In a 2018 American study, it was found there were more children's books featuring animals and other non-human characters (27%) than ALL types of visible minorities COMBINED (23%). In contrast, 50% of the children's books reviewed featured white kids. It is important for children to see themselves reflected back in the books they read. Books can also be an effective tool for gaining perspective, understanding, and empathy for people with different lived experiences.
This month, MAR explores the theme of Windows and Mirrors and why diverse representation in books (and TV, movies, podcasts, etc) matters.
"This has led to a lifetime of unwanted touching of my hair, ridiculous and inappropriate questions, teasing and bullying, and of course, racism."
MAR Recommends: 25 Books that can be used as "windows" and "mirrors".
I grew up in a pretty much all white town, with my white mom, educated by white teachers, watching shows full of white people, reading books with white characters. I had very little, if anything, reflecting my Blackness back to me. And, my friends, classmates, community, being in a similar situation with a lack of diverse media, did not have any insight into my experience as a Black kid. This has led to a lifetime of unwanted touching of my hair, ridiculous and inappropriate questions, teasing and bullying, and of course, racism.
We are naturally curious about that which is "different" from us, that which is out of our "normal". Right now, the standard of "normal" in our society, and that which is reflected and upheld in much of our media is that of the cis-gender, white, male who is young, able-bodied, neurotypical, and affluent. The farther from this standard, the more "different" you are - unless we can change our experience of "normal". As caregivers and educators, one way we can do this for our children is to ensure the books and other media they consume is diverse. Our kids need to see more than just whiteness in their media.
Diverse representation matters as it helps to "normalize" and "humanize" the lives and experiences of those who have historically been excluded from the story. It makes our existence less "rare", less "exotic", less "other". So the more children are exposed to, engage with, and relate to diverse individuals and accurate #ownvoices stories, the less of a "anomaly" we become.
There is a phrase commonly used by educators and children’s librarians striving to promote diverse representation which speaks of books as “mirrors and windows”. An inclusive library collection should provide both mirrors where children can see themselves represented in books, as well as windows where children are provided with a view into the lives of others. Mirrors allow children to feel valued, seen, and validated in their own identity, while windows build empathy and understanding for others.
Children’s books are one of the most powerful tools which can be utilized by parents and educators to initiate conversations on important topics such as racism and racial injustice. A good book can provide a gateway to open a conversation, guide dialogue, and prompt questions from children. Particularly for young children, curling up and having a caregiver read aloud also provides ideal conditions for connection and fostering family values.
Here is a list of 25+ books, ranging in ages, subjects, and experiences, you can have at home or in your classroom to use as windows and mirrors. These book suggestions are taken from our Diverse Book Basket program. With this program, we are delivering bundles of 10 culturally diverse books to homes and classrooms across Canada along with support resources for caregivers and educators. To learn more about our program - to sponsor a basket, purchase one, request or nominate one - please visit our website.
Board Books, Babies, Preschool
Cool Cuts by Mechal Renee Roe
This companion to Happy Hair (2019) takes the same appreciation for the diversity of black self-expression from the beauty salon to the barbershop. Branching out from black girl hairstyles, Roe here extends the conversation to consider the multitude of hairstyles for black and brown boys even as readers can infer a wider representation of the gender spectrum, since many of the illustrations come without explicit gender assignments. There’s a legacy of black boys who have been targeted, punished, or criticized for their choice of self-expression, and this book is a needed corrective. Arriving after the much-heralded Crown (2017), this makes space to celebrate a wide range of styles, from cornrows and curls to fro-hawks and flat-tops. Each matte, posterlike portrait is rendered alongside a catchy, empowering quote: “When the stars shine, / the world is mine” highlights a high-top; “A happy boy, / full of joy!” celebrates a step-up. - Kirkus Reviews
Festival of Colors by Surishtha & Kabir Sehgal
The Sehgals, the mother-son duo behind A Bucket of Blessings, offer a fittingly vivid introduction to Holi, the springtime Hindu festival of colors, as seen through the eyes of Indian siblings Chintoo and Mintoo. The children collect flowers from their garden to turn into brightly colored powders (“They gather orchids, because orchids make purple”), then gather with everyone they know in the town square to celebrate by throwing the powders on each other. Harrison (Little Leaders: Bold Women), working in a distinctly Disneyesque style, fills a spread with laughing and dancing celebrants, their skin and white clothes covered in dustings of red, yellow, blue, and purple. But the Sehgals also remind readers that “Holi is a festival of fresh starts. And friendship. And forgiveness.” - Publisher’s Weekly
Follow Your Dreams, Little One by Vashti Harrison
This is an abbreviated version of the hardcover edition that came out last November, and while it doesn't provide all of the biographical details that the hardcover edition does, it's perfect for little ones. Featuring eighteen inspirational black men in history such as Aaron Douglas, Gordon Parks, Sir David Adjaye, Alvin Ailey, and fourteen more, Follow Your Dreams Little One uses accessible phrases throughout the book that little ones can easily understand. Here's an example: "André Leon Talley showed that grace and kindness are always in style." Another page: "Sir David Adjaye designed buildings inspired by people and culture." Vashti Harrison's illustrations are always lovely and the background that's created for each person provides a great reference for kids as to each person's work. - Where the Board Books Are
Happy to be Nappy by Bell Hooks
This lighthearted board book with mystical elements is fun to read and will be fun to share with young children. One of several collaborations between writer bell hooks and illustrator Chris Raschka (the team that created Skin Again and Be Boy Buzz), Happy to Be Nappy shows Black children and their hair in a consistently glowing light. The authors take care to convey that African hair is beautiful, whether it’s cut close and tight or long and plaited... - Common Sense Media
Little You by Richard Van Camp
"Van Camp composes a lyrical ode to a newborn child, which is matched in its loveliness by Flett's exquisite, collage-like images of a young one with his or her parents. Both collaborators are of aboriginal Canadian descent, and the book will have particular appeal for families looking for nonwhite representations of tender family moments. But families of every size, shape, and background can appreciate sentiments like, 'You are life and breath adored/ You are us and so much more/ Little ember with growing light/ Feel our love as we hold you tight.'" — Publishers Weekly
Bonus Board Book:
Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race (Board book) by Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli, and Isabel Roxas
Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race is the book we’ve been waiting for! The team (Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli, and Isabel Roxas) did an incredible thing: they explained race and racism to young children. Not only did they do it in a few pages of a board book, but they also provided guidance to the adults who will read it to children. As soon as you open the book, the reader is greeted with colorful representations of the authors and illustrator, as well as a note on the purpose and function of the book. The last few pages provide developmental insight by using direct language to explain the “why and how” of having conversations about race, race-related observations, family diversity, identity terms, stereotypes, as well as prejudice, race, racism, empowerment, and activism... - Social Justice Books
Counting Kindness: Ten Ways to Welcome Refugee Children by Hollis Kurman
A family seeking refuge is met with kindness in this simple counting book. One boat carries an African family escaping war across the sea, two hands lift them out of it “to safety,” three meals calm the children’s hunger, and four beds keep the family and a friend warm at night. The mother, two young children, and a baby continue to be met with kindness. Colorful spreads illustrate their journey and fill the newcomers’ environment with diverse faces, young and old. The simple counting book concludes with further information about refugees and a list of organizations through which readers might help or learn more... - Kirkus Reviews
M is for Melanin by Tiffany Rose
Rose’s A–Z affirmation of black children sings with inclusivity and zest. Alongside letters presented in different bold design—the A for “afro” is studded with picks, combs, and brushes—language works to inspire confidence and pride: “Be you. Love you. Always. All ways,” “Acknowledge your majesty and act accordingly.” References to black leaders—Obama (“Our first black president”) and Malcolm X (“Activist. Leader. Revolutionary”)— occur alongside calls for children to define and be themselves, and to “SPEAK OUT for what is right./SPEAK UP when others are silent...” - Publisher’s Weekly
Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner
Years before Rosa Parks's act of civil disobedience, Viola Desmond refused to give up her seat in a movie theater in Nova Scotia. Dragged out of the theater, sent to jail, and charged a fine, Viola returned home and shared her experience with her community, who fought (unsuccessfully) to appeal her case. Debut author Warner's conversational prose is message-driven ("They took Viola to jail. Can you believe it?") while Rudnicki's illustrations, in bright shades of green, red, and orange, are dramatic, if sometimes garish. An appended section on African-Canadian history provides additional background; Desmond's story should prove eye-opening to readers whose civil rights references are limited to American figures. - Publisher’s Weekly
Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand
Laxmi, an Indian American elementary school student, has a mooch. A mooch, Laxmi explains, is a sprinkling of hairs on her upper lip; it’s also the Hindi word for mustache. Laxmi is unaware of her mooch until her friends Zoe and Noah point it out during recess. At first, Laxmi is mortified—especially when she realizes she doesn’t have fine, dark hairs just on her top lip but all over her whole body. At the end of the day, she runs home to her parents, who react to her distress with humor and compassion. Mummy explains that Laxmi comes from generations of women with mooches. When Laxmi complains about the hair between her eyebrows, her parents compare her to feminist icon Frida Kahlo. Laxmi is still upset, but that night she dreams of tigers, and, appropriately, in the morning she has a whole new attitude—about herself and about her hair. Debut author Anand skillfully balances humor with sincerity, crafting a narrator who is both vulnerable and powerful, while Ali contributes sunny-humored illustrations that place the appealingly chubby, brown-skinned girl at the center of a diverse classroom headed by a hijabi teacher. Laxmi’s journey is both accessible and authentic, and it is a true pleasure to watch her not only embrace her own body, but also teach her classmates how to embrace theirs as well... Fabulous, funny body positivity. - Kirkus Reviews