Our family’s evening routine, I imagine much like many of yours, is to snuggle up and read a few books before bed. Bedtime stories aren’t just happy endings to conclude our day. Or, in my family, a sure-fire way to settle down rambunctious toddlers. Books are also a safe way to experience and explore a variety of emotions and situations. When children think they are just reading a book about a silly salamander’s voyages, they are actually learning about the world around them and the characters, or people, who make up that world.
Children’s books act as a window into the world. A window that imitates children’s own lives, but also windows that give children a chance to learn about someone else’s life. When children can read and hear about experiences and lives different from their own, they develop empathy and self-reflection, which is essential.
There are many reasons why we need diverse books.
Diverse books empower, support, normalize, and, most importantly, give a platform for everyone’s stories to be told. All children deserve to see themselves, their friends, and others they may not regularly encounter in the books they read.
Empathy: Give children the opportunity to walk in others’ shoes
Children’s Author Marilyn Hilton said it best, “seeing the world from another point of view fosters understanding, understanding creates empathy, and empathy closes the gap of fear and indifference.” Stories, and especially with diverse characters, can foster and strengthen empathy in children. It is difficult for adults, and kids alike, to connect with something that doesn’t affect us personally. But if we can walk in the shoes of someone whose life is different from ours, for example, a character in a book, their stories can influence our viewpoint. Understanding other’s stories allow their stories to become part of our story.
Compassion: Our world contains more than a single story
No doubt, our world is full of vivid and unique characters. Hilton states, “Who we are, what we look like, where our ancestors came from, what faith we practice, or language we speak, or what gender we identify with and whom we love are not only our individual stories; they’re collectively the story of humankind…” The story of humankind is deep, complex, and difficult to comprehend, even as parents. If you are not comfortable with social justice topics, an easy way to diversify your child’s library is to introduce historic character stories or biographies. These characters are a vital part of our history, but oftentimes are not included in the stories told at school. This is a great way to enhance classroom content at home.
Advocating: Supporting and normalizing diversity goes beyond token characters.
Some people might think that the term “diverse books” only means “multi-cultural books,” meaning books about cultural events or books with racially diverse characters. One suggestion is to include books where marginalized people are just people instead of also representing social justice. Sadly, there are only a few books where people of color, people with disabilities, or people in same-sex relationships are represented in everyday situations. It is important for children to see people being themselves with plots outside of being minorities or stereotypes.
Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed? Have you already begun to make space on the bookshelves? Either way, I would encourage you to check out my comprehensive Pinterest board that I created just for this post. The board includes book suggestions from other parents, book finder resources, and publishers with a social justice agenda. Check it out and let me know what books I missed or other resources I can add to the board.