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Literacy in America

A Champion for Greater Diversity in Kids’ Books

Lauren Bercuson

Creator, Happily Ever Elephants

Lauren Bercuson, creator of the blog Happily Ever Elephants, has become an advocate for diversity in children’s literature. She began the blog in early 2015, after her youngest child survived some early health complications. “I wanted him to have books to see that he could do anything he put his mind to and that he was no different from any other child,” Bercuson said. “Reading became that one point of the day where I felt calm and connected, and I felt like when we opened the pages of a book, we were all on the same first page.”

Bercuson had always been the go-to person for her friends when they needed new books. “I was the one that had the best recommendations, whether it was board books, books for toddlers. I always had my finger on the new and exciting things that came out in the children’s book world,” she said. “It all led to my career change from being an attorney to a children’s librarian and book blogger.”

Advocating for diversity has fueled Bercuson’s passion for children’s literature. “I stand up for what I believe in. I don’t shy away from the fact that I believe all children, no matter what kind of family or background you come from, need to see themselves represented in stories. You might come from a conservative family but there might be a child in that family that is struggling with their gender identity. Those children need to see themselves in books.”

Normalizing happy lives

When considering books to recommend, Bercuson looks for books written by authors or illustrators from minority groups, or “own voices” books. “Getting authors and illustrators from these groups that then portray their own lived experiences through books, those are huge to me,” she said. “There’s been a big push in the publishing industry to get more of these books out in the world and into these children’s hands.”

Conversations around diversity with children need not be heavy, Bercuson said. She tries to seek out books that show diverse children living joyful lives. “As an example, we shouldn’t only read books about Black history that have to do with slavery and the fight for civil rights.  We want to share joyful Black children’s stories at all times that center Black and Brown children just being kids.”

Still a white-dominated world

While diversity is increasing in the pages of children’s books, the publishing industry still has a long way to go to increase diversity behind the scenes. The diversity baseline survey, released by Lee and Low Books in 2019, reveals a publishing industry dominated by white, straight, able-bodied employees, from interns to the executive level. 

As an advocate, Bercuson has sometimes faced backlash from parents. “I always lose followers when I share books about the LGBT experience or Black Lives Matter,” she said. “But I advocate for these positions because for our children to grow up in a world where they can walk outside into an inclusive and passionate community worldwide, they need these stories in their hands.”

Despite the backlash, Bercuson remains headstrong in her mission to encourage greater diversity in the pages of children’s books. “It is through diverse and multicultural stories that children learn about people both around the world and right in their own backyards – people whose lives are perceived as being different, but who all share the same fundamental needs and desires. This is truly how we begin to bridge divides.”

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