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