This woman is on a mission to get diverse books in the hands of every child. Here's why.

Ginger Young was reading "Martin’s Big Words" — a picture-book biography of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. — to a fifth-grade class.

When she finished, one of the students ran up to her excitedly. She had enjoyed the book so much that she wanted to know how she could get a copy of her own.

“You can have my copy,” Young told her.


The girl’s jaw dropped and her eyes lit up. She thanked Young and then ran over to her mother, who was watching nearby, to show off the gift.

For Young, these moments aren’t just heartwarming — they’re why she does this work.

That’s because when you give a book to a child, it’s so much more than a simple act of kindness  — it can have a powerful impact on their life.

All photos provided by First Book and Ginger Young.

This is especially true if that kid has never seen themselves in the books they’re reading.

As a literacy educator and founder of Book Harvest, a nonprofit in North Carolina that has now distributed over half a million books to kids in need, Young has seen firsthand how powerful it is when children connect with the diversity they see in the stories they read, especially given that there aren't actually that many of these kinds of books out there.

In fact, that’s why she started Book Harvest’s “Mirrors and Windows” program in partnership with First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise organization that provides new books  and resources  to classrooms and programs in under-resourced communities, helping create equal access to quality education.

She was inspired to name the program after reading the work of Rudine Sims Bishop, who coined the phrase to describe how books can act as “mirrors” to reflect a child’s world or “windows” into worlds other than their own.

Young wanted to make sure the kids receiving books could see their own experiences and identities reflected in these narratives — and that they could read about other communities too.

It can be powerful for a child who hasn't had access to a story with characters that reflect their own experiences to finally see themselves in what they read.

That's because it can be especially challenging, if not impossible, for children of color, children with disabilities, children who identify as gender nonconforming or transgender, or children who come from nontraditional families to find books that speak to their experiences. And without that representation, these kids will struggle to feel that their own stories matter.

In fact, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center reviewed 3,400 children's books that they received in 2016 and they found that only 287 of the books were about black characters, which amounts to only 8.4%. Further, only 240, or 7% were about Asian Pacific Americans and 169 (4.97%) were about Latinos. Only 55 (1.6%) were about Native Americans.

While these ratios have improved in recent years, there are still more books that feature animals than children of color.

"Every child wants to see themselves mirrored in stories, wants to be connected to others as who they are. It’s a fundamental, basic human need," Young says.

It can be challenging for children from marginalized communities to see what's possible when there is little positive and dynamic representation of their experiences. Children both need and deserve affirmation from the outside world that their stories matter too. And if they don't get that validation, it can cause them to lose interest in reading — something that could affect their ability to succeed in school later in life.

Not only do these books affirm a child’s sense of self-worth, but they also help cultivate empathy by exposing them to other worlds.

Building empathy in children early is key to creating an accepting, inclusive society. "[Books offer] a sense of others mattering as much as we do," Young explains.

"Stories are how you create that," she continues. "It’s very important to have the avenues to developing empathy in place way before children get to school."

Research has shown that reading fictional stories can break down stereotypes. Reading multicultural children’s literature can have a powerful impact on social and emotional learning, enhancing empathy toward others. It can also get kids more excited to understand the world around them.

That’s why Young created a book list that goes all the way from pre-K through middle school, including many titles from First Book’s Stories for All Project collection, which places a special emphasis on diverse books and books by underrepresented authors and illustrators. Young believes that parents need to create a strong foundation for empathy with their kids before they even get to school, and they can do that by reading books to them.  

"Those are the kind of young readers who grow up to be the citizens of the world we should be aspiring to," Young says.

The good news is, the momentum is building.

There is an increasing demand for books that are as complex and thoughtful as the communities reading them — books that represent a variety of races, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, religions, abilities, languages, and cultures from storytellers whose backgrounds also reflect that rich diversity.

And this, Young hopes, can grow into something larger than her own efforts. As she says, "We can knit this into something that is much bigger than any one community."

After all, children across the country deserve access to stories that inspire them, with characters and themes that ring true to their experiences, particularly in a world that rarely offers these children the affirmation they need.

“If we are to create the kind of society we want for our children, we have to use the power of stories to show our children that they matter,” she explains. “If we haven’t done that for every child, then all children have suffered.”

If we want to create an empathetic society in the future — one where all children believe in the value of their own story — these books are critical.

With the help of First Book, Ginger Young is giving children books that are truly empowering, helping kids navigate a divisive and challenging world.

Millions of children from low-income areas don’t have the tools needed to learn, placing them at a disadvantage that perpetuates poverty. First Book is a community that believes education is the way out of poverty for kids in need.

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Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

Bhatia owes much of her impressive career to her family. Her parents were refugees who met in graduate school in India; in fact, she says her mom was the first woman to earn an MBA in the country. The couple immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, started a family, and worked hard to give their two daughters the best opportunities.

"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

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Someday, future Americans will look back on this era of school shootings in bafflement and disbelief—not only over the fact that it happened, but over how long it took us to enact significant legislation to try to stop it.

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via Hollie Bellew-Shaw / Facebook

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"Some senses may be turned up too high and some turned down too low. As a result, the data that comes in tends to be distorted, and it's very hard to perceive a person's environment accurately," Shore continued.

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Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign, is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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