Updated: Mar 1, 2021
Children’s literature is becoming more diverse. In today’s world, this is more important than ever. Literature has traditionally shown only the majority of the population in most areas. Neurodiverse, physically disabled, culturally different, and socioeconomically diverse populations are rarely shown in any literature, and this is even more evident in children’s literature. However, in the last several years, the trends are shifting to show more diverse populations in books. This shift is vital to our children’s growth and development. If you have not experienced diverse books, you might not know how they can help children. Let’s visit some of the best reasons to stock diverse children’s literature.
One of the most significant benefits of diversity in children’s literature is that it improves empathy. Empathy cannot be taught; instead, it must be experienced. People with little to no experience with diverse populations often do not know how to deal with them. They do not understand how their lives differ from others. Presenting children with reading material that increases their exposure to other cultures, diverse backgrounds, and diverse depictions can provide more opportunities to learn about these individuals.
Many children do not get the opportunity to see themselves in literature. For some children, seeing themselves means they are minor or supporting characters or deemed flawed. Often, children’s books cater to the majority with a few diverse characters. This depiction could be partly because most of the books produced are from non-disabled, majority culture/ color individuals. This statistic can shift with the demand for more diverse books. For some groups, especially individuals with disabilities, book publishing or significant accomplishments become feel-good news stories, but they need to be seen as just as capable as their abled peers. As children see themselves as just as abled as their peers, their self-esteem rises, and they become more willing to take on challenges
People do not always realize that the words they are taught to use sometimes fall out of fashion. As specific phrases become more harmful to others, they stop being used by most people. However, that does not mean all people stop using them. For example, a 90-year-old White Southern woman may have been taught to improper language and not think it is unacceptable. In the twenty-first century, we know that some words and phrases no longer favorable or preferred. However, this is not limited to race or ethnicity; sometimes, it occurs when someone wants to express that something is stupid or silly. Books can teach children that children of color or with neurodiversity do not like these words. Partners Against Hate echoes this sentiment, “By providing children with accurate and positive representations of the many cultural groups that make up the community, society and the world in which they live, books can help children learn to identify stereotypes and biases when they encounter them.” Understanding the bias is one key to stopping them.
Inclusivity is one of the most critical factors in child emotional development. Not only do children build empathy and eliminate stereotypes, but they are also more likely to begin including peers who are different from them. They build more diverse groups of friends and create bonds with other cultures. America has been called a melting pot for decades. However, many people have often rejected this for the descriptor mosaic. Separate small pieces make up the whole. However, with inclusiveness, we can stop being quite so separate and fit together a little more.
As much as diversity in books shows how we are different, and those differences are worthy of celebrations, they also demonstrate similarities. Children can learn that people with diverse lives, gender identities, skin colors, or family backgrounds are not that different. Books demonstrate the fears, dreams, hopes, and abilities of people in many situations. Everyone feels fear, hope, dreams, and they may be similar. Two children may both want to be dancers, but one may be missing a limb. This does not stop the child from having hope. Seeing them learn to dance can also have a powerful impact on the other dreamer. Now, it’s not always easy to come by every population in one place. So, diverse books can bring other groups closer to the surface and close gaps between children.
Diverse books can mirror children who are not typically shown in books. Children of color, LGBTQ, neurodiverse, and disabled children do not see themselves represented in media. Mirroring children of diverse backgrounds and needs can help children to feel seen. While we have already covered the self-esteem benefit, mirroring children in the community can also show them that they have value and worth. They are more likely to find a place even if it takes their self-esteem time to catch up.
There are hundreds of reasons to read diverse books to children. However, these are some of the most significant. Children can learn to accept others’ differences, use appropriate vocabulary, include others, and find similarities. These things are critical for change. Additionally, self-worth and self-esteem are invaluable to opening children to education. It is difficult to participate if you do not belong. Mirroring students raises their self-worth and esteem, which improves educational participation and leads to success. There are no measurable disadvantages to diversifying books in your homes and classrooms. Children need to see the world represented in their literature.