While I don’t kid myself that I’m a perfect mother (who is?), I’d like to think I do a pretty good job when it comes to exposing my son to a wide range of books. I like to peruse all the shelves at the library — picking up a folktale here, some poetry there, chapter books, picture books, some nonfiction too. Living in Brooklyn, it’s also fairly easy to find a selection of books that reflect the wide variety of faces that make up our community. The lack of diversity in children’s literature is a longstanding concern. Only 10% of children’s books in the past 20 years contain multicultural content, despite the continuing rise of the “minority” population in the U.S. Granted, there has been an uptick in the representation of characters from diverse backgrounds in recent years, but we are still a far cry of representing the actual population.
It’s easy to understand that kids benefit from seeing themselves in books to help make sense of their world (books as mirrors), but just as important are window books — those that let children peer into another’s world and allow them to appreciate the stories of those that may not look, speak, or act like themselves. Books are sometimes the only place where readers meet people who may not only look different, but offer alternative worldviews, as diversity extends beyond race and ethnicity. Books can open a window into the lives of people with different religions, languages, family structures, physical abilities, socio-economic status or sexual orientation. And in today’s climate of division, it’s hard to overemphasize the importance of opening our minds to try and understand each other’s worldview.
While I regularly bring home books from the library with a diverse range of characters, after reading this recent piece in the New York Times (from which I adapted the title for this post) I realized that our personal library at home was not so well-rounded. Glancing through the picture books, only 5% had a character of color on the cover whereas 32% had white characters (the majority of books had either animals or other non-human covers).
Mind you, I didn’t buy most of these books, I’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of them as hand me downs and gifts. But is that really an excuse? What was the underlying message my son may be absorbing in having a collection skewed so white? Here I was, thinking aren’t I doing a great job borrowing all these diverse books from the library, and it took reading the Times article to reveal my blind spot right in my son’s own bedroom.
I feel part of the responsibility of parenthood is raising your kids to be conscientious, empathetic global citizens. A home library is a good place to start. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for books that better represent our diverse world when I’m out scouting for titles to add to our library. Now if I could only figure out a way to airdrop some of them into homes across America…