Diverse Children’s Books for Cultural Awareness in Children
Representation in books is very important, especially for children. When children never see their culture represented in books, they receive a resounding message that their culture is not as important as others (Cambell Naidoo, 2014). Recent studies show that there is indeed underrepresentation in books published both in the UK and in the US. In the US alone, 83% of the books published have white people, animals, and things as main characters. While in the UK only 8% of the children’s books have characters of BAME background, and these books barely reach the shelves of school libraries. In 2006, just 5.1% featured black people and in 2016, this percentage had only increased to 8.4% of submissions (Children’s Books by and About People of Color, 2017). These numbers are way too low to represent the very diverse population both in the US and UK.
Dr Rudine Sims Bishops, children’s literature professor at Ohio State likened the idea of reading diverse books to “windows” that offer views of the world that may be real or imaginary, familiar or strange. The “windows” can also become sliding doors and the role of the reader is just to go through that door using his imagination to become part of the world created by the author of the book. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience (Bishops, 1990).
The child’s view of the world is best formed in their early years of life. That’s why children need diverse books that expose them to the differences of people so they are more accepting and loving of differences in cultures, behaviours, and physical appearance. Remember that the books that your child is exposed to shape how they see the world and the people around them.
Personalised Books for Children Represent Children from Diverse Backgrounds
One problem seen in diverse children’s books is that despite its already low number, there are still some instances that the diverse characters in these books are misrepresented. For example, Asian characters are usually portrayed as geeks or worse as villains. Stereotyping of characters of BAME background only worsens the problem of racial discrimination. You need a book that represents the child the hero of the story, one that’s empowering.
A personalised book is a special storybook where you can customise the character’s appearance to resemble your child and where your child gets featured as the hero in the story. A personalised book is empowering to the child, in fact, ownership of the text is an important element in perceiving oneself as a reader (Dymore and Griffiths, 2010).
When you expose your child to diverse books while they are still young, you open the opportunity for them to become more loving and welcoming of differences as they grow up. When we give the children the language and the framework they will not see differences as a threat, they will honour and respect differences (Dr Lucretia Berry, author of the book Hues and You).