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'She saw somebody that looked like her': Read in Color program highlights BIPOC authors, characters

On Communities that KARE, learn about the Wisconsin-based nonprofit Little Free Library partnership with Urban Ventures, curating a diverse book list.

MINNEAPOLIS — Jayla Roberts, age 7, wants to be a scientist. The Minneapolis girl's father, Benny Roberts, said she's always been very math and science minded, as well as curious. So when she picked up the book "Ada Twist, Scientist," at a Little Free Library near her home, she got excited.

The book features a young Black girl with a passion for science. Jayla, who is also Black, loved the story.

"She saw the girl and she saw her family and said, 'Hey that’s kind of like our family!'" Benny Roberts, her father, said. "I just saw it unlock and deepen this love for something that she was already interested in because she saw somebody that looked like her in a book."

Credit: Benny Roberts
Jayla Roberts, age 7, has an interest in science.

The book is part of the Read in Color program launched by the Hudson, Wisconsin-based nonprofit Little Free Library in fall of 2020. Little Free Library is a program where community stewards across the globe assemble a birdhouse-sized library and fill it with books for neighbors to borrow. The Read in Color program is an initiative to ensure the mini libraries are filled with books that reflect the diverse communities around them: an effort to highlight diverse authors, publishers, and story characters.

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Roberts, who serves as the vice president of youth and career programs at Urban Ventures, worked alongside staff at Little Free Library to curate a list of books.

"There was instant synergy, there was instant connection," Roberts said. "We love that they were being more intentional with the book selection, not just from the protagonist in the book but also who’s writing and publishing the book as well."

Roberts says it's a subject that hits home.

"Oftentimes, kids of color and people in marginalized communities – they get to learn exploration, creativity and fantasy through a window: you look at another person’s culture, you explore their world, but you very rarely get a mirror where you get to see your own community represented in publications and in literature," he said. "This gave us an opportunity to become key stakeholders in making sure there were more mirrors."

Credit: Little Free Library

Little Free Library’s Read in Color program was a 2021 community grant recipient of the TEGNA foundation. Executive Director Greg Metzger said partnering with KARE 11 and the TEGNA foundation helped them add 600 new books to add to this program purchased from local, community bookstores.

"Sharing diverse perspectives – whether it’s of BIPOC authors or LGBTQ community or other religions and the like, helps share perspectives that might be different than our own," Metzger said. "We’re hopeful that that helps nurture feelings of empathy and community and frankly make the world a little bit of a nicer place."

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