Personal Stories of Diverse Literature
When I was in kindergarten, my dad read me The Lord of the Rings as a bedtime story. Every night, I would sit on his bed, curl into his side, and listen to him spin stories about elves and hobbits and the one ring to rule them all. His favorite section of the book was one that was never adapted into films: Tom Bombadil. Whenever he’d come up, my dad would take a deep breath, like he was trying to deprive the rest of the room of oxygen, and sing his lines:
Ho! Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo!
By water, wood and hill, by the reed and willow,
By fire, sun and moon, harken now and hear us!
Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us!
And I’d laugh in the way only children know how to, all open mouthed and writhing.
Pretending to live in this story became a game. My dad used to ask me who my favorite characters were, and I’d name one of the elves, jump up and down on the bed, and mime shooting a bow and arrow. I’d run in the garden for hours, acting out my favorite sections: climbing as high as I could in the maple by the fence and pretending to meet Galadriel, the elven queen of Lothlorien; or stealing a broom and running with it between my legs, like it was Shadowfax, the fastest horse on Middle Earth. The story written 50 years before my birth became my own personal haven.
My dad’s bedtime stories were my introduction to fantasy. I didn’t learn to read until I was nine years old, but as soon as I learned, fantasy was immediately where I turned. I read voraciously, taking home every single fantasy novel my library had available in the elementary and teen section, and read all of them before they were due four weeks later.
I would not have been interested in fantasy unless my dad introduced me to it when I was still young, but, looking back, there was another reason I lived in the world of the books I read: very few of those novels starred anyone who looked any different to me.
Being able to see yourself in a story is an integral part of learning to love literature. I could picture myself as an elf, even if I was human. After all, the elves had pale skin and straight hair, like me. Why wouldn’t I be able to be an elf? Not all kids had access to stories like I did.
While fantasy is more diverse than ever, many children do not have access to any of the stories about people who look like them. Afterall, many school libraries have not updated the books they carry since The Lord of the Rings first came out, almost 70 years ago. Because they can not find fantasy books about people like themselves, many people swear off not only fantasy novels, but books altogether. Providing diverse literature is often the best way to make sure children try reading at all.
Written by: Ocean Muir