Diversity and Children’s Books: Celebrating Multicultural Children’s Book Day

By: Sara Martinez

Recently, at one of my  Mid-Day Mentoring programs, a student came up to me after reading “You Should Meet Mae Jemison” by Laurie Calkhoven. She told me how excited she was to learn about a female astronaut, and she did not know there were any before reading this book with her mentor. She proceeded to ask me to bring more books with female heroes, and now has a steady to-be-read list of books with all kinds of diverse characters in her Mid-Day Mentoring folder.

Celebrating Diverse Books

I was delighted at how a simple request could spark a love for learning about people and cultures she might not have read about if she did not have access to these types of books during program.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day is a great way to spread the word about the immense impact diverse books can have on students and mentors alike. This day is celebrated worldwide on January 25th, and it’s mission is to, “not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these books into classrooms and libraries.” According to Multicultural Children’s Book Day official website, a diverse book can include any of the following:

  • Books that contain characters of color as well as main characters that represent a minority point of view
  • Books written by an author of diversity or color from their perspective
  • Books that share ideas, stories, and information about cultures, race, religion, language, and traditions
  • Books that embrace special needs or even “hidden disabilities” like ADHD, ADD, and anxiety

Windows and Mirrors

The relevance and lack-there-of diverse books in children’s literature has been studied since the early ‘60s. According to We Need Diverse Books, the spark of this movement occurred in 1965 when The Saturday Review published an article that revealed only 6.7 percent, or 349 books out of 5,206 children’s book published from 1962-1965, had diverse characters in them. A recent study from 2013 shows that only 93 books out of 3,200 published books were about African American characters. This sparked the New York Times to finally ask, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”.

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop reiterated this importance of diverse books in her article, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors”, that describes how people of color see through window when reading books, rather than a mirror. The characters in the majority of kidlit books they are reading are unlike the experiences and people they know, and it leaves children with a distorted worldview. This phenomenon effects everyone—a lack of diversity in books is culturally misleading. Diverse books show a true reflection of our society and the progress we have made. According to We Need Diverse Books, in a survey of 2,000 schools, 90% of educators believed children would become more enthusiastic readers if they had books reflecting their lives. Everyone deserves to read books that reflects their own experiences, rather than a window into someone else’s.

The Impact of Diverse Books

WITS prides itself in cultivating a library that reflects not only the students in our programs but also books with cultures students may not know. Here are a few of my Mid-Day Mentoring students favorite books:

Learn more about diverse books and their impact on students by watching this video. Tag @witschicago and #ReadYourWorld on January 25th to celebrate Multicultural Book Awareness Day with your favorite diverse book!