Two Asheville moms are working to add diversity to the reading material available in public schools. Through an effort they’re calling the Colorful Pages Project, Bianca Gragg and Jeannie Curtis are seeking out picture books featuring characters of color that are written by authors of color.
Gragg and Curtis befriended one another about three years ago. The two moms shared common interest in working with children, with Gragg having worked as a school based therapist in two Buncombe County elementary schools and Curtis formerly working as an elementary school teacher and now as a consultant supporting teachers with math instruction.
The two also shared common concerns about multiculturalism and racial equity (or the lack thereof in some cases) in schools, though they were coming at the issue from very different perspectives. Gragg, a woman of Mexican-American descent who moved to Asheville from the Southwest, says she was feeling “really disconnected from my culture and community.” Curtis felt she was in a position of privilege and wanted to take action.
One day, the two met at French Broad Chocolate Lounge to talk things over with local racial equity consultant Marisol Jiménez, and the Colorful Pages Project idea was born.
The Colorful Pages Project received a $5,000 Buncombe County Tipping Point grant last year, and they’ve been working on raising money and collecting books ever since.
By collecting donations of both books and cash, the Colorful Pages Project made its first classroom delivery in March, delivering about 20 different picture books to a classroom of first-graders at Vance Elementary School. One example of a book: Mommy’s Khimar, written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Ebony Glenn. The book tells the story of a young Muslim girl who spends a busy day wrapped up in her mother’s colorful headscarf.
Gragg and Curtis have also held story-time gatherings at Firestorm Books & Coffee in West Asheville and read books aloud in Spanish and English.
Getting books showcasing characters of color written by authors of color is about helping all children see themselves and be recognized. There are ancillary goals of increasing reading proficiency and closing a persistent achievement gap between white students and students of color, but it’s mostly about building community.
“We want to nourish a sense of belonging,” says Curtis. Books can serve as mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors offering children views of themselves and helping them understand others.
Gragg echoes that sentiment.
“In Texas schools, I never had that experience of reading a book where I saw people that looked like me,” she says. “I want something different for my family and for the other children of color in our community.”