Olympic swimming is one of the most popular events to watch. This week, here in the United States, we sat around our screens enthralled by Simone Manuel and her amazing talent in the pool. But her comments out of the pool that have been even more inspiring. After winning her first individual gold medal and becoming the first African American woman to do so, she said
“It means a lot, I mean, this medal is not just for me. It’s for a whole bunch of people who have came before me and have been an inspiration to me…and for all the people after me who believe they can’t do it and I just want to be an inspiration to others that you can do it.”
It matters for athletes, it matters for scientists, it matters for voters, and it matters for students. To be inspired to dream and imagine and fully immerse themselves in a story children must be able to picture themselves in that story, to be represented there. As I watch Simone Manuel capture the imagination and inspiration of so many children this summer, I am reminded how strong that need for representation is in all parts of life, including children’s literature.
It matters for people of color to see themselves in the imaginary world of dragon slaying princesses and super powered heroes, or in the ordinary world of playground drama and sibling rivalry and fun-loving adventure. It matters for white kids to see all of their fellow students, teammates, and neighbors represented equally in the literary world so there can be no room for exclusivity to become normative. So that even if they live in a place predominately white, they grow up connected to stories that diversify and normalize the world around them.
Representation matters. And here are some excellent places to start.
Coretta Scott King Awards – The American Library Association says:
“The awards are given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values. The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.”
#1000BlackGirlBooks – Marley Dias, an 11 year old girl, was frustrated that she was unable to find books with main characters that looked like her. She created the #1000BlackGirlBooks hashtag on Twitter as a way of discovering book options with protagonists that are black girls. It has been and continues to be a very successful campaign and an extremely valuable resource.
everydaydiversity.blogspot.com – I came across this excellent blog accidentally while reading deep into the comments section of a different blog and I am thrilled to have found it. It is a blog dedicated to recommending and reviewing children’s books with people of color as the main characters. It is a fantastic site.
Ezra Jack Keats – Everyday kids doing everyday things. This is what Keats excels at writing about and showing.
Kadir Nelson – Author/illustrator extraordinaire, Nelson’s books are thoughtful, historical, and beautiful. You should read them all.
Marti Dumas – Dumas gives her readers characters that are hilarious, adventurous, and witty. Her books should be on every child’s shelf.
Jacqueline Woodson – Jacqueline Woodson gives voice to older kids with her books for middle grade and young adult students. She has won many, many, many awards for her excellent writing, including a Newberry Award for Brown Girl Dreaming.
Proactive representation. This is one way we, as adults, can cultivate children’s imagination, inspire them, and dare our children to dream . It can start with books.