I’ve thought a lot about using literature to develop my kids’ sense of history, acceptance, and emotional intelligence. In our library, we celebrate diversity through literature.
Representation matters. I’m so grateful that this is a message being echoed in popular culture more and more. Representation is critical for any child who falls outside of the white, heterocentric cultural norms – we all need to make sure that all kids can see themselves represented positively in books, TV, movies, and popular culture on an ever-increasing scale. And we need to show them in that positive and affirming light to kids in the dominant culture.
Do you consider representation when selecting children’s books? You need to.
More than that, it’s important that we’re selecting books and other media that feature diverse kids just being kids. If we only select books about civil rights, police violence, and even the value of diversity, we’re sending an implicit and problematic message about the nature of someone else’s experience. While we intend to educate our children through these books, they cannot stand alone. They must be accompanied by materials that deepen our connections to other communities.
Look for stories that feature diverse characters without centering that diversity as the plot-line. Stories with gay parents that aren’t about gay parent families. Stories featuring characters with disabilities that aren’t about the disability. Books with black children that aren’t about Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Stories in Spanish that aren’t about a part of Latino culture.
Don’t get me wrong, all of those kinds of books have a place in our library too. They just can’t do the job of teaching social justice on their own.
I’m working on making sure that for every book we have about civil rights, we have two or three that just happen to feature black folks. For every book about the LGBTQ community, we have two or three that just happen to have people from the community in the story. It’s a real challenge (especially in representing disability) but one that will pay off with children who know their history and love their peers. I care deeply about supporting my kids in doing both. Celebrating diversity through literature is important.
Here are some of my favorite books affirming diverse characters for children birth to preschool:
- Corduroy and The Snowy Day – Two classics.
- Jessica’s Box – A relatable experience with making new friends, where the main character happens to be in a wheelchair.
- More, More, More, Said the Baby – This book features racially diverse babies and their families.
- ABC: A Family Alphabet Book – Celebrating LGBTQ families.
- The Different Dragon – I don’t love everything about this story, but it features a family with two moms and sends a strong message about rejecting stereotypes.
- Littles and How They Grow – Simple, heartfelt, and representative of many skin tones.
- Whose Toes are Those – This was my daughter’s favorite book for months.