As a quiet, painfully shy child growing up in India, I lived and breathed books. My books formed an alternate reality where I was never awkward. I was the best and the bravest heroine who overcame all the odds and my name was George (short for Georgina for anyone unfamiliar with The Famous Five). My reading landscape was dominated by prolific British author Enid Blyton who wrote over 600 books for children between 1922 and 1968. While I thoroughly enjoyed and loved the books I read, the characters had not even a shade of diversity. This may be understandable given the period when they were written. However, it is worrying to note that the state of affairs hasn’t changed much today, and my own kids find very few characters that look like them or have names like theirs when they seek their own internal heroes.
According to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, of 3200 books published in the US in 2013, only 223 were by authors of color and 253 were about people of color.
Should this concern every parent or only parents with children who are non-white?
Books allow kids to see themselves in the stories they read and feel a connection to the world around them. Secondly, children see possibilities of who they might become through the stories they read.
Children of color need role models who look like them, sound like them, and be the heroes they look up to.
When children read books about kids from different cultures, it brings about an awareness of other belief systems, history and culture. It underlines the common humanity among all cultures.
Isn’t that what we all strive for as parents raising kids to be global citizens?
What's being done about it?
While the issue has received coverage in the press, such as the New York Times and programming on NPR, two bloggers and mothers – Valerie Budayr of JumpIntoaBook and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom have taken the initiative to raise awareness of multi-cultural books and get more of them into classrooms and libraries by declaring January 27 as Multi-cultural Children’s Books Day.
Several publishing houses and over a 100 other bloggers have joined them in this endeavor either as sponsors, co-hosts or reviewers. Reviewers will post reviews of high quality multi-cultural books on their blogs, thus providing a valuable resource for parents to introduce their kids to diverse literature. I am glad to play a part as well – I will post a review along with activity suggestions for a wonderful book on Japanese Celebrations soon. You will find book reviews from other participating bloggers on the Multicultural Children’s Books Day website.
In the meanwhile, you can visit this page for book lists and even add your own favorite multi-cultural books to the list. Here's hoping you will join in with your kids to enjoy the diverse literature highlighted this year and may the list multiply in coming years!