Children's Literature and Diversity
- A Question of Characters - Jenny Price (On Wisconsin)
- A Diverse #SummerReading List For Kids - Aly Seidel (National Public Radio)
By Jenny Price
On Wisconsin - Summer 2014
Kids' books are missing the diversity of modern America.
The Snowy Day is a simple story about a boy named Peter who experiences the wonder of fresh snow. But when it debuted in 1962, it was a remarkable addition to children's literature, because Peter was one of the first African-American characters who wasn't a caricature to be featured in a major book.
The Snowy Day won the Caldecott Medal and is still a staple on children's bookshelves. Yet representation of children of color in literature has not improved greatly in the fifty years since the classic by Ezra Jack Keats was first published.
Each year, the UW's Cooperative Children's Book Center conducts a survey of the number of children's books by and about people of color published in the United States. Last year's findings? Just ninety-three of the 3,200 kids' books the center received had significant African or African-American content and 67 were written or illustrated by African-Americans - numbers that have shown almost no improvement since the center began documenting them in 1985. The numbers are even lower for other racial and ethnic groups, including Asians, American Indians, and Latinos.
The center maintains a web page devoted to multicultural literature, including lists of recommended titles by age group. It conducts the annual survey to support the message that children deserve books in which they can see themselves and the world where they live.
After The Snowy Day was published, Keats recounted hearing from a teacher who told him that, for the first time, her African-American students were using brown crayons to draw pictures of themselves, rather than pink ones.
[Jenny Price is a Senior Writer at On Wisconsin]
by Aly Seidel
June 5, 2014
National Public Radio (NPR)
In children's books, it can be easier to find talking pandas than characters of color.
Only 6 percent of children's books published in 2012 featured diverse characters. Last Saturday, the first ever in New York city came under severe scrutiny for featuring all-white speakers (and one Grumpy Cat). NPR's Bilal Qureshi reported on the controversy and the resulting hashtag campaign, #WeNeedDiverseBooks.
We asked around the NPR headquarters, checked out our library and compiled a list of books with authors hailing from around the world, including Korea, India and the South Dakota Sioux reservation.
These books tackle themes like international adoption, biracial families and cultural history, to name a few. Not all of the authors are minorities, but every book features a protagonist of color that children can point to and say, "That's me!"
The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring by Lucille Clifton
King Shabazz gets tired of everyone telling him that "spring is right around the corner," so he and his friend Tony start turning street corners to chase this elusive spring - after putting their caps on backwards to show they mean business! (Find the book here. Ages 3-5)
Bravo, Chico Canta! Bravo! by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez
A multilingual mouse and his family live upstairs in an old theater. They love to go to the plays and shout "Bravo!" when the curtain falls. But when Gato-Gato, the theater cat, finds them, Chico Canta must use his gift for languages to save his family. (Find the book here. Ages 4-7)
Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami
Arun can't wait for his little sister to come home - she's been adopted all the way from India. But India is far away, and Asha's adoption frustratingly takes nearly a year. While waiting for their newest addition, Arun and his family find ways to welcome Asha into their hearts, even if she isn't in their home. (Find the book here. Ages 4-9)
Brush of the Gods by Lenore Look
Brush of the Gods is about Wu Daozi, a famous seventh-century Chinese artist. The author imagines Wu Daozi as a young man trying to learn calligraphy, but when he sits down to write, he creates beautiful paintings instead! An imaginative tale that thoughtfully brings life to one of China's master painters. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)
The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
As winter comes to Virginia's reservation, she can't wait for the charity boxes from the East, full of coats for the winter. However, her parents expect her to put other people's needs before her own, and she is devastated when her classmate takes the rabbit fur coat that Virginia wanted. This is a story about selflessness and the spirit of Christmas. Winner of the American Indian Youth Literature Award. (Find the book here. Ages 5+)
Come on, Rain! by Karen Hesse
Summers in the city aren't always easy, and a blistering heat wave has settled in. When a storm finally rolls in to cool everyone down, Tess and her friends celebrate in the streets with swimsuits and no umbrellas. Any kid can relate to this easy read with beautiful illustrations. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)
Corduroy by Don Freeman
Race is incidental to this beloved 1968 tale about a stuffed bear and the girl who loves him. One of School Library Journal's "Top 100 Picture Books" of all time (2012) and the National Education Association's "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children." (Find the book here. Ages 2-5)
Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan
This New Year's Eve, Marisa finally gets to help her family make the traditional meal, but she worries nobody will like her oddly shaped dumplings. Each page has illustrations with lots of activity and feel-good themes. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)
The Fortune-Tellers by Lloyd Alexander
Set in Cameroon, the story follows a poor carpenter as he becomes a fortune-teller who can't read fortunes. Both parents and children will laugh: children at the absurdity of the situation, and parents at the crafty humor that goes over children's heads. You can spend more time looking at the complex, detailed illustrations than actually reading the book. (Find the book here. Ages 3-5)
The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble
A young Native American girl has an almost sacred connection to the horses in her tribe. One day, an angry storm scares the horses while she dreams and they stampede, carrying her away. A story about community and identity, the art is stunning and poetic. Winner of the Caldecott Medal. (Find the book here. Ages 5-8)
Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say
The author's grandfather travels to America and falls in love with the beauty of the country. He settles down in California and raises a family, but he feels homesick for Japan. However, when he moves back to Japan, he aches for America. It's an emotional tale with detailed and profound illustrations. Winner of Caldecott Medal. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)
The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster
The kitchen window is this young girl's favorite place. It's where she checks the weather, says goodnight to the stars and - most importantly - where she first says hello to her Nanna and Poppy when she visits. The creative illustrations makes this a hit for grandchildren everywhere. Winner of the Caldecott Medal. (Find the book here. Ages 4+)
How My Family Came to Be: Daddy, Papa and Me by Andrew Aldrich
An African-American boy tells the story of how he was adopted by a white, gay couple. Humor and cartoon-like illustrations keep the mood light, while underlining the point that love is what brings family together. (Find the book here. Ages 4+)
I'm in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor
This story centers around a young Native American girl who creates her own celebrations, not just the ones school closes for. In one year, she created 108 celebrations for nature, herself and everything in between. (Find the book here. Ages 6-9)
Life Doesn't Frighten Me by Maya Angelou; edited by Sara Jane Boyers
Words: a poem by Angelou. Pictures: Jean-Michel Basquiat. The whole: sublime. Also includes brief biographies of each artist. (Find the book here. Ages 2-8)
Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match by Monica Brown
Marisol no combina - Marisol doesn't match. From her polka dot shirt and striped pants, down to her brown skin and red hair, Marisol is an assertive protagonist that likes her mismatched world. The book includes colorful illustrations and the text is in English and Spanish. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)
My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits
Poor Yoon. In Korean, her written name looks like dancing figures, but in English, they're flat on the page. Her distaste for her English name is mirrored by her distaste for America, a place she barely understands. The story follows Yoon as she tries to find her name and sense of belonging. Winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award and an American Library Association's Notable Children's Book. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)
Nio Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales
This exciting, action-packed book focuses on Nio, an energetic young wrestler who only has one thing to fear: his sisters. With colorful illustrations, punchy typefaces and Spanish phrases throughout, this is a fun book for boys and girls alike. Just don't read it right before bed - no child can be expected to keep still after reading this exciting tale. Winner of the Pura Belpr, award for illustrations. (Find the book here. Ages 4-8)
Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges
Ruby is determined to go to university, just like her brothers. But in turn-of-the-century China, this is an unprecedented move. This story reveals Ruby's tenacity, passion and dedication as she finds her way toward an education. Winner of Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book and winne of the Ezra Jack Keats Award. (Find the book here. Ages 5-8)
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
This classic picture book, published in 1963, was the first to feature a young black hero - no overt racial themes, just a small boy enjoying his urban neighborhood. (Find the book here. Ages 0-5)
Tom's and the Library Lady by Pat Mora
Based on the life story of Tom s Rivera, the son of Mexican migrant workers who grew up to become a chancellor in the University of California system, this story about the love of reading has illustrations reminiscent of Diego Rivera's murals. (Find the book here. Ages 2-6)
The Storyteller's Candle by Lucia Gonzalez
It's 1929 and New York City is a cold place for cousins Hildamar and Santiago. They try to adjust, but fiercely miss Puerto Rico until their local librarian shows them community can be found anywhere. Written in both English and Spanish, this is a sweet story about finding where you belong. Winner of the Pura Belpr, Award. (Find the book here. Ages 6+)
Umbrella by Taro Yashima
Momo can't wait for a rainy day so she can debut her birthday presents - red rain boots and an umbrella. It's a colorful book with striking illustrations that will have kids checking the weather every morning. A Caldecott Honor book. (Find the book here. Ages 4+)
When the Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messinger and Suzan Katz
A Lenni Lenape girl spends her time imagining how her grandmother was a young girl once, too, doing all of the things she does now. The story takes place "today and yesterday," focusing on the customs that keep a family connected to each other. (Find the book here. Ages 3-7)
Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka
This book shows how friendships can form in less than 35 words. Two boys meet on the street and communicate in short, one- to two-word sentences. Readers must focus on the watercolor illustrations to fully understand the interactions. A Caldecott Honor book and an American Library Association's Notable Children's Book. (Find the book here. Ages 4+)
This is by no means a comprehensive list. A search of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #DiversifyYourShelves brought up some wonderful ideas, while our friends at Tell Me More featured guests with even more recommendations.