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