Playdates With Diverse Fictional Friends: The #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign

weneeddiversebooks Misfortune of Knowing Blog

As a parent, I am always looking for children’s books that (1) feature diverse characters or (2) are written by authors of underrepresented backgrounds. In 2014, it’s surprisingly difficult to find books that fit into either category.

Why is it so important to me to find these books?

It’s because I am raising three multi-racial daughters in a multi-cultural community, and I believe the books they read should reflect their reality. I want them to read more books that feature interracial families like ours and that feature strong female characters. I also want them to read more books written by women. My daughters need to know that everyone has a story to tell, and that stories written by or featuring people of another race, ethnicity, or gender aren’t just stories for that demographic. They need to know that people of all races, ethnicities, and genders are able to attain success in the world (including in the literary world!). It’s not enough for me to tell them these messages; they need to see it for themselves in real life and in the books they read.

For children from less diverse communities — which is surprisingly common in the United States well over half a century since Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) ended race-based restrictive covenants on real estate and Brown v. Board of Education (1954) desegregated our schools — literature may be their first true introduction to diversity. “Playdates” with fictional friends from diverse backgrounds may help these children embrace the similarities we share as human beings and celebrate the differences — instead of fearing them.

As I said last year in Playdates with Fictional Friends: The Importance of Diversity:

The Civil Rights Movement had many legal victories through the courts and eventually through Congress and state legislatures, but change doesn’t happen through laws alone. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of every individual, starting in childhood. On some small but significant level, increased diversity in children’s literature could help bring us a little closer to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream,one in which people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

We’ve got a long way to go before the promise of the Civil Rights Movement is fully realized. More diverse children’s literature would be a step in the right direction.

*Read more about the #weneeddiversebooks campaign here: http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/post/83943947418/we-need-diverse-books-campaign

16 thoughts on “Playdates With Diverse Fictional Friends: The #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign

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  2. Steven Jones

    I think that part of this can be traced to the fact that media from an unfamiliar culture can be downright inaccessible. Many of the cultural references familiar to me (I’m Australian) would probably be lost on many Americans, for example (Witness the failure of the movie ‘Australia’). I suspect the reason that the reason many (ethnic) books don’t have a wider audience is because those outside the specific culture know that the story is likely to go over their heads due to lacking the cultural background to truly understand them.

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  5. I think the diverse books are coming. At least at many of the writer’s conferences I’ve attended, I see a lot of different ethnicities (and let’s keep in mind this is even happening in 70% white Utah). By the way, for when they get a little older, I recommend “The Woman Warrior” by Maxine Hong Kingston. Nothing racy, just probably boring to a certain age. A friend recommended it to me because I was asking for strong female characters, but not superheroes/kung fu experts. Anyways, it’s an interesting exploration of what it was like growing up as a girl of Chinese immigrant parents.

    1. Hi Jae! It’s nice to hear from you. I hope more books that feature characters from diverse backgrounds are coming. I’ll definitely buy them! Thanks for the recommendation. “The Woman Warrior” sounds great!

  6. ” It has to happen in the hearts and minds of every individual, starting in childhood.” So very true. Like you mentioned, they must find this out on their own. Best to have a good “life guide” along the way too. You do a remarkable job with your children.

I appreciate your comments (respectful dissent is welcome)!

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