Office of Child Development Hosts “What’s In a Book” Training for Teachers

As part of the annual Books for Change initiative, the University of Pittsburgh School of Education’s Office of Child Development recently hosted a free training workshop for educators, “What’s In a Book,” focused on how educators and families can use picture books to have conversations with children about race.

Offered through the new Division of Literacy and Learning, the virtual training session was primarily attended by teachers. Attendees also included a school librarian who wanted to gather more materials for her students and a grandmother who wanted to provide better information about race to her grandchildren.

Caitlin Forbes Spear, Director of Literacy and Learning, says it is important for adults to have conversations with children about race.

“Racism is certainly not new, but many of the racial injustices of 2020 have made more people aware. We have seen a real interest and need for adults to have these conversations with children, so we are providing support to help them do that,” says Spear.

Spear explained that although adults may want to shield children from conversations about race, avoiding the subject can actually perpetuate racism.

“Children start to recognize skin color as babies and start to make decisions about play based on race as young as 2 years old. As kids start to make sense of the world around them, adults need to step up to talk to them about race,” says Spear.

The session included a reading of the children’s picture book “Islandborn” by Junot Díaz. The book tells the story of a child who discovers her roots by talking to family and friends about the island where she was born.

After reading the book together, facilitators shared how stories like Islandborn can intentionally be used as mirrors, windows, and prisms to open up conversations about race with children.

Deshanna Carter, a second-grade teacher at Wyland Elementary School who is also a research fellow with Pitt Education’s Shifting Power project, attended the session.

“I love the way they taught us to use books to open a child’s perspective and worldview,” says Carter. “I am so thankful for the work Pitt Education is doing. This workshop can impact a lot of educators and their students.”

The session was hosted in conjunction with the Office of Child Development’s third annual Books for Change book drive, which collected more than 1,200 books that will be distributed to more than 100 local childcare facilities.

Experts in the Office of Child Development curated the list of books for the drive to reflect this year’s theme, “Raising Anti-Racist Readers.”

Spear explained how the training session aligns with the mission of the new Division of Literacy and Learning.

“Our goal for the Division of Language and Literacy is to help trusted adults provide literacy and learning opportunities rooted in a child’s intersectional identity.”

“When it comes to supporting children’s learning, we’re always thinking about systemic and personal factors. Whether it’s a Black child with disabilities or a gender non-conforming child who speaks Spanish at home, we’re always thinking about the individual child and how those systemic pieces impact the literacy and learning opportunities that they have access to.”

Learn more 

  • Browse the Office of Child Development website.
  • Pitt Education’s Early Childhood Education programs are currently accepting applications. Apply here.
  • To learn more about the new Department of Literacy and Learning, contact Caitlin Forbes Spear at