New Jersey English Journal

Document Type



The literary canon has long been revered in public education as representing the “‘depth and breadth of our national common experience,’ but the problem is that what was once defined as ‘common’—middle class, white, cisgender people—is no longer the reality in our country” (Anderson 1). The United States has a very diverse population, but there is a lack of diverse representation in books taught in the English classroom. In other words, American classics embedded in the curriculum hold merit, but they do not fully represent the stories of all ethnic and culturally diverse students with their own “American” experiences. Poor ethnic and cultural representation in books taught in the classroom can exacerbate the issue of marginalized children feeling a diminished sense of self-worth and invisible—their identities erased and voices irrelevant. Children need opportunities to read literature that serves as mirrors--helping readers reflect what they observe about themselves through relatable characters--and windows--offering views of new worlds, different realities and experiences. When books serve as mirrors and windows, they become more than just works of fiction; they become powerful tools in nurturing students’ empathy, deconstructing prejudices and stereotypes, and enhancing cultural awareness.