• Sydney Calcagno

Representation Matters in Children's Literature

A Kansas Literacy Festival Partner Spotlight:

Work around race, diversity, equity, and inclusion starts at an early age. #representationmatters



“Once children see themselves represented in books, their existence is validated, and they feel that they are a part of the world.”

~Eric Velaquez, Author


In the months leading up to our Kansas Literacy Festival this September, Storytime Village is excited to spotlight the incredibly talented individuals and organizations who have partnered with us to host literacy programming across the state of Kansas.


This spotlight features United Way of the Plains and their Inclusive Readers Become Inclusive Leaders program.


The Inspiration Behind the Project


Prior to working at United Way of the Plains, Rachele FioRito worked as a high school teacher. The novels she was directed to teach featured narratives of white characters, written by white authors. Any characters of color were predominately featured in stories that centered on subjection. She knew that we as a society were failing our kids if they only were introduced to stories that featured white characters in positions of power, and characters of color centered on narratives of subjection.


Now, as United Way of the Plains' Collective Impact Manager for education, FioRito has spearheaded the Inclusive Readers Become Inclusive Leaders program in order to begin the important task of lifting up diverse narratives. Supported and authentic conversations starting with our children might not end systemic racism by itself, but it can open doors for even more impactful work.


"If we were able to talk to our kids openly about race, diversity, and inclusion with the same importance that we talk to our kids about their letters, numbers, and colors," says FioRito , "I truly believe we would be closer to a more just and anti-racist society."


The Festival Project: Inclusive Readers Become Inclusive Leaders


United Way of the Plains believes that work around race, diversity, equity, and inclusion starts at an early age. The organization wants to make sure children see themselves in the books they read, and its program aims to provide more books on the shelves of local childcare providers that match the demographic of the children they serve.


United Way of the Plains is identifying a mix of large and small child care providers in Sedgwick County that are participating in a survey of current books offered at centers and assessment of purchasing needs. Books that feature children of color will then be purchased and distributed to child care providers, matching the demographics of the children they serve. It is anticipated that books will enhance the literacy experience of at least 100 children under age five in the Sedgwick county area.


United Way of the Plains has also partnered with Wichita Mom to host a Representation Matters Book Challenge. The organization has provided a list of books featuring characters of diversity and encourages families to read these books with their children. To go one step further, families are invited to help others read similar books by purchasing racially diverse books that will be donated to underserved children through Storytime Village.


"Storytelling is one of the easiest and most accessible approaches for teaching race, equity, diversity, and inclusion," says FioRito. "Don't just tell children how important it is to respect, value, and honor our differences; help them be part of that conversation through the books they read."


"Don't just tell children how important it is to respect, value, and honor our differences; help them be part of that conversation through the books they read."

For More Kansas Literacy Festival Programs:


Kansas Literacy Festival activities are happening from January to September of 2021, with the help of our Digital Partners all across Kansas. Visit storytimevillage.org for more information on other literacy projects happening across the state.


The United Way of the Plains


United Way of the Plains sponsors the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program for south central Kansas. The program mails children up to five years old, a new, free book every month to help foster a love of reading before they enter school.


United Way also partners with USD 259 – Wichita Public Schools to help students achieve grade-level reading by the end of their third-grade year. The Read to Succeed program pairs community volunteer reading coaches with students who are falling behind. These coaches to listen to them read and provide intervention tactics to help them improve their skills, get on track, and stay on track.


Project Contact:

Rachele FioRito

Collective Impact Manager- Education

United Way of the Plains

rfiorito@unitedwayplains.org

316-267-1321 ext. 4233

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P.O. Box 21104

Wichita, KS 67208 

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Urban Preparatory Academy

2821 E 24th St N 

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