A Story Worth Telling

New endowment fund aims to diversify children’s literature in classrooms throughout Michigan

Image of two college students standing with stacks of books in a library

Alexandra Frontera (left) and Emily Hawkins (right) were chosen as the first two recipients of the Connie and Tom Barr Classroom Library Endowment Fund for their commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion inside and outside the classroom. (Photo Credit: James Silvestri)

icon of a calendarAugust 11, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Trevor Tyle

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For Connie and Tom Barr, promoting diversity in childhood education has always been of the utmost importance, a sentiment they shared with their daughter, Dr. Anne Hotz. Now an Oakland University alumna and special lecturer, Hotz hopes to share her parents’ passion with the larger Oakland University community.

Inspired to “honor her parents’ values,” Hotz established the Connie and Tom Barr Classroom Library Endowment Fund to donate books promoting diversity and inclusion to the classrooms of OU students who are currently teaching. 

“They believed that children should learn and appreciate the stories of different civilizations and cultures so that they could understand their contributions to our collective history,” Hotz said of her parents. “Their hope was that this knowledge would lead children to respect others, value differences and offer their own contributions to make the world a better place.”

Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported a slow but steady growth in racial diversity found in children’s books, noting a 3% increase in children’s books written by authors of color and a 1% increase in books written about racially diverse characters or subjects. Despite the upward trend, the lack of diverse and inclusive literature available to youth still remains alarmingly high, driving projects such as the Barr Classroom Library Fund to bring as many of these titles as possible directly to students’ classrooms.

“The goal is to provide teachers with quality literature that is representative not only of the students in their classrooms and their students’ communities, but also the world beyond those boundaries,” Hotz said. “It is critical that children and young adults have access to literature in which they can see themselves and through which they can experience cultures and understand perspectives that are different from their own.”

Each year, the endowment fund will award grants to Oakland University students who are currently enrolled in either the Reading and Language Arts graduate or postgraduate courses and are concurrently working full-time in schools throughout Michigan. The same individual can receive the award a maximum of two times. 

The first recipients of the endowment fund are third-grade teacher Alexandra Frontera and kindergarten teacher Emily Hawkins, both of whom expressed gratitude for the opportunity to share new stories with their students to help them see the world through a larger lens. 

“It is an honor to contribute to the valuable work of sharing inclusive, culturally diverse books with children in order to create a more equitable society,” Frontera said. “I am eager for my students to see themselves represented in literature and to have a growing awareness of cultures that differ from their own. I am filled with gratitude for this generous donation of books for my students.”

Hawkins concurred, lauding the endowment as an opportunity for her students to feel represented in the stories they read.

“When Professor Hotz shared this amazing opportunity with my class, I was in the midst of creating a wish list of books from diverse authors and illustrators with suggestions from several of my RDG master’s courses,” she said. “Each of these books has diverse characters within them, along with characters that resemble my kindergarten students. These books will allow my students to connect with characters and also read outside of their own experiences.”

According to Hotz, both Frontera and Hawkins demonstrated a commitment to preparing students to become “citizens of the world” by exposing them to diverse characters, communities and cultures in the stories they read in their classrooms.

“Each of these stories has powerful messages of perseverance, acceptance and interconnectedness of all humans,” Hawkins said. “I am so grateful to be a recipient of this endowment and can’t wait to share these purposeful books with my students in the fall.” 

For additional information on the reading and language arts programs available at OU, visit

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