themselves? Opportunities to learn about people who may be different. There’s a lot of evidence that reading diverse picture books can make it easier for kids to interact across difference, help them develop empathy and better prepare them for our changing world.

Where can people find the finder? DiverseBookFinder.org. We own physical copies of all of the books shown online. Anyone can come read them anytime at Bates College’s Ladd Library. Or check them out from any library (anywhere) via inter-library loan.

Who else has been helping? We have an awesome team: Anne Sibley O’Brien, Maine-based children’s book author and illustrator; Brenna Callahan, Bates alum (’15) and AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer; and Christina Bell, Bates humanities librarian. Lots of other folks help too, including Bates Communication and Information and Library Services teams, two outside contractors and an 11-person advisory council of librarians, publishers, parents and scholars.

What’s your dream for the database? Our ultimate goal is to diversify and balance bookshelves everywhere, so that all our children can find themselves reflected and celebrated in libraries, schools and homes across the nation.

Do you plan to expand beyond picture books? No. I think it’s more likely that we’ll move to incorporate picture books focused on other types of diversity: religion, ability, gender identity, LBGQTIA.

What’s the most unusual book the finder found? There’s a really interesting title called “The Swirling Hijaab” by Na’ima bint Robert, which is a lovely, simple book about a young girl imagining all the ways she can play with her mother’s headscarf. The publisher, Mantra Lingua, focuses on bilingual books. Our copy is in English and Somali, but you can get this same title in 21 languages, including Urdu, Czech, Gujarati and Kurdish! Deb Cleveland from the Auburn Public Library donated this title to the collection and we’re really glad she brought it to our attention.

Your favorite picture books growing up? My wise and thoughtful mother (Paula) kept several of my favorites so that I’d have them to share with my children. My girls have enjoyed “Half a Kingdom: An Icelandic Folktale” by Ann McGovern and “Many Moons” by James Thurber.

Your daughter’s favorite picture books now? Lately, my little one, Hope, has enjoyed these diverse titles: “Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library” by Julie Gassman, “Little Red and the Hungry Lion” by Alex T. Smith, and “Monsoon Afternoon” by Kashmira Sheth.

One book parents should be reading to their kids but aren’t? Just one? How about “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Pena? Come to the DiverseBookFinder to find more.

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