Kids today need a more diverse, inclusive library. Here are a few steps we can take to ensure the best literature for our children.
In 2014, the founders of We Need Diverse Books shared this prompt on Twitter: “We need diverse books because…” Over 20,000 people responded. One teen posted, “We need diverse books because if I don’t belong to the world I was born to, then where do I belong?”
Children’s publishing continues to fall short of representing everyone. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center reports that only 27 percent of children’s books feature characters from diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds, outnumbered by white characters and animals. Similar disparities exist for children’s books featuring diverse religions, disability, and LGBTQIA+ representation.
Racism and prejudice are learned behaviors. Repeatedly reading books that lack diverse representation or promote negative stereotypes can lead children to view the world through a biased lens. The underrepresented young reader can begin to feel invisible. Creating a world where every child can see themselves in a book disrupts racism and prejudice and fosters self-esteem, empathy, and social action.
#WeNeedDiverseBooks, now what?
During a global pandemic and repeated reports of police brutality, parents and educators are turning to books to help young readers understand current events, process trauma, and act on issues they care about. Buying diverse books for your home or school library is just the first step. We can do more, and here’s how:
- Audit the content of the diverse books on your shelf: When you review your diverse titles, are you featuring only biographies or books about overcoming oppression? Are diverse authors and illustrators represented? Expand your lists to include books by diverse authors that explore everyday acts of adventure, love, kindness, and joy; books that celebrate identity and culture; and books that explore current events and social justice.
- Facilitate meaningful conversations: Through conversation, young readers can explore the identity and experience of characters; express questions, connections, and assumptions they bring to the text; and become aware of discomfort or evasive behaviors. Lastly, as adult readers, we can notice what makes us uncomfortable and the biases we may be holding.
- Advocate for the inclusion of books by diverse authors: Help ensure that literature and texts featuring diverse characters written by diverse authors are reflected in curricula and available for free in public libraries. For some children and teens, public schools and libraries may be the only opportunity for them to find a book that affirms their identity or helps them to understand someone else’s reality.