Welcome to this first issue of Mirrors Windows Doors, a new website celebrating diversity and our shared humanity through a whole world of children’s and YA books.
‘Mirrors, windows and doors’ is a metaphor that can be used to refer to the need for children to find themselves reflected in books; for books to provide an opening onto worlds beyond their own experience (worlds real or imagined) – because children need to see children that look different in the books they read; and for reading to provide a conduit for children to journey into the world and experience all it has to offer.
Founding publisher of Groundwood Books in Canada and former International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) president Patsy Aldana has been a great purveyor of the metaphor and it was from her that I first heard it. It was originally coined, however by Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Education at Ohio State University, who specialised in African American children’s literature. In a 1990 article re-published recently here by Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), she wrote:
‘Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.’
I love this metaphor for so many reasons, and I’ll try and give some of them here…
It takes, as its basis, objects that figure in most people’s lives around the world, often without much heed being paid to them – but when you really look at them, they can provide a sense of place, of continuity, of history, art and culture. And when you bring together images of mirrors, windows or doors from around the world, they provide a rich resource for comparison, shared differences and similarities, and stories – all of which spirals of thought also feed the metaphor they encompass.
It highlights the transformative power of books.
Because mirrors, windows and doors are themselves already imbued with some sense of the figurative, by being brought together, they allow the metaphor to embrace the imaginary as well as the real – and, of course, imagination is so key to the creative process. By promoting the idea that children should find themselves in books, for example, we are not necessarily crying out for everything to be real (without getting started on a discourse of what ‘real’ is…).
Perhaps most saliently, as a metaphor, ‘mirrors, windows and doors’ rises above and beyond a temporal assignation of identity and labelling. What do I mean by that? Well, over the ten years that I have been critiquing children’s literature, I have been saddened and angered by the politicisation of certain terms (most especially, for example, ‘multicultural’, certainly in the UK), so that they are bandied about as a dirty word in some contexts. However, when such words become jargon, it does make you dig deep to understand your affiliation to them.
To me, multicultural literature is important because it encompasses respect, diversity, discovery, authenticity of voice and empathy. It does not exclude or promote the ‘other’ to the detriment of ‘self’. Trying to get this across in a few words is difficult (and more is probably required here) – so that is where the compactness of the wording of the metaphor versus the explosion of meaning it encompasses/throws out into the world really comes into its own!
So Mirrors Windows Doors may sound like a glazier company, but it is actually absolutely the right name for this website! And it also seemed right to make ‘Mirrors,Windows and Doors’ the theme for the website’s launch – and part of that has included turning the metaphor back on its head by seeking out books that are about actual mirrors, windows or doors…
Find some favourites or some new books to seek out in this reading list (and add to it…):
Book reviews will also be added regularly…
Do explore the site; and any feedback, especially at these early stages for MWD, will be very welcome.