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Award-Winning Author Zetta Elliott Inspires Indianola Informal Students to Embrace Diversity in Literature

kids sitting on ground looking up at presenter

February 19, 2024 – In partnership with The Ohio State University (OSU), acclaimed author Zetta Elliott visited Indianola Informal to bring the power of writing and diverse storytelling to life. Elliott's visit included engaging discussions about literary mirrors, writing workshops, and insights into her acclaimed works that celebrate diversity and empower young readers regardless of race or background.

"Stories are so important to students," said Indianola Informal K-8 Principal Brandy Keoth. "Seeing the real author behind the stories they read helpsproject of papers and shirts the children see themselves as writers."

Books often serve as windows, offering a glimpse into the worlds of fiction, nonfiction, the familiar, or the strange. These same windows can act as sliding glass doors, inviting readers to step into the characters’ shoes or immerse themselves in new worlds. Elliott shared her experiences, recounting instances where children of color erased themselves from narratives. She stressed the importance of representation in literature, especially for marginalized groups, as it affirms their identities and nurtures self-worth.

“Many kids of color come to me and say, 'I wrote a story about my family,' and all their illustrations depict blonde hair and blue-eyed people," Elliott said. "Kids learn that message of erasing themselves, feeling insignificant or unworthy of being in stories. That representation and those mirrors are so important in literature for them."

Researching the significance of belonging and inclusion, OSU Professor Pat Enciso and her team facilitated Elliott’s visit as part of a project initiated last year. Enciso and her team aim to uncover strategies fostering a stronger sense of belonging and hopefulness in the public school sector, specifically focusing on students and teachers. 

"We can foster this [sense of belonging] through increasing and developing understanding of culturally relevant education," Enciso said. "We can do that best by expanding our ways of telling stories about one another." 

During her visit, Elliott emphasized the significance of representation in children's literature. She showcased to a diverse group of students the potential achievements possible for authors of various backgrounds despite their limited presence in mainstream culture. Elliott underscored how stories reflecting diverse experiences and identities empower readers to embrace their individuality, sparking interest in literacy, writing, and the arts, especially within underserved communities.

“We need more books that really honor children's lives," Enciso said. "That includes the difficult parts of their lives that are not silenced or shamed but are addressed thoughtfully by adults."

Elliott's interactive writing workshops explore identity, belonging, and creativity, encouraging students to express their voices through writing. Her message underscores the value of each person's story and the significance of diverse representation in literature.

"When I meet kids, I want them to know that their stories matter, even if no one else reads them," Elliott said. "By just writing your story down and trying to make sense of your experience, you are affirming your experience's value and voice."

As the visit drew to a close, the speaker renewed students' appreciation for literacy, diversity, and empathy. Through her presentation and one-on-one interactions with students, Elliott left encouragement to pursue their creativity and embrace unconventional ways of portraying emotions and identity through literacy. 

“That representation, that mirror, is so important," Elliott said. "The more inclusive we can be in terms of the content of the books and the authors of the books, then that is only going to continue to broaden readership."  

With 45 books to her name, Elliott seamlessly weaves elements of fantasy and reality, providing readers a gateway to explore diverse cultures and experiences. Reflecting on her visit, Elliott expressed gratitude for connecting with students, and she hopes that her experience can ignite their passion for literature and self-expression.

"I want to show students what they can do to take their own stories into their own hands," Elliott said. "It was great to see the students working collaboratively, getting to know their creative process, and giving themselves a chance to have fun with a story, make mistakes, and change things. It is an energizing experience."

Power of One

Priority 1 - Whole Child FocusedPriority 2 - Equitable Opportunities for AllPriority 3 - Strong Learning Communities in Every RegionPriority 4 - Authentic EngagementPortrait Attribute 1 - AdaptabilityPortrait Attribute 2 - CommunicationPortrait Attribute 3 - CreativityPortrait Attribute 4 - Critical ThinkingPortrait Attribute 5 - Global EmpathyPortrait Attribute 6 - Technology