This Organization Is Bringing LGBTQ+ Representation to Rural Schools One Box of Books at a Time

Hope in a Box is giving kids the chance to balance out their Brontë with some Baldwin.
Hope in a Box is giving kids the chance to balance out their Brontë with some Baldwin.
Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images

When Joe English was growing up in a town of about 1900 residents in upstate New York, he rarely saw himself represented in the books he read for school. This lack of LGBTQ+ literature not only seemed like a gaping hole in the curriculum, but also a missed opportunity to foster a safe, welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ students. So in 2018, he launched Hope in a Box, a nonprofit organization that ships boxes of books with a variety of LGBTQ+ themes to schools around the country.

“The idea behind Hope in a Box is to use the power of literature and storytelling to bring some of these themes, narratives, and stories into rural communities to help cultivate empathy, open hearts and minds, and dispel stereotypes—especially among younger people who are just starting to understand where they fit in the world and what their own identities are,” English tells Mental Floss.

Students in Kansas check out the contents of their book box.Hope in a Box

After consulting with university professors and poring over awards lists and college syllabi, the Hope in a Box team devised a 50-book definitive primer of LGBTQ+ literature. The list covers the classic (Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway) to the contemporary (Adam Silvera’s 2017 bestseller They Both Die at the End) and includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and more.

Educators who opt for the starter box will receive one copy of each book on the primer, or they can request up to 30 print copies of a single book (which doesn’t necessarily have to be chosen from the primer, though it does have to be LGBTQ-inclusive). According to English, Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a favorite among middle school educators, while Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin is a popular pick at the high school level.

The organization also provides multimedia like movies, musical soundtracks, and audiobooks that can help the students further engage with a book. Watching the 2018 film adaptation of Emily Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, for example, fosters dialogue about how certain directorial or acting choices alter the students’ impressions of the original characters or themes.

“There’s a lot of power that comes through a physical book, and it can be even more powerful if there’s a film, or script, or soundtrack,” English says. “Things that can bring it to life in other ways.”

In addition to giving LGBTQ+ students an opportunity to explore their own identities, the boxes help teachers, librarians, administrators, and non-LGBTQ+ students better understand their perspectives, which is a crucial part of creating a positive environment. Adding LGBTQ+ writers and historical figures to the curriculum also helps fill in the hole that English encountered during his own time in grade school.

“LGBTQ+ people have been part of our society and our culture for as long as there have been society and culture,” English says, “And by bringing their stories through literature or through history into schools, you give every student—whether they’re queer or not queer—a richer, more accurate, and more complete understanding of the world around them. And that’s a fundamental part of what the education system should promise every single child.”

By this fall, Hope in a Box will be working with 100 to 150 schools, and they’re on track to hit somewhere between 300 and 500 by the end of the year. And, while their focus is on LGBTQ+ stories for now, the model itself could easily be used to expand school curriculum in other directions, too—English could see future boxes focused on racial and ethnic identity, religious diversity, and beyond.

Educators interested in ordering boxes for their schools can learn more here. If you’d like to donate to Hope in a Box, you can do so here.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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Google Teams Up With The Conscious Kid on a Book List to Promote Racial Equity in Classrooms

Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone is on the list, and for good reason.
Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone is on the list, and for good reason.
Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Glamour

Google has teamed up with The Conscious Kid—an organization that promotes racial equity in education—to curate a list of books and other resources aimed at helping teachers establish more inclusive classrooms and foster conversations about racism and acceptance.

The reading list groups works by grade level, and many of them have corresponding teaching guides with discussion questions, writing prompts, and other activities [PDF]. For Lupita Nyong’o’s Sulwe, which tells the story of a young girl bullied because of her dark skin, students in preschool through second grade are presented questions like “Why do you think Sulwe believes she must have lighter skin in order to make friends? What advice would you give to Sulwe?” For Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, high-schoolers are asked to create a travel brochure for the fictional country of Orïsha, “emphasizing its positive aspects and great variety.”

The online packet also contains a number of guidelines for teachers to consider when choosing their own reading material. One helpful tip, for example, is to re-evaluate the “classics” before assigning them to make sure they don’t reinforce racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, or other harmful messages. Another is to foster healthy racial identity by avoiding books “where characters of color can only succeed when conforming to white values or norms.”

It’s part of Google’s broader campaign to amplify diversity in public education by providing educators with the resources needed to do it. Last year, the company donated $5 million to DonorsChoose—a platform that teachers can use to crowdsource funds for classroom projects—for the launch of #ISeeMe, an initiative that highlights projects submitted by Black and Latinx teachers, as well as those that focus on diversity and inclusion. This year, Google pledged an additional $1 million to matching donations made to #ISeeMe projects.

You can see The Conscious Kid’s full reading list here [PDF], and learn more about contributing to #ISeeMe projects here.