TRC Read to Kids

Welcome to The Reading Connection’s blog, where you’ll find the best guidance on reading aloud to kids. Whether you are a TRC Read-Aloud volunteer, parent or student, the book themes and crafts ideas, child development guidelines and recommended websites will expand your world. For 25 years, The Reading Connection has worked to improve the lives of at-risk kids by linking the magic of reading to fun experiences that inspire a passion for learning. Visit our website at

Monday, January 21, 2013

Working towards the dream: race at Read-Alouds

As we remember Martin Luther King Jr. this week, it's a good time to examine the ways that inequality seeps into the corners of everyday life in ways that are easy for the privileged to overlook. While race is never an easy thing to talk about, it's an important thing to talk about, and it's important to be aware of the small racial inequalities that are cultural, not legal, and are therefore harder to overcome.

I was lucky in my childhood: if I went to the library and pulled a book off the shelf, chances are the characters in it would look like me. It's hard to talk about, embarrassing for me to admit--and symptomatic of larger cultural failures in the United States--but the fact is (and there's no way to beat around the bush): picture books are overwhelmingly about white people.And, as discussed in the New York Times' recent article, children of color don't have the privilege of seeing themselves in the books they're reading.While it's important for children of every color to be exposed to books with characters who have different skin tones--it certainly would have been good for me--it's exceptionally important to keep this in mind at TRC Read-Alouds. Because economic and racial inequities go hand-in-hand in the United States, statistically speaking, the overwhelming majority of Read-Aloud attendees aren't white.

The ideal picture book--for any child-- features characters of varying race without being about race. The unfortunate truth is that these books are harder to find--especially if you, like me, were raised mostly reading books about white people.  But they're out there. A personal favorite is The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.

Another way to try to combat this problem is to choose books like Circle of Friends by Giora Carmi, where race is ambiguous. 

And of course, books that feature animals circumvent issues of characters' race altogether--though it would be best if we didn't have to depend on that. 

Cultural racial inequality in the United States is pervasive and historical and hard to beat. We still have not achieved Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream. So when you choose books, flip through and think about what messages the races of people in the illustrations will send. Make choices consciously. Be aware. 

Guest blog post written by Anna McCormally.

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