So why a DEI bookstore? Why not just...a bookstore?
Books are incredible because they transport and reflect. Especially children’s books, which often have beautiful illustrations. You can drive through the pages and end up in another world, but at the same time, you can see people just like you in the words, looking back, like slightly altered reflections.
But what happens when the people in the books look or act nothing like you?
There’s plenty of research out there that says that kids being able to see themselves represented in stories gives them more confidence as they grow up. It validates their existences, offers them perspective on their struggles, and gives them an opportunity to develop empathy.
We learn more than we think we do, reading as children: when I was young, the representation of young, blonde, able-bodied white girls was fantastic. The representation of those girls doing awesome things was also, admittedly, fantastic. I’m lucky that my parents sought out books that would teach me, not just about traditional fairy tales, but about how to live life to the fullest. My existence, according to the stories I read and the pictures I saw, was justified. I was a princess, a fairy. People would scale towers, slay dragons, and fight wars for me.* Yet here was the essential problem: things would be done for, to, and because of me. (I’m beginning to understand the dangerous implications of passive voice.) As for boys reading these stories, they are taught that courage and bravery appear primarily through physical action, that violence against the unknown ought to be praised, and that they are destined to save and marry a woman.
And what about the people who aren’t even in the story?
Do they simply not exist? Do they not deserve a place in the same well-meaning story of courage, honor, and love?
In opening our bookstore, we are asking the following questions: What do stories teach us? How do they shape our perceptions of the world? How does what we see - or not see - color what we think we can or ought to become?
What’s courageous to me now is that I’ve learned to acknowledge that the stories I grew up reading, though lovely, are problematic in many ways. This is not to say that I have struggled because of the representations of people who looked like me in books: on the contrary, there were enough books of young white girls thinking for themselves that I grew up just as mouthy and powerful as the ones on the page. But that’s the whole point: I was offered representation when others were not. This is to say that sometimes confronting the status quo is scary. It takes courage to think about what is taught to us through what we consume every day. To call out an industry on its lack of diverse representation.
How can we create the most accessible, most diverse, most equitable environment we can?
We opened the bookstore to provide a place for young kids to learn about the world they live in. We want kids to learn that it’s a beautiful one. A big one. One where all sorts of people thrive, different lives all melding together. Coexisting. Respecting each other. Our goal is to provide a learning environment for children so that they might learn at a young age to be kind. That’s always what’s been most important to my mother: kindness.
This journey is largely a personal one: my mom has been wanting to open a bookstore for 30 years. I’m an English major and plan to work with books for the rest of my life. More recently, my research in critical literary theory has informed a lot of the basis of this bookstore. Elsie speaks more languages than I can remember on any given day - children’s books are her recent passion. But it’s a personal journey for everyone, we hope. A place for learning and growth. For representation.
This is why my family and I have opened Stories Like Me: because all of us grew up in a world where we were validated when no one else was, and because we selected books that specifically represented girls being awesome on their own, for no one else. And because we want that experience for others too. We want all children to be able to pick up a book and feel like they belong. We want them to see themselves in a story - and to be able to see others as equal characters. We want to support artists who are making changes through their passions. We want to show the world that yes, it is possible to accept more than we fear. In the end, walking into a bookstore should help you feel at peace. Stories Like Me should be a sanctuary for everyone to come and feel respected, validated, and seen as they are, not as who a canon of books thinks they are meant to be.
So this is me: Imogen Grace Campbell Hendricks, undeniably privileged but trying to learn. And this is me inviting you into our community: You are so welcome here.
(*Please note that Stories Like Me is a dragon-friendly place and that no dragons were harmed in the making of this argument.*)
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