Diverse Books for Children: Why it Matters
Did you have a favorite book as a child? Take a moment to think about that book and how you felt connected to it. For me, it was Corduroy by Don Freeman. I spent a lot of my childhood at Shaw Library in the Shaw neighborhood in Northwest, Washington, D.C. That library is now Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library and still welcomes book lovers of all ages every day. I have great childhood memories of checking Corduroy out continuously. I felt connected to this book because the main character, Lisa, looked like me, and in the sequel A Pocket for Corduroy she even went to the laundromat to wash clothes. That’s what we did every Saturday morning.
The lack of diversity in children’s literature was evident at that time, in the late ’70s, and there were not many children’s books with African-American representation in them. But now, there is a growing increase in the number of multicultural children’s books about race, different cultures, social justice. Children these days have a rich selection of diverse books that might reflect their own experience. The importance of and surfeit of multicultural children’s books that exist today gives purpose and motivation to celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day. This year it is on January 29, 2021. Multicultural Children’s Book Day is all about raising awareness about kid’s books that celebrate diversity, and also getting these books into classrooms and libraries.
I have been leading Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s virtual storytime since March 2020. Researching books and activities for our virtual storytime is very enjoyable. To know that we are reaching a vastly diverse audience from young children to adults is gratifying. I choose books that are engaging, show people of different races, are appealing to young children. It’s also important to me that diverse books do not support stereotypes.
Diverse Books Finder is one of the tools that I use to research books for virtual storytime. I also browse our colossal collection of children’s picture books located in Lewis Ginter’s Lora Robins Library. Claudine Reyes, Lewis Ginter’s Visual Media Specialist, films me each week for storytime. So it was fitting that we were looking through our children’s books collection together. We discovered Filipino Children’s Favorite Stories by Liana Elena Romulo on our shelf. Claudine was excited to open a book that was a representation of her ethnicity and culture. At that moment she was reminded of her childhood. This is a great example of why representation matters in children’s literature and the importance of diversifying bookshelves in libraries, classrooms and in homes with books that are anti-bias and promote inclusion, diversity and equity. We can’t wait to welcome you back to our Library after COVID. For now, you’ll just have to tune in to our weekly virtual storytime.
Another good resource is from a virtual forum I recently attended presented by Natural Start Alliance. Their Holiday Book Fair, which focused on diverse and inclusive children’s books and “Big List of Beloved Books including Diverse and Inclusive Children’s Books,” came from this amazing community.
It’s important that children see themselves, their ethnicity, and culture reflected in the books they read. Books can be mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors (Bishop, 1990). Children’s books can act like both mirrors and windows in the world of a child’s mind and imagination. They can give children a chance to learn about someone else’s life and imagine themselves in another’s shoes. Diversity in children’s literature does matter. That’s why I hope you and your child tune in for my virtual story time.
Recently, I was chosen as one of the readers for the 2021 National African American Read-In, an event that commemorates books written by Black authors. I hope you’ll join me as I read The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts next month.