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Dignity In All Work: Career Day with Essential Workers

Sanura Williams is our summer 2020 Diverse BookFinder intern. She is a Library and Information Science graduate student at San Jose State University. Sanura aspires to work as a public librarian with a focus on youth services. She has a passion for celebrating diversity in literature, and in 2016 founded My Lit Box, an online community committed to highlighting the works of writers of color.


In elementary school, one of my favorite events of the school year was Career Day. Doctors, lawyers, firefighters, and others would come in and out of our classrooms, and I got a glimpse of my future. For a day, I could envision Sanura, the astronaut or Sanura, the nurse, and it was so exciting! 

As summer progresses and we begin to see a new school year on the horizon, school administrators are still trying to figure out what the upcoming school year will look like. If elementary schools do not return to a traditional instruction format, there is less of a chance Career Day will look the same. But there is still an opportunity to expose your little one to what may be their future careers, with a slight modification to the usual format.

Although I still look back on those events fondly, what I have realized is the careers we were exposed to were usually white-collar professions and/or those that are considered "heroic" professions, such as being a firefighter, police officer, or doctor. As the phrase “essential worker” has become synonymous with the current climate, we have collectively acknowledged and uplifted those who, during a pandemic, continue to show up to work each day. These are our store clerks, farmers, caregivers, sanitation workers, mail delivery people, bus drivers, and so many others who truly make every day Career Day. 

While we celebrate these workers, it is worth acknowledging that Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC) make up a large percentage of essential workers. According to a report released in May 2020 by the Economic Policy Institute, “People of color make up the majority of essential workers in food and agriculture (50%) and in industrial, commercial, residential facilities and services (53%).” Despite the risks, these individuals continue to report to work to support themselves and their families, and ultimately, the greater community benefits. For this reason alone, these workers are deserving of praise and admiration, and young people can look to these figures for inspiration.

Below are some of the titles featured in our collection that not only showcase white-collar professions, but that also make explicit the fact that there is dignity in all work.

As the phrase “essential worker” has become synonymous with the current climate, we have collectively acknowledged and uplifted those who, during a pandemic, continue to show up to work each day...Despite the risks, these individuals continue to report to work to support themselves and their families, and ultimately, the greater community benefits.


Fancy party gowns

2017

by Deborah Blumenthal and Laura Freeman

"As soon as Ann Cole Lowe could walk, her momma and grandma taught her to sew. When her mom died, Ann continued sewing dresses. It wasn't easy, especially when she went to design school and had to learn alone, segregated from the rest of the class. But the work she did set her spirit soaring, as evidenced in the clothes she made. Rarely credited, Ann Cole Lowe became "society's best kept secret." This beautiful picture book shines the spotlight on a figure who proved that with hard work and passion, any obstacles can be overcome"--|cProvided by publisher

Biography Oppression & Resilience

The girl with a mind for math

2018

by Julia Finley Mosca and Daniel Rieley

This is a rhyming-text picture book about Raye Montague. After touring a German submarine in the early 1940s, young Raye set her sights on becoming an engineer. Little did she know sexism and racial inequality would challenge that dream every step of the way, even keeping her greatest career accomplishment a secret for decades. Through it all, the gifted mathematician persisted-- finally gaining her well-deserved title in history: a pioneer who changed the course of ship design forever.--Dust jacket

Biography Cross Group Oppression & Resilience

Mighty mommies and their amazing jobs!

2017

by Donald Jacobsen and Graham Evans

An engaging and easy-to-read book for children that teaches about various STEM & STEAM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). This book is packed with colorful illustrations and creative descriptions that will pique the interest of kids around ages two to eight. 'Mighty Mommies' features women in STEM / STEAM careers, which works both to encourage young girls to pursue those careers, and also challenges gender stereotypes in the STEM fields.--Back cover

Any Child Informational

She sang promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader

2010

by Jan Godown Annino and Lisa Desimini

Betty Mae Tiger Jumper was born in 1923, the daughter of a Seminole woman and a white man. She grew up in the Everglades under dark clouds of distrust among her tribe who could not accept her at first. As a child of a mixed marriage, she walked the line as a constant outsider. Growing up poor and isolated, she only discovered the joys of reading and writing at age 14. An iron will and sheer determination led her to success, and she returned to her people as a qualified nurse. When her husband was too sick to go to his alligator wrestling tourist job, gutsy Betty Mae climbed right into the alligator pit! Storyteller, journalist, and community activist, Betty Mae Jumper was a voice for her people, ultimately becoming the first female elected Seminole tribal leader.--publisher

Beautiful Life Biography Oppression & Resilience

The Paper Kingdom

2020

by Helena Ku Rhee and Pascal Campion

"When the babysitter is unable to come, Daniel is woken out of bed and joins his parents as they head downtown for their jobs as nighttime office cleaners. But the story is about more than brooms, mops, and vacuums. Mama and Papa turn the deserted office building into a magnificent kingdom filled with paper. Then they weave a fantasy of dragons and kings to further engage their reluctant companion—and even encourage him to one day be the king of a paper kingdom." -- publisher

Any Child

Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
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