The inclusion of diverse characters, narratives and themes in children’s books is fundamental to personal development.
Children can either find stories that mirror their own experiences or immerse themselves within totally different cultures. Lauren Child, the next Waterstones Children’s Laureate, stresses her concern regarding the lack of diversity in the industry. This has been brought further into focus by her daughter, adopted from Mongolia, who struggles to see her reflection in most books.
In a piece for Yes! Magazine, Felisha Burleson makes further comment on the lack of diversity. She states the importance of children reading about inspiring characters who look like them. It has been tough for her to source appropriately diverse literature for her daughter, Niyah. She is Mexican and African American and Burleson has yet to find her family mirrored in books, which would play an important role in cementing the fact that her daughter can have a visible role in society.
“I think it’s very important she see people who look similar to her and have similar culture in books so she understands that the world is diverse.”
Click here to read more about Felisha’s frustration with children’s literature as it stands.
This frustration is echoed in plenty of schools and homes. With adults truly wanting to provide children in their care with diverse stories, it is vital that the industry encourages it. An article in The Conversation by BJ Epstein explains the benefits in relation to prejudice:
“Research on prejudice shows that coming in contact with people who are different – so-called “others” – helps to reduce stereotypes. This is because when we see people who initially seem different, we learn about them and get closer to them through their story. The “other” seems less far away and, well, less “otherly”.
So not only can diverse books allow children to identify with people and narratives similar to their own, but they can help to promote a more inclusive society from a very young age.
Epstein notes the way in which stories are predominately packed with white, male, heterosexual, cis, able-bodied characters who frequently promote a Christian message. She also mentions that research suggests that over 80% of characters in children’s books are white. This clearly does not reflect reality and enforces the enormity of the issue.
Books to both empower children and to aid learning are reaching publication and it is important to celebrate these. Initially published in the 1950s, two of Jacqueline Ayer’s books, which draw on life in Thailand, are being republished this summer. Ground-breaking when first released, Ayer’s illustrations capture Thai culture beautifully and are predicted to inspire a new generation of young people. Click here to find out more about the journey that led Ayer to publication.