Sharing and exploring diversity with children’s literature
Children’s literature serves as both a mirror and a window. To develop a sense of identity and self-esteem, children need to find mirrors in which they see themselves and their experiences reflected in the books they read for both pleasure and school. Equally important, however, is the ability of books to open windows into new worlds and experiences. Picture books are powerful portals that transport children to special places, both internal and external, where they can explore familiar terrain, experience new adventures, and discover unknown treasures.
One of the goals of TRC’s Read-Aloud Program is to help kids “discover the magic of books and reading.” By integrating diverse picture books into our programming, we can help our children discover this magic but also expand their horizons and open their imaginations. Volunteers can build the children’s self-esteem and cultivate empathy, respect, and cultural and global awareness through their book choices.
Choosing diverse literature focusing on a variety of perspectives allows volunteers to explore different cultures by incorporating multicultural resources in Read-Alouds, as well as recognize that children are shaped by personal experiences and culture. Sharing these books shows an appreciation for the diversity of the cultures found at TRC sites and celebrates that diversity as well as our shared experiences.
Finding diverse books isn’t difficult, but beware -- not all diverse books are created equally. There is a large diversity gap in children’s publishing. In 2015, only 26 percent of children’s books published depicted children of color, and the number of books published annually by authors of color is even lower. Older books can unfortunately propagate outdated and inappropriate cultural stereotypes.
Here are some useful resources to get started:
We Need Diverse Books: Check out the "Where to Find Diverse Books" page for an extensive list of resources and suggested websites.
CBC Diversity: The resources section of this Children’s Book Council site has recommendations for parents and caregivers and for teachers and librarians that would be helpful at Read-Alouds.
Youth Media Awards: Announced annually by the American Library Association, these awards include the Coretta Scott King Award, the Pura Belpré Award, and the Schneider Family Book Award. The 2017 awards were announced on January 23rd.
These resources will help you find great books suited to the kids at your Read-Aloud sites. To get you started, here are some child-tested and -approved recommendations.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
by Javaka Steptoe
This year's Caldecott winner explores the childhood of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The vibrant collage and painted illustrations are perfect for playing “I Spy” with the kids using repeated symbols.
The Princess and the Warrior: The Tale of Two Volcanoes
by Duncan Tonatiuh
This retelling of the classic Mexican legend of the creation of the Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl volcanoes, located near Mexico City, won the Pura Belpré Award this year. Tonatiuh uses Mixtec influences to recreate the love story between the beautiful Izta and the warrior Popoca.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music
written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael Lopez
This book is based on the true story of a young Chinese-African-Cuban girl, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who grew up with the sounds of drums pounding in her heart and aspirations of playing the drums dancing through her dreams. Drum Dream Girl won the Pura Belpré illustration medal for 2015, along with the 2016 Charlotte Zolotov Award (CCBC), and the Asian Pacific American Honors.
Ada Twist, Scientist
written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts
Ada is a young girl with lots of questions. Wanting to know what the world is about keeps landing her in trouble. Will Ada find the answers she is looking for? This is a book for curious scientists everywhere.
Giant Steps to Change the World
written by Spike Lee and illustrated by Sean Qualls
Every person has the power to change the world, and many people have taken that brave first step. What does it take? Bravery, strength, and intellect. Read Giant Steps to learn about how many heroes took their courageous first step to make the world a better place.
I Lost My Tooth in Africa
by Penda Diakité
Amina is on her way to visit her father's family in Africa when she discovers a loose tooth. She wants to lose her tooth in Africa because the African Tooth Fairy will bring her a chicken. As she visits family and friends and experiences daily life in an African village, she wiggles her tooth.
The books volunteers bring to a Read-Aloud can do so much more than represent a theme like music or loose teeth when they are chosen carefully to reflect the experiences of the kids. Including diverse books at Read-Alouds will help TRC kids become regular and passionate readers by affirming their experiences and providing a path to exploring others'.
This post was written by Julie M. Esanu, MLIS, lower school librarian at St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School and TRC board member.
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