Holiday Gifts for MG Readers
Welcome to WNDMG Wednesday – the holiday edition! Looking for holiday gifts for your MG readers?
How about a video game or virtual reality goggles?
Not April Fools yet, sorry, I got confused.
But seriously folks, how about books … and not just books, but a subscription book box? I’ve got the perfect idea: the Atlas Book Club, founded by Bunmi Emenanjo. The Atlas Book Club was created specifically with diversity in mind: to provide a way for kids to read in a way that builds global awareness, cultural consciousness, empathy, and understanding.
Lucky for us at WNDMG, we got to talk to Bunmi a little bit about the Atlast Book Club, and we can’t wait to introduce her.
Interview with Bunmi Emenanjo
WNDMG: What made you decide to start Atlas?
BE: In 2016, my husband and I moved with our kids to our current home in a lovely neighborhood with very little diversity. To ensure the kids remain connected to their heritage, I started a children’s book club initially focused on African books. This book club included kids from different backgrounds made up of kids of friends and from our neighborhood. Also, whenever I was a Guest Lucky forReader at the kids’ elementary school, I selected books from our diverse collection. This usually led to interesting conversations with kids who normally would not have exposure to books set in countries such as Uganda or Burkina Faso. I saw how these books set all over the world resonated with my kids and other kids. My observation was that kids need to see themselves in the books that they read! When they do it helps build their confidence and have a sense of belonging. I also observed that kids are yearning to learn about cultures different from their own! What started off as a home book club where we read books set in different parts of Africa eventually grew into an exploration of countries all over the world. Since launching Atlas Book Club as a business in 2019, we have explored over 25 countries through our book selections!
Atlas Book Club Focuses on Global Diversity
WNDMG: In a time when there’s so much choice in subscription book boxes—and some of those choices do include a focus on diversity—how does Atlas set itself apart from the rest?
EB: Atlas Book Club is different because our focus is on global diversity. We believe that cultural competence is an important aspect of a child’s education and development. We also believe that we do our kids a disservice by not introducing them to global culture when they are young because they will enter, as adults, a workforce that will be more globally diverse than ever.
Our focus, with our boxes, is to bring global culture to a child through a fun, engaging, and interesting book. We are also very intentional about the books that make it into our boxes. Every decision we make is towards fulfilling our mission – (1) to help children of color see themselves in the books that they read; (2) to help all children travel the world and experience global culture through the books we select; and (3) to help shatter single story narratives and stereotypes by showcasing diversity within cultures. Every single item in our box is designed to fulfill that mission. For example, our Fun Facts card typically contains facts that are not well known and that celebrate different parts of the culture of the country we are exploring. We also include a local sourced souvenir from the featured country, which in turn supports a local family or community in that country. We are very particular about the book select and they have to fit certain criteria – we feature books with protagonists of color in genres that do not typically have kids of color as the main character such as magical realism or historical fiction; we ensure that we include books that show kids just being regular kids; and we do not shy away from complex societal issues. Lastly, we explore countries that most people are not even thinking about including Turkey, Iran, Haiti, Botswana, Korea, Peru, and Australia with a focus on Aboriginal history and culture, just to name a few.
Diversity Within Race and Culture Too
WNDMG: You’ve committed to selecting a variety of books that showcase diversity “not just in race and culture, but also diversity within race and culture.” Can you talk a little bit about why that’s such an important distinction?
EB: This is one of the main parts of our mission and we take it very seriously. Often countries have a single story or a narrative that most people associate with that country which can end up fostering dangerous stereotypes. We believe that children are intelligent enough to understand that there are different aspects to every culture and country, we just have to teach them. When a child learns that diversity within cultures exist, they grow up with an awareness and sensitivity that will only serve them well as adults. Even more importantly, it helps them develop a level of respect for these cultures, and an understanding that to really know a person, you must seek to know who they are and where they are from and not simply assume certain things about them based on narratives that exist out in the world.
Furthermore, cultures and countries around the world have such rich, interesting histories and traditions that to boil them down to a single narrative is to lose out on so much richness and stories that could really broaden our understanding of people and of the world. A good example of this is the book You Bring the Distant Near which was featured in one of our YA boxes. This book exposed our readers to Indian Bengali culture. This nuance is important because we were able to dive into the diversity that exists within Indian culture and other South Asian countries. We learned, during our conversation with author Mitali Perkins, the difference between Indian Bengalis and Bangladesh Bengalis, and the history of the Bengal region. This is an example of what we mean by showcasing diversity within cultures through our book selections.
Working with Parents, Schools, and Libraries
WNDMG: Do you have any partnerships with libraries or schools to support diversity and a global perspective in their collections?
EB: We offer a number of consulting packages to schools, libraries and parenting groups to help them build a book collection and curriculum that is diverse and inclusive in an intentional manner. It is extremely important to create an environment where ALL children can see themselves represented and feel like they truly belong.
WNDMG: Even though your books are curated for young readers, we know adults love to read middle-grade and young adult as well. What kind of responses have you had from parents of your readers?
EB: Ha! I love the parents that snatch up the books before their kids can get to it! The YA books and some of the middle grade ones have been a hit with the parents. You will find that YA books set in other parts of the world have stories that are deep, complex and quite satisfying. Atlas YA books are not all fluff! We have the occasional romance novels but these YA books are simply fantastic. My favorite book of 2020 was one of our YA selections called The Things She’s Seen which we featured when we explored the Aboriginal people of Australia, and it is incredible. And my favorite book this year so far is a middle-grade book called Other Words for Home that just hit me square in the gut. It is featured in our Syria Box.
Kids Feel Seen
WNDMG: Do you have a favorite story of an interaction you’ve had with your book subscribers?
EB: My favorite is a story a mom told me about her Nigerian-American son who attended a mostly white school. He read the book Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor—a fantasy book with a Nigerian boy as the main character—and he loved the book so much he took it to his school librarian and advocated for the book to be added to his school library. He felt like the book represented so much of him and his culture that his classmates should get to read the book too. This really hit home because he validated what we have always believed – when kids see themselves represented in the books that they read, it helps with their sense of identity and belonging. They feel seen. This kid felt seen by reading the book Ikenga and felt his friends should see him, too.
Next for Atlas
WNDMG: What’s next for Atlas?
EB: Gosh! So much we would love to do! We would love to deepen our relationship with the homeschooling community. Our boxes have been such a hit with homeschooling families because they are perfect for social studies, geography and language arts with a focus on global culture. We also would like to grow our consulting clients because we feel that parents and schools do want to ensure that their libraries are diverse and inclusive, and they do want to provide these options to their students, but they do not know where to start! Our goal is to help schools, libraries and parents get there.
About Bunmi Emenanjo:
(Bio excerpted from Work With Me page on Atlas Website)
With over 17 years as an attorney, I have worked in spaces that span the spectrum from the think-tank Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, biotechnology companies, a number of federal agencies to the White House. The diversity of my work experience allows me to be able to communicate with individuals from different professional and personal backgrounds in a manner that resonates such that they feel seen and heard. As a student of vulnerability and authenticity, I bring all that I have learned to the table,
Stay in Touch with Atlas:
For more on subscriptions, homeschooling, and school visits, check out the Atlast website HERE.