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Worth a Thousand Words: A Representative World of Books

Art on a library window

The aptly named Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) is a product of the partnership between the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction through its Division for Libraries and Technology. In addition to holding thousands of books for children of all ages, the CCBC serves as a laboratory of sorts for those working in education, library services, childcare, and children’s literature. Since 1963, its librarians have carefully curated collections to delight kids, as well as to provide thought-provoking materials for teachers to engage with their students.

Booklists on the CCBC’s website provide recommendations for kids’ books based on a variety of genres, age ranges, and themes. Many of the lists are designed to expand the representation of races, cultures, and lifestyles in children’s literature. The center has also contributed to research in this area with a log of diversity statistics going back to 1985. The CCBC and its director, K. T. Horning ’80, MA’82 , were featured in a CBS This Morning segment to share this research and to emphasize the mission of inclusion in children’s literature. “I think children’s books are a really important part of a good foundation for living in the real world,” Horning explains. “Books have an impact.”

The photo gallery featured in the January 2022 issue of Badger Vibes is built upon the same goals as the CCBC. Artists featured in this list may or may not be familiar to you, but their stories represent the variety of life, culture, and art that we experience collectively. These 12 pieces of cover art constitute a booklist for kids and adults to enjoy and ponder at any age, through both the beautiful illustrations and the important messages within.

  • Written by Gary Golio, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez
  • For ages 7–11
  • A colorful biography of Carlos Santana and how he blended his Mexican heritage with American blues to form a unique sound.
  • Written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
  • Ages 4–8
  • Millo Castro Zaldarriaga broke barriers in the 1920s with her drumming skills, first in Cuba, then throughout the world.
  • Written by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers
  • Ages 5–10
  • Ballerina Misty Copeland uses this book to record the roles she’s danced and to encourage other young dancers to shoot for the stars.
  • Written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad
  • Ages 4–8
  • Gyo Fujikawa was a pioneer for increased representation in children’s literature; her first book, published in 1963, featured illustrations of babies of all races, despite protest from publishers.
  • Written by Amy Novesky, illustrated by David Diaz
  • Ages 7–12
  • This book features the power couple of the art world, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, with a special emphasis on Frida’s growth as an artist.
  • Written by Michael Mahin, illustrated by Evan Turk
  • Ages 7–10
  • From sharecropper to blues legend, Muddy Waters forged a seemingly impossible path with his passion for music
  • Written by Monica Brown, illustrated by Julie Paschkis
  • Ages 5–10
  • Brown and Paschkis use Spanish words and bold illustrations to portray Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s strength as an artist and an activist.
  • Written by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki
  • Ages 5–9
  • Tyrus Wong has a place in the heart of many Disney fans, even if they don’t know it. This book recognizes the major contributions he made to Disney, such as designing and animating movies as iconic as Bambi.
  • Written by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Lin Wang
  • Ages 7–10
  • As the first Chinese American movie star in early Hollywood, Anna May Wong battled hurtful stereotypes and pushed for positive representation of Chinese people in the film industry.
  • Written by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
  • Ages 6–10
  • Mixing elaborate illustrations with real-life photographs of the “secret kingdom,” this book transports readers to the world created by sculptor Nek Chand.
  • Written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter
  • Ages 5–9
  • Illustrations from this book match the rounded, topsy-turvy buildings Iraqi architect Zara Hadid loved to design.
  • Written and illustrated by George Littlechild
  • Ages 9–14
  • George Littlechild narrates his own paintings, using them to explain his life and experiences as a member of the Plains Cree Nation.

This story was originally published in the January 2022 issue of Badger Vibes. Learn more about this monthly newsletter from WAA, and sign up for the mailing list.

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