I am completing two literature courses this week: Picture Books Across the Curriculum and Young Adult Materials. In ten short weeks, I read 300 picture books and 10 Young Adult novels. Add projects and papers into the mix and I am ready for a brief vacation.
Early on in our discussions in both classes we talked about finding books about people of color or people who may present differently; either because of gender or perhaps because they have a disability. Charged with reading the best of the best in picture books, we were encouraged to find picture books that had won the Caldecott Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award, or the American Indian Youth Literature Award. With a son in his mid-twenties, it had been a while since I had spent hours reading and looking at picture books. Initially, I was encouraged by how many books I found that were written by and about African Americans, Hispanics, and LGBTQIA+. But then I started noticing that for every one book in the above category, there were 30 or more books with white characters only.
Consider this article with the infographic on diversity in children’s books in 2018. Animals get 27% of the publishing pot, while First Nations gets 1%, Latinx gets 5%, Asian Pacific 7%, and African American 10%. Adding those four populations up, they still don’t get as much attention as the animals. It is no wonder that we as a society are losing our ability to show empathy, speak civilly and treat people with the respect and equality we all deserve.
In a little over a week, this nation has had three more mass shootings. I am convinced that, in some cases, handing the right book to someone early in their lives may have prevented this distrust and hatred and can make a difference in the future. If children from an early age are not exposed to books about people of color, about different cultures, or about different genders or abilities, they cannot possibly learn to relate to people in a non-biased, neutral way. Reading books like Dreamers, or A Friend for Henry or Introducing Teddy and continuing to seek books just like them are a good start. As a future youth librarian, I plan to have story times and activities that reflect our multicultural world.
As children get older, start giving them books by Jason Reynolds, Laurie Halse Anderson or Elizabeth Acevedo. Also, use your librarian activist self to advocate to publishers that we want more authors and books that are representative of what our nation really is: a diverse country filled with immigrants and refugees who moved right in and pushed out the First Nations.
Perhaps, if all of us begin to advocate, educate, and seek ways to present books that are more representative of what our country looks like, we can slowly create a climate where future generations do not judge others by the color of their skin, what language they speak, or who their partner is. This librarian hopes to make a difference. Please join me.