Throughout April, I’m tackling 26 A to Z topics related to children’s literature. And today is M Day! Which means it’s time to talk about multicultural children’s books and diversity in literature.
I never had a problem finding myself in book characters.
When I was growing up, there were plenty of white, American, middle- to upper-class girls in books, such as the Sweet Valley Twins series, or the Baby-Sitters Club. Popular titles like “Ella Enchanted” featured a light-skinned, brown-haired girl on the cover. My beloved fantasy novel “Dealing With Dragons” featured a white-skinned, dark-haired Princess Cimorene on the cover.
There were plenty of girls who looked like me and my classmates. My rural Midwest school was mostly Caucasian, with a few Hispanic students. For a few years, one black student attended our school. After she graduated, the student body reverted to 100 percent white and Hispanic.
The volume of white, middle class characters in children’s literature has led to an awareness campaign to boost diversity in children’s books.
Eleven-year-old Marley Dias knows is a young activist leading a campaign to find the color in children’s books. She spearheads the #1000blackgirlbooks initiative, which seeks books about the lives and experiences of black girls. Don’t let the hashtag fool you, though — when NPR reported about her project in February, she already had compiled more than 4,000 books about black girls.
Despite the high number of books Dias has found, the NPR article shared a discouraging statistic: “Fewer than 10 percent of children’s books released in 2015 had a black person as the main character, according to a yearly analysis by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. And while the number of children’s books about minorities has increased in the past 20 years, many classroom libraries have older books.”
Hence the push to raise awareness about diversity in literature.
One of the leaders in promoting multicultural children’s literature is the grassroots campaign We Need Diverse Books. The group defines its mission as “putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of more children,” with the vision of “a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.”
Children of all races, ethnicity, social status, country of origin, household structure, sexual orientation, and ability deserve to see themselves reflected in literature. Those children should be able to find a mirror of themselves in fiction so they can connect and grow with characters like themselves.
Moreover, other children deserve a window. When I have children, I want to know they have literature that can connect them to other people and help my children empathize with people in situations different than their own.
Parents may be asking themselves, “Where can I find diverse books? Should I just start prowling the stacks in the library or the shelves at the local bookstore?” While that’s one way to do it, here’s another: We Need Diverse Books has aggregated blogs and websites that list and/or review different types of diverse literature. Check out their Where to Find Diverse Books page as a starting point.
If you have any favorite diverse books, be sure to share them in the comments section so I can check them out!
I’m not an expert on children’s literature but follow many blogs and publishers who support this diversity in Children’s Lit. I retweet and share and do whatever I can to help out.
Thank you for writing this post. It’s so important and we need allies from all walks of life.
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I’m glad more diverse books are being published and written these days. It’s also important not to engage in tokenism or have diversity just for its own sake. It has to feel like a natural part of the story. As someone born at the tail-end of Gen X, I well remember how every single Babysitters’ Club book, in the requisite infodumpy Chapter 2, awkwardly announces how Jessi. Is. Black!
An easy way to find children’s and teenagers’ books about Jewish characters is by perusing the list of books which have won the Sydney Taylor Book Award, an award I’d love to win myself someday. As I’ll be explaining in a planned future blog post, it’s so important for me to make all my Jewish characters religious to some degree because I want to counteract the all-too-common depictions in books, TV, and the movies, where 99% of everyone is secular, assimilated, and intermarried. My friends’ children in the religious community deserve to see reflections of themselves, even if they’re not all Orthodox.
Thanks for sharing your perspective! I appreciate your thoughts. I co-host a link-up on Diverse Children’s Books — you may be interested in checking it out! You can find it here: http://pagesandmargins.wordpress.com/2016/05/07/diverse-childrens-books-link-up-2/.
Diversity in literature is paramount to many classrooms! Like mine, many classes are made up of a variety of demographics and must see themselves mirrored in literature. The opening of perspectives is also critical to educating students to become agents for themselves and the world. I write about this on my blog as well. Great post!