Building an illustrated children’s book collection with the community

In partnership with the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC), the Penn Libraries Community Engagement team has worked for the past six years on efforts to reopen school libraries in the School District of Philadelphia, as one of the many ways that this department collaborates with community-based organizations in Philadelphia to promote literacy beyond the classroom.

In the process of cataloging books for school libraries and working with elementary school students to select titles, the team of sixteen Penn students learned about the many ways that illustrated children’s literature can serve as a tool for addressing issues of injustice and centering community voices. These efforts led to the development of the “Mirrors Collection,” a list of illustrated children’s books chosen and reviewed especially for these libraries and their diverse student populations. The will help inform school library collection development efforts and will remain responsive to changing curriculums and school needs.

With the help of a community of educators, librarians, authors, and illustrators, Penn students selected the books for the “Mirrors Collection” that reflect important themes like social justice, health literacy, and emotional literacy. The priority is to showcase books with unique voices that inspire empathy, understanding, and comfort. The books in the collection highlight students’ lived experiences and often cover topics they wish they had had the opportunity to read about when they were children. To close out the school year, five seniors and one graduate student from the Community Engagement team have chosen one or two books from the “Mirrors Collection” that they would want every public school library to have and every student to read.