Sharing books to build a better world
When Wendy Shih first became a mother, she thought of one way to help entertain and educate her two kids: books.
But as Shih looked for reading material, she noticed that the characters were predominately white — and not reflective of herself or her children.
“There’s basically less than 25% of children’s books that are published that reflect non-white characters,” Shih said. “So I was very conscious of that when my kids were young.”
Shih researched books that would widen her kids’ worldview and found authors who included diverse perspectives and representations in their work.
“I noticed that there are actually a lot of amazing books out there — diverse books that reflect a lot of different backgrounds and abilities,” Shih said.
Now, she aims to bring that same education to her community in Beaverton.
Shih hosts a “Little Free Diverse Library” outside her house, allowing neighbors and community members to find new books and expand their education. Inlaid stones surround the little blue library stand, including a painted rock displaying the word “love.”
“The purpose is to focus on the accessibility of diverse books that amplify marginalized voices,” Shih said. “In such a divided world, it’s important for us to read books about others that are not dominant in society so that we can have more compassion and empathy towards each other.”
Shih opened the library in 2022 and quickly got involved with Positive Charge PDX, a group of volunteers focused on amplifying kindness through various projects. Now, Shih is the head of Positive Charge’s Compassion Through Literature program, which focuses on building community and fostering inclusion through sharing diverse books.
“We have 26 Little Free Diverse Libraries throughout the Portland metro area, including two in Newberg and one in Gresham,” Shih said. “So we’re spreading out a little.”
According to Shih, the community feedback has been “great.” Local residents and kids come across the library often to pick up new books.
“Whenever I’m out there watering my plants, my neighbors will say, ‘We love your library. Thank you so much for that.’ And we’ll talk about the books they got.”
Shih’s work has also helped her bridge connections with local bookstores, educators and librarians who have helped her extend her impact.
“I’ve actually connected with local educators and just different people in the community who are excited about this work to kind of help spread the word and also expand it,” Shih said.
Although the reception has been primarily positive, there have been some challenges, according to Shih. Recently, there was an incident where a passerby ripped up some of the postcards that she shared through the library.
“It’s understandable that some of these stories or perspectives make people uncomfortable,” Shih said. “But I wanted to be visible. I wanted to be out there in a positive way.”
Despite the slight pushback, Shih said that her neighbors continue to support her, with many people donating books and buying her postcards after the incident.
“So I have a lot of community support. And that’s what fuels my passion and continuation to not give up doing it,” Shih said.
Shih looks to continue her work to promote diversity and counter stereotypes through Compassion Through Literature, and she is coordinating a celebration in August. Alongside bringing attention to diverse books, the event will include speakers and performers highlighting inclusivity.