Children’s Books That Tackle Representation and Diversity
Fri, December 3, 2021

Children’s Books That Tackle Representation and Diversity

The act of reading and burying our noses in stories we love shaped us both emotionally and intellectually / Photo by: Rido via Shutterstock

 

Most children will fall into a sound sleep only after their parents have told them a great story at bedtime. Cuddling up in a big chair with a good book, either with a familiar adult reading it to you or starting the first chapter of a book on your own has been a fundamental part of our childhood. The act of reading and burying our noses in stories we love shaped us both emotionally and intellectually. 

What’s great about these stories we read as a child was that we see ourselves in the characters that populated them. These books affected both our self-image and the likelihood that we will enjoy rereading. It also became evident that habitual readers will notice that the novels they used to read as a child have affected their decisions as adults. On the other hand, reading about people different from us has caused us to develop empathy and a deeper cultural understanding as it provides a different perspective. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to children’s books, it is often difficult for older people to feel welcome in their world. Most of the books in the market focus on a very narrow population. Some readers, as a result, have started complaining about a lack of representation in children’s books today not just for the people of color, but also for those children who are suffering from illnesses or conditions that make them feel different from other people. 

 

Sidelined Opportunities

The lack of representation among the novels intended for children can be blamed on how the industry doesn’t have enough authors and illustrators from diverse backgrounds being published. In an article by The Conversation, a network of not-for-profit media outlets that publish news stories written by academics and researchers, Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, an academic, pointed out in the Book Trust report the representation of people of color among children’s book authors and illustrators. 

Between the years 2007 and 2017, there were fewer than 2% of children’s book creators who were people of color. Thus, authors who are part of the POC community usually feel isolated within the publishing industry. They are normally encouraged to “stay on their lane” as they are streamlined to write about racism and similar problem narratives. These authors do not have the same freedom as some of their peers do to write across the wide spectrum of children’s literature genres if they want to be published. 

Likewise, people with disabilities also receive very few representations that they need in literature. Think Inclusive, an online resource that exists to create a bridge between educators, parents, and advocates to promote ideas, mentioned in their article that even though one in four adults live with a disability, the representation of their characters in children’s books is far too sparse. It was also said that having a disabled person in a novel might help in creating a more positive interaction in real life. 

Bedtime stories are not just about lovely endings to the day or a way to induce sleep. It is also a chance for parents to have a safe way to let their children experience and learn about all sorts of feelings and situations. This is why even though children believe that they are just being told of an adorable story about bunnies, they might be getting a lesson or two on the harsh realities of life. Here are some children’s books about representation that carry valuable real-life lessons. 

The lack of representation among the novels intended for children can be blamed on how the industry doesn’t have enough authors and illustrators from diverse backgrounds being published / Photo by: hepingting via Flickr

 

Mommy Sayang by Rosana Sullivan

The novel is inspired by Sullivan’s childhood growing up in a small Malaysian village known as a kampung. The story tells the loneliness she felt when her mother suddenly fell ill, and when she could no longer play with her. “Mommy Sayang,” a debut picture book, shows the hardships of having a chronic illness and exhaustion wrapped in an exciting and sweet story that is perfect for young readers.

Baby Loves Sight and Baby Loves Hearing by Ruth Spiro

Think Inclusive shared on their website that the “Baby Loves Science” board book series explains scientific concepts in a way that little kids will understand and love them. On the other hand, “The Sight and Hearing” books feature characters with disabilities, like glasses-wearing toddlers or those who need hearing implants. It is a great story for young children with sight or hearing difficulties or even to those without the condition. Parents can use this to introduce their children to the reality that others might be suffering from these disabilities. 

Pancho Rabbit and The Coyote by Duncan Tonatiuh

With racism still alive and well even in this forward-thinking world, it is important to teach young minds the implications of this issue. The New York Times explained that Tonatiuh has created a riveting story of a rabbit family that is facing hardships when they try to migrate to the north after their lettuce fields dry up. 

Any of these wonderful books will make a great read for the little ones.