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Diversity in Literature: Build Your Library Now

Leslie Boggs

President, National Parent Teacher Association

How many books on your children’s shelves feature Black and Brown characters?

Despite improvements in recent years, characters of color are still significantly underrepresented in children’s books. Research shows that while about half of kids’ books feature white characters and more than a quarter feature animals, only 10 percent feature Black characters and just 5 percent feature Latinx characters. This is a problem that affects all children.

All children deserve to see themselves represented on the pages of the stories they read. Books should also introduce our kids to others who are different from them. They provide a unique opportunity to help children learn about, appreciate, and honor other cultures. They learn to be empathetic and informed members of their communities who fight back again racism and other injustices.

Notes from the backpack

In a recent episode of National Parent Teacher Association’s “Notes from the Backpack” podcast, we spoke with Newbery Medal award-winning author Kwame Alexander about the importance of diversity and representation in children’s literature and how we can ensure the books we’re reading to our kids introduce them to people of different races, religions, sexual orientations, genders, and cultures.

“The mind of an adult begins in the imagination of a kid,” he said. It is our responsibility and joy as parents to provide our children with books that will help expand their idea of what’s possible and shape their idea of what is right and just. To do that effectively, it is important that we introduce our children to these books early and often.

The stories we read to our children should be mirrors to see themselves and windows to see others who are different from them. “If we want to create adults who have a mind that sees beyond stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, and if we want to create human beings who are empathetic and loving and caring, it starts now,” he said.

Build your library now by choosing and providing your children with books that reflect the diversity of our world and reflect the kind of world we want. It is also important to work with your children’s teachers and schools and advocate to ensure the shelves in their classrooms are filled with diverse books, too.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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