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Van Pelt Library's new collection of over 1,500 children’s books highlights diversity across gender, sexuality, ability, race, religion, and socioeconomic class. Credit: Hannah Shumsky

A new stock of award-winning children’s books highlighting diversity and inclusion is now available at Van Pelt Library.

The collection, located on the first floor of Van Pelt, consists of over 1,500 books featuring characters from diverse backgrounds. 

The library staff created the collection by identifying books that have won or been nominated for awards related to diversity, according to a press release on Jan. 18. 

The selection also includes books from the Penn Graduate School of Education’s annual Best Books for Young Readers list, created in 2015 by then-GSE associate professor Ebony Elizabeth Thomas to showcase more diverse children’s books. 

The books represent diversity across gender, sexuality, ability, race, religion, and socioeconomic class, and they target audiences in grades kindergarten through 12th. 

"This initiative will help enable the next generation of University of Pennsylvania educators to bring award-winning children's literature into their classrooms, advancing education and literacy in local schools and beyond,” Brigitte Weinsteiger, Gershwind & Bennett Family Senior Associate Vice Provost for Collections & Scholarly Communications at the Penn Libraries, said in the news release. 

The initiative reflects the Penn Libraries’ wider efforts to acknowledge the significance of children’s literature in academia and media. 

A recent increase in academic and commercial interest in children’s literature prompted Penn to update its collection to recognize the cultural significance of books written about and for young people. 

“If you think about it, many more people have read Doctor Seuss than have read Tolstoy or Dostoevsky,” Nick Okrent, Coordinator and Librarian for Humanities Collections at the Penn Libraries, said in the news release. “Children around the world are growing up with stereotypes and norms and tropes — everything that we talk about when we talk about literature.” 

In the past few years, Penn Libraries has worked to expand its stock of graphic novels, young adult books, and comic book compilations. In 2021, it purchased more than 1,000 books for the Immigrant and Refugee Experiences in Children’s and Young Adult Literature Collection

The Penn Libraries’ Franklin catalog lists all books in the collection for convenient online browsing. 

The collection is set to grow over time, with new award-winning books added yearly.