Children’s literature has a diversity problem. But your child’s reading habits don’t have to.
As parents and caregivers, we want our children to grow up feeling like they belong somewhere; to be part of a community that embraces their individuality and specialness, and that brings them together to celebrate their shared values and experiences.
We also want them to grow up with open hearts and minds, able to hear and respect viewpoints different than their own, and to have empathy and kindness for everyone.
As a mother of four now nearly all grown up children, and a publisher for the last 25 years of stories from all over the world, I am a passionate believer in the importance of diverse books in children’s lives. Books that depict diverse themes and characters offer parents, caregivers and educators an accessible way to discuss complex issues with the children in their lives — topics such as racial and gender inequality, and differences in cultures, religions, families and abilities. Today, these discussions are happening all around our children — with our families, in friend’s homes, in their schools, even on their playgrounds — and they are needed now more than ever.
Sadly, finding books that represent diversity, and that celebrate characters from all walks of life, can be a bit of a challenge. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)’s latest research shows that of the 3,200 children’s books published in the United States in 2016, only 681, or 21%, featured ethnic minority main characters. This is a problem given that over 50% of children under the age 5 in the US were ethnic minorities as of 2014. And these sobering statistics don’t account for children of varying abilities, religions, cultures, and family types.
So as parents and caregivers, we need to be intentional about sharing books that represent diversity in all its many forms, especially if our children’s schools don’t have diverse books on their summer reading lists. Here are some things you can do this summer to make sure that your kids are getting a diverse reading experience.
Talk to your librarians
Your local school and public librarians are a great resource to help you learn what kids are reading and to find specific kinds of books. Ask them to recommend books by a wide range of authors and illustrators that are appropriate for your child’s reading level. Many libraries run free literacy programs over the summer, so ask them if they have events or activities that feature diverse books. Your librarians may also be able to point you to local readings and events that celebrate authors and illustrators from a range of cultures or religions. Borrow as many diverse books as you can carry and encourage your child to read them all.
And if the books in your library don’t represent many different types of characters or themes, take the time to speak to your librarian and suggest that they do. Tell them why this matters to you personally and to your community. Librarians love to hear from their patrons, and by speaking up, you’re helping all the families in your community – and supporting the authors and illustrators of diverse books, too.
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