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Bringing diversity to children's literature is a priority

DIVERSITY: Children's books (Photo credit: Children’s Book Bank)

LET'S TALK about diversity. Children need to see other kids that look like themselves in picture books. Why? Because children of all races need to be represented in literature to show they are important in the world and they matter. Black, Latino, Asian, Native Americans, and all kids of colour need to be portrayed as main characters in books.

Why do Caucasian children need to be exposed to diverse picture books? Well because the world is full of people and children need to learn about different ethnicities, nationalities, cultures, languages, religions, customs, and beliefs.

Having books that explore, recognise, and celebrate human diversity and multiculturalism may teach children to embrace and embody fairness, equality, and justice for all as well as promote empathy for marginalised communities.

Publisher of diverse books in the United States, Lee & Low, propose that around 80 percent of children’s book editors, authors, and illustrators are white. he Snowy Day, authored by Ezra Jack Keats in 1962, was the first full colour picture book with an African-American child as the main character. Keats is white and American.

We Need Diverse Books is an organization with a vision of “a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.”

Multicultural Children’s Book Day is an annual event in January, which further celebrates diversity in literature.

What is a multicultural book?

According to co-founders, Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen, multicultural children’s books are:
1. Books that contain characters of colour, as well as characters that represent a minority point of view.
2. Books that share ideas, stories, and information about cultures, race, religion, language, and traditions.
3. Books that offer children new ways to connect to a diverse and richer world

What can parents do to encourage learning about multiculturalism?

1. Put diverse books on your child’s bookshelf
2. Read and discuss diverse books with all children
3. Visit your public library with children and encourage them to select diverse picture books
4. Ask your child’s teacher about diverse picture books in the classroom
5. Ask the school librarian about diverse picture books for the school


PICTURED: Melissa Martin

Both babies and toddlers need to see their own faces and the faces of other ethnic infants on the pages. Parents can read diverse books to babies and toddlers. Parents and teachers can also introduce preschool and kindergarten children to diverse picture books.

Suggestions

By Day, By Night by Amy Gibson celebrates people all around the world as they do the same things in various ways. The Family Book by Todd Parr gives the message that every family is special in its own unique way. Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin portrays how wonderful it is to be just who you are.

Other books I'd suggest include: Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.? by Bonnie Bader; Rosa Parks by Nikki Giovanni; and On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne.

We also need books about general topics that feature multicultural characters. My new picture book, Tessie Tames Her Tongue, is a book for all children on the topic of balancing talking with listening. However, the main character is multiracial and embraces multiracial characters—not just multicultural stories.

Diverse books, both fiction and nonfiction, help kids understand that even though children look different on the outside, they are all the same on the inside. Our homes, schools, libraries, and communities need diverse books on bookshelves.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is a child therapist, behavioral health consultant, educator, children’s book author, and a self-syndicated newspaper columnist. Martin resides in North America. View Martin’s website at www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com

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