Several years ago, when I used to teach a diverse second grade class each year, I became aware of the importance of representation in books. As I browsed through my class library, I realized that 98% of the books I had available for my students to read (or would read aloud to them) featured white protagonists. The handful of books I had that featured people of color were mostly books on slavery, the Obamas, Michael Jordan, or Jackie Robinson. I began searching for books where my students of color could see themselves reflected, not as a sidekick, slave, supporting figure or special circumstance, but as the main character, the norm, the hero. But it wasn’t until I realized that we would be adopting transracially that my search got really serious. And I was shocked at how difficult it was to find these books. Granted, I do have pretty rigorous requirements for the books we choose to read to her: realistic, beautiful illustrations, and preferably written by a person of color. Yet, over the past two years, I’ve managed to compile a list of books in which N can see herself and people like her depicted in a positive light.
If I thought finding children’s books for N was hard, finding books that feature American Indians/First Nations and Asian children as protagonists was even harder. The infographic below shows why. Since I am committed to a home library where N can not only see herself reflected, but a diverse range of children and experiences as well, I will continue my search and share as my list grows.
Huyck, David, Sarah Park Dahlen, Molly Beth Griffin. (2016 September 14). Diversity in Children’s Books 2015 infographic. sarahpark.com blog. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/picture-this-reflecting-diversity-in-childrens-book-publishing/
The following books are ones that we’ve enjoyed recently or have in our collection for use when N is developmentally ready for them. I also recommend checking out other books by some of these authors. We particularly enjoy Angela Johnson, Spike Lee, and Rachel Isadora!
The four pictured above are N’s favorites at this time. A South African Night is especially dear, holding a treasured place in our hearts.
If you are interested in reading why ALL children should read diverse literature, this blog post at Barbershop Books makes several good points. “The stereotypical ways in which people of color are represented in modern-day children’s literature, or are all together missing, bear some responsibility for the prominence of racism in American culture. Reflecting on the importance of who gets seen, when, where, and doing what has led me to conclude that children’s books represent one of the most valuable pieces of real-estate in the fight against racism.” Maria Montessori placed a great deal of emphasis on peace education. I believe that seeing diverse children reflected in books is an important way to communicate that everyone has value and is worthy of respect.
Do you have any favorites? I’m always up for checking out recommendations!