Books for Change Seeks to Start Conversations on Equity

Children’s picture books often say a lot, even when they don’t use many words.

The Office of Child Development (OCD) at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education recognizes that there is profound meaning packed into the silly, fun, and colorful pages—life lessons for children and parents alike.

The OCD is in the midst of its second-annual book drive, Books for Change, which aims to promote equity through its curated selection of about 90 different picture books. The goal is to make sure that all adults in Pittsburgh have access to these books so that they start having important conversations about equity with their children.

“This year, we wanted to use picture books to promote equity in all its forms. We carefully selected books that cover topics like abilities, race, and economic insecurity, and which will help adults talk to children about seeing, celebrating, and standing up for all of the ways that we are different from each other,” says Shannon Wanless, the director of the OCD and an associate professor at Pitt Education in the department of psychology in education.

Wanless is a national expert on social-emotional learning in early childhood education. She currently leads the research and evaluation team for the P.R.I.D.E. Program, a community-based initiative based on developing positive racial identity development in early education.

People can participate in the book drive in several ways. They can purchase books for themselves or for donation, they can help raise money for the effort, or they can donate money themselves. All donated books will be delivered by the OCD to early childcare providers.

The first book drive was held last year in response to the Tree of Life shooting in Squirrel Hill.  Like many Pittsburghers, Wanless remembers turning on the news to learn of the tragedy, which took place less than a mile from the OCD offices. Appalled and saddened, she immediately began looking for ways to help.

Wanless knew that books that celebrate diversity were not getting the exposure that they deserve, so she set out to change that. After reaching out to contacts at the University of Pittsburgh and in the surrounding community, she began organizing resources to host the book drive.

“The response to last year’s book drive was incredible with more than 3,000 books donated,” said Wanless.

This year’s book drive aims to build on the success of last year’s effort. Many of the selected titles are “mirror books.” They contain reflections of oneself. By seeing one’s own culture, gender, race, or religion within the story, readers can potentially see themselves, or others, in a different light.

Wanless says that exposing children—and their parents— to different environments through these books is a unique opportunity to gain new perspective. It will allow both to learn more about themselves in the process.

Ultimately, the goal of Books for Change is to make sure that every child in the Pittsburgh area has access to titles promoting equity in every form.

“Our aim is not only to provide these resources but also to give educators and early childcare providers the opportunity to learn how these books can be used to start these conversations with children,” said Wanless.

How You Can Help

Interested in introducing more diversity to your little ones? For a complete list of titles, check out the Pitt Office of Child Development’s 2019 Book List here!

  • Sponsor a classroom by donating $150 or sponsor an entire school by donating $750
  • Raise money by fundraising on your own and then buying books
  • Purchase books from the curated list at White Whale Bookstore or online at

Spread the word by telling people in your network.