Sofia Rathjen is a community champion by no stretch of the imagination. At 13 years old, Sofia is an advocate for inclusion and representation in books. As a successful Strathcona County Community Change Grant applicant in 2019, she used the grant funds to purchase over 130 school library books to represent diverse stories and lives. The following is an excerpt from her English class passion project essay, titled “Technicolour Bookshelves”.
By Sofia Rathjen
Books are the magic that we are raised on. Books are what spark imagination and creativity, they are where kids can see themselves as great heroes, scientists and change-makers and have characters that they can relate to. Mostly. For so many students of colour, most of the books that they grow up on are very White. Think of the classics: Harry Potter, Judy Blume, Anne of Green Gables, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, Holes, the list never ends. The only books I read in elementary school that featured non-white main characters were historical fiction books about the Underground Railroad and Residential Schools. We need to acknowledge the struggles of people of colour, but at the same time, find books with multi-dimensional, unique, unapologetically brown characters living good lives.
As an educator, you hold the power, through curriculum, to influence the thinking of your students and to change the way that they see themselves. You have the choice to bring the voices of BIPOC authors into your school to spark conversations on race and create an environment where we can better understand each other. It can be the thing that encourages your students of colour to learn more about their history, not just the history in our textbooks. It is beyond frustrating to have someone try to look past certain parts of yourself so that they don't feel uncomfortable. My amazing mom always says: "Having diverse books will help us have technicolour hearts instead of pretending to have colourblind eyes."
All students should be able to go into their school library and easily find books with characters that reflect both their appearance and diverse lived experiences. I want to see classroom bookshelves filled with books written by African-American, Asian, Latin, Indigenous, Middle Eastern authors. I know that this can be achieved and I am only one student with big ideas and big dreams, trying to make my voice heard. You are the one who can choose to listen to my voice and those of other students who can also see where changes need to be made. While you teach us new problem-solving and leadership skills, we can teach you about our experiences and things you may not have even considered. You have an amazing opportunity here for creating a more compassionate and safer environment for all students. As Fred Rogers said, "We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say it's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem. Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes."
Follow Sofia’s book journey on Instagram: @the_technicolour_bookshelf
Do you have a passion project of your own? Check out Strathcona County’s Community Change grants and make it happen!