This week the “United” States of America finds itself in a very precarious position. Divisions have been publicly and gruesomely exposed; anger and fear the predominating emotions. In all of this, parents and teachers find themselves facing difficult questions about bullying, racism, and political differences.
It is important to address these questions honestly and openly. But we all know that children learn more from what we do than what we say. While there are many things that we can do to reinforce honest, respectful conversations and promote inclusion and acceptance, one of the most basic ways of accomplishing this is through books. Giving children access to books that depict children of all backgrounds and books with minority group children as the main characters promotes an environment of equality.
A few months ago, I wrote about why diverse representation matters in children’s literature is so important. There I say:
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.
There is enormous power in diverse literature: power to connect, power to include, and power to equate. We need to tap in to that power by intentionally providing our children and students opportunities to encounter these books.
Here are some additional resources to the ones mentioned in my previous post.
Kwame Alexander – The Newbery Medal winning author who has books ranging from picture books to books of poetry to chapter books. Crossover (2015 Newbery Award winner) for the older kids and Indigo Blume in Garden City for the younger ones.
Pura Belpree Awards – The Association of Library Service to Children describes this award as:
The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.
Matt de la Peña – The brilliant Last Stop on Market Street is the 2016 Newbery Medal winner and is a book that belongs on every child’s shelf.
The Lola books – Anna McQuinn’s books about Lola are adorable. Lola Goes to the Library and Lola Plants a Garden are personal favorites.
Plum Street Press – This is the publishing company behind the fantastic Jaden Toussaint books by Marti Dumas and the Swift Walker books by Verlyn Tarlton. Additionally, they have an excellent list of books featuring diverse main characters.
Jason Reynolds – It seems like every book Jason Reynolds writes gets nominated for an award and his latest Ghost is no exception. It is now a finalist for the National Book Award. Great for middle school age kids, Ghost and As Brave As You come highly recommended.
Duncan Tonatiuh – Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation is an important book. It tells the story of how the Mendez family fought for Mexican American families to be included in all schools in California. It is also a Pura Belpree Honor award winner in 2015.
Yangsook Choi – The beautifully told The Name Jar is a must have for every classroom and home. Children of all backgrounds need to have this book read to them, often. And thankfully, Choi has many other books available as well.
Patricia Polacco – Patricia Polacco is able to tell stories with an incredible mixture of candor and delicacy. Her stories are thoughtful, touching, and always helping to move us towards acceptance of each other. For more on what I have written about her books, you can click on my post here.
Rita Williams-Garcia – Best known for One Crazy Summer, Williams-Garcia is an important author to know. Her books are award-winning many times over and she has an excellent story telling ability. Reading her stories with your older elementary school or middle school age children will open up many interesting and vital discussions.
The Newbery Medal Award – I should note that several times I have referenced a book by an author on this list as being a Newbery Medal Award winner. It seems only right then to say that the Newbery Medal Awards themselves belong on this list. They have done an excellent job of consistently selecting fantastic books with diverse characters and by diverse authors.
May we find ourselves lost in the stories and illustrations that fully represent the diversity of this country.