I live in a tiny rural town. Ethnically, racially, and even economically and religiously, our community is pretty uniform. Before this, we lived in two other small towns that were even more uniform than the one we live in now. Are diverse books for communities like mine? Aren’t diverse books really for urban kids?
Diversity in kids’ books matters! Why?
First, because the fact that 90.9% of our town is white means that 9.1% of our town is not white. Literature speaks to the human experience–all of it! I hope all kids can find books that reflect their worlds.
Second, the other 90.9% of us need to be reminded that we live in a community with a variety of experiences and perspective. I love how author Chris Barton describes why he makes sure his sons read books with diverse characters:
I want my sons to feel loved.
I want them to feel that they, individually, are valued and unique.
But I don’t want them — or anyone else in their demographic — to get the idea that they’re at the center of the universe just because they happened to get born as non-poor, white, American males.
And finally, because consistently seeing diversity in art helps us figure out how to negotiate the inevitable discovery that we are each unique, that the world is not made in our own image. Part of growing up is figuring out how your own personal differences fit into the world, and seeing differences depicted visually and narratively allows us to symbolically practice those negotiations and accommodations over and over and over.
So I’m glad that Mia Wenjen of Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr of Jump Into a Book established Multicultural Children’s Book Day, coming up on January 27. It’s a chance to celebrate diversity in children’s books and to make sure our libraries, classrooms, and ultimately children’s hands are full of books with diverse characters.
I received in the mail a self-published book to review, DLee’s Bad Day, by Diana Lee Santamaria, illustrated by Aubrey Fajardo. In it, a teacher shows a young girl how to distract herself from her troubles when she’s having a bad day. The story’s solution is adult-driven, and the rhymes are sometimes forced, but I liked the way the illustrations depicted DLee’s classmates. They are a diverse bunch! And refreshingly, DLee is equally annoyed by all of them–a boy in a wheelchair rips pages out of her book, an Asian boy is overly-aggressive in a ballgame, and so forth. It’s a world that children will identify with–where people around them, whatever their ethnicity or race, can be bothersome. After looking at the pictures in this book, it would be a fun extension to have kids draw their own classmates or neighbors. Lakeshore School Supplies has a great 24 piece crayon set that quietly makes the point that people come in many, many different colors. Plus, kids have a great time trying to find the exact shade that matches their skin.
Teachers can get a free book to share with their class on January 27. What books will you be reading on Multicultural Children’s Book Day?
Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Sponsors!