Oak Park library immerses families in literature to support race-conscious readers
When Katie Arnold reads books to her son, she said doesn’t want the conversations they conjure about race to be left unspoken.
So, when an opportunity arose to learn more about resources to help foster race-conscious readers, she felt compelled to visit her local library.
“I think it’s important for me, as a parent who is white, to learn about resources to teach my child, who is Chinese, about race,” said Arnold, a resident of Oak Park. “I think the tools and strategies offered, here, will be useful to raising our child to have a healthy identity and a sense of belonging as part of an interracial family and a diverse community.”
On the evening of Sept. 19, the Oak Park Public Library hosted the first of three programs this fall designed to support race-conscious readers. Future dates are scheduled for Oct. 17 and Nov. 14.
The series is geared toward children enrolled in kindergarten through grade three.
“We’re hoping this program will evolve, be ongoing, and serve as a resource to the community,” said Naomi Priddy, multicultural learning librarian at Oak Park Public Library.
Priddy said it is her job to help patrons explore different cultures around the country and around the world to enable them to focus on how one’s own cultural identity affects their view of the world.
When asked if the series was developed by the library in the wake of determining it needed to walk-back its plans to host free community showings of the Starz documentary, “America to Me”, Priddy said the timing is a coincidence.
“America to Me” is a documentary series that looks at the topic of race as it affects Oak Park and River Forest High School.
“We’ve been planning this since December of last year,” Priddy said. “The Timing worked out well.”
The library hosted a pilot program this summer with pre-kindergarten children and their families.
The series is made possible thanks, in part, to one of the schools in Oak Park Elementary School District 97.
“The books are part of the multicultural collected at the Dole Branch,” Priddy said. “It was last housed at Percy Julian Middle School. We wanted a nice collection that focuses on the many cultures around the country and around the world.”
Priddy said it’s clear that children’s literature has a powerful way of starting conversations on race.
“Picture books are visual, and they allow us to explore places we’ve never traveled to,” she said. “Personally, using a picture book while in the act of being together makes us more open. Kids share things they wouldn’t otherwise.”
Arnold said the program did not disappoint.
“I learned about books to read with my child, ways to ask questions and draw out questions to be able to talk about race, diversity, and inequality,” Arnold said. “The way they model how to share the stories has been helpful. Also, the list of resources has been very valuable.”
Arnold said she is interested in learning more about where the program goes next to move the dialogue forward on race. She is employed at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she teaches a class on diversity and justice.
“The adult resources will allow me to incorporate some new ideas into the syllabus for the undergraduates I teach,” she said.
Oak Park resident David Walker said the program provided a lot of takeaways.
“I enjoyed the program,” he said. “It’s important for our kids to try to make changes for the society we live in and help us make changes to the patterns we’re aware of.”
A librarian helped Walker during the program to locate some books to checkout for reading at home. Walker said he looks forward to keeping conversations on race going with his daughter, Tessie Walker.
“It’s already an open topic in our family,” he said. “We’re going to address it as long as it’s necessary.”
For information, visit oppl.org.